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Dream catchers: mystery, symmetry and composition.

Everyone dreams, and many of my students share a Native American heritage, so why not introduce a lesson about Dream Catchers?

Previous fourth-grade classes had excelled in drawing feathers: rendering their delicate undulating lines, creating the illusion of lightness and softness. I wanted to offer this year's fourth-graders an even greater challenge, one that would capture their imaginations while teaching them texture, but also composition, symmetry, proportion and value. Even better, we would explore some of the beliefs and myths of the culture of Native North Americans, particularly the Ojibwa tribe.

There are beautiful images of Dream Catchers on the Internet, and I studied many before creating a colored-pencil drawing. Creating one's own version of a lesson illuminates the challenges that arise and skills that are required for a project--and also provides introductory examples.

There are two primary designs in Dream Catchers and both are great examples of radiating symmetry: one is reminiscent of the rose windows in Gothic cathedrals; the other is like a spider web. Dream Catcher designs reflect the Ojibwa myth of the spider/ weaver, Iktomi. Some Dream Catchers include a precious stone to help magnify their power to filter out bad dreams and attract good ones.

After a basic lesson in the anatomy of a feather and a group-practice drawing them, students drew their own with graphite, then with colored pencils. Each worktable was given real feathers to share as a reference. During the next lesson, it was discovered that several students owned a Dream Catcher and were eager to share what they knew about them and to describe their own in detail, such as what color they were, and how stones or beads were included in the design.

We discussed how soaking a twig in water, then twisting in into a circle and wrapping it in deerskin, or sinew, made the flames. We learned that the Ojibwas believe that both good and bad dreams are present in the night sky; the Dream Catcher sifts out the bad dreams and guides the good ones down to the sleeper's consciousness.

Students practiced tracing a circle, making tick marks and lines to replicate the rose window, or spider web appearance of the mesh part of the Dream Catchers. (This is a great time to remind students how to stabilize their drawing hand, using it as a fulcrum, so that their pencils swing out in beautiful even arcs.) An outer circle was added to create the flame. Adding diagonal hash lines around the flame helped to simulate the deerskin wrap.

I demonstrated proportion by drawing a few Dream Catchers on the white board with feathers that were too short or long with a flame that was too big or small, so that students better understood how to visually weigh proportion as they composed their pictures. We discussed how to identify a light source direction so as to create highlights on that side of the flame and feathers and shadows by darkening the opposite side. I soon chose a few peer artworks for a group critique to help students identify positive qualities that they might incorporate into their own works.

NEAR THE LESSON'S END, I asked students how they could show something abstract like good versus bad dreams in a drawing. A final effort was put into each drawing to capture this concept. Feathers are a prominent feature, but now the subject matter is more magical, like something out of a fairy tale, and my students made it so by adding a moon, stars or mystical lines in the night sky. Some added their own birthstones, or those of a family member. They created interesting shadows and light by using value and introduced color in surprising ways. These represent their own enchanting interpretation of good versus bad dreams.

A teacher's journey is one of lifelong learning, and developing lessons for our students is often the process toward uncovering new and exciting paths for ourselves. In the future, I would like to expand this lesson to include the Medicine Wheel, its meaning and colors.


Elementary students will ...

* discover the relationship between line and texture.

* use texture, proportion, value and radial symmetry.

* convey abstract concepts (i.e. good vs. bad dreams).

* acquire experience in colored pencils and color blending.

* create an original and successful artwork of good composition.


* Understanding and applying media, techniques and processes.

* Using knowledge of structures and functions.

* Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas.

* Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.

* Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others.

* Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.


* 6" x 9" manila paper

* 12" x 9" tan construction paper

* Rulers, erasers

* Graphite and colored pencils

* Feathers

* Illustrations and examples of dream catchers

Shannon Patrick teaches art at E.P. Todd School in Spartanburg, S.C.
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Author:Patrick, Shannon
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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