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Miniature Painting Jain Style.

Looking for a project that would be an appropriate transitional experience from drawing into painting for my high school general art class, I chose the colorful Indian miniature "Jain" styled paintings that were influenced by the Persians in the early fourteenth century. Jain paintings were created to illustrate scenes from a sacred Hindu text, similar to medieval manuscripts produced in Europe.

These small compositions have a format in which two scenes are vertically "stacked." The illustration drawing is left visible and then colorfully painted in a flat manner. The small paintings are then framed within a vibrantly colored and patterned border. Jain works have intricate patterns that appear not just in the border, but within the illustration as well.

Our Interpretation of Jain Style

The first time I implemented this lesson plan, I substituted the sacred text with a short myth. The students were free to choose which myth to illustrate. I offered them the Greek myth of Orpheus, a Cherokee myth called The Bird That Was Ashamed of Its Feet, and An Old Nigerian Tale.

The guidelines for completing this assignment were to imitate a very exact art style. The assignment required that a 7 x 11" (18 x 28 cm) piece of illustration board be divided into two vertical parts, either horizontal or diagonal. At the same time they had to allow space for a border that would incorporate a pattern complementing their illustration.

When drawing the two scenes into the divided area, some students drew in a simple cartoon style, while others rendered in proportion. Although it is important that they understand that flatness in their rendering is acceptable, depth should be created by overlapping. They drew in pencil first and then painted the shapes with tempera. Next they used permanent markers to outline. A gold or silver marker also makes an illustration look very regal.

This type of project worked with my mixed group of tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders because it was challenging enough for all students regardless of their level of interest and ability. The composition could be accomplished easily because of the given format, while the creative and technical aspects were not too threatening for those who did not consider themselves budding artists. All students embraced the openness to illustrate and design.

Varying Subjects

As a variation to using myths, I once asked students to illustrate a personal experience that had a cause-and-effect scenario. Some of the students were very private about the situation they were illustrating by using many personal symbols. Some chose to work on a shared event just to see how the other interpreted it. Instead of using tempera, they used colored pencils. Whatever the content and media, the composition remains the same.

To evaluate these assignments, I look for a stacked composition, evidence of a border design, unity achieved through use of color, overlapping of shapes, and outlining. Craftmanship is subjectively critiqued in terms of neatness and clarity of message. For some students working in the miniature style was the first time they were required to use very small brushes.

Lessons Learned

In addition to learning the meaning of a myth, the students learn how to organize their work within boundaries, use overlapping to create depth, and effectively combine pattern within an illustration. More importantly, they learn to identify a cultural style and recognize that content and style can be influenced by values, history, religion, and personal experiences. They learn to embrace the art of other cultures by not allowing unfamiliarity to bias their perception of what is and what isn't art.


Students analyze relationships of works of art to one another in terms of history, aesthetics, and culture, justifying conclusions made in the analysis and using such conclusions to inform their own art making.


Indian Art by Roy C. Craven.

Ellen Melchiondo is an art teacher at Neshaminy High School in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:high school art project
Author:Melchiondo, Ellen
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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