Friends, I just got home from an amazing trip to Glacier National Park, and WHAT a balm for the soul! Western Montana is a place filled to the brim with beauty, where endless, sun-bleached grass ranges meet mammoth Pine-covered mountains. The scenery was so breathtaking, the wildlife so incredible, it was truly transcendental – if you ever have the chance to go, you just have to take it!
Beyond the park, the area is home to the Blackfeet Nation – one of the 10 largest Indian tribes in the US. We spent a bit of time exploring outside of GNP, and I found SO MUCH appreciation for their art, craft, and philosophies.
A recurring theme in the art of Plains Nations is the belief that nature is integrated and humans are merely one part of a living entity, no more powerful or significant than other things in the world. Unlike typical European art, you will rarely find a horizon line in their historical landscapes. Stylized humans, animals, and other elements tend to float – illustrating the idea that we are all small pieces, floating in the same expansive universe.
This simple chalk art project pays homage to that belief, combining interpretations of their symbols with simple, yet beautifully bold patterns found on their tipis and in their crafts. As was the custom in traditional artwork, it uses simple natural materials, like charcoal and chalk. This project is a fantastic way to experiment with positive and negative space, contrasting colors, using white on black, mark-making, new mediums and abstract representations in art.
Most importantly, the information and links you find directly after these project instructions can be shared as a cultural introduction to the art of tribes from the Plains Nations. Please be sure to read through the to the end for some of our favorite resources.
(Tip: You can use this in tandem with our Coffee Ground Bison Art project!)
To make your own Plains-inspired chalk art you’ll need:
- Our Plains-Inspired Art Free Printable PDF Template Set
- Construction paper or cardstock (we used white and black)
- Soft Pastels or Chalk (tempera, acrylic paint or crayons work in a pinch too!)
- A Vine charcoal stick
- A Glue stick
- Skim milk and a fine mist spray bottle (for an earth-friendly spray fixative)
DIY Great Plains-Inspired Chalk Art Instructions:
- Draw your own simple horse shapes or download our templates and cut out
Download and print out the Great Plains Art PDF (be sure to choose “borderless printing” in your printer settings) and cut out as many template pieces as you’d like to use in your artwork.
- Color over your templates with chalk
Put your first horse template down on paper and start coloring over and around with chalk, a pastel or paint – making sure you color beyond the cut borders of the template onto the paper. Before you pick up your template, you can use your fingers to smooth and smudge the chalk. Carefully pick up your horse template to reveal a copy of it you’ve made in the negative space. Repeat this process with your other template cut-outs – making as many horse shapes and layers as you’d like (I thought three worked well for a standard 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper).
- Add a second chalk color
You can use one color, or a few different colors (we tried both!). If you’re concerned about chalk smudging, lightly spray with a fixative and let dry for a minute or two before moving on to the next step. For an earth-friendly smudge-proofer, grab a fine misting spray bottle (an old perfume bottle works great) fill it with skim milk and give a few light spritzes!
- Create a black outline on the inside of your horse body
Once you’ve created your negative space horse shapes, use a black piece of chalk or vine charcoal stick to outline the inside of the bodies, and add legs, a mane and a tail. Again, you can lightly spray with a fixative when you’ve finished this to keep your chalk or charcoal from smudging.
- Add patterns and details to your horses
You can add patterns to your horses. Blackfeet Indians typically use geometric shapes or stylized symbols to create patterns in their art and crafts. You can draw these in, or use stamps or stickers to create patterns on your horses. Experiment with line-making, circles, triangles and more.
- Add details to the background
Now it’s time to work on the background. Draw and cut out some basic moon and start shapes using paper scraps from your printed template page. Using a piece of colorful or black chalk/charcoal, outline and smudge around the star and moon shapes. Carefully pull up the paper shapes to reveal the moon and stars below. You can stop there as we did, or add in some more elements of your choice – trees, water…whatever speaks to you!
Once you’ve finished your negative space artwork, you can create a second piece of art with the template pieces you colored! Simply glue your templates down on a piece of paper and repeat the line-making process. We wanted to play with contrast, so we specifically used a dark piece of paper. If you’re using a dark piece of paper, you can use a white piece of chalk or a white crayon to create the linework, patterns, stars, and moon – this time coloring in the positive space.
Now you have a little collection that showcases negative AND positive space art!
My quaint interpretation is really just meant to be a quick introduction to the great plains and a beautifully rich slice of American culture. There is so much more to discover about the art and people of the Blackfeet Nation. To the east of Glacier National Park, you’ll find the Blackfeet Reservation, and incredible sculptures dot the highway along the eastern park border (like the one below).
For more information about the art of Indian Nations & Tribes of the Great Plains, past and present, visit:
- The Great Plains Art Museum
- Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Center
- The Journey Museum and Learning Center
- First American Art Magazine
- The National Museum of the American Indian (the collection in NYC is stunning). They also have an educational resource site that helps you to gather lesson plans and materials for specific grades and topics that is extremely well-organized and easy to use.
- You can find a list of contemporary artists here.
- Colouring It Forward is an initiative that produces teaching coloring books. Made by native artists in Canada, it features stories and information about specific tribes (Blackfeet included) alongside the coloring page.
- If you ever take a visit to Glacier National Park, stop by The Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Gallery (in Browning, MT).