A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included) | via barley & birch
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Make: Great Plains-Inspired Chalk Art

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.

A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

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:



  • 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:

  1. 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.

    A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

  2. 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).

    A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

  3. 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!

    A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

  4. 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.

    A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

  5. 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.

    A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

  6. 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!

    A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

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:

Great Plains Art Inspiration
A Great Plains-inspired chalk art activity for kids (free template included)

About Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help families discover their creative potential and be inspired to make the world a better place through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. When not playing with ideas, designs and projects for barley & birch, Amanda enjoys working as a modern art curator and managing her own small design business.

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4 thoughts on “Make: Great Plains-Inspired Chalk Art

  1. Jessica says:

    What age group do you think this works best with?

    1. amanda says:

      Hi Jessica! I always feel like it depends on the specific kid/s you’re working with, but generally I think this would work well for grades 1-3. A couple little notes that might be helpful to consider: chalk/pastels can get a little messy and are made for smearing (which a lot of kids like) but if you want to avoid the mess, or think your kids might find that frustrating, you can sub with oil pastels, crayons or markers. For the younger grades this is more about the process than anything, but you could make a few cardboard horse templates or pre-cut the templates, as the scissor work around the head can be more challenging for little hands. You can also use stickers or just free draw the background stars and moons with Grade 1-ish. Older kids may have more fun adding more to their backgrounds, or creating more intricate patterns on their horses too! Hope that helps! 😀

  2. Annie Bourbeau says:

    Hi! I’m trying to find the download of the great plains for the coffee ground bison project. I’m just not finding where to go to do so. Could you help me out, please?

    1. amanda says:

      Hi Annie – Oh I’m so sorry about that! I’ve updated the link in our supply list to direct to the download and emailed you a copy as well. Thanks for the heads up!

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