A woodland-style painting of birds created by kids.


Kid-Made Woodland-Style Resistance Painting

Jul 15, 2017

You may be quite familiar with the imagery of Woodland art — the style of painting created by Norval Morriseaau (the Ojibwe Grandfather of Anishinaabe art). Morriseau developed a style of painting that combines traditional stories and teachings with myth and lore; changing the conversations about what it means to be Anishinaabe. Today, there are MANY artists who paint in the Woodland style, merging oral storytelling and spiritual concepts with visual art.

A woman painted in woodland style with resistance watercolours.

While Morrisseau himself was surely inspired by ancient eastern Indigenous art, his groundbreaking work was instrumental in defining and categorizing Woodland imagery. He chose (with some expected backlash from elders) to share of his culture’s beliefs and values through representation of animals and humans — often being both at once, or going through transformation. Another form of imagery commonly seen with Woodland paintings are the portrayal of the struggle between humans and animals, or humans and the environment, or with self or spiritual beliefs.

We’ve fused one of our favourite ways to paint (resistance painting with watercolours) with the Woodland style.

It is this vivid imagery of how all living organisms intersect that I believe to be most compelling. When I have shared Morrisseau and other Indigenous Woodland artists work with my children, their imaginations immediately begin to soar. They see a story they want to hear or make-up themselves.

A painting of a bird and a sun.

Which is why we’ve fused together one of our favourite ways to paint (resistance painting with watercolours) with the Woodland style of painting, which I think is naturally complementary to the strong, dark power lines and spirit lines that connects and weaves the entirety of the images together.

You can simply paint freestyle with your kids, or, dig in a bit deeper. Since my kids are 5 and 7, they were definitely ready for the basic introduction to the concepts behind Woodland painting that I have shared with you. I assigned each of them to choose a teaching, story, spiritual concept or something they are inspired about from the Indigenous part of their cultural roots; that they would like to paint about. We don’t do this every time — our first resistance painting session was freestyle —  but it’s a valuable series of exercises.

A table covered with paints and paper and art.

What You’ll Need

  • pencils and erasers
  • paintbrushes
  • white craft glue
  • black craft paint
  • watercolours
  • big sheets of white watercolour (or even regular) paper
  • water and paper towels
  • links to Indigenous stories, imagery and defining concepts of Woodland art — Google is your friend, although be sure to double-check that you are working with inspiration from Indigenous artists, elders and storytellers

What You Do

1. Begin by mixing black craft paint with your white glue (right in the bottle), until you have a deep, solid black. Set aside.

A sheet of paper with a black glue outline of a fox.
2. Sketch out your story, image or teaching. It can be as simple as a favourite animal (like a fox), something loved and admired about Indigenous culture (like a Jingle Dress Dancer!) or a portrayal of a story like The Raven Steals The Light, which was what my son chose.
3. Using the tip of the glue bottle as your guide, instruct your kids to gently squeeze out the black glue to flow along their pencil lines. Let dry overnight.

A child using black glue to sketch out a story.

4. Now for the easy part! Simply paint inside the dark power and spirit lines. The glue provides the ‘resistance’ making it difficult to stray outside the lines for even the youngest of painters. I’m a huge fan of liquid watercolours as a little goes a long way and they are SO vibrant. But any type will do. The finished product is quite striking and will definitely be a framer, not a tosser. (I KNOW I’m not the only one who picks and chooses, AMIRITE?!)

A painted fox, woodland style.

Article Author Selena Mills
Selena Mills

Read more from Selena here

A multidisciplinary creative professional and artisan, Selena has over 10 years of experience writing and editing for acclaimed publications, B2B content creation, social management, brand building, design and VA services. Passionate about elevating Indigenous and FNMI stories, perspectives and voices in digital media, she strives to build bridges renegade style. When the chaos permits, Selena is an avid four-seasons permaculture gardener and a hobby “chef” who looks for other parents to revel (and or kvetch) in motherhood with. Clearly, she doesn’t like rules, most visionaries don’t.

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