Art teachers were STEAM-ing before STEAM was cool!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chinese Calligraphy Placemats or Banners

Another fun way to explore Chinese culture is by trying Chinese calligraphy. While it is a very complex art form that takes many years of study and includes over 3000 characters, there are loads of books and websites that focus on teaching calligraphy to children. Doing Chinese calligraphy is fun and relaxing and it is a wonderful way for children to see how writing can evolve over time. 

On the left: "Peacefulness"
On the right: "Good Fortune," "Spring," and "Good Luck"

Here's a very simple and inexpensive project that will allow your child to explore this art form. I suggest having a few books on hand for inspiration or checking out some kid-friendly websites on Chinese calligraphy (see the list on my "Resources" page). Also, have some extra paper on hand for practicing! 

This placemat/banner project is a variation of one that I learned at the New Hampshire Art Educators Association's Fall 2011 Conference (www.nhaea.org) under the instruction of Claire Provencher. Claire did a wonderful presentation on designing an Art History-based curriculum. Her presentation was so inspiring! I created the banner with the ivory rectangle ("Peacefulness") during that class. The beautiful paper was provided by Claire, but she said it came from a Chinese market.

The symbols I used in the red diamond placemat are from "Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats," by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, and the Children's Museum, Boston. During Chinese New Year families often adorn the doors of their homes with good luck characters, or chun lion, to convey good wishes for the new year. 

Chinese Calligraphy Placemat or Banner

Supplies Needed:

  • Books, websites, worksheets for inspiration (see my Resources page)
  • Construction paper for doing calligraphy: 6" squares, red and/or 6" x 16" ivory
  • Construction paper pieces for decorating placemat or banner: 4 1/2" x 12" or other size scraps, good colors are red, orange, gold and purple
  • Tissue paper or decorative paper scraps for embellishing: mine were 3" x 4" and 3" x 5," good colors are red, orange, gold and purple
  • Black watercolor paint
  • Brush
  • Sharpie or other fine point marker if you would like to write the meaning of the symbols on the paper
  • Glue stick
  • 1 12" x 18" piece of construction paper for background, black

1. Look at resources on Chinese calligraphy.  The symbols are little pictures, this is shown when you look at the evolution of the symbols throughout time. Early examples of symbols often look like the physical thing they are meant to represent (such as rain or mountain). Chinese calligraphy is made up of simple strokes (some say 7 basic strokes, some say as many as 30+). It is helpful, when beginning, to find a resource that shows the symbols with the strokes numbered in the order they should be created. When you are ready to begin, grab your brush and load it with black watercolor paint. Holding your brush up and down, start painting the symbols onto the ivory or red paper. Label the symbols as you go with the appropriate English word for what you've drawn so you will know what the symbols mean!

2. Once you have the symbols done, arrange them onto the larger sheet of construction paper adding bits of colored paper and tissue paper for decoration. Colors such as gold, orange and red are the colors of joy. Glue the pieces down with a glue stick. Laminate if desired.

Your placemat or banner is done! ENJOY!

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