Feature Journey: Colleen Graham 2013
Colleen Graham, llicum Middle School, Art, Grade 6,7,8, 2013
  • Journey Author
  • Tour Photos
  • Lesson Plan
  • Author: Colleen Graham
  • School: llicum Middle School,
  • Subject: Art
  • Grade: 6,7,8
  • Trip Year: 2013
  • Email:
  • About the Author:
My name is Colleen Graham and I feel very honored to have been selected to participate in the Cultural Exploration trip to China. I am fortunate to be able to share my passion for art with 6th, 7th and 8th grade students at Tillicum Middle School in Bellevue, WA. As an art teacher, I strive to guide students towards finding their creative voice, inspiring curiosity and creating art that is personally relevant while learning about each other and the world around us.

Originally from Michigan, I came to Seattle after spending time in Los Angeles, Maine, New York City, Toronto and France. I have a BA in Art History and went on to earn a Master’s in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College after I discovered teaching was my true vocation. Since then, I’ve taught students ranging from pre-school through adult age and love teaching middle school aged students!

I am also an artist always looking for inspiration and ways to stretch my creative abilities. I’ve worked as a milliner and am currently creating mixed media books that incorporate fabric, stitching, painting, drawing and collage elements. My husband and I have a passion for travel and our trips to Southeast Asia, South and Central America have been awe-inspiring. While traveling, I am mindful of ways to incorporate my experiences once back into the classroom and sharing my excitement, insights and experiences greatly enhances my students’ learning.

Chinese art and culture has interested me from an early age. My father was an artist who studied Chinese Brush Painting so I grew up surrounded by books about Chinese art and culture. I am also a student of Tai Chi and have been practicing for almost a year. I am excited to explore the many ways Chinese culture, history and contemporary life can be woven into the art classroom to enrich the student’s learning experiences! Thank you again.
The Role of Animals in Chinese Art, Crafts and Life

As I learn more about Chinese history, art and culture I have been thinking a lot about ways to bring it alive for my students. How can I, as an art teacher, introduce these topics in a way that will inspire students’ artwork and give them a greater understanding of and appreciation for Chinese arts, crafts and culture? Making connections seems to be the key and, as I look at Chinese arts and crafts, I am struck by the prevalence of animals. Ah ha…Animals also intrigue, inspire and engage middle school students. They are drawn to them and often incorporate animals into their art. Animals could be an entry point for students to learn new ways of creating art (such as making kites, embroidery and cutting paper) and the cultural significance of animals, both historically and in present-day China and Taiwan.

Throughout history, animals are often portrayed in Chinese arts and crafts. Often symbolizing various aspects of life animals were incorporated into many decorative crafts. These animals were thought to be auspicious or protective which was important because many believed that evil spirits were all around and one needed to be protected. Shi, also known as Fu Dogs or Lions stood outside of the Imperial Palace, burial tombs, government buildings and homes of wealthy people, not just to show status but also to protect the people inside and the structure from evil spirits. The bat, crane, dragon and phoenix are all lucky creatures. The word for bat and happiness are both pronounced ‘Fu’ so bats in art may symbolize happiness. (Chinese Art and Design). The dragon, one of the twelve animals of the zodiac also symbolizes good fortune. It was also the symbol of the emperor. Only the emperor and high-ranking officials wore robes embroidered with the five-clawed dragon.

I propose to investigate the question: What is the role of animals in art, crafts and life, both historically and in contemporary China and Taiwan?

While in China and Taiwan I will investigate the role of animals by:

  • Collecting images (both art images and from popular culture) and crafts (such as paper cuts, jade carving, embroidery, pottery, masks, kites, etc.) that include animals.
  • Talking to people and asking if animals are important in their lives. (What are their favorite animals? How important is their Zodiac sign, etc.). Pets are an important part of the lives of many people in America. I plan to ask people in China if they have pets and if so, what kind? If they don’t have a pet, would they like one? What sort of pet would they like? I recently ran across several references to an increased interest in keeping dogs as pets (NY Times, Oct. 24, 2010) and “Dog Experts Dos and Don’ts for Pet Owners in China” (NY Times Feb. 17, 2013) about Cesar Millan, star of “Dog Whisperer” television series planning a television show in China.
  • Taking note of and photographing images on animals that are part of cultural sites. I have learned, for example, that there are many dragons in the Imperial Palace. Are there other animals I wonder? What can our guides tell us about them? I will also photograph examples of these animals to share with students.
  • Talking to people in the schools we visit not only about the approach to teaching art, but about popular themes, particularly animals.
  • Collecting artifacts and photographing images of animals in popular culture Noticing, collecting and inquiring about the prevalence, or not, of animals in popular culture (on signs, in comic books, in restaurants, in people’s homes, etc.).
  • Once back from the trip, I will take the information I learned and the samples and put together several lessons which I will introduce to my students throughout the fall. We will examine historical examples and contemporary crafts and artifacts and study the various ways animals are incorporated into Chinese arts and crafts.

Lessons may include:

  • Role of the Dragon in Chinese arts, crafts and life (Create a Dragon Puppet or a kite)
  • Chinese Zodiac (Read Children’s books depicting the story)
  • Symbolic Meaning of Animals -Research symbolic meaning of animals. Learn the connection between Chinese Language and animal symbols and practice calligraphy.
  • Kite Making (History of Kites in China and create animal kites)
  • Chinese Paper Cutting (History of paper and decorative art of paper cutting and contemporary examples)
  • Chinese Ceramics-Terra Cotta Warriors and the horses, Fu Dogs (History of Porcelain)
  • Jade Carvings-Soap carving
  • Embroidery (Animals in Chinese embroidery) The history of the Silk Road.
  • Pets in China-Examining historical and contemporary animals as pets in China as well as animals in painting (Drawing and/or painting favorite animals)

Inspired by what they learn throughout the fall, students will create a piece of art inspired by animals using the media of their choice (paper cutting, kite making, clay, paint, fiber, etc.). They will write an artist’s statement about their work, which will include the symbolic meaning of the animal and what it represents to them and how their work relates to what they’ve learned about China.

The artworks and artist’s statements will be displayed throughout the school and we will celebrate our learning with an evening art show for families and friends. A selection of the work may also be displayed at the Bellevue School District central office.

Noted below are some of the resources that I’ve already used as part of my research.

Chu-Tsing Li, James C.Y. Watt, Editors. The Chinese Scholar’s Studio: Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period. New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc. 1987

Kahlenberg, Mary Hunt, Editor. The Extraordinary in the Ordinary. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1998 A chapter about the importance of silk in China that includes good examples of silk and embroidery.

Hearn, Maxwell K. How to Read Chinese Paintings. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2008. An easy to understand explanation of Chinese Paintings written by the Curator of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Kerr, Rose, Editor. Chinese Art and Design. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1991. Chinese objects in the Victoria and Albert Museum are interpreted using the themes of Burial, Temple and Worship, Living, Eating and Drinking, Ruling, Collecting. There is a great variety of objects discussed in an easy to understand way.

Watt, James C.Y. Chinese Jades from the Collection of the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1989. A scholarly study of Chinese Jade carving.

V & A Pattern: Chinese Textiles. London: V & A Publishing, 2010. A brief history of Chinese silks with photographs of many examples.

Theodore Menten, Chinese Cut-Paper Designs. New York: Dover Publications, 1975. Interesting examples of Chinese Cut-Paper designs and a brief introduction.

In Pursuit of the Dragon: Traditions and Transitions in Ming Ceramics. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1988. Great examples of Dragons in Ming Ceramics.

“Chinese Painters: Working with Space”. Scholastic Art Magazine. Vol. 37, no. 2. November 2006. Written for middle and high school students, this edition focuses on how Chinese painters depict space. It also talks about Song Dynasty painters known as ‘fur and feather’ painters who specialized in painting nature.

Children’s Books

Chinese children's favorite stories. By Yip, Mingmei. Publisher: Boston, [Mass.] : Tuttle Pub.; 2004. "A collection of children's legends and tales from China...Discover the many delightful animal characters as well as Chang-E, the famous Eight Immortals, and Guan Yin, goddess of compassion. Retold for an international audience, the beautifully illustrated stories will give children aged six to ten in other countries a glimpse into both the tradition and culture of China."

Chinese zodiac animals. By Tang, Sanmu; Zhu, Jingwen (Translator). Publisher: New York : Better Link Press; 2012. Introduces the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac--eleven real-life creatures and one mythical one, the dragon--and profiles the good and bad characteristics of each one, with advice on behavior, career, finances, and lucky colors.

The day the dragon danced. By Haugaard, Kay; Barritt, Carolyn Reed (Illustrator). Publisher: Fremont, Calif. : Shen's Books; 2006. An African American girl takes her grandmother to watch the Chinese New Year's parade where her father is a member of the dragon dance troupe.

The dragon's tears. By Gregory, Manju; Le, Guo (Illustrator). Publisher: London : Mantra; 2001. Chun Li's troubles begin when he releases a golden fish and gets rewarded with a magic pearl. Includes parallel texts in English & Chinese on the same pages.

Liang and the magic paintbrush. By Demi. Publisher: New York : Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; 1980. A poor boy who longs to paint is given a magic brush that brings to life whatever he pictures.

Lóng is a dragon : Chinese writing for children. By Goldstein, Peggy, 1921-. Publisher: Berkeley, CA : Pacific View Press; 1991. Explains how Chinese writing developed and demonstrates how to write seventy-five Chinese characters. Provides detailed instructions and examples.

The magic horse of Han Gan. By Chen, Jiang Hong, 1963-; Bedrick, Claudia Zoe, ; tr.. Publisher: New York : Enchanted Lion Books; 2006. Master artist Han Gan's painted horse comes alive to help save ancient China from attack.

The pet dragon : a story about adventure, friendship, and Chinese characters. By Niemann, Christoph. Publisher: New York : Greenwillow Books; 2008. When Lin's beloved pet dragon disappears, she searches for him far and wide until a witch helps her to reach the dragon's new home. Introduces a different Chinese character on each step of Lin's adventure.

The Story of Paper. By Compestine, Ying Chang, YongSheng (illustrator). Publisher: New York: Holiday House, 2003. A fictional story of paper. The author’s note tells the history of paper and there is a recipe for making homemade garden paper.

The story of kites. By Compestine, Ying Chang; Xuan, YongSheng, (Illustrator). Publisher: New York : Holiday House; 2003. Long ago in China, three brothers become tired of chasing birds from their family's rice fields and experiment with ways to make the job easier.

We're riding on a caravan : an adventure on the Silk Road. By Krebs, Laurie; Cann, (Illustrator). Publisher: Cambridge, MA : Barefoot Books; 2005. Rhyming text introduces the sights and sounds of the Silk Road, such as the Yellow River, the oasis at Dunhuang, the rugged desert near Hami, and the excitement of the market at Kashgar. Includes a history of this trade route and the places where people stopped along the way.

Made in China: Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China. By Williams, Suzanne; Fong, Andrea (illustrator). Publisher: Berkeley, CA: Pacific View Press; 1996. Explores ancient China’s scientific discoveries including paper, silk, porcelain and printing.

The Chinese Thought of it: Amazing Inventions and Innovations. By, Ye, Ting-xing. Publisher: Toronto, Canada: Annick Press, 2009. Explores ideas, inventions and innovations and connects them to contemporary China.

Lesson: Animals in Chinese Arts and Culture
The use of animals, both real and imaginary, is very common in Chinese art and culture. Inspired by animals in Chinese art and culture particularly mythical creatures that are made up of parts of many animals, students will create mythical creatures by combining parts of animals typically found in Chinese art and culture.
Animals are commonly depicted in Chinese art and culture, often with symbolic meanings. To introduce the variety and symbolism, students will view a short movie. They will then select several animals common in Chinese Art, research their symbolism and draw thumbnail sketches of the animals. Since many animals in Chinese art are mythical creatures (dragon, phoenix, qilin) composed of parts of animals, student will use colored pencil to create mythical creatures. They will conclude by reflecting on their work in a self-assessment.
At least five 60 minute periods.
Large drawing paper, Colored Pencils.
Animal Symbolism, Research, Project Description, Self-Evaluation, Artist’s Statements.
Research Materials (internet and books):
An excellent book for reference that includes both symbolism of animals and many examples from Chinese Art:
Welch, Patricia Bjaaland. Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2008
A book line drawings of Chinese Animal Motifs:
Yan, Chen, ed. Chinese Animal Designs. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005
Students will be able to identify animals and their symbolic meanings common in Chinese art and culture. Inspired by what they see, they will be able to combine animals to create a mythical creature representing themselves, personality, interests and/or values.
Concepts (Big idea/central theme):
Animals, both real and imagined, play significant roles in Chinese art and culture and often carry symbolic meaning.
Content (What students should know):
Animals, often carrying symbolic meanings, are common in Chinese Arts and culture. Some of these animals are mythical creatures which are composed of parts of many animals. Students will learn about these animals and create a mythical creature.
Skills (what students should be able to do):
Students should be able to recognize and identify the symbolic meanings of several animals in Chinese Arts and Crafts. They will also be able to take parts of several animals and combine them into a mythical creature.
  1. Teacher distributes the Animal Symbolism worksheet. Students brainstorm characteristics they associate with a variety of animals (either individually or with a partner) in the left column. Discuss characteristics ask students why they think these animals are associated with those characteristics. Introduce the idea that animals play a significant role in Chinese art and culture and many of the animals carry symbolic meanings.
  2. Students view the short movie titled, Animals in Chinese Art and Culture. As they watch the movie in the right column of the worksheet, students note the symbolic meaning of the animals for the Chinese. Additionally, they will list other animals they see depicted in Chinese art and culture.
  3. Debrief what students saw/learned from the movie and what they wonder about. Talk about the mythical creatures (Dragon, Qilin) that are made up of parts of other animals.
  4. Review the project sheet to get an overview of the project.
  5. Students will research animals and their symbolic meaning in Chinese Culture. They will also draw thumbnail sketches of these animals as preparation for creating a mythological animal. Students can keep track of their research on the Mythical Animal Research sheet.
  6. Using colored pencils, students will combine animals to create their own mythological creature inspired by Animals in Chinese Art and Culture using the parts of at least 5 different animals.
  7. Students write an artist’s statement about their creature which will include an explanation of the features and what they symbolize in Chinese art. They will also create a name and symbolic meaning for their mythical creature and explain how this animal represents an aspect of himself or herself. (personality, interests, values).
  8. Students will evaluate what they’ve learned by completing a self-evaluation of the project. They will reflect on their learning and how they used what they learned about animals in Chinese Art and culture to create a mythological animal.

Students will evaluate what they’ve learned by completing a self-evaluation of the project. They will reflect on their learning and how they used what they learned about animals in Chinese Art and culture to create a mythological animal.

Students write an artist’s statement about their creature which will include an explanation of the features and what they symbolize in Chinese art. They will also create a name and symbolic meaning for their mythical creature and explain how this animal represents an aspect of himself or herself. (personality, interests, values)

Extension Possibilities/Interdisciplinary connections: In language arts or social studies classes, students write myths associated with their animals. They could also research symbolic meanings of the animals in other cultures. Students could also write an artist’s statement about their work which could be displayed along side the drawings.

Tips and reflections from the author: Although most students are familiar with colored pencil, spending time talking about and experimenting with a variety of colored pencil techniques would result in higher quality work. Good explanations of colored pencil techniques can be found on-line.

This lesson could be done using a variety of media-including paint, clay, collage and sculpture. It could be introduced and students could select the media of their choice to create a mythical creature.
Sources consulted:
Eberhard, Wolfram, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols. New York: Routledge, 1991
Kerr, Rose, ed., Chinese Art and Design. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1991.
Welch, Patricia Bjaaland, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 2008
Yan, Chen, ed., Chinese Animal Designs. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005