India Motifs and Kalamkari
by Marjorie Fendt



Grades 2-5

Suggested Curricular Areas: social studies, art, and math


Children will be exposed to some Indian motifs as seen in Hindu temples and other aspects of Indian life. In addition, children will be introduced to a traditional folk art of Southern India.


· Children will create a design as a response to an introduction of Indian motifs.
· Children will explore at least 2 principles of design and 2 elements of design into their work.
· Children will be able to talk or write about why/how they came up with and finished their completed design.

Background Information for Teachers
Background Information for Students

Be sure students know where India is. Locate it on a map or globe. There are many folk arts in India. In these next few class periods, you will have the opportunity to try a simulated folk art from South India. You will be able to try your hand at kalamkari ----the art of decorating cloth with a kalam (a special bamboo pen).

If you are going to do an Indian folk art, it is a good idea to see what types of designs or figures are prominent in India. If you look at clothing, homes, animals, plants and religions of different places, you will find what is important or prominent in that place.

Amount of Time:

2 class periods. Possibly 3.

Materials needed:

- Nice drawing paper (I used 12" squares)
- Newsprint cut to same size to use as sketching paper
- Felt tip markers: flairs for the kalam
- Felt tip markers: only red, blue, yellow, green (and brown)

Day 1

1. During the first class period, you will be explaining what you know about kalamkari (teacher information): You will be asking students what they know about India and what they know about dyeing cloth (access prior knowledge).

2. The next step will be to take them on a "mini" walk of India. You will be searching for figures or designs that pop up frequently (you may need to define the word motif). Using the power point provided or real materials you've hung around the room, search for these prominent figures together.

3. After you've seen and named these:

Click on the photos to see a larger view

kuna (rainbow)




You will want to point out elements and principles of design in the artwork you've just seen. How is color used? What about pattern and repetition? What provides balance and unity? Are you aware of texture or movement? Etc.

4. Now you are ready to challenge your students to use these motifs in an original design of their own. How will they use the space given: a 12" (10" or 8") square? Which elements and principles of design do they wish to focus on? Rhythm, Balance, Variety, Proportion, Unity, Movement, Pattern, Repetition, Emphasis on Line, Form, Color, Space, Shape, Texture? (Remind students to incorporate at least 2 elements and two principles of design into their work.)

5. Pass out newsprint squares for sketching ideas.


Day 2

1. Kalamkari artists use dyes they have made themselves to decorate or paint cloth. When we tie-dye or dye fabrics, we are dunking cloth into a dye bath. Kalamkari artists draw the dye freehand onto the fabric. After each color, they have to set the dye. Traditionally using different parts of different plants, these artists could make 5 colors of dye: Blackish-brown, red, green, blue, and yellow. Today, you will begin your own dye-drawing process.

2. Pass out good paper and black flair markers. These are the first kalam pens of the day. Have students make a double line border all around their square. Go slowly. You want it to be straight and neat. Remember that the artist does his work freehand.

3. Use your sketch to help you redraw your design onto the good paper. Use your black flair pen again to draw the shapes you've chosen. Do not color them in.

4. When you have your Indian motif design completely drawn in black "dye" then you will set the "dye" by walking to get a red marker. This is the next "dye" you will use. Think about what parts you want red and color only those. Remember, you can choose blue, green, and yellow dyes also.

5. When you have finished with red, return it as you "set" the dye and walk to pick another color. You may or may not wish to use all 4 colors available. (Remember that when one color is set, then that dye is no longer available to use again.)

Day 3

Use this time to finish the artwork. Additionally, I believe it is a good idea to have students tell in small groups (or large group) why they chose the motifs they drew. They can also speak about elements and principles of design they included. Or, like author's chair in reading circles, after each student's initial comments, peers offer what they like about a classmate's work. Keep comments focused on elements and principles of art.

Cross references to other themes: social studies, art, mathematics

Extension activity:

If kalamkari was an American or a Wisconsin folk art, what themes or motifs might run through our art? What kinds of designs do we see on our homes, clothing, and churches? What animals and plants are common? Discuss and/or do again with Wisconsin motifs instead.

Other grade levels: Can easily go up to 8th or 9th grade. If working with younger students, I would suggest a smaller sized paper for finished product (18") and probably would suggest that students pick the kuna or mandala as the motif to use. For K-1 grades, where patterns and sequencing are key too much of what is taught, art principles of pattern and repetition would be simplest using the kuna or mandala.

Connections to Standards:

Art (Appleton Area School District, WI)

Content: Students will identify and use art as a basic way of thinking and communicating about the world.

Performance: Students will understand that artists and culture throughout history have used art to communicate ideas and develop structures, functions and designs.

Art communicates ideas

Content: Students will know and recognize styles of art from their own culture and other parts of the world.

Performance: Students will talk or write about the meaning of art works and designs

Content: Students will understand and apply the elements and principles of design.

Performance: Students will explore basic principles of design, which are emphasis, unity, repetition, pattern, movement, rhythm, balance, proportion, and variety.

Explore basic elements of design, which are texture, shape, color, space, form, and line.




Village temple

Click on the photos to see larger views.


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