Sunday, January 26, 2014

Inuit Whale Portraits

I recently completed these Inuit Whale portraits with Grade 2 in my current residency.

It is mixed media on canvas.

We did them in multiple layers so there is some 3D action happening.

I was surprised at how well they turned out, awesome job Grade 2!

Before I give the 'how to', so we are clear and I don't get targeted again by those online haters (as my students call them):

Disclaimer: I am not an Inuit artist, this is my interpretation solely for the use of teachers and parents when teaching the social studies curriculum.  My blog is not a forum to address any concerns about larger issues, only to assist other art educators with their work.


- primed canvas, I use the 8 x 11" multipack from Micheals which I buy on sale (this week it's $17.99 for a pack of 10). You could also use primed heavy cardboard or 1/8" masonite.
- blue or yellow acrylic paint.  I use the Craft Smart brand from Micheals for all my residencies. It gives great coverage, lots of colours, and is priced right.  The current brand offered to most schools in the Calgary area is too translucent, requiring multiple coats…..very frustrating.
- recycled cardboard
- drywall filler
- black acrylic paint
- white craft foam
- red and black card stock
- tacky glue
- Mod podge for sealing
- my templates: jumping whale, swimming whale
- wax paper


Paint your canvas, make sure to do the 4 sides as well.

Using my templates, cut out the base of the whale out of cardboard.

We had 75 whales being created so I made sure (tried to) that the kids wrote their names on the coloured side of the cardboard.

Working on top of wax paper, add a layer of dry wall filler.  I just get the kids to use their fingers to spread on a nice coat.

Leave to dry. (about 6 hrs.) If they curl a bit just gently bend straight.

Paint over the drywall with black acrylic paint.

Leave to dry.

I gave each child a piece of white craft foam.  I made 6 sets of stencils for each type of whale which the kids shared.  I labelled and numbered each set and placed them in a ziploc bag. This worked well and we didn't lose any pieces.

Trace out all pieces in pencil and them cut out.

Glue the black base piece to the canvas with tacky glue.  If it is really curly you might have to use the glue gun (adults only).

Glue on the white foam pieces and then cut additional pieces out of red and black card stock to add.

I did not give out any stencils for the red and black details.  The kids designed their own. For the mouth cut a rounded rectangle and the cut in half with a zig zag.  Glue into place leaving some space between the 2 pieces.

I had some copies of my original drawings for the kids to follow if they wanted.  it was like putting a puzzle together.

When glue has dried add a nice coat of Mod podge to seal and add a nice shiny coat.

You can see yellow wasn't the most popular paint choice.

Great work Grade 2!

See you next time.



  1. These are really nice! I have a wonderful book called Eskimo Prints by James Houston your student might enjoy seeing. Many animals and people too.

    This reminds of putting together a collagraph.

    You could do a rubbing or print the finished glued pieces before you paint them- although it would be tricky painting the individual pieces once glued together.

  2. i really like these, gail:) i love the layers of materials used. Sorry to hear that you are getting negative feedback on here. you are the second person to mention this recently and it is really disappointing to hear:(

  3. Interesting! Just today we were reading traditional Native American stories illustrated by Caldecott Book winners. The kids whales turned out so wonderful we might have to give these a try. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  4. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your ideas, supply lists, templates. Your generosity with your time and attention to detail is much appreciated. I understand these might not be "authentic" renditions. It is unfortunate you are being criticized. Please keep up your outstanding work with children. Again, thank you for sharing!

  5. Not trying to be a hater, just some constructive criticism. I grew up in Juneau and currently live in Ketchikan. It looks to me like you were trying to imitate formline design, which is the type of art from my region of Alaska. The native people in Southeast are: Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. Sealaska (the native corporation) has some great resources on formline design. You could also check out some of Bill Holm's books.
    The Inuit people are from the northern part of the state and have a very different art style.
    I know there is a fair amount of misinformation, so I don't doubt that you did some research, but I hope these couple of hints can help improve your lesson plan.