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art by christi belcourt

Creating Traditional Métis Dot Art

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Shanese Steele

Shanese Steele

About the Author

Shanese is a member of the Red Sky Métis Independent Nation. She is currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies at Trent University.

Art & Design
Lesson Plan

Introduction

Métis people are one of three recognized groups of Indigenous peoples within Canada. The Métis were famous for their elaborate floral beadwork used to adorn clothing and other materials for sale and trade. “Dot Art” uses dots of paint to mimic these traditional beading styles. Students will learn about Métis people through an exploration of Dot Art, and how to create pixel art for video games.

We want to thank Alyssa Amell for writing the computer activity in this module. Alyssa is an Indigenous artist and an arts advocate. Alyssa believes being close to art is very important, that art doesn’t have to be on paper or on your computer, rather something you experience all around you.

Finished images can look like this (created by Métis artist Christi Belcourt):

Learning Goals

Students will learn how to create images for video games through the traditional Métis art known as Dot Art.

Vocabulary

Michif
The Métis language.
Métis
One of three groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada. They are the descendants of European and First Nations relationships.
Hue
A pure colour, without any tint, shade, or tone applied to it.
Tint
A hue with white added to lighten it.
Shade
A hue with black added to darken it.
Tone
A hue with white and black (grey) added to create a less saturated hue.

Guiding Questions

  1. Have you ever played the game “Lite-Brite”, where you use small coloured plastic pegs to form an image on a light box?
  2. Who has seen beadwork before? Can you describe it?
  3. Who knows what the fur trade is?

Curriculum Links

This module aligns with the Art, History, and Heritage and Culture curriculums. Students will come away with a greater understanding of the Métis culture, their tradition of beadwork, and Dot Art. It also touches on the Computer curriculum as students will learn to apply what they learn about Dot Art to create digital pixel art for video games.

Materials

Non-Computer Activity

With a piece of paper or a rock, a paint brush or thin stick and four different paint colours, students will form an image using dots created with the end of the paintbrush dipped into paint. Students could create images of flowers or landscapes to replicate the traditional Dot Art, or exercise their creative freedom and create anything they like!

Computer Activity

Students will create Dot Art digitally using the brush spacing and layers tool in Autodesk Sketchbook.

  1. Download and install the free program Autodesk SketchBook.
  2. Open Autodesk SketchBook. Explore the menus and familiarize yourself with the tools available.
    • In the horizontal menu at the top of the screen is the main toolbar. Hover over any icon to see the name of the tool.
  3. Click the icon of the pencil and brush to display the Brush Palette.
    • At the top of the palette that appears are two icons, the slider icon on the left access the Brush Properties. The icon on the right accesses the Brush Library, where the different kinds of brushes are stored. We won’t be using this menu for this activity.
  4. To access your Color Editor, click the coloured circle in the upper menu, beside the Brush Palette icon. Drag the indicators around the outer circle to select the hue, and/or inside the middle square to refine the tint, shade and tone.
    • Select a colour for your background.
    • Click the Flood Fill tool (the bucket icon) in the upper menu, and click your canvas to fill your background with your chosen colour.
    • Select a new, different colour that we will use to paint with on top of this background colour.
  5. Select the Layers icon (the three stacked pages icon beside the Brush Palette tool) to open the Layers palette.
    • Clicking the lock icon while a layer is selected locks that layer to prevent it from being moved or edited unexpectedly.
    • Add a new layer by clicking the Add Layer button (the plus sign icon) in the upper left corner of the palette. This adds a new layer above the layer where we created our background.
    • Clicking and holding anywhere on the layer displays a secondary navigation wheel. Hold and drag around this wheel to Add, Delete, Lock, Hide, Duplicate, Merge or Rename a layer.
  6. To navigate around your page, access the Zoom tool (the magnifying glass icon in the upper toolbar), or you can scroll your mouse wheel to zoom in and out. To pan around hold the spacebar and click and drag to move the canvas around your screen.
  7. With our new colour selected, double-click the Ballpoint Pen brush from the Brush Palette, or click the Brush Properties icon. Within the Advanced settings, under Stamp, change the Spacing to 10.0. This will allow us to make many dots at once, and will save a lot of time!
    • Under Nib, you can change the Edge of your brush to be Soft or Sharp.
    • Play around and experiment with these different settings to see what kinds of lines and shapes you can make.
  8. With our new colour selected, double-click the Ballpoint Pen brush from the Brush Palette, or click the Brush Properties icon. Within the Advanced settings, under Stamp, change the Spacing to 10.0. Click and drag around the canvas to create your art!
    • Work with a variety of colours to create forms and depth.
    • Under the Basic settings in the Brush Properties palette, change the Size of your brush to create variety and interest.
  9. If you make a mistake, click the Undo or Redo arrow buttons in the upper or lower toolbar, or hold the Ctrl+Z or Shift+Ctrl+Z keys.

Have fun! Exercise your creative freedom and create anything you like! Here are some examples digital dot art, created by artist Elspeth McLean (Image Source):

 Artwork created by artist Elspeth McLean.

Tips

Given the highly unique nature of art, based in creative freedom and personal expression, there are infinite ways of creating, so what follows are merely ideas and suggestions.

  • Students could colour an image with solid colours, taking the above images as examples. Begin by creating a solid background colour, then creating large shapes on top of that, and building shadow and highlight areas to define shapes and create interesting patterns. Experiment with placing similar coloured dots, or rows of dots, side by side to create gradations of colour.
  • Add details to your Dot Art. Though it can sometimes appear simple, these artworks often have incredible detail to them. Experiment with making dots of various sizes to create depth and detail. Though our dot application often suits circular forms, explore making a variety of non-circular shapes.
  • Be conscious of your background colours. If you plan on using duller colours such as dark greens and browns, choose a background colour that will help them stand out. If you are unsure of what colour to pick, a shade of grey generally works.
  • Practice with different mediums. Mediums are different types of materials, such as acrylic paint, pencil, crayons, markers, etc. Don’t force yourself to use a medium that doesn’t feel natural. Try different tools; if you don’t like paint brushes, paint with your hands!
  • Experiment, explore, play, and have fun!

Conclusion

Have students share with each other their Dot Art projects. What did they find challenging? How did working on a digital Dot Art project compare to working in a traditional Dot Art project?

Resources

  • Christi Belcourt is a Métis Visual Artist.
  • Iris Scott breaks a lot of rules when it comes to art. She makes beautiful art with just her hands!

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