Playing with Paint

Lesson Plan


Children will use Dan Namingha‘s Hopi Eagle Dancer to inspire them as they work with thick paints, exploring color combinations and creating paintings of their own that emphasize texture, shape, and color.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • list at least three colors they see in the painting;
  • mix at least two colors to make a third color; and
  • use at least two different tools to make different textures and patterns with their paint.


  1. Warm-up: Call out a color and have the children move near an object in the room that has that color on it and point at the object. Try and list all of the colors in the painting that the children are already familiar with.
  2. Show the children Namingha’s painting. Ask them what they see. What do they think it is? (A bird) How do they know it is a bird? Share that the painting is of an eagle kachina dancer. (Refer to the About the Art section for more information
  3. Practice colors by having the children name colors they recognize in the painting.
  4. Allow children to use thick paints to explore the techniques used in the painting. Help them notice the textures and patterns in the painting and encourage them to try and get textured effects on their own painting using tools such as combs, toothbrushes, sticks, etc.
  5. Show children how to blend different colored paints to make a third color. Allow them to explore blending colors and/or keeping them separate. The paintings will be abstract, focusing on shape and texture versus a particular image.
  6. Allow the paintings to dry. Later in the day, or the next day, have children share in front of the class special techniques they used when making their painting. You may need to prompt them by asking questions about things you notice on each piece.


  • Paint mixed to a thick consistency (at least the 3 primary colors, plus others that you have on hand)
  • Assorted paintbrushes of different thicknesses
  • Assorted tools to scrape and move the paint (e.g. combs, toothbrushes, etc.)
  • One or two 11 x 14 inch sheets of paper or treated canvas for each child
  • Newspapers or other materials to cover work areas
  • Cups with water to wash brushes
  • Power towels or rags to dry off brushes between different colors
  • About the Art section on the Hopi Eagle Dancer (included with the lesson plan)


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Hopi Eagle Dancer

Hopi Eagle Dancer


Dan Namingha, United States

Who Made It?

Dan Namingha is a member of the Hopi tribe and was born in Arizona on the Hopi Reservation in 1950. He was raised by his grandparents while his mother worked as a nurse off the Reservation. Namingha comes from a long line of artists and his family encouraged his experiences with art from a young age. His mother, Dextra, is now a full-time potter and his great-great-grandmother, Nampeyo, was a famous Hopi potter. Though he credits his mother and grandmother for his artistic lineage, he also distinguishes himself as an artist. “I am an extension of them. I am also an experimenter. I am constantly seeking and finding new avenues of expression, but always remaining within the themes I’ve been working with: architecture, landscape, and spiritual imagery.”

Namingha received formal art training from the University of Kansas, the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He now lives in Santa Fe where he and his family operate Niman Fine Art Gallery.

What Inspired It?

As a child, Namingha often attended Hopi ceremonies with his grandfather, Emerson Namingha. He says that the kachina [kuh-CHEE-nuh] ceremonies left the most lasting impression on him. He attended his first kachina ceremony with his grandfather when he was seven or eight years old:

"I was mesmerized by the appearance of the kachina dancers and their chanting as they moved. My grandfather explained to me that they came from the mountains west of Hopi known as the San Francisco Peaks. They were spirit messengers representing goodness, clouds for moisture, and a blessing for the people. He told me there are more than one hundred different kinds of kachinas, each representing something important in our lives, such as rain, snow, plant life, and animals."

In this painting, Namingha represents the movement, color, and energy of an eagle kachina dancer.

As an artist, Namingha blends contemporary art practices with his Hopi heritage through energetic brushstrokes and bright colors. While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he reached an important realization with regards to his artwork: “My time in the Corps gave me precious opportunity to think. I spent hours analyzing what my art should become, and one day it just came to me. Suddenly, I knew that my artistic mission was to transform the subject matter of Native American art and its customary realism into an abstract, almost minimal, form.”


Eagle Kachina
Eagle Kachina

The eagle represents strength and is an important part of the Hopi spiritual world. The Eagle Kachina acts as an intermediary between the physical world and the spirit world. Namingha’s eagle kachina stretches beyond the boundaries of the canvas—the feathers of the headdress are cut off at the top and the wings extend beyond the right and left sides.


Eagle feathers are used for healing purposes, prayer offerings, and in ceremonial dances.


Namingha simplifies the form of the eagle kachina with his broad, quick brushstrokes. He gives the idea of the figure without using clear forms or outlines.


Namingha combined brilliant colors and quick brushstrokes to suggest the movement, energy, and strength of the Eagle Kachina dance.


Notice the areas where it appears that Namingha has used different tools to move the paint around the canvas. He rakes plaster trowels over wet paint to create different textures.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.