Year 7 Class Activities Term 3a

Unit 3: Signs and Symbols... 

Signs and Symbols have been important to artists from the very earliest times. They often represent an idea or quality, for example the colour white usually stands for purity and the lion makes us think of courage. Because works of art don't usually include words, symbols are used to tell the viewer a message or even a story. When we look at a painting, we probably miss most of its meaning. This is particularly the case today, as we are not always aware of symbols which were understood in the past.
The artists from the list of paintings below have all used symbols to give their work more meaning. Choose a painting to investigate or look at how colour can affect the meaning of art...


Week 1 | 2 Periods | 21/07 – 22/07

Class Activities: Students recap on the colour wheel and the meaning colour.
Blue suggests importance, confidence linked with intelligence, stability, fresh, cold, water, life, obedience and remembrance.



Red suggests importance, power; red denotes purity, joy, birth, celebration and some countries it means to provoke the action to stop.

Green symbolises life, growth, renewal, health. In contrast to this, green is used to represent jealousy or envy.

Yellow is a warm, cheerful colour. Yellow ribbons are worn as a sign of hope. It is a colour used on warning signs because we link it with caution. In Australia yellow stands for the native plant the Wattle, yet in Japan, it means courage.

Orange is a warm and stimulating colour. It gives a feeling of energy and warmth. It is usually linked to the season of autumn.

Purple represents royalty in many cultures and it suggests nobility. In Thailand, it is the colour of mourning.

Class Activities
: Students will learn about

Symbols have been important to artists from the very earliest times. They often represent an idea or quality, for example, the colour white usually stands for purity and the lion makes us think of courage.

Because works of art don't usually include words, symbols are used to tell the viewer a message or even a story. When we look at a painting, we probably miss most of its meaning. This is especially true today, as we are not always aware of symbols which were understood in the past.

The artists from the list of paintings below have all used symbols to give their work more meaning. Choose a painting to investigate or look at how colour can effect the meaning of a painting...


'Madonna and Child with Saints Peter Paul and the donor' (1505) by G Bellini.

This was painted as an altarpiece when Bellini was about 70years old. During this time he was one of the most popular artists in Venice.

The painting shows the Holy family surrounded by the 3 saints. Bellini makes the saints appear very human, and using the light, makes them almost seem 3D.

Symbols Quiz the students

Week 2 | 2 Periods | 25/07 

Class Activities: Students learn about the Polynesian culture signs and symbols


From ancient Polynesia to the present, designs and symbols which have passed through the ages on tapa cloth, petroglyphs, carvings, and tattoos are influenced by nature; plants, birds, animals, elements. The meanings for many of these symbols have been obscured, lost or forgotten. While Polynesian Design incorporates the use of many of these symbols into contemporary design, the meanings listed below are but one of many possible interpretations for each symbol. 

Polynesian Design has many symbols to choose from, each of which may be rendered in a particular culture’s style: 
• Leaves and plants: coconut frond, fern
• Flowers: hibiscus, plumeria, are
• Elements: water-ocean, wind, fire-sun, earth
• Animals: birds, fish, horses, etc.
• Stories and legends
• Designs from petroglyphs, carvings, Polynesian artifacts
• Custom designs may be created for your project by knowledgeable artists

Being aware of what a symbol or design means and using it in a design project brings about intention and evokes the underlying meaning into one’s home, business or life.

Polynesian Design Symbol
This symbol is taken from Ma’ata’s tattoo on her right shoulder. Said to mean “Spiritual Travel,” the symbol is a counter-clockwise spiral. It incorporates all of the elements of earth, the wind, water and fire in Tahitian designs. The name Ma’ata translates from Tongan as Martha. The more ancient meaning of Ma’ata is “Mother of the Depths,” a reference to the swirling energy that creates stars or matter. A counter-clockwise spiral’s motion can also mean “where one is coming from,” and a clockwise spiral can symbolize “where one is going.” 

Inner Faith 
This symbol is found on tapa, similar to a cross, but the inner point branches out and the four petals can mean vocation, family, spirituality, and service. In the ancient past, people grew up with inner faith rather than others telling them to “have faith” or to believe in something. Names were given to babies because their spirits could be sensed and like many cultures, the child carried the name and lived up to it. There comes to be a certainty brought about by inner faith. Sometimes people change their names to reflect more who they are and become stronger in their inner faith. 

Grace is a way of being, of how you treat people. In ancient Polynesia, grace was a state of mind where all was in acceptance. When someone is in a true state of grace, they accept that people, things, circumstances just are. They are not to be judged, and therefore, allowed to live. The symbol for grace is a series of wavy lines, such as a wave. Water accepts a pebble and ripples and then becomes calm again. A wave can be designed in many different ways. 

The intention is about setting goals or projecting forward what you would like to have happened in your life. In ancient Polynesia, intention was especially used in healing, as it was a type of prayer teamed with herbs or treatment which helped to heal the patient.


True intention is always done with requests from spirit for higher good and then released. The fish hook represents the preparation and care taken to make the fish hook, then it is thrown out with the outcome unknown, and yet with some expectancy that fish/meal will be caught. Because the ancients lived one with the ocean, they were experts at creating fish hooks to survive; the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. There are some very beautiful examples of ancient Polynesian fish hooks and octopus lures that are made of cowry shells and sennit (cordage made from coconut husks.)

Spiritual Weaving 
This symbol represents the weaving of stories, relationships with others or the events of one’s life that makes a person who he/she is. Other ways to create the effect of “spiritual weaving” in design is the use of anything woven; mats, baskets or woven wall hangings. 

Integrity is individual responsibility for self. In ancient Polynesia, it was very important for those in “higher” positions to hold high integrity within themselves to lead the others correctly. When there was a lack of integrity, many things could go wrong within one’s life, or home and that lack spread out into the community. When people gain true integrity, they start to become more aligned with their purpose, with how they treat others and with how they treat their body. It is a reflection. Therefore the symbol is a reflection of the other. 

Completion was important to ancient Polynesians in the sense of learning lessons and finishing to completion what was learned. It was important to teach what was learned to the younger generation. Completion applied in lessons with chanting, fishing, making nets, building canoes or shelter or healing. If things remained unfinished, it showed the lack of care. By using a symbol that is linked, it represents the fact that when we each complete our part, the whole is stronger like a chain. It can also represent knowledge passed to others.

Every day, one person may make thousands of choices, from choosing to get out of bed, to what route to drive to work. Every decision made affects everyone and everything in our lives, even on the subtlest of levels. Our choices link us from our past decisions to the present. This symbol can be very simple or embellished with many designs. 

Right Attitude

In Hawai’i, “right attitude” is known as pono, and is a learned trait passed from elders to younger generations. Right attitude has to do with being responsible for oneself and not judging others. It is about trying to find lessons and meaning in circumstances that make their way into one’s life. The right attitude is also about not forcing anything, be it will, beliefs or anything else onto others. Being pono can be symbolized by the sun and its rays. The sun is always in the sky as a reminder that it is always there, bright, brilliant and strong, as we should all try to emulate it with right attitude

Resource: Thanks to Ma'ata Tukuafu (Resides in Hawaii)

Week 3 - 4  | 6 Periods | 04/08- 12/08

What will students learn to:
Students continue with Worksheets 1-3 Again looking at Signs and Symbols how they affect the viewer's interpretation discussing with students the ideas conveyed throughout the artworks made and criticized.

Resource:  -  Worksheets Provided.

Art-making: Students are to create an artwork based on "Identity" researching with imagery. 3 Periods
  1. Students will cut/paste from magazines to reflect their character, personality, identity as a person. Do students know who they are as an individual? (This needs to be reflected on the positive side of the person )
  2. Students are given an example through an exemplary - Research. Collecting ideas from these images as signs and symbols that reflect students as an individual.

Week 4 - 5  | 4 Periods | 08/08 - 19/08

  1. Students have continued collecting researched items on "Identity" through collage. 
  2. Gathering sources and ideas from magazines and placing them inside their art books (A4 size) This will be used to create signs and symbols that will help them to have a reference to draw from. 
  3. Minimizing the designs making them minimalist and ensuring the students understand that "less is more."
Student Examples

Reduction Stencilling

Week 6 - 10  | 8 Periods | 22/08 - 19/09 
  1. Students will be given a demonstration of using a thin sheet of material, such as paper, plastic, or metal, with simple images (symbols reflecting their "identity") or a design cut from it, used to produce a design on an underlying surface by applying pigment through the cut-out holes in the material. The key advantage of a stencil is that it can be reused to repeatedly and rapidly produce the same design.
  2. Reduction stencilling is the process which you can cut each part of the design to add or subtract design and colours by using a paint brush. Traditionally it is used with an aerosol can and made for one-time use, typically they are made to be reusable. To be reusable, they must remain intact after a design is produced and the stencil is removed from the work surface. With some designs, this is done by connecting stencil islands (sections of material that are inside cut-out "holes" in the stencil) to other parts of the stencil with bridges (narrow sections of material that are not cut out).

Student Examples

Student Examples

Mr Tafai Year 7 Students

Student Examples

Week 8 - 10  | 8 Periods | 05/09 - 19/09 


Using all the art techniques or the art practices throughout the process since the beginning of a term, you now need to gather your thoughts as to why we are doing this. Ask yourself why, why have we drawn these artistic expressions of dry media, collage, text as our focus. Why have we broken up the composition and re-organise the whole image? Why have we manipulated the text into a work of abstraction? Why, why, why…

Process”, the key word is process…it is exciting to see a student do as they are told and the reason for this, a) To teach students to appreciate artist practice, to know a process that will encourage an understanding of looking at work in progress. And b) To have a direction that will lead to a final product.

What is this final product? - Each student has chosen a particular interest that reflects their "Identity."

  1. Students will layer and create their own designs with the "thematic approach" of "Identity"
  2. Students will use the colours taught earlier on to reflect meaning applied on A2 paper in a grid-like form imposing their interpretation of identity. 
  3. The finished product is layered with PVA Glue to give that glossy effect.

Some students did it WITHOUT stencils


Some students did it WITH stencils

The idea is to encourage the student to develop their method but knowing the plan first before they chose to go at it on their own. The method is to develop their creativity without - manufacturing their method and progress or they all come out looking the same, like a production line. Develop process, creativity, originality and you will always have a different interpretation of your Assignments.