Amate Bark Paintings


Based on “Folk Art Lesson” in the book Art Projects from Around the World (Scholastic 2006), I adapted the images to create a very cool “bark” painting for fourth grade.

What you’ll need:

– 6 x 9″ brown or tan paper (paper bags or craft paper works well as does construction paper)

– Tempera paints in red, white, yellow, green and blue (to make regular tempera paint stand out against the brown paper, add a bit of white to the green, yellow and blue. It’ll brighten it just enough)

– Black “Sharpie” marker

I began this lesson by talking a bit about Amate Bark Paintings used by the Otomi Indians of San Pablito, Mexico. If you’ve ever made home-made paper before (I did when I was sixteen!), you’ll know that you can put almost anything into a blender, whoosh it up, smooth it out and strain it. Once it dries, you have paper. It’s the same for bark painting. The kids seem amazed that tree bark can actually turn into paper!

Anyway…instead of mushing bark into pulp, we tore the edges off a piece of colored construction paper. I demonstrated the proper technique for ripping paper: use thumb and pointer fingers on both hands and slowly tear. If you don’t have colored construction paper, use craft paper or even paper bags.

Using images I found on the Internet representing Mexican Folk Art, the kids drew a border around the paper then added fanciful birds, Mexican suns and flowers to the middle. I used the rule of three to encourage repetition: 3 of the same birds (can be different sizes) or three of the same flower, or one large sun and 2 birds of equal size. It mostly worked but many kids still tried to fit every image onto their paintings. Oh well, it’s all fun!

After the drawing was done, it was time to paint. I used tempera paints, but if you have fluorescent tempera paint, now is the time to pull them out.

Before the children paint, review the difference between a LINE and a SHAPE. Paint inside the shapes, but not over the lines. It helps.
Once the paint is dry, the kids can add details with a black pen and go over all their lines (we didn’t do this yet).

Note from Patty: After many requests, I included the full version of this project (and drawing handouts!) in my Around the World Art Lesson Plan Booklet

Fourth Grade Amate Bark Paintings

What do you think?

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  • Lori Decoite

    great lesson- thanks for sharing : )

  • Swati

    These are lovely, easy and teach something new (I didn't know of this folkart before either!). Thanks.

  • Jacquelien

    These are so beautiful!

  • Mary

    I love your adaptation of this project. These are wonderful! I definitely would like to do this lesson. Thanks!

  • ONe PiNK FiSH

    These are beautiful. I think I could even get my kinder kids to do something similar during stations. Thanks for the post!

  • Hanane

    I am just curious as to where you found your images I would love to try these with my kids. Thanks

  • William

    Great paintings!!! Where did you find the images of folk art??? Any particular sites???


  • Patty P

    Regarding the source for the folk art image: none, really! I did a google image search on Mexican Folk Art and Amate Bark Painting and just improvised with what I saw. As you can see from the children's art, the images are not that complex or original.
    Good luck!

  • Sweet Saffron

    Ok I spent about two hours this weekend searching for folk art images and let's be honest…nothing even remotely compares to the idea sheets you gave your kids and we can see in the photos. Could we persuade you to pdf them and let us buy them like the Egyptian lesson plans? pretty please!

  • mishkash

    Thanks! 🙂 love to try these with my kids.

  • Patty P

    Hi Sweet Saffron,
    Regarding images, I'm not trying to be dishonest or withhold anything…I just thought it'd be easy for you to see the images on the kids artwork. This might make a good PDF though. I'm working on a PDF inspired by different cultures….perhaps you'll see it soon!

  • debbiem

    Patty, I have all your downloads. I use them in my classroom. I'm looking forward to the multicultural lessons.
    PS. Couldn't find any nice images on google. Yours are the best! :0)

  • Cheryl Hancock

    I have completed this activity with year 4,5,6 , These kids just loved the activity. What I used to embellish the birds even more was using Faber Castell colour burst pens. They come in 4 colours . These pens are opaque and provide additional pattern and texture. I am from Australia and we spell colour differently!!! I will put some up on a picasa web album next week.

  • Amanda Huffman

    I just want to THANK YOU for such a great website. Love your lessons. Will try a few of them with in the next coming months.

  • Jesse

    Well i loved these bark paintings they are easy and fun.

  • ruth_chapman@verizon.net

    Very excited about these as we were just at the museum of the american indian in DC! A question: I bought the lesson and see you’re using 6 x 9″ paper–any reason you are working that small? I’ve been doing a lot of 12 x 18 pieces from your other lessons.

    • Patty Palmer

      Hi Ruth,
      Sometimes larger pieces take a long time to complete. The smaller paper really worked for the details the students drew. Large paper is great though so use whatever works. As far as paint goes (email question) I think Blick has a pretty good brand. More expensive than regular paint but worth it.

  • lindaharbour@me.com

    Where do I download the PDF? Can’t seem to find it on your website. Luv this (& all you are doing)! Thanks so much!

  • Christina Lee

    Thank you for sharing this project. I remember when I was in 6th grade my teacher had us do a similar project with paper bags, but my memories are limited as I’m getting older!
    I really appreciate that you have pictures step by step for the kids (and myself) to see. looking forward to trying it this year.

  • A Cervetti

    Hello there,

    I recently purchased you’re Around the World Art Lesson Plan Book. I was so happy to be able to use it with my students!! However, I am not sure what happened? I don’t know if there was a computer glitch but I never got any info about it.

  • Barbara

    Absolutely perfect for my Oaxacan ag workers children ages 5 – 7 !! If i use construction paper does one crinkle the poor first?

  • mexico lover2832832

    maybe you could take pichures of the same thing but I real mexico like I did before.

  • Kathy Naas


  • Karen K

    Wow! This is a really good way to get the kids thinking about lines, shapes, AND color! Very beautiful!! Unfortunately, we are not in school right now, so no tempra paint. BUT, I think it would be fun with markers! Whatever gets our students engaged, right? Thank you for this lovely lesson! It will be one I will not soon forget! Especially the “make your own paper” idea and this very traditional type of art!

  • Rosslyn Kendrick

    Super cool

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