Visual Arts – Dot Painting and Binary Code


[Image: Japingka Aboriginal Art Gallery. ]

Visual Arts – Dot Painting and Binary Code

Art Form: Visual Arts, Year 4

The following unit is based on the idea of Binary Bracelets where bracelets of student’s names are created using binary (, n.d.) and adapted for visual arts. The emphasis of the course is to teach students about the techniques, processes, and history of Aboriginal dot painting. They have already been learning about binary code and this lesson would provide them with a non-digital real-world application of binary code.

Arts activities

Lesson 1 (20 minutes)

This will be a short lesson to engage students and introduce them to dot-painting. This will be done by the teacher choosing examples of different types of dot paintings and providing them with websites for them to explore in pairs (e.g. Japingka Art Gallery (2018). After some exploration they will be asked what they can see in the dot paintings and how they feel. They will be informed that they will have an Indigenous Artist coming in on their next lesson to teach them all about dot painting.


  • What is dot painting?
  • Where have you seen dot painting before?
  • What does it make you think of?
  • How does it make you feel?

Lesson 2 + 3 (100 minutes)

[Video: Ferguson, 2011]

In this double lesson, the students will be visited by a local indigenous artist who will discuss the basis of the technique, its role in Aboriginal history, symbolism (e.g. animals, sandscapes) and the importance of the messages within the art itself.

As in the above video, students will be encouraged to start painting by drawing a small shape on an A5 piece of paper. Painting with acrylic paints and the ends of sticks (commonly used by modern dot painters), they will dot paint the shape as a starting point and continue from there. Students will be given the option of a range of colours, such as earth-like colours originally used, or bright colours used in more modern dot painting. They will be encouraged to think about the palette of colours they could choose, perhaps to represent landscape and environments personal to them. Students will be painting individually.

Towards the end of the lesson, students will present their work to the class, talking about what they were trying to do with the art. As a group, led by the artist and the teacher, they will highlight what they see in the art and how it made them feel. It will be emphasised that this is art in progress. The teacher will organise for one of the students to formally thank the artist for coming to the school and teaching them how to dot paint.


  • What made you choose the colours that you did?
  • Did you notice how people extended from their original shape?
  • What was hard about this technique?

Lesson 4 (50 minutes)

[Video: Cloud Skipper Dreaming, 2011]

Students will discuss the previous lesson with the artist and reminded of their paintings. The teacher will show them the above video of “How the kangaroo got its pouch” (Cloud Skipper Dreaming, 2011). Talking about the story, they will unpack its imagery, where it came from and how they felt about it artistically. The teacher will remind them in the previous lesson how secret messages were put into dot painting and guide them to the idea of using binary.

The teacher will give them the task in pairs, of deciding on part of the story that they wished to paint, using symbols for the characters, and also including a message using binary code. The students will plan the painting they will be doing in the next lesson and the secret message they wished to hide in the painting.


  • What is a way we could put a message into a painting using dots?
  • What sorts of message do you think the Aboriginal artists hid in their paintings?
  • What sorts of messages or words could you embed in the painting?

Lesson 5 + 6 (100 minutes)

Working on their own, students will be given acrylic paint and the choice of colours of A5 pieces of paper they wish to paint on. They will be given a brief overview of the techniques taught to them by the artist from lesson 2 and allowed to work on their painting.

Once the paintings are done. Students will leave their art work on their desk. The students will then have the opportunity to walk around the classroom, looking at each other’s art. A lined piece of paper will be left next to each painting and the students will write one word about how the art made them feel, and write down what they thought the secret message was. At the end of the class, students who volunteer or are selected by the teacher to talk about what they were trying to do with the art work and how the hid the message. They will indicate whether their message was correctly identified.


  • Was it hard to decode the messages in the story?
  • [Looking at written responses] What do you think the others felt about the art they saw?
  • Does anyone have a particular painting they liked? Why did you like it?

Pedagogical approaches and teaching strategies to teach the content, key knowledge and skills identified

In the above sequence of lessons, teacher-led guided inquiry (Chen & Tytler, 2017) was used to get students to experience art as audience and then provided a challenge to respond to Aboriginal story and its imagery in their own painting, experiencing it as artist. Direct Instruction (Godhino, 2016b, p. 265) was also utilised in the teaching of the specific techniques used in Aboriginal dot painting.

This unit will seek to focus on the teaching of Indigenous Australian Culture, consistent Cross-curriculum Priorities (ACARA, 2014b). Specifically, students will be engaged with exploring artworks and ideas from Aboriginal artists, and responding to them in their own creations (ACARA, 2014c, ACAVAM110). They would be using materials and processes appropriate to the artform (ACARA, 2014d, ACAVAM111), presenting and discussing the visual conventions they used in their own art work (ACARA, 2014e, ACAVAM112). In terms of Digital Technologies, they will be examining how different types of data can be represented in different ways (ACARA, 2014f, ACTDIK008)

Differentiation strategies

This unit could be modified for students with physical disabilities by altering the technique for putting the dots on the page. Instead of it being done with bamboo or a stick, they could use something more easily grasped like a potato with a shape cut into it, or by using ink with a stamp that has the shape of a circle.

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