PAINTING NORTHERN SPIRIT FLUTES
The Saskatchewan grade 4 social studies curriculum works beautifully with the smaller Indigenous D diatonic Style Northern Spirit Flutes. I work with a wonderful group of classroom teachers at École canadienne-française. I outlined what their students would be learning through making and playing the Indigenous Style North American flute. I invited them to take on the painting portion of the learning experience with their students. They were more than pleased to guide the students through the painting process.
Prior to painting the flutes, I use a class to help engage students in visioning and imagining what story they want their flute to tell. I show them photos of old traditionally made indigenous flutes, as well as some Northern Spirit Flutes students have made. I suggest they speak to their parents about their family’s history. I ask them to find out what is important to their family’s lineage and roots. I remind my students their flute will last for hundreds of years and can be passed down from generation to generation to their great, great grandchildren. I ask them to think of what message or story would they want to share with their relations into the future? I also try to remind them they should be painting something they would be proud to show their parents, grandparents and other people they respect now, as well. Because I live on Treaty Six land where a large part of the population is of Cree ancestry, I show student a Cree syllabics table. I explain how they could use these symbols to write their name on their flute. I will also share a booklet with indigenous symbols and pictographs, included in the package I email to customers. There are flute design sheets in your package to use for this.
After the students have completed their design sheet, they are ready to begin sanding and undercoating their flutes. The Gesso dries very quickly and you could even start painting a base coat in the 1st class if students wanted.
PAINTING RULES & SEQUENCE
***DO NOT PAINT THE BIRD, TOP OF THE NEST OR MOUTHPIECE***
Remove the lacing and bird. Put them in a zip lock bag and place in your desk for safekeeping. REPLACEMENT BIRDS ARE EXPENSIVE.
Tape over the mouthpiece and the top of the nest. ***Any paint that gets on top of the nest can create sound quality and tuning problems. The same thing goes for the bird. Students can use permanent markers as this will not interfere with the sound quiality and tuning of their flute.
Sand the flute body with 220 grit sand paper until all the shine is off and it has a whitish tinge to the color. Wipe off the flute body with a wet cloth.
Apply an undercoat of Gesso so the water based acrylic will have something to stick to.
Paint the flutes. See suggestions below for ideas on how to do this in the most efficient manner.
Topcoat the flutes.
Re-assemble the flutes.
Being Efficient and Teaching Respect
I've learned a lot about being efficient with the painting process from many other teachers. I purchase little mini plastic cups and covers from the Great Canadian Superstore, the ones used for dipping sauces. I also purchase a bag of plastic knives to use for getting paint out of the little cups for mixing colours. I then put 5 of the little cups together in half of an egg carton that acts as a holder for a group of 3 or 4 students. The night before we paint, I put a dab of red, yellow, blue, black and white (you can use Gesso for white) in each of the cups and put the lids on. I have this all ready to go ahead of time, so all the students need to do is get newspaper to cover their work area, paper towels, brushes and water to get started painting. It is then easy to add paint to any of their cups later if they run out.
Teach your students to use one knife for each colour when they scoop out paint so the colors do not get mixed in the cups. They should use their brush to do the mixing, no the knives. This will keep the colours clean for others to use and waste less paint. I find the paint keeps quite well in the little cups, so you can use it again over the course of a week without all of it drying up. I also take time to teach them how to clean their brushes and don't let them put them away until I've inspected them. I have ended up with some lazy students who do not clean the brushes very well and try to put them away dirty. I am strict about this part of things to teach respect and responsibility. I like to put on a CD of some beautiful Native American Flute music while your painting and tell the students to let their imagination take them to new and wonderful places.
The final step is to topcoat the flute with a water base varathane or a similar product to protect the finish. I recommend two to three thin coats. Be sure the 1st coat is dry before doing each subsequent coat. If you paint before the paint or varathane are dry enough, you can make the colours run o peel off the first layer of topcoat and make a mess of your flute.
FAUX FINISH by James Tong
This work is quite amazing. When James sent me photos of the painting he had done with his flutes, I was just blown away! The flutes looked so much like wood, I had to keep zooming in to see the detail in the work. And the finish still looked like wood! Thank you for sharing James.