Chinese textile artist : Five Clawed Dragon

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum

Overview

Chinese textile, Five-Clawed Dragon
Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644; embroidery on silk; 12.25 in. x 11.75 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze the Five-Clawed Dragon and learn how textiles can be an art form
  • Discuss the importance of dragons in Chinese art and how they were used to symbolize the power of the emperor
  • Identify and describe the use of elements of art, including shape, form, line, and texture, in this textile
  • Design circular compositions using symmetry and balance
  • Color dragons with oil pastels, using tints, shades, and intensity to show form
  • Create oil pastel and watercolor dragons in a circular format

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Vocabulary, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • sketchbooks
  • 12×18 white paper
  • shading pencils
  • oil pastels
  • watercolors
  • watercolor brushes
  • water containers
  • erasers
  • paper towels and sponges
  • newspaper
Setup Directions
  • Cover work surfaces with newspaper.
  • Set out sketchbooks, shading pencils, erasers, and pictures of dragons.
  • Have ready 12×18 white paper, precut 12” circle templates, and oil pastels.
  • Have ready watercolors, brushes, and water containers.
  • Have ready damp paper towels and sponges for wiping up spills and drying brushes.
Variations
  • Cut out the dragons and mount them on 12×12 gold, fadeless paper.
  • Use cut or torn tissue paper to make a collage dragon. Attach paper to make a large head, then attach body segments decorated with paper and streamers to make a snakelike body.
  • Design and paint Chinese dragons on lengths of kraft paper. Cut them out and hang them from the classroom ceiling.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Predraw and cut out the circles of white for the final dragons. Draw the dragons on light-blue or yellow paper and eliminate the background wash.
  • To extend project for older students: Draw two dragons interacting with each other and with the pearl.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

What was the purpose of this dragon textile?
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Purpose - Textile/Symbol/Yin-Yang

This textile, or cloth, decorated with the image of a dragon, was embroidered on a ch’i-fu (chee-foo), or robe. This robe was worn at court by the Chinese emperor. Rank and status of the emperor were shown by the cut and color of the robe and by this dragon. The dragon was the exclusive symbol of the emperor. Only emperors were permitted to wear yellow or have the five-clawed dragon. This guardian dragon represents the emperor’s authority.

Like a good emperor, the dragon seeks the pearl, a symbol in ancient China of wisdom, beauty, and good fortune. Pearls represent purity and proper conduct in Chinese art. However, the fiery pearl is elusive, and just out of reach. The Chinese dragon is considered a divine mythical creature that offers abundance, prosperity, and good fortune. Dragons are guardians that protect and aid humans as long as they behave well.

Dragons were believed to control natural forces, such as wind, lightening and rain. Waves crashing against rocky mountains show the dangers of nature and symbolize the yin and yang, or opposites, of earth and water. Dragons could reward or punish humans, uniting the opposite powers of the natural world: nurturing rain and destructive storms. The dragon, like the emperor, was believed to protect the people with its power, but both could punish bad behavior with a fiery vengeance if angered.

What lines make the dragon look fierce?
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Line - Jagged/Sinuous

The jagged lines in the ridge on the dragon’s back give the dragon a fierce appearance. The dragon’s sharp jagged, teeth, horns, claws, and 117 jagged scales look threatening. Yet they represent both his benevolence and his potential violence.

Sinuous, curving lines of the dragon’s body, mouth, and smoke are soft lines that encircle and protect. The dragon’s fiery face combines characteristics of several animals. According to tradition, the dragon’s wide, flat head resembles a camel’s, and his eyes are like a demon’s. He has the ears of a cow, the horns of a stag, the feet of a tiger, and the talons of an eagle.

How is the design balanced?
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Design - Balance/Emphasis/Unity/Symmetry/Asymmetry

The dragon’s head is central, and the legs and tail spread to both sides. Cloud patterns fill space around the dragon’s head. Only the base of the design is symmetrical, with its foaming waves and blue mountain. The dragon fills the left side of the composition, balanced by the pearl on the right.

The importance of the pearl is emphasized by its bright color, and by being placed alone on one side of the circle. Like wisdom, the pearl is elusive and must be continually sought by the dragon. The dragon is constantly reaching toward the fiery pearl, but it cannot be captured.

The round shape of the dragon’s head and eyes, the pearl, and the curving lines of the waves and clouds, repeat the circular format and unite the composition. The balanced repetition of blue and red colors also unite the composition.

A dragon’s face and body are symmetrical. Its central spine, spread legs, and facial features are symmetrical, but when seen from the side, the symmetry is only approximate.

The placement of the dragon is asymmetrical within the circle. It occupies 3/4 of the composition, balancing the pearl in the other quarter.

How do the colors add to the power of the dragon?
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Color - Contrast/Intensity

The color contrast between the bright blue, red, green, and black colors and the gold background, attract our attention to the pearl, emphasizing its importance.

The intensity of the colors is increased by placing contrasting colors such as red and blue next to each other. The dragon is embroidered with bright, pure colors, against a muted gold background.

How do shapes show that this dragon lives in the sky?
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Shape/Form - Curvilinear/Organic/Format

The curvilinear cloud shapes indicate that this is the celestial dragon that protects the heavens and the gods. This dragon controls rain and lightning, which can either help humans or cause catastrophe. Earth dragons control rivers, seas, and underground minerals.

Organic wave and cloud shapes under the dragon represent the water.

The circular format echoes the dragon’s shape, creating an overall balance of rounded patterns. The white, spiny ridge on the dragon’s back adds form, or the illusion of roundness, to the dragon’s body.

Where is the dragon?
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Space - Positive/Negative

The positive shape of the dragon flies over a landscape in the restricted format of a circle. The mountains at the bottom of the circle and the clouds above the dragon’s head add depth to the landscape.

The dragon is floating in negative space that represents both sky and water. The negative space allows room for his movement, and relief from the busy patterns of his body.

What kind of texture does this dragon have?
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Texture - Actual/Visual

The dragon is embroidered onto fabric, which has actual texture. The surface of silk would feel smooth to the touch.

The scales, claws and sharp teeth give visual texture to the dragon.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts

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Project Directions

Oil Pastel Dragon with Watercolor

Directions

Warm up and Brainstorm

  • Talk about the elaborate embroidered textiles worn by Chinese emperors. Why did artisans working for an emperor make their work as beautiful as possible?
  • Talk about the colors used. Why were certain colors, such as gold, reserved for the emperor’s use.
  • Look at pictures of Chinese dragons. Compare them with Western-style dragons. Look at how a dragon’s face shows his character and how smoke or clouds are blown from his mouth. What other features help define a dragon’s character?
  • Think about what type of dragon to create. Will it be a sky dragon or an earth dragon? Think about what features will be used as metaphors, such as sharp teeth or claws for strength, or a curving tail and body for wisdom and beauty.
  • Discuss how art helps us understand the lives of people in different times, places, and cultures. What current interests, concerns, or ideas could be expressed through art-making? List the ideas on the board.
  • Talk about what conditions, attitudes, and behaviors support creativity and innovative thinking. What factors encourage people to take creative risks? What factor prevent people from taking risks? Discuss how collaboration or working together can heighten the creative process and generate new, exciting methods and ideas for creating art.

Project Directions

  1. Sketch a sinuous dragon body inside a circle. Sketch head, legs, pearl.
  2. Draw an asymmetrical Guardian Dragon in a 12” circle. Use Template for 12” circle and oil pastel. Draw curvilinear body filling most of circle.
  3. Draw four legs with five claws each. Make legs protrude from body at an angle to show movement. Draw jagged ridge on dragons back.
  4. Draw the dragons angular head showing eyes, nostrils, horns, whiskers. Use Pictures of Dragons.
  5. Draw pearl near dragon’s head, balancing the composition.
  6. Color contour lines and details of the dragon using oil pastels. Plan colors for head, scales, body and claws. Use intense colors that will contrast with background.
  7. Draw body contour line using dark color oil pastel. Blend in shading on underside of body. Blend in highlights on ridge, nose, legs and claws.
  8. Add scale patterns on back.
  9. Color the pearl white or light gray.
  10. Color symbols and visual metaphors to represent yin/yang. Waves, fire, plants or clouds. Repeat colors used in dragon. Color heavily.
  11. Paint the dragon’s body with medium intensity color watercolors.
  12. Paint the background with light intensity watercolor wash when dragon is dry. Use light colors.
Tips
  • Emphasize curving, sinuous lines and to create symmetry and balance with symbols.
Variations
  • Cut out the dragons and mount them on 12×12 gold, fadeless paper.
  • Use cut or torn tissue paper to make a collage dragon. Attach paper to make a large head, then attach body segments decorated with paper and streamers to make a snakelike body.
  • Design and paint Chinese dragons on lengths of kraft paper. Cut them out and hang them from the classroom ceiling.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Predraw and cut out the circles of white for the final dragons. Draw the dragons on light-blue or yellow paper and eliminate the background wash.
  • To extend project for older students: Draw two dragons interacting with each other and with the pearl.

Video


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Student Gallery

Reflections

  • Find the different ways the dragons’ bodies fit the circular format.
  • Look for repeated details that symbolize scales, horns, teeth, and claws.
  • Look for symmetry in the dragons and asymmetry in the circular designs.
  • Find tints and shades that give form to the dragon shapes.
  • Look for visual metaphors that express the traditions and myths of Chinese culture.
  • Identify compositions that use the pearl of wisdom to balance the dragon.
  • Identify lines that show movement.

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