This lesson began with the study of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs that were painted or hung on the sides of barns. They have since become the subject matter for popular country kitsch designs that find their way onto hand towels, clocks, and even clothing. Students look at images that I present to them as we talk about the research I’ve done (certain symbols that are supposed to bring luck, health, long life, or safety to the family, for instance) and then discuss the possible meanings of other symbols on the radial Hex Signs.
After this process, I present the challenge to my students: to create a personal identity radial design that either has one design that repeats 8 times, or an A B pattern that repeats 4 times. Students need to consider their unique qualities, hobbies and interests, cultural heritage, and values, then create symbols to illustrate the identifying characteristics they listed on the front of a brainstorming worksheet.
Symbol Worksheet (Back)
Students spend the remainder of the first class filling out the worksheet, and, if time permits, drawing a circle, divided into 8 equal parts, into which they begin putting symbols they’ve created from the worksheet in various combinations. Each eighth of the circle should have a different combination of at least 2 symbols, but some combinations may reuse important symbols to the student. Students choose their two favorite “wedges” to incorporate into their radial design, unless they choose to have one design repeating for all 8 parts of the circle, in which case I required students to have at least 3 personal symbols included in the design.
Students then draw their selected design/s onto wedges of paper I’ve precut that equal 1/8 of the completed circle they will eventually create. After drawing their designs on the wedges of paper, I have them shade in the entire back of the wedge, then give them a piece of heavy weight paper with a + in the middle, denoting the center. Students line up their first wedge with the +, trace the edge of the wedge, then trace their design. This graphite transfer ensures that the pattern will be more exact than if they drew the pattern free-hand. After completing the first wedge, they do the same thing with the second wedge of the pattern, if applicable, by lining it up with the + and the previous design. They continue tracing their design/s all the way around until there are 8 designs transferred onto the paper, which create a full circle. I suggested to my students that they then retrace their designs freehand so that they are more visable (the graphite transfer is not always very dark) and then erase any smudges.
After creating their radial design, I gave students the choice of fine-line markers and/or colored pencils to complete their piece. Tempera or Acrylic paint would also work well, if you have the time and patience to work with yout students on this. I thought some of the most successful radial designs were the ones that included both marker and colored pencil. Below are a few of my favorites.