Native American Sand Painting

Sand painting has long been a tradition of the Native American tribes of the southwest.  The Navajo tribes, in particular, are known for this beautiful art.  Traditionally, the medicine man of the tribe sprinkled colored sand in beautiful patterns and designs in front of the hogan of someone who is ill.  As he makes the intricate designs, he chants and prays for a healing blessing.  Once he is finished he looks over his work, making sure that it is in perfect order, because the order of the art represents new harmony in the ill person’s life and body.  The painting also acts as a portal for healing spirits.  Once the painting and chanting are done, it is thought to absorb the illness and is destroyed.


Native American Sand Painting Craft

Navajo-Sand-Painting-1As you learn about this beautiful art, you can make your own version of a sand painting.  You can make yours last more permanently by affixing the sand to card stock using glue.

You’ll need:

  • clean sand
  • powdered tempera paint
  • card stock
  • glue

Start by mixing your sand and various colors of tempera paint in small dishes.  I used about 2 Tbsp. of sand and 1 tsp. of paint in each small container.

Next, sketch out your design on scratch paper.  Think about symmetry and combining organic and geometric shapes.

If you’d like, you can sketch it lightly on the card stock you are planning to adhere the sand to.  Once your design is ready, trace one section at a time with the glue and begin carefully sprinkling colored sand on to the glue, one color at a time.


Gently shake off the excess.  We used paper plates to catch our excess sand.


We made sure to cover every inch of our card stock square so the design was completely filled in.   They turned out pretty neat.


I’ll tell you what else, we now have major respect for the intricate designs of the Navajo sand painters.  Even with the benefit of the glue and getting to pour off the excess, this wasn’t an easy project.  Those men must have extreme patience and skill to be able to complete those intricate sand paintings.  Amazing.  Overall, this project was awesome.  We had several neighborhood kids over and everyone begged to make several of them.  There were lots of neat designs made by all the kids, beginning with my 3 year-old all the way up to the teenage kids.  And yeah, I dabbled in it too.  It’s even fun for grown-ups.


Additional Layers

  • The Native Americans weren’t the only ones to make sand paintings.  Indigenous Australians and Tibetans have also made similar artwork.
  • The Native Americans of the Southwest are also known for their beautiful jewelry design, and especially their work with turquoise.
  • Sand has also been added into liquid paints in order to create interesting textures within paintings.   This technique is called impasto.  While you have the sand and paint out, you can try it.  In fact, if you just add a little water to your leftover colored sand pots, you can use the thick paint to make more art.

More From Layers of Learning

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