My Formline Experiments: Repetition, Geometric Shapes and Weirdness

Lately my daily sketches in Tlingit formline have been my own experimental designs. I like to really “let go” and get weird. For me, that’s when the magic happens.

For you beginners, just keep practicing the basic shapes: Ovoid, U, and all the filler shapes. Start building your reference library of books on Tlingit art. Make your sketchbook a daily practice. Take it with you to museums. Look at lots of art on Pinterest, Google Images, and searchable museum collections. You’ll soon be addicted!

After a point, you’ll begin designing your own. That’s the most rewarding part for me. I’m best when I don’t have an “assignment” to complete, I just let it happen.

Here’s 3 more from the Daily Tlingit Sketchbook:

Experimental Tlingit Formline


Started this one with the mouth, of all places to start! Worked in a killer whale that interrupts the central face. Gave the face some body parts that don’t really correspond to anything: the froggy looking feet at the top. In the killer whale, I “stacked” U shapes on the fins and flukes. Since I started a pattern of repetition, I continued that with the circles in the backbone, so they extend into the eyebrow and the ovoid of the tail. Added a small wave at the bottom right to fill that space.

Experimental Tlingit Formline

Star and Triangles

I really like this one a lot. Sometimes I’ll section my sketchbook page before filling with design, to get my main lines. Here I started with a star, and then filled in. Design is nothing specific. I simply worked my way around and gave it a few suggestions of other creatures. Triangles are a good challenge in formline design.

Experimental Tlingit Formline


I had oil dependence on my mind as I was designing this one. Oil coming out of the belly of some poor creature, regurgitated by raven. Upside down faces represent slaves.

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