Native Americans – War Paint

From my previous post I explained that I wanted to research into the Native American culture, to learn more about the culture and it’s connection to spirits and nature.



Like all my research I started off with Pinterest to help me quickly gain a range of imagery around the subject matter, feeding me visual information about the lifestyle and look of the society.

Looking back now I’m unsure this was the best idea, because it is hard to tell the reliability and validity of the images, meaning I don’t know how accurate the images are of representing the culture, or whether the images are even from a Native American society or not. Making it difficult to know if the imagery I’m getting is giving me the right information. I believe this is due to people simply being able to upload pictures and give no sources for them, and so can label the images with any tag even if it is not correct. From this I have learnt to only use Pinterest for concepts rather than finding information about specific historic or factual information, as it will not also be correct. To solve this I plan to search in the library for books on the community to gain imagery, as this information has been published so is more of a reliable and valid resource.

However, though I don’t believe Pinterest may have been greatly useful in giving me accurate imagery, it did branch out my ideas with there being an over arching theme of symbols and body art/ war paint in the pictures I pinned. I was drawn to this because I find the concept of our bodies being canvas of art intriguing and also I’m interested in what the paint/ symbols mean and whether by putting them shapes on his face if gives the person some extra meaning or powers. From this I planned to research further into the body/war paint to discover its specific cultural meanings and any other information about it.



















These scans are of an article I read about the use and meaning behind the Native American war paint.


Refer to Research Folder


What did i LEARN
  • War paint is used to distinguish between classes – Military Ranks
  • Used as a way to show what a warrior has achieved – Honour
  • War Paint is a part of the individuals identity – All their positions have the same emblems
  • Some war paint shapes have meanings about what the person has achieved and some are used what the warrior whats to gain.
  • Colour also plays a large role in the meaning behind the symbols – Yellow is the colour of death – Unusual as this is a joyful colour within western society.
  • Body paint is not just used for war but for ceremonies too.
  • War paint painted on horses too to give them protection and powers.
wHAT will I Take forward?

From this part of the research I felt I’d learnt a lot of valuable information about the meanings behind symbols and found interest in how you can read a person just by the war paint they are wearing. As it the symbols become a visual language in themselves and creates a sense of power and dominance and so could inspire character designs in a game.

Also another aspect I’m particularly interested in is the connection between horses and the war paint, as the natives painted their horses and not just themselves. Which interests me as it makes me question whether they consider horses to be an extension of themselves or if they have a deep connection to them. Therefore I want to learn more about horses in the Native American culture and whether their body art has a different meaning to that of their owners.


With Native American’s painting symbols on their horses as well as themselves, I was intrigued as to the reason behind this and what connection the natives had to their animals.

Research on the meanings of war symbols on horses.

Refer to Research Folder



What i learnt
  • Specific meanings for different shapes and different positions
  • Used to help enhance the horses abilities
  • Body paint applied by the wife or mother of the rider
  • Secret prayer – wife paints onto hindquarter – prayer can’t be told until warrior comes home and is meant to give good luck to warrior – woman is himulated if the hunt went badly – caused by her prayer


Horses of the People

Annotated scans from an article from National Geographic about the horses of the native Americans.

Refer to Research Folder



What i learnt
  • Horse were very important to the native Americans in helping them hunt buffalo better. – Helped raise the profile of the culture – protection and lifestyle
  • Horses were a form of money
  • Not all Native American tribes used horses
  • Settlers would steal and kill horses – Too expensive keep all but too valuable to just set free, as the natives could catch them, so killed them in brutal and horrific ways.


Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Film

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is an animated film which follows the adventures of Spirit a mustang living wild in the great plains of America. Spirit gets caught up in many incidents involving Native Americans, as well as the military settlers who are trying to take over. The film shows the connection between the natives and their horses, with them painting on them shown in the clip below.

Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron Clip



  • As I explained above I felt my Pinterest research wasn’t greatly useful in getting valid imagery, so I plan to search in the library to get more accurate photos of the Native American culture from specific art books. Using these imagery it will help me better understand what the visual identify of the culture actually was.