Lesson 2: Design: Willow pattern - Option 2: The Christmas story

Applying understanding of tones and tints to create a traditional willow pattern design style plate depicting the Christmas story.

Learning objective

  • To apply an understanding of tint to recreate a traditional design style

National curriculum

Pupils should be taught to:

  • Improve their mastery of Art and design techniques, including drawing, painting and sculpture with a range of materials [for example, pencil, charcoal, paint, clay]
  • About great artists, architects and designers in history

Success criteria

  • I can discuss and understand the features of original willow pattern designs
  • I can interpret a part of the Christmas story into a willow pattern design
  • I can select and use tools appropriately in my work
  • I can make tints; using undiluted ink to add detail and using a water wash to add lighter tones

Cross-curricular links

English – Years 3 and 4 Programme of Study

Reading – Comprehension

  • Understand what they read, in books they can read independently, by: identifying main ideas drawn from more than one paragraph and summarising these
  • Participate in discussion about both books that are read to them and those they can read for themselves, taking turns and listening to what others say


Before the lesson


You may wish to complete this across two lessons, the first lesson to plan and design and the second to paint.


Class collaboration alternative option:

You could complete this as a collaborative class project. In which case, you will need to adapt the planning section to give each child, pair or group a specific scene/event to create to make the whole Christmas story in one class set of plates. You will need to find additional images depending on how many children you have or how you wish to approach this.


  • Teacher video: Willow pattern – Christmas
  • Pupil video: Willow pattern – Christmas
Teacher video: Willow pattern - Christmas

Pupil video: Willow pattern - Christmas

Have ready

  • Presentation: Willow pattern designs (see Attention grabber)
  • Optional: an example of English willow pattern (either online or an actual plate)
  • Link: ‘Willow Pattern Story’ on VideoLink – this is an external website and we do not have control over its content – please check before showing it to the children. 
  • Large paper plates
  • Water-soluble blue ink 
  • Fine brushes
  • Water
  • Sketchbooks
  • Pencils


  • Activity: Nativity storyboard – enough for pairs or small groups. Cut up into scenes (see Classroom resources)

Download and print resource

Activity: Nativity storyboard
icon download

Attention grabber

Show children examples of Willow patterns by displaying the Presentation: Willow pattern designs.

Presentation: Willow pattern designs

Display on your interactive whiteboard

You can also look at other examples you find online or an authentic piece of willow pattern crockery.


Key question

  • Where do you think this design originates from? 
  • Can you justify your suggestion?
  • Is it traditionally Chinese?
  •  Why do you think this?


Tell the children that the story in the design is set in China, and the plate itself is made from… yes, china. Explain that although the drawing style looks faintly Chinese, the pattern is actually British and was designed by a man called Thomas Minton at the end of the 18th century. 

Minton designed a range of ‘chinoiserie’ pottery (decorated in the supposed style of the Far East but conceived and created in the UK), which was seen as exotic and desirable at the time.

Although he based the design on artwork he had seen in China, the story it depicts is not a traditional Chinese tale but written by Minton himself.

If you have time, watch the link: ‘Willow Pattern Story’ on VideoLink.

There are many versions of the design, but they all feature the key elements of the original story: the bridge, the garden fence, the central pair of birds, the particular details of the pavilions and surrounding trees.

Take a look at another plate – can children spot these features now?

Lastly, discuss the use of just the one colour. Ask the children if they can explain how the dark and light was created if only one colour was used. 


Key questions

  • What is a tint?
  • How can we create tints of blue? 

Main event

The children are going to create their own willow pattern designed plates, retelling the Christmas story.

As explained at the start of the lesson, this could be done as a collaborative class project, with each child/pair/group creating a different scene/event on their plate. When put together, they will tell the Christmas story.  

To recap the Christmas story, put the children into pairs or small groups and provide them with the images from the Christmas storyboard sheet, ensuring that they are cut up before the lesson. Ask the children to order the key events then re-tell the story to one another.

Alternatively, you can leave the storyboard as it is and discuss the story as a class, thinking about the key events the storyboard depicts.

Demonstrate the activity yourself, or share the Pupil video: Willow pattern – Christmas with the class. (You could then leave the video playing for the children to refer to as they work, as they video is looped).


Pupil video: Willow pattern - Christmas

Part 1: Planning

The children start by picking out a key event in the story that they would like to depict on their plate, using the images they have looked at to inspire them (some may have an extra scene or event they would like to do).

They then decide on three key elements from that event or scene to draw on their plate. For example:

  • the stable
  • Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus
  • the star 


They then plan their design in their sketchbooks. Ask them to consider how they are going to represent the key characters and features of their chosen part of the Christmas story? 

When they have sketched their ideas, they need to plan where they will place them on the plate. They could plan within a circle in their sketchbooks, or lightly sketch on their plate. 

Challenge your more able pupils to decide how they will decorate the edge of their plate. Encourage them to look at the geometric shapes on the internal border of an original Willow pattern. They can design a border pattern in their sketchbooks – remembering to keep the shapes of equal size.


Part 2: Drawing and painting the story 

The children will be using water-based ink to create their willow pattern designs. If you do not have access to water-based ink, they could use blue paint and create tints by adding white, and shades by adding black.

They begin by lightly sketching their design onto their plate in pencil. Stress the importance of doing this lightly, so that they can easily erase any mistakes and refine as they go.

Then, they ink in the details using the undiluted blue ink and a fine brush. 

Finally, wash most of the ink off the brush with the water and use a wet watered brush to wash in the lighter tones of blue into each area to create the tones. 

Emphasise not to load the brush with too much water – the aim is to control the watered-down ink, which will be a lighter tone, almost as if you have added white to the blue. 

Darker areas will need undiluted ink. They may need to go back over with a very fine brush to add in more detail.


Pupils needing extra support: Could use the pictures from the Christmas Story board as a reference for their drawings, or the simplified outline drawings.


Pupils working at greater depth: Should be encouraged to consider greater detail and create a regular, geometric border for their plate.

Wrapping up

Once the children’s work is dry, arrange the plates to show the Christmas story. 

As a class, retell the Christmas story using the plates. 

You could make a filmed version like the story they watched at the beginning of the lesson!

Assessing pupils' progress and understanding

Pupils with secure understanding indicated by: Using a variety of blue tones and a washed colour. Drawing a design using features of a chosen story.


Pupils working at greater depth indicated by: Painting a considered design, drawing neatly with the ink, being able to accurately select and use the right brush for the work, and able to add a decorative pattern to the outside of the plate.


  • Willow pattern

  • Chinoiserie pottery

  • Thomas Minton

  • China

  • Pottery

  • Nativity

  • Christmas

  • Design

  • Sketch

  • Ink

  • Tint

  • Tone

  • Shade

  • Fine brush

  • Watered down

  • Undiluted

Created by:
Kapow Primary, 
Art and Design specialist
save content as pdf file
save content as word file