American Flag Model Box

This project challenges the student to deconstruct the American flag to explore thematic connections using line, form, color, texture, space, and composition.  This project is introduced after a lengthy discussion of symbolism and how powerful symbols are within society.  This project is a week-long project that has been adapted from Paul Shortt.  It has been successfully used with beginning level design students in both the undergraduate and graduate level.  In the undergraduate course, it is a project assigned in the first third of the semester.  In the graduate level course it has been assigned at either the beginning of the semester as a “warm-up” design exercise or at the end of the semester between bigger projects to reinforce the basics of design elements and symbolism.

Activity Objectives

  • Explore and create spatial relationships in model form
  • Create spatial relationships in a thematic sense—with idea, mood, image, or concept.
  • Experiment with the relationship to a scale figure.
  • Demonstrate basic model-making skills

Activity Goals

The main goals are to specifically manipulate the elements of design with the principles of composition to connect/convey a theme in proportion to a scale model figure.  Another goal is to enhance the craft of model-making to create a precise and detailed model in proportion for the story to be told.



  • Build a model box—it is going to be a generic box that resembles a theatre, but is going to resemble a theatre.
    • The 6”x6”x6” cube can be one of the following:
      • 3-sided with an open side with or without a proscenium
      • 2-sided box (2 corner walls and a base)
      • 1 back wall and a base
      • 4-sided where the space and the spectators are within the 4 walls
  • Manipulate the decorative elements of the flag—either abstracting it, fragmenting it, or more literally.
    • Present the flag in a dramatic, stylized way that creates a world, space, or environment.
  • Research artists and artistic approaches to manipulating the flag, etc.
  • Create your unique approach based on various emotional or psychological states or expressions such as:
    •  Claustrophobic
    • Excitement
    • Dynamic
    • Complex
    • Simple
    • Order
    • Control
    • Pressure
    • Confusion
    • Busy
    • Playful
    • Austere
    • Handsome
    • Symmetrical
    • Assymmetrical
    • On-axis
    • Rotated axis
    • Light
    • Lyrical
    • Heavy
    • Severe
    • Extreme
    • Dramatic
    • Overwhelming
    • Happy
    • Hopeful
    • Hopeless
    • Aspiring
    • Disturbed
    • Powerful
    • Authority
    • Chaotic
  • Invent a scenario or context for this world
  • Create a 3D sketch in your model box of your idea using line, form, color, and texture with a figure representing a 6’-tall human to show scale.
  • Write a brief narrative (1 page typewritten) explaining your choices.

Time Required

It is a longer assignment, but not too long. It is a homework assignment that could be done from one class period to the next or be due in a week or two. I typically give them a week.

Required Materials

  • Black foam board
  • Bristol Board
  • Paint (acrylic, watercolor, or gouache)
  • X-acto knives
  • Metal straight edge
  • Glue or adhesive
  • Other art supplies as needed
  • Research into other artists


This project can be adapted for either beginning or advanced design students. Depending on the available materials this project could be adapted to having a more sustainable/recycling approach by utilizing model-making materials that are readily available and recyclable like shipping boxes instead of foam board, 12-pack soda cartons instead of Bristol board, etc.


  • Students are evaluated on objective skills or techniques like model box construction and execution.
  • Students are evaluated on the use of line/form, color, texture, relationship to the theme, and relationship proportion to the human scale figure through verbal presentation and critique as well as a written narrative explaining their choices.
  • Students are also given verbal feedback on rough sketches or design early in the process and the relationship of their design choices to their inspirational research images.
  • A verbal critique by peers and instructors in class followed up by additional written feedback.

Submitted by:
Tammy Honesty, Kent State University