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Activity: Make Animal Portraits and Learn about the Japanese Zodiac

Hands making artwork
HOLIDAY HOURS: Crystal Bridges will close early at 2 p.m. on December 24 (Christmas Eve) and be closed December 25 (Christmas Day).

HORARIO POR DÍAS FESTIVOS: Crystal Bridges cerrará a las 2:00 p.m. el 24 de diciembre (Nochebuena) y permanecerá cerrado el 25 de diciembre (Navidad).

Learn about Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s painting Little Joe with Cow. Then make your personal animal portrait while learning about an Asian American artist in the collection! 

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Little Joe with Cow
Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Little Joe with Cow, 1923, oil on canvas, 28 x 42 in. (71.1 x 106.7 cm) Framed: 37 in. × 50 3/4 in. × 3 7/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.108. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

Look Closer:  

  • Spend a few minutes looking at this painting. Try tracing the lines of each shape with your finger in the air.
  • Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s choice to paint the cow is based on the Japanese zodiac calendar called Junishi. Individuals born during a particular year were said to inherit some of the personalities of that year’s animal. The year of the artist’s birth is represented by a cow according to the legend. Because of this, Kuniyoshi felt connected to this animal and painted similar scenes many times throughout his lifetime. Is there an animal you love? Why is it your favorite? What characteristics does this animal have? 
  • The style of art here is also something unique. Do the boy and cow look realistic? Why or why not? 
  • Yasuo Kuniyoshi was inspired by Cubism and painted from memory rather than real life. Cubism is an art style that often shows many different angles in one picture. In Cubism, the lines might seem sharp or out of place to the eye. Notice the size of each object. How does each object connect to another object?

Activity: Make Animal Portraits!


  • Cardboard
  • Glue 
  • Dried beans
  • Pencil 
  • Paintbrushes
  • Acrylic paint


Step 1: Figure out what animal represents the year you were born through the Japanese zodiac calendar. Do the characteristics of your zodiac animal match who you are? I was born in the year of the Rat. The legend says that people born in the year of the Rat are charming, honest, ambitious, and hard workers.

Step 2: On your piece of cardboard, sketch out your animal. 

Step 3: Begin gluing the beans to follow the lines of the drawing you made. This will create an outline.

Hands making artwork
Hands making artwork
Hands making artwork

Step 4: Once you have your beans all glued down, choose what colors you would like your animal to be. You can paint the beans as well as the background.

Hands making artwork
Hands making artwork

Step 5: Done! Now you have an animal portrait that represents you and the year you were born.

What other animals can you make? See what zodiac animals your family members are and make portraits for them.

Hands making artwork

Have fun exploring! Share your animal portraits with us on social media: tag #crystalbridges on Instagram.

Written by Marlie Allgood, art instructor, Crystal Bridges.

Special thanks to our sponsors:

Youth and Family programming is supported in part by AMP Sign & Banner, Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Juan, Marcy and Joaquin Camacho, The Coca-Cola Company, iHeart Media, JTH Productions, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Pinnacle Car Services, Procter & Gamble, Gordon and Carole Segal, The Simmons Family Fund, and ViacomCBS Consumer Products.

Education and Learning is supported in part by Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, The Northern Trust Company, Pamela and Wayne Garrison, Doug and Shelley McMillon, Jack and Melba Shewmaker Family, Neff and Scarlett Basore, Galen and Debi Havner, Lance and Sharon Beshore, Cardinal Four Foundation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Harry Cornell, Cox Communications, Dorothy Hurt, J.M. Smucker Company, Kimberly-Clark, Nice-Pak Products, Inc., The Russell Berrie Foundation, Stephen and Claudia Strange, Felix and Margaret Wright.