The flag of the United States has a fairly simple design, and almost anyone can draw it from memory. It’s best to start with the blue field and silver stars and then the thirteen alternating red and white stripes. The number of stars and the pattern they are in depends on what year your flag is from, though.
Classic paintings in many different styles have depicted the American flag in all kinds of historical settings. These are great references for how to draw your own flag and a fantastic way to pick up some inspiration.
“Betsy Ross, 1777”
This painting, created by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, is one of the most recognizable pieces of American art. It is as interesting as it is beautiful. Betsy Ross is credited by the American government as the creator of the first “stars and stripes” American flag.
Ferris was an American painter who mostly created works in the Romantic style in historical settings. He was born and raised in Philadelphia and lived from 1863 to 1930.
It is a little unclear whether or not she was the actual creator of the flag because she wasn’t credited until decades after her passing. A family descendant came forth to the Pennsylvania Historical Society with documentation that led them to believe that Betsy Ross was indeed the one commissioned.
There was a lot of indirect evidence such as family stories, Ross’ documented employment as a seamstress for the White House, and other things. Since nobody else claimed anything differently, the government essentially agreed to give the credit to Ross.
It’s also unclear if the flag with the stars in a circle was actually the design used. There are no surviving examples from that time, so it’s still a mystery to this day. Many speculative iterations have been made, but the circular pattern is the most prominent.
The US government established rules on the design for the American flag, so there were only so many options to go with. The flag had to have thirteen alternating red and white stripes with stars in a blue field. It’s entirely possible that there were different styles used throughout the country at the same time.
It is alleged that Ross was responsible for the style of star that is on the flag still used to this day. George Washington and a couple of colleagues secretly commissioned the design and had a basic layout similar to what the final product would turn out to be.
The original requested design had thirteen stars that had six points each. Ross apparently recommended to Washington that the stars have five points. Washington and his colleagues challenged the idea, arguing that six-pointed stars were easier to make.
Ross demonstrated on a piece of paper that five-pointed stars were actually easier by folding the paper and cutting out a star with one snip. Washington and the rest of the committee were impressed and agreed on the design.
“Washington at Valley Forge”
Percy Moran painted this piece in 1911, and it depicts a pivotal time of the Revolutionary War. From late 1777-1778, the Continental Army was in a rough spot in Valley Forge. The conditions were harsh with cold weather and a lack of supplies.
George Washinton, a decorated general, came and turned things around with his leadership skills and experience. In the Fall of 1777, Washington and his forces lost a battle for Philadelphia.
His leadership skills were brought into question at this time by the Continental Congress because of the capture of the Capitol. Valley Forge was roughly twenty miles Northwest of Philadelphia. It was strategically picked because it was close enough to the Capitol but not so close that the British could conduct a surprise attack.
Washington and his camp stayed in this area during the harsh winter and into spring for six months. Troops created 1,500 to 2,000 makeshift log cabins that were 14 feet by 16 feet. Most beds were made of straw because blankets were in short supply.
These huts housed 12,000 soldiers and about 400 women and children. To say it was rough living would be a gross understatement. Almost everything had to be made by hand. Basic things like cleaning themselves were a daily challenge.
According to Washington, thousands of his soldiers had little clothing, and many were even shoeless. The majority of these men were deemed unfit for service. In January of 1778, soldiers received a ration of half a pound of meat every day, but this changed in February.
February was a particularly harsh time for the soldiers because of food shortages. Many of the men would reportedly go for days without food. The biggest killer at Valley Forge was not the cold or starvation, though: It was disease.
In the warmer months of spring, roughly 2,000 soldiers died of diseases. That was about one out of six men in the camps. The illnesses included typhus, dysentery, typhoid fever, and influenza.
Washington received a lot of help from a Prussian military officer Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben. He helped train Washington’s troops and transformed them into a respectable army. The British eventually attacked Valley Forge, and the Continental Army left for good afterward.
“Washington Crossing the Delaware”
The famous painting done by Emanuel Leutze captures one of the most important moments in the Revolutionary War. Washington’s army was forced out of New York after multiple defeats during the New York campaign.
His troops were eventually forced into New Jersey. The only reason the British did not continue to follow Washington over the river was that winter was coming. European militaries generally didn’t conduct operations in the winter months simply because of the harsh conditions.
The British believed that Washington and his army were not going to counterattack either because of the severe losses his forces suffered. Washington proceeded to conduct a counter-attack over the Delaware River with a little over 5,000 soldiers.
And this is the moment the painting portrays. Washington’s attack was a particularly challenging operation for two reasons. Crossing rivers with artillery, horses, and supplies was a difficult and potentially costly task. It was also wintertime, and there was a threat of hypothermia if men went overboard.
The surprise attack was a success and Washinton took Trenton, which was occupied by German forces along with British officers. In the painting, Washington is seen standing with one knee up in the boat with an American flag flanking him.
It was very unlikely he actually did this due to the inherent danger this mission presented. Part of the crossing was done at night, and there were large pieces of ice that threatened many of the small boats.
This particular piece was done in 1851 and can be seen in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
How To Draw an American Flag By Yourself
If you’ve been inspired by these great portraits of American history and feel compelled to illustrate a tribute to our flag, here are eight handy steps to get you started.
- Grab your art supplies (We recommend a ruler too.). What you use is up to you, just remember: red, white, and blue.
- The United States flag has a 10:19 ratio. This math will help us later on.
- Draw a rectangle. It could be very helpful to use a ruler or a straight edge of a book.
Dating way back into our history and to today, we must draw 13 stripes.
a. Each stripe should measure to an equal size. Let’s say you draw your flag rectangle to be 13 centimeters tall. That means that each stripe should be one centimeter tall. Again, a ruler will be key.
- On the right side of the paper, draw short lines going all the way up (12 in total). However, on the left side, only make six of these marks—we need room for the stars in the canton.
- The canton goes in the top left corner and should be seven stripes tall and 2/5 (or 0.4). Draw in the canton.
- If you would like the stars to be exact, make a grid of spaces. This grid should have 11 columns and nine rows. One five-sided star (just like Betsy Ross wanted) should go in each empty box of the grid.
- Color! Now is the fun part where you can let your creativity shine. Just remember that the top and bottom stripe (and the alternating stripes in between) should be red.
Draw True and Bravely
Looking for another great source for inspiration? Look no further than the founders of Allegiance Flag Supply. We make handmade American flags with the highest quality materials and stay true to the correct design.