Continuting with our themes of modelling (see Firebird project by clicking here) and portraiture we took several weeks to complete masks, made from air dry clay and decorated with poster paint.
The children were given the technical skills to attach noses, eyes, hair and lips to create a portrait of their characters. Most of them were based on themselves, many self-portraits, but others progressed to expressing their character as a mask, inspired by Aztec, Mayan and Maori examples we studied via the internet. The ancient masks we discussed were created using natural materials such as turquoise, malachite and shell, from the environment of the tribe. They were made by hand, using many techniques to inlay semi-precious stones, painted with intricate designs and adorned with feathers, hair or natural fibres. Worn only for special festivals, in rituals or at celebrations, these masks are rich in symbolism, status and mysticism.
First up, a clay pancake or a thickness approximately 2 cm was rolled out and moulded into a round or oval shape. The children used slip and scratching to attach the facial features, remembering the importance of this technique to ensure the additional parts stay in place after the clay is dry.
The clay is very flexible when wet, so if the design wasn’t going to plan, we could scrunch up the clay and start again. This is an important part of the creative process, because it enables experimentation and the opportunity to try out different techniques along the way, getting to grips with the properties of the clay. Fortunately, there were three artists working with the group to give them plenty of support and encouragement, including artist Minnie Aurora Hedley.
The models took a fortnight to dry, then they were ready for decoration. Whilst we were waiting for them to dry, we studied the clay-work of the ancient Mayan people of Meso-America. The children painted masks using poster paint, to inspire the decoration of their characters the following week.
To decorate the models, the children were given pre-mixed flesh tones and the freedom to choose if they wanted to make them naturalistic (life-like) or influenced by the ancient masks. A mixture of options were selected, see if you can determine who is who?