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Mixed media Maskmaking.

One of the most challenging things about being an art instructor is the constant search for new and different vehicles to give students more experience with media they have studied. Such was the challenge this year, when faced with returning high school students who, because of their inquisitive nature, were looking for something new.

We have explored many different areas of maskmaking in the past, since it has always been such a popular project with my students. We have used plaster-gauze and clay, taking our inspiration from different cultures around the world, both old and new. This year would be different.

The students had already been exposed to both acrylic paint and leather; however, time had never allowed us enough experience with mixed-media projects. By combining the two mediums and encouraging the students to develop themes for their projects, we were on our way to some very exciting work.

Supplies for this project are easily available. You will need a piece of pliable, soft leather for each student and face molds from your supplier. The leather comes in irregularly sized pieces, which further challenges both the problem-solving ability of the student and the originality of their finished product. You may also use chamois as an alternative to the leather pieces. (These are somewhat less expensive but do not provide as sturdy a form.) In addition, you will need fabric stiffener, a spray bottle, pails in which to soak the leather and acrylic paints or leather stains.

We began our unit with a discussion of themes, ranging from the Haida Indians of Vancouver to fictional characters such as "Old Man Winter." Our discussion led to three choices: fictional characters, famous figures or a social comment on society. The students developed profiles for their "characters" and began the process of molding faces in the leather. Since most of the face molds available from our supplier were female in gender, several students began the task of adding form to the existing mold with plasticene. Facial structure was studied to provide guidance in development of appropriate features, and the form was covered with plastic wrap to protect the leather.

Students soaked their leather pieces in warm water for about 10 minutes. Then, after wringing the leather out, they sprayed the back with fabric stiffener to provide a stiffer product when the leather was dry, The process of forming the leather takes patience, as it must slowly be stretched into the crevasses and structure of the faces. Most students required a full 45-minute period to complete the task. The next day the leather had dried, shrinking into the molds and providing an excellent reproduction of the face that had been sculpted.

The next step was to paint on the leather, developing a likeness of the character that the students were casting. Acrylic paint not only blends beautifully, but its drying time is a plus when working with limited class time. The students love it because it is forgiving and allows them to rework areas they are dissatisfied with.

As the "characters" developed, individual critiques took place to focus on the theme or character and to brainstorm the type of embellishments that might further depict each character's personality. Imaginations soared as we rummaged through our boxes, and materials appeared from home to add to the ever-emerging personalities of the projects.

The students were as excited as I was with their finished projects. We mounted them on colored mat board and hung them in the receiving area of our school. They have brought many compliments, but most importantly, they have generated interest in our art program from parents as well as the many visitors who tour our school.

This project provided the opportunity for creative problem-solving and critical thinking, as the students pursued their chosen theme and how best to depict it using the materials available. Students were given a list which detailed the steps of the process and allowed them to move through their project at their own speed.

This project also provided very valuable experience the formation of an idea and the sequential development of thought into a visual representation of the chosen theme. It inspired my students to mix different mediums in future projects. They were excited about the new and seemingly endless possibilities available to them, and have gone on to pursue new combinations which they might have avoided before. Try it ... your students will love it!

Karen Aasen is the Senior Art Instructor at Calgary Academy in Alberta, Canada.
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Author:Aasen, Karen
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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