My 7th grade art class just finished making these Oaxacan Animal Sculptures. Here is how we did the project…
• Increase students’ awareness of South American art forms called alebrijes.
• Gain appreciation for other cultures through observing sculptures of the Oaxaca, Mexico region.
• Understand the traditional gender’s role in creating alebrijes.
• Apply the use of visual rhythm through pattern.
• Demonstrate proper techniques for sculpting 3D art forms with plaster wrap.
• Demonstrate appropriate use of an armature to create 3D form.
Examples of Oaxacan animal carvings Alebrijes Sculptures
For Older students: Galenized Wire, newspaper or phone book papers or tin foil, Masking tape, Plaster gauze (class pack) or paper mache recipes, Acrylic Paint (Craft paint) or Tempera Paint
For Younger students: Model Magic, To Paint: Tempera or Acrylic Paints, Paint Brushes, Markers
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- Oaxaca, pronounced wa-HAH-ka, is one of Mexico’s largest states and its folk art and traditions are among the richest. Oaxacan painted wood carvings have become a prized folk art.
- They are created by the Zapotec Indians who live in the Oaxaca Valley, located in the southern part of Mexico.
- The wood carving techniques and artistic capacity of the Zapotec Indians are legendary, honed over hundreds of generations. Each of the wooden sculptures are hand-carved from the wood of the Copal (or Copillo) tree. Each piece is hand-sanded and painted in bright and exciting motifs. Traditionally the men carve the forms, and the women paint them using very tiny paint brushes and sometimes-organic material such a pine needles.
- These sculptural carvings are called Alebrijes.
- From Wikipedia: Alebrijes (Spanish pronunciation: [aleˈβɾixes]) are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. The first alebrijes, along with use of the term, originated with Pedro Linares. After dreaming the creatures while sick in the 1930s, he began to create what he saw in cardboard and papier mache.
- Linares was originally from San Antonio Arrazola, Oaxaca, and on family visits, demonstrated his designs there. The Oaxaca valley area already had a history of carving animal and other types of figures from wood, and Linares’ designs were adapted to the carving of a local wood called copal. This adaptation was pioneered by Arrazola native Manuel Jiménez.
- Oaxacan painted wood carvings are created by the Zapotec Indians who live in the Oaxaca Valley.
- The wood carving techniques and artistic capacity of the Zapotec Indians are legendary, honed over hundreds of generations.
- Each of the wooden sculptures are hand-carved from the wood of the Copal (or Copillo) tree.
- It is a soft wood with uniform color. The soft wood is easier to carve.
- The “copalillo” is a tree that grows in warm regions of Oaxaca.
- Traditionally the men carve the forms (using subtractive sculpting techniques).
- Artists use machetes for the initial cuts to form the basic size & shape of the animal, then move to smaller tools (knives & chisels) to refine the shape.
- The women paint them using very tiny paint brushes and sometimes-organic material such a pine needles.
- Each piece is hand-sanded and painted in bright and exciting motifs (patterns).
- Visual Rhythm is created by repeating the elements of art.
- An armature is the skeleton of your sculpture. It usually has a wire frame and then is covered in newspaper, aluminum foil or clay to give volume.
Book: Miguel and the Amazing Alebrijes (Disney/Pixar Coco) Paperback
Project: Oaxacan Animal Sculpture- Alebrijes
Assignment: Create a whimsical creature based on the Oaxacan Wood carvings. Your “creature” will have an armature (base) made from wire and foil or newspaper and masking tape. It will be covered with plaster wrap then painted a base coat of acrylic paint and finish designs (patterns) using paint and sharpies.
Size: The main body of your creature should be no more than 14” height or width (or larger if wings or horns are added), can be smaller but minimum of 8″.
- Study examples of Oaxacan animal sculptures. Observe the different types of animals, body styles, the colors and patterns used.
- Research your animal & find 2 different points of view of the animal-front & side.
- In your sketchbook, draw a draft of how your animal or creature will look from the front and the side (2 drawings). Think about colors and patterns you might use when you paint it. Draw a few ideas of patterns you might use in your sketchbook.
- Once you have decided on your animal or creature, think about the different parts you will need to make it.
- Start by building an armature of the creature.
- Make an Armature: using wire & newspaper form the basic shape of the body, legs & head. Start by creating an armature of wire first, then give volume to the sculpture by forming the body around the wire with newspaper, phone book paper or aluminum foil. Tape with masking tape or wrap them with aluminum foil so the joints so they don’t move (as much).
- Wrap the sculpture in masking tape.
- After you have the basic shape, add features like noses, ears, spikes, etc. out of chip board or cardboard. Eyes can be small wads of paper or other small “found objects”. If you would like to add whimsical elements such as a horn, spikes on the back or tail, etc. do it at this time.
- Cut plaster gauze into 2-3 inch strips. Dip gauze in warm water & use your fingers to smooth it out. Plaster wrap the sculpture with 2 coats of plaster gauze.
- Plaster must cure and dry for at least 24 hours.
Painting the Sculpture
- Paint your animal or creature with ACRYLIC paint. (Tempera can be used, but will require a clear coat sealant)
- Choose a color to paint the entire animal. Paint base colors first with acrylics. To speed the drying process so you can begin painting your patterns, use a blow dryer set to cool to dry. (It is important to set it to cool, as the heat will actually react with the plastic in the paint and it will not dry as fast and may separate or bubble).
- Once the first layer of paint is dry, you can now start to add your brightly colored patterns to the animal. Have fun and use your imagination to come up with unique patterns. Use a sharpie for small black line details.
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