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Art of Mexico - Lesson Ideas


Submitted by: Breanne Soviero K-5, Long Island
Art of Mexico - Painting - Group
Zapotec Rug Paintings


My theme for the year was the Art of Mexico. Each grade level did at least one project based on an artist or craft from Mexico. I printed out some examples of Zapotec weavings from Mexico, and those "rainbow striped" blankets.  Students worked in groups to create 6ft murals of the blankets. They had to enlarge the designs in proportion to the mural paper, and mix paints to get the right colors. We learned how to blend colors together to create a 'sunset effect' on the individual stripes of the rainbow blankets. I taught them how to make tassels out of yarn to create fringe that they tied on the bottom of their blankets. Not only do the blankets tie in nicely with my theme for the year, but because I have 12 of them, they will make a wonderful display for my art show.

mexican blanket      mexican blanket


Lesson ideas submitted by Sandy Poos (retired)

1. Designs of Ancient Mexico- using a clay stamp.

2.  Tin lantern Mexican Style- tin can (soup can will do) cut off bottom and a aluminum funnel from dime store. Hammer and nails to punch the design into the sides and funnel. Fill with water and put in freezer in school cafeteria. Put onto towel and pound nail holes into can to make, dots, snowflakes, star shapes, etc. Let ice melt. Can paint with Acrylic Paint. or decorate with Permanent Markers. - put small candle inside.

3. Mexican sun face - Paper Mache., Moist Clay.. I used bakers clay ( 2 cups flour and 1 cup salt and some water to make a bread dough. Bake on covered aluminum foil at 300 degrees for 2-3 hours. Paint with Acrylic Paint..

4. Skeletons or Calaveras- Made from Sculpey. clay and assembled with Twisteez Wire..

5. Huichol Yarn Pictures- Yarn Assortment., cardboard, White Glue. - design on cardboard, then glue ahead of the yarn, push yarn into glue with tip of Scissors.. Many have used the wax from toilet bowls seals (available in hard ware stores). See lesson plan on KinderArt.

6. Amate Paper Designs - brown grocery bag, newspapers, Wax Paper., iron, Colored Markers., Tempera Paint. or Acrylic Paint.. Cut 6x8 (15 x 20 cm) piece from the grocery bag, crinkle into ball. unfold, lay between 2 pieces of waxed paper- newspaper on top and iron flat. Draw design with black marker- permanent black. (Sharpie Fine Point Markers.) - themes of animals, birds, flowers, etc. Paint with Tempera Paint. or Acrylic Paint. in bright colors. Add a drop or two of dish soap into the paint so it will stick to the waxy paper. Don't paint the background. See Detailed Lesson Plan from Grace Hall.


Mayan Glyphs - from Sandy Jahnle

Last year I had my 7th graders draw their names in Mayan Glyphs on crumpled brown paper to resemble stone.  This year I hope to have them actually carve the glyphs into Moist Clay.. Try finishing the clay with stone fleck spray paint. or shoe polish. stain. (See Ancient Mayan Culture for resources)


Cascarones - from Maggie White

There is a tradition in Mexico of making cascarones (eggshell "crackers" filled with confetti). They are created for fiestas and street-party types of celebrations, not just around Easter.  You stuff the confetti  into cleaned, dry eggshells (you can empty the eggs with a fairly good-sized hole and cover it with tissue later). The eggshells can be dyed/decorated before filling.  Make cones of rolled newspaper (or Kraft Paper. - brown paper bags would work, too), with the larger end sized so the egg fits partway into it. Decorate the cones, then lightly glue the filled eggs in them. Read about Cascarones - Some How to's - History and all sort of examples - Animated cascarones by kids


"Papel Picado" - from Roberta Dunkle

Papal Picado or cut paper. I have done this with my kindergarteners and they loved the look. I passed out many sheets of thin tissue paper of all colors about 9 x 12 (23 x 30.5 cm) and showed the kinders how to fold them into a small square. They then were instructed to cut on the fold lines and make triangles, squares, half circles etc. When opened they were thrilled at their cut designs. I then strung them from the ceiling across our hall and they looked quite festive. There is an excellent documentary about the actual Mexican paper being cut with a machete. Crizmac has many resources for Papel Picado.


God's Eyes - from Sarah Coullard


gods eye
Click image for larger view

Ojo de Dios or Eye of God Huichol Indians of Mexico and the Aymara Indians of Bolivia weave brightly colored yarn on a simple frame of crossed sticks to make a design called "Ojo de Dios" or "Eye of God". Make one for yourself. In Mexico, The central eye was made when a child was born. Each year, a bit of yarn was added until the child turned five at which point the Ojo was complete. Here is a very complex Huichol design (read description) Many instructions can be found online - from simple to complex.


Mexican - Hispanic Arts and Crafts Lesson Plans

Frida Kahlo Self Portrait Retablo - See lesson activity [Archive] - Try a variation of this by having the student do a contour drawing in glue on cardboard - then covering with foil for a relief effect. Use heavy duty foil so textures can be added. Try painting on Tooling Foil.. Adaptable for elementary through high school (use tooling foil and thinned Acrylic Paint. for high school). See See Jan Hillmer's The Frame" - Frida Kahlo inspired.


From Judy Decker: What if you tried some reverse glass painting? Use Plexiglas and have students make a foil tooled frame (accent frame with gel markers). Tape Plexiglas to mirror (put cardboard easel back on mirror). Trace portrait onto Plexiglas with Sharpie Fine Point Markers.. Paint details and patterns. Fill in larger areas (remember what you put down first is what is going to show on front - you are painting highlights first). Maybe even use thinned Acrylic Paint.. Paint Markers. could be used for patterns. Back painting with cardboard covered with aluminum foil. Glue to foil tooled frame. Paintings can be around 5" x 7" (12.7 x 17.7 cm) - with frames being approximate 9" x 12" (23 x 30.5 cm- slightly smaller so excess can be folded over edge of cardboard frame.) Plexiglas can be obtained free from window companies. Cardboard relief frame covered with heavy duty foil could be substituted for foil tooled frame.


Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Their Lives and Ideas - Biographies, information about Mexico and 24 art activities for elementary through middle school - book by Carol Sabbath (Chicago Review Press - Independent Publishers Group, reading level ages 9 & up). The personal and artistic development of both artists is highlighted in this beautifully illustrated book, as well as a history of 20th Century Mexico and a look at Ancient Mexico, giving children a well-rounded look into these legendary Mexican artists.


Thanks Paintings - by Jesse Rachel Cukierkorn. Try this lesson painting with thinned acrylics on tooling foil (copper or aluminum). Thin with gloss medium.

Paper Mache Masks -Middle School - can use plastic mask forms - or newspaper humps wrapped in foil. Lesson by Larry Prescott

Paper Mache Masks/Heads - Mark Alexander. Mexican Tona Masks - animal spirits

Paper Masks - Elementary - adapt to Mexican symmetrical folk art masks

Oaxacan paper maché - Elementary through high school. Michele O'Brien uses plaster gauze and plaster with her high school students. They sand them smooth and paint with acrylics. The smooth surface approaches the look of wood.

Oaxacan Animals - Wood assemblage - elementary through middle school by Linda Woods.

Jose Posada Calaveras Drawings - middle school
Aztec suns - stamp designs - radial balance. Elementary. Use all sorts of stamps - hand made, letters, toys (like LEGO), Gadgets (like nuts and bolts).
Mexican Folk Art Suns (also Picasso inspired). Elementary through middle school.
Commercial site for images - Many images of bark paintings. Enter "Amate" in the search box.
Amate Painting lesson pdf by Raanel Steel using paper bags: Similar lesson by Grace Hall
Ceramic Animal Clay Sculpture by Marcia Lavery - Pre-Columbian Inspired - Middle school Animal Effigy - Same lesson for elementary - adaptable to Pre-Columbian - by Linda woods:
Zapotec Weaving - There is also a Mexican weaving slant added to the weaving lesson.

Protest and Persuasion: Printmaking and Mural [Archive] - Chicano Art. Middle school through high school. Excellent unit plan.

Marisol Escobar Sculpture - Middle School - through high school. Box Lesson assemblage/collage by Dawn Stienecker. Think about using wood scarps for this - with collage elements added.

Days of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)- Lesson Plans and Resources

(See more on Days of the Dead on the Halloween ideas and Halloween Lessons pages.)

Days of the Dead Unit Plan (grades 4 - 5 - adaptable to other grade) - by Andrea Pretti

Day of Dead (Dia de los Muertos) - history, activities, food an more (commercial site - has ads). See paper flowers and reverse glass painting.

Why Celebrate Days of the Dead? [Archive] by Ricardo Salvador

Activities for Days of the Dead - Middle school - by Paige Gilbert. Make a tomb stone to bury a bad habit. Make a mask.


Children's Books for Days of the Dead

Mexico Connect: Days of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)

Days of the Dead Art - Some excellent examples - Some fun skeletons.

Los Dias de Los Muertos/Days of the Dead in Mexico from North Texas Institute (Archive)

Day of the Dead in Mexico has some excellent photographs - site by Mary J. Andrade

Los Dias de los Muertos- Paper Mache Skull - (Archive) Using balloon - Add some cardboard for the jaw line.

Dias de los Muertos - includes glossary - Day of the Dead - lots of links [Archive]

Days of the Dead resources from Crizmac

Artists ideas for Dia de los Muertos - Art -e-Zine - [Warning- This site is image intensive and may be a slow load] Mini Altoid tin shrines. Frames with melagros, Tool foil - painted and accented with glitter paints, Cardboard relief skeleton print... many more.


Days of the Dead Project Ideas

Cardboard Relief Skeleton prints - from Judy Decker

Bring in skeleton from Science department for study. Suggested size about 9" x 12" (23 x 30.5 cm). Include cut outs of flowers and other Mexican motif (birds would be good, too) - or shapes for your own scene (slice of life - what is the skeleton doing? What story is she /he telling?). Work on proportion of skeleton. Fold 6" x 12" (15 x 30.5 cm) Newsprint. into 1/8's - (resultin figure will be 8 head heights tall). Draw skeleton with head in top space - use this as pattern to cut card board pieces. Glue skeleton to 9" x 12" (23 x 30.5 cm) cardboard (in choice of pose). Add accents with tag board and glue relief. Fill in negative areas with cut outs of flowers, birds, plants (what ever student chooses). Make hat for skeleton if desired. Gesso. or gloss printing plate (and allow to dry). Print using a variety of techniques. Crayons. rubbing print with white onto black Drawing Paper.... Embossed print by soaking paper (use plastic wrap as separator)... mono print using Createx Transparent Colors. (maybe print in colors on brown paper for Amate look)... Print with white Block Printing Inks. onto black Drawing Paper.. Accent print with Prismacolor Colored Pencils. (or Construction Paper Crayons.) when ink is dry. Lesson for grades 4 through 6. Alternate lesson - reduction prints using white ink first on black paper. Outline skeleton and objects in composition with ball point pen (press hard). Print with white ink on black paper. Press down skeleton completely with Ebony Pencils. - press down more shapes and print another color. Cut out some shapes - press down more - and print a third color.


Plaster Gauze/Wire Skeleton Calacas - from Judy Decker

Use newspaper and foil for the skulls (or skulls from self hardening Moist Clay. or Paper Clay.) - wire and foil rib cage and pelvic bones - and so forth. Foil/Plaster Gauze. hands and feet. Loop ends of  wire for arms and legs so they will move. Plaster the arms and legs separately by wrapping small pieces of gauze around. Assemble skeleton then pinch loops to secure. Turning them into Marionettes would be a fun lesson - but a lot of work. Try making a "Barbie doll" type stand for them (ladies remember when Barbie came with a black metal stand?) I think the kids would have fun dressing their marionettes /skeletons, too. Good lesson in figure proportion, too. Try this lesson by folding an 8 ½ x 14" (21.5 x 35.5 cm) legal paper into 1/8's - plan skeleton to 8 head heights tall. Think about hanging skeleton in a shadow box. Use sturdy cardboard, foam core or wood. Middle school and up.


Added by Diane Davis: I'm making skeleton sculptures with my middle school, with light bulb heads and wire bodies covered in plaster wrap.


Paper Mache Skeleton from Cara Bertman:

I have made calacas with my students in the past. Calacas- skeletons, are symbolic skeletons of a loved one past or an icon (if the kids don't have a family or friend to think of - one student made John Lennon). You can use coat hangers for an armature and build up the bones with Paper Mache.. I use old med bottle caps for hat tops trimmed with oak tag for brims. Heads are built up with Masking Tape. and newspaper. This is an intriguing lesson for adolescents because they are fascinated with death and Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of the afterlife, a less macabre concept than we are used to.  It was very successful and some students found a way to create unique memoirs for a loved one or icon.


Skeleton Retablo or Niche - from Judy Decker

Middle School- Make a "shrine" box about the size of a cigar box (corrugated cardboard, foam core - or wood). Tape on shaped roof at top front (peaked or other shape), tape on doors (run a line of masking tape on front and back side of doors). Cover box with one layer of Masking Tape. - then paper maché with white Drawing Paper. (or collage with Mod Podge.). Paint with white Acrylic Paint. (or Gesso.) - then embellish with patterns (flowers, birds etc - lively folk art designs) using Acrylic Paint./Paint Markers./Puffy Paint. (antique slightly with shoe polish if desired). Paint - or paper maché - or collage inside the box.


For the skeleton - try the shrink plastic idea. Kids trace a skeleton template (or draw their own)- "dress" him/her (add hats etc) - color (Prismacolor Colored Pencils. work well) and shrink. Cut out and tie pieces together (or hook together with wire brads). Ginny Rockwood had a skeleton lesson on her site (no longer online). Skeleton Template from Enchanted Learning (now only available to site subscribers - I recommend you make your own template or have your students make their own).* Make a sample yourself first to see how much the skeleton shrinks. Hang skeleton in your retablo box - along with other shrink plastic objects (flowers, plants, birds animals - whatever student chooses). Other shapes could be cut from cardboard and painted. Lesson could be about a "hero" or about a famous artist (to tie in some research). See Los Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Days of the Dead. Crizmac has many resources for Days of the Dead.


*See Educpics for some line art skeletons to use for reference.


"Paper Doll" Cardboard Skeleton - from Judy Decker

Good lesson for fourth/fifth grade. Students draw calaveras on white heavy cardstock then add clothes, hats, etc. Outline with fine point Sharpie. Use Sculpey. for skull (if desired). Color with Gel Markers., glitter pens.. Embellish with Puffy Paint.. Cut out and add paper fasteners for the joints - or make jump rings with wire (wrap wire around pencil - slide off and cut with side cutters -- or wrap around Dowel Rods. and saw cut with jeweler's Coping Saw.. Add small silk flowers or fabric flowers on hats (if desired).


Day of the Dead Tunnel Book

Adapt lesson from Joanna Davis. See Joan Sommers The Dancing Skeletons Tunnel Book.. Book could be about a "hero" or famous artist to add an element of research.


Cinco de Mayo Resources

Mexican/Hispanic Arts - Crafts and Folk Art



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