Elementary Art Lesson: Mayan Relief

Mayan Relief

Submitted by: Denise Logan, Author/Teacher in Phoenix, Arizona
Title of Lesson: Mayan Relief
Grade level: 5th to 6th grade



Acquaint students with the Mayan culture and three dimensional mixed media techniques.


Denise Logan

Materials Needed: finished art
Large Styrofoam Plate
Salt Dough
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
add water to form dough that is not too sticky or too firm
White Glue.
Prang Watercolor Pan Sets.
Water Container
Construction Paper. and/or Pastels.
Gold metallic shoe cream
Scotch tape
Incising tools
Sharpie marker lid
Drawing Pencils.
Scraps of Mat board. and Posterboard.
Large paperclip


Great Resource Book: "Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico" by Jorge Enciso. This book contains over 750 copyright free images in the public domain that are a great source for project inspiration.

Lesson Description:
The Mayan civilization emerged in Mexico around 1000 B.C. and lasted until around A.D. 1500. This civilization was known for its great achievements, sculpture, art, gold, architecture, arithmetic, and astronomy. Their written language included a unique hieroglyphic script. Mayan history is preserved in the ruins that still remain to this day. Cities made of stone and carved surfaces are found in remote locations. More about the history of the Mayans and their are can be read on IAD.


The medium for this lesson is basic salt dough, a Styrofoam plate, watercolors, brushes, some paper, a few simple homemade incising tools, and Metallic Shoe Cream..




1. Knead the flour, salt and water together until it has a pliable feel to it.


Make the salt dough palm-size (About 3 oz. or 84 grams) This will be enough for the body of the relief sculpture. If you want ready-made clay, your choices include: Laguna Air Dry Clay by Laguna, or Model Magic. by Crayola.

step 2  

2. Flatten the ball to make a pancake.


Tear off a piece of your ball and roll a smaller portion of this clay into another ball and flatten into a 2" (5 cm) diameter pancake in the center of a Styrofoam plate.

3. Divide the pancake into pieces.


Using a clay tool or the edge of a scrap of mat board, chop the top off the circle and then divide into two sides. Take the bottom off the two side pieces as in the image on the right.


step 4



4. Continue adding ornamentation and parts.


These ornaments are primarily created by rolling small balls with your hand. You can alternate elongated balls with circular balls. Make sure you store any leftover clay so it won't dry out. Zip-lock bags work well.

5. Add details.


Details can be added to your relief sculpture using clay tools, pencils, paper clips, marker lids, and posterboard.








6. Add color.


You may apply watercolors while the dough is still moist if you wish, or after the dough is hard. In the example, earth tones in reds, greens, purples and brown were used, which suggest an ancient Mayan stone relief. The paint will collect in the grooves and make them look darker. When the entire relief is painted, leave it on the plate to dry. The clay will easily slide off the styrofoam plate when it is dry.




7. Add texture to paper to create a frame.


Students will have fun experimenting with colors and textures on paper to suggest a stone surface similar to what you might find with a real Mayan relief sculpture. This background version was created by centering a sheet of copy paper with a little piece of Scotch tape rolled up underneath to hold it in place. On top of this sheet of paper center a smaller paper on top and begin rubbing different colors of chalk in outward motions on the edge outside the smaller paper. Students may also blend the chalk with their fingers. Watercolors can be splattered in drops by tapping the brush against a pencil. Remove the smaller paper and you have a frame that can be sprayed with fixative or hair spray.




Another idea is to spatter some paint and ad some chalk to the colored paper. Students then layer the project after the edges are removed. The edges of the town paper around the clay shapes are also painted. Look up some Mayan hieroglyphics can be drawn along the edge of the blue portion of the picture. You may also paint a matching color around the shapes on the paper as shown in the image below.




8. Add a gold color.


The Mayan loved gold and it appears in many of their ancient artifacts. You can add this color to your own relief. After the clay is dry, you can rub metallic gold over the surface. You can use Metallic Shoe Cream. if you are tight on money. Otherwise, you can use Metallic Markers. or Metallic Acrylics..







If you use the cream, children tend to dip their finger deep in it. Guide students to lightly brush their fingers in the cream and then apply it to the relief.


9. Glue parts to the paper.


When the clay dries, it is easy to remove from the styrofoam. It is then transferred and glued to the paper. In this case, Elmer's Glue. was used.

  step 9


10. Alternative idea.


The bird shown below is another version of the salt dough lesson. Details were made by incising the clay with pencils, mat board pieces, marker lids, paper clips, etc. Students could paing a rainforest background for this bird. The embellishments can be bright colors to make it Mayan-like.


step 10


Finished Product



For more on this lesson, visit:



You can buy Denise Logan's Amazing Art Projects for Children below on Amazon.


Amazing Art Projects for Children


Additional Resources


The Magic of Salt Dough - Using just flour, salt and water, you can create a range of items in salt dough, all of which make ideal gifts. The projects are accompanied by step by step photographs in full color.



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