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Make an African Mask

Make an African Mask Activity

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See more activities in: Fifth Grade, Black History Month

People have worn masks since the beginning of time. Masks have been worn for protection, concealment, performance, or even just plain amusement. Storytellers and actors wear masks to portray characters and make their stories more interesting. Every culture has some form of mask art. Some of the most beautiful masks in the world have come from Africa.

In this activity, you'll use your understanding of repeat patterns and negative space to create stunning masks on wood with found materials. When you're finished, you'll have made a beautiful mask to wear as part of a costume, incorporate into a school project, or even use as decoration!

What You Need:

  • Small sheet of wood veneer (found at hardware and home improvement stores)
  • Hobby knife
  • Paint
  • Found objects such as feathers, beads, foil, ribbon, fabric, or an empty egg carton
  • Sheets of newspaper to protect work surface
  • Glue
  • Paper (colored mat board) which can be found at art stores and hobby stores

What You Do:

  1. Take some time to study masks from different cultures. The African artisans created a rich tradition of mask carving and painting. Many Asian cultures create masks to depict spirits and demons. You can find information on these kinds of masks in books or even online. Look at the colors, texture, surface decoration as well as the patterns and materials that were used to make your favorite masks. Try to figure out what the artist was saying with his mask.
  2. Help your child draw a design for her mask that is twice as wide as the sheet of veneer and no longer than the veneer from top to bottom. Draw a line down the middle of the design so that the mask is evenly divided with a right and left side. Have your child decide what she will use to decorate her mask.
  3. Cut the piece of veneer in two.
  4. Help your child use the hobby knife to cut out the outside shape of the mask from her paper design. Position the mask shape over the back of the veneer sheet, so that one half of the mask fits onto the veneer. Draw around the outside of the mask shape. Carefully draw around half of the shape.
  5. Cut the shape out of the veneer. Make sure your child cuts it in one piece and encourage her to stay as close to the line as possible. Take the shape and flip it over so that the outline and the reverse of the outline meet in the middle.
  6. Cut out the nose, mouth, ears or any other markings and line them up. The face should divide down the middle with wood veneer on one side and the paper showing through on the other.
  7. Have your child arrange the different pieces in the way that she would like and glue the pieces down. Let dry.
  8. Have your child decorate with the mask with found objects, cut-out shapes, and other various items. Remember to paint them so that one side is the reverse color of the other.

This mask is an excellent example of the interplay between positive and negative space. The space around an element is as important as the element itself. When drawing, an artist always includes the negative space as part of the design. The skills reinforced by this project are ones that can be applied in a number of different arenas.

Marik Berghs is graphic designer with 30 years of experience. She also illustrates and writes childrens' literature. Jessica McBrayer is her daughter and is a professional crafter.

Updated on Mar 11, 2014
Printable Workbooks from Education.com
Find a printable workbook to go along with this fun activity. See Workbooks
See more activities in: Fifth Grade, Black History Month
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