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Mud Art

Standards: 4.2 Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources

Duration: 20 to 40 minutes

Setting: Inside, Outdoors – General, Stream, Wetland

Vocabulary: natural materials, history, prehistoric

Summary: Students will create art using paint mixed with mud.

Objectives: Students will learn about the different natural materials people have used in the past to decorate themselves/their houses/their clothing. They will then get to make art themselves using mud and paint.

Materials: dirt (in a bag or bucket), plastic bowls, pitcher, strainer, plastic spoons, water, acrylic paint, cotton cloth canvas cut into squares, paintbrushes/leaves/twigs, paper cups, trowel, paper puncher, paper plates, twigs, yarn or string

Background:

People have been making art for a very long time (see Handouts for examples). Before there were art stores with paints, crayons, paper, and colored pencils, people used natural materials from the earth! They used clay from stream banks, ground up rocks, mud, plants, and even ground up beetles to make pictures, bowls, pots, colors for their houses, and even paper, cloth, and string! People even used animal hair (dog, deer, etc.) to weave belts and sandals.

While it may not seem like it at first, people actually still use these materials today. For example, in France they use ochre—ground up rocks—to color their houses. In the U.S. (and around the world), people use plants to color yarn and cloth, and ground up seed to color cheese! People also still use clay to make pottery, and plants to make cloth. In fact, most of the clothes you are wearing right now are probably made from the cotton plant!

Many of these materials are renewable resources. For example, cotton grows every year, meaning the supply is not limited. Some of the materials, like ochre’s (ground up rocks) are nonrenewable, as it takes a very long time for rocks to form!

Art is an important part of human history. Humans have been creating art for almost as long as we have been around!

Procedure:

Warm Up: Ask students if they can name a natural material that is used in something they own or are wearing. Explain that there are probably many of them—cotton, wood, clay, etc.

Show students pictures of prehistoric art and other examples of art made from natural materials (see Handouts).

Activity:

Collect soil either before this activity or (preferably) with students. Allow them to take turns digging up soil with the trowel(s). Next, make the paint using the following steps:

  1. Place a little dirt in the strainer and add some water. Stir the mixture over the plastic bowl, removing pebbles, sticks, leaves, and other pieces that do not fit through the strainer. You can have a few students put on hand in the strainer, helping mix the mud and remove twigs and roots.
  2. Continue to add and straining more mud, stopping occasionally to pour off the water that collects in the top of the bowl as mud settles to the bottom.
  3. When you have a good sample of the strained and smooth mud, stop straining and prepare the paints.
  4. Add about a spoonful or two of mud to 5 cups. Add some acrylic paint to each container and mix until a nice color develops. As you do this, walk among the students to show them what it looks like.
  5. Dab some of each paint onto a plate, and pass the plates out to groups of students along with a cup of water to clean the brushes.
  6. Pass around cloth squares or paper for the children to paint on. If outside, pass out clipboards. Note: if using cloth on a desk, put something underneath to keep paint from going through.
  7. As students paint, punch holes in the cloth canvases/paper. Optional: students can paint anything they like, or they could be directed to paint something nature related, like their favorite animal or favorite outdoor spot. Students could also make drawings to mimic cave paintings. When students finish, leave paintings to try and have them collect twigs to place on top of the canvas as a hanger. Show them how to tie a string around either end of the twig and then attach the string to the cloth.
  8. Have students share their artwork with the class.

Assessment:

Have students give examples of objects made using natural materials, both in the present time and in the past.

Ask students to tell you which of these are renewable resources.

Enrichment:

Have students walk around the classroom making a list of all of the natural materials that they find there (wood, paper, cloth, etc.).

Team up with an art teacher to have students make other things (like clay pots) from natural materials as a follow-up activity.

Pictures/Handouts

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