Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Non-Seasonal Craft Alert: Plaster of Paris Sugar Skull Models, Because We're Studying El Dia De Los Muertos in April

Okay, what we were ACTUALLY doing was putting together a Mexico-themed take-home kit for another Girl Scout troop as part of our Service Unit's World Thinking Day celebration, but as my kid was researching stuff we might want to include, she said, "We should study El Dia de los Muertos sometime."

Let's just ignore, for the moment, the fact that we HAVE studied El Dia de los Muertos before--many times, actually! With this kid, you have to strike like a viper when the iron is at its very hottest. 

Seriously, remember just the other day, when we went to the local historic cemetery so the kid could take reference photos for her AP Studio Art classes? While we were there, she was literally griping that these photos wouldn't come in handy at all, because her special focus for the class was absolutely going to be mushrooms, which she was super interested in and spent all her free time sketching in various forms. 

So after the cemetery, we drove to the public library to find her a couple of reference books on mushrooms that had big, glossy photos, but then I also put some other big, glossy mushroom reference books on hold for me at our local university's library. Those finally came in for me a couple of days ago, but when I excitedly handed them to her, she was all, "Ugh! More mushroom books?!? I am not even interested in mushrooms why must you always task me with these unendurable burdens blah blah blah gripe gripe gripe!"

And that is why, the very second that my kid mentioned wanting to study El Dia de los Muertos sometime, I was all, "OMG what a coincidence you said that! Because our very next project actually happens to be El Dia de los Muertos! Weird that I didn't bring it up before. Oh, right, and the project actually begins now! Yeah, yeah... you're going to... write a research paper, that's right. Definitely a research paper. And, uh... also you're going to model a themed craft for our take-home kit."

Her research paper is quite good, although I do not understand why I have to beg both of my children to include in-text citations and a Works Cited page--surely it's so much more effort to go back and remember all your sources and add the citations later?

Anyway, along with the research paper, the kids and I made sugar skull models from plaster of Paris, and then Syd embellished them with dimensional fabric paint. It's a super easy project that does have some prep time, but the results look really, really good. To make your own plaster of Paris sugar skull models, you will need:

  • plaster of Paris. Any brand is fine, but Dap is what my local hardware store carries. When my kids were little, I used plaster of Paris to make them little figurines to decorate all the time. Plaster of Paris is pretty eco-friendly, and it takes all kinds of artist media like a champ. 
  • skull mold. I used the skull mold we've had for years, most notably to make our mashed potato skulls every Halloween dinner. It was already on its last legs, and I wore it into the ground with this project. I'll have to keep my eye out for a new skull mold before next Halloween, because we can't do without our mashed potato skulls!
  • dimensional fabric paint. These stick great to the plaster of Paris, and have a cute, puff paint look to them. They're a little spendy for what you get, though, so if you've got younger or messier kids, you might as well put tempera or dyed school glue into little squeeze bottles for them. 
The main job is to make the plaster of Paris skull models. My skull mold held about four cups of plaster, and took several hours to harden, so it took me a couple of days to make the seven skulls that I needed:

Fortunately, embellishing the skulls is a lot less work--and a lot more fun!

Because the paint is dimensional, it did also take a few hours to dry, so if you're doing this in a shared space with a group, bring a cardboard box or tray so everybody can transport their skull home to finish drying. I noted that in the instructions I wrote to go in our Mexico take-home kit, and included a plaster of Paris skull for each kid and a large set of dimensional paint for them to share.

If I had this project to do again, I'd embed twine or wire into the plaster of Paris to use as a hanger when it dries. For Syd's sugar skull, though, I think I'm going to sand the back flat and then glue it to a bookend. 

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