Make Art at Home: ARTS FIRST 2020

handmade mosaicOne of the most popular features of our annual spring ARTS FIRST Festival is the Make Art stations that allow children, families and artists of all ages and skills to try their hands at making art. Here are artmaking activities you can do at home with objects around the house. Enjoy!

Harvard Art Museums

Make Art at home with the Harvard Art Museums Materials Lab! Try your hand at Monotype Printing, Cylinder Seals, and Mosaics.

Activity 1: Monotype Printing

"Road in the Forest" by Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas, The Road in the Forest, 1890, Monotype in oil, sheet: 30 x 40 cm (11 13/16 x 15 3/4 in.), Plate: 30 x 40 cm (11 13/16 x 15 3/4 in.), Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Frances L. Hofer, M19786 

Edgar Degas was a great experimenter who created prints by the monotype process -- drawing an image in an oil-based ink on a smooth plate that was transferred onto paper laid against it to produce a single print. The technique allowed him to capture his expressive mark making and to produce marvelous moody effects of light.

Look closely at the image of Degas’ print (here). How did he create a sense of depth? Can you see traces of the gestures or tools that he used to create the textures? How does he use the color of the paper?

Create a monotype using landscape as a topic.

Materials needed: A smooth water-repellent surface (e.g., transparent cover of a report folder or cut-out flat side of a plastic container); paint; a palette (or plate) to hold the paint you plan to use; drawing implements (e.g., fingers, paint brush, cotton swab, leaf, fork); paper that has been slightly pre-moistened; large wooden spoon.

  • Create your image on the smooth surface. Work quickly to keep the paint from drying before you are ready to print.
  • To print, lay your sheet of pre-moistened paper down over the image and apply pressure to the paper by rubbing over the entire surface with your hand. (The back of a large wooden spoon will impart more pressure.)
  • Check how the image is transferring by lifting the paper slightly at one corner. When ready, peel back the paper from your painted surface and wonder at your monotype!

Monotype Step 1Monotype Step 2Monotype Step 3Monotype Step 4Monotype Step 5Monotype Step 6Monotype Step 7
Reflect: How well did the marks you made transfer onto the paper? How does the choice, quantity, amount of paint influence the result? Look closely at the Degas image again. Do you recognize any similar features in both your and his work?

Share: Take a photo of your art, and post/share with #makeart #ARTSFIRST



Activity 2: Cylinder Seals

Sumerian Cylinder Seals
Sumerian Cylinder Seal: Lion, Stag and Dog (3rd millennium BCE), Steatite, 2.5 cm (1 in.), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes (1957.194)

Anatolian Cylinder seal with zig-zag design within border (4th-3rd millennium BCE), Steatite or chlorite, 2.3 x 1.3 cm (7/8 x 1/2 in.), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates (1992.256.279) 

Fairly common in Mesopotamia from the 5th to 1st centuries BCE, cylinder seals were used for administrative purposes and as jewelry. Traditionally the size of large beads, they were made of stone that has been carved with written characters and figurative scenes. When rolled onto a soft surface such as wet clay, they create a band of low-relief impressions.

Look at the images of two examples of cylinder seals here and here. How does the “positive” image of the impression relate to the “negative” image of the seal? How deep are the marks?

Make your own cylinder seal amulets.

  • Make the salt dough: In a large bowl, mix 1 cup of salt and 2 cups of flour, then 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and finally one cup of water, slowly. Stir and then knead the mixture into the clay-like consistency.
  • Form a handful of clay into a sausage-like roll and cut into smaller sections.
  • Poke a hole through the length of the piece.
  • Make a series of seals with different patterns, letters or images using materials from around the house to create these impressions.
  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the seals until hard. Let cool.
  • Roll your cylinder seal onto moist clay with a bit of pressure in order to create your 3-D image.

Cylinder Seal Step 1Cylinder Seal Step 2Cylinder Seal Step 3Cylinder Seal Step 4Cylinder Seal Step 5Cylinder Seal Step 6Cylinder Seal Step 7
Reflect: How did the flat image on the clay match your expectations when you were made the design on the cylinder? Look at the images of the HAM’s cylinder seal again. What do your markings represent?

Share: Take a photo of your art, and post/share with #makeart #ARTSFIRST



Activity 3: Mosaic

Roman Imperial Mosaic Fragment
Roman Imperial Mosaic Pavement Fragment with a Peahen from Syria, 5th-6th centuries, Stone and glass tesserae embedded in mortar, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Marcy Gefter and Thomas Lemberg in honor of David Gordon Mitten, 2001.269 

A popular motif in Roman and early Christian art, peacocks symbolized eternal life and renewal. This colorful fragment of a mosaic would have been part of a floor that is now in modern day Syria. This common form of decorative art consists of arranging and embedding small stones and/or pieces of glass called tesserae in mortar.

Look closely at the image of this mosaic fragment (here) and notice the shapes and arrangement of the stone and glass tesserae. Do you see a pattern in how the pieces are positioned? and In the spacing between them? How is the effect of shading created in this medium that does not allow for the blending of colors?

Make a paper mosaic

Materials needed: Scissors, found paper of different colors, glue, a stiffer paper support for your mosaic (e.g., the side of a cereal box)

  • Using cut-out roughly square paper tesserae of different colors (to any scale that you want to work in), select a discrete area of the Peahen mosaic and attempt to replicate the pattern of the original mosaic. Try to keep your tesserae from overlapping.
  • Glue down the tesserae. Extra challenge: Try making a fragment with your own design.

Mosaic Step 1Mosaic Step 2Mosaic Step 3Second Mosaic Step 1Second Mosaic Step 2Second Mosaic Step 3
Reflect: What did you like (or not) about the process? Imagine what it would be like to cut hundreds or thousands of small stone tesserae into shape and then to assemble them into a decorated floor! Extra prompt: try using tesserae of a different size.

Share: Take a photo of your art, and post/share with #makeart #ARTSFIRST