Aboriginal Cave Art

My year 4/5/6 students created some aboriginal cave paintings. We gave our paintings the texture and look of rock surfaces by using coloured plaster of paris on hessian fabric. I created a PowerPoint showcasing cave art. We discussed the features of ancient aboriginal cave art, including how they painted animals in an x-ray fashion-showing the bones for decorative effect. The most important aspect of cave art is that it was a vehicle for storytelling. Some of Australia’s cave paintings are up to 15000 years old.

First students designed their rock art painting based on some of the images in the slideshow. I was pleased that most students used this to inform them when it came to doing their painting. This was important, because ancient artists did not have pencils, they would have gone straight into their painting on the rock. We surmised that perhaps they practised their designs by drawing in the sand first.

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The application of plaster was a tricky activity to manage. I set up one table with the plaster and worked with 4 or 5 students at a time, giving a demonstration first. Students worked on their designs or researched aboriginal cave art while they were waiting. Plaster ratio is about 1:1, but you can make it thinner or thicker. As a rule of thumb the consistency of chocolate mousse… Some viscosity is needed to apply it to the hessian.
At the plaster table I had: plastic table cloths, paper towels for wiping up spills, spoons, jugs of coloured water, 5 bowls, plaster, pre-cut squares of hessian approx 30×40 cm. Newspaper is handy for adding an extra layer under the hessian, it makes it easier to move them to the drying area, too.

First the kids scooped some plaster into their bowls, then they took turns adding water a little at a time. We refreshed the water and they chose which combination of inks they wanted to add. They then used the spoon to scoop out the plaster and apply it to the hessian, smoothing it out till it leaves a 3-4cm border of hessian around the plaster.
Thinner plaster is less likely to crack, but the thicker consistency looks more like a rock. We added red, orange and yellow inks to achieve various shades of pinky yellow. These colours are similar to the coloured rocks up in northern Australia. (At my other school, kids fashioned rocks out of sculpey and used dry pastels to draw their images. It will be interesting to compare finished products!)

This activity was messy, loads of prep but worth it. The kids were thoroughly engaged and it added some authenticity to the aboriginal cave art unit because of the look and feel of the ‘rock surfaces’.

Below is the link to the powerpoint I used 🙂

Aboriginal cave art

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