Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mask Making- Chinese Opera Masks

Masks are a great project to do with middle school kids. The question is "What kind of mask should we make?'

If you're like me, when you start planning for a mask project you probably have a lot of questions floating around in your mind. 

'They're so many styles of medium to use and try out.'

'You get to learn about different cultures from around the world. Which culture should we tackle in this lesson?'

'What type of masks should we do this time?' 

One type of mask my students enjoy making are Chinese Opera Masks. Below are some that I made in my art class this year. It might be something you might want to try in your art room.


Background of the Chines Opera
Here is some basic background knowledge about the Chinese Opera I give to the kids before we start the lesson.

Chinese Opera dates back to the 14th century. It was a highly stylized drama that included dialogue, mime, swordplay, song, instrumentals, dance and acrobatics. The stories included tales of history, legend and literature. The sets are extremely simple, with few props or scenery on stage.

The Characters

The characters are distinguished on the basis of age, sex and personality. There are four types of main roles: sheng (main male), dan (young female), jing (painted face,secondary male) and chou (clown, male or female). The characters may be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad; their image/characteristics being symbolized through their costume and vivid makeup.

The Costumes

The types of wigs and makeup worn by the actors actually revealed character attributes and personality traits. The costumes worn conveyed meaning and emotion for the characters. The audience would understand through the costumes the characters rank in society; occupation and personal qualities of good and evil; wise or foolish. Even the headdress represented  a character's place in society- the more elaborate the style, the more important the character.

Starting the lesson

Because the characters in the Chinese Opera are so fixed and stylized I always have a discussion about them before we start this lesson. This helps them get an idea of what type of character they would like to make. We first talk about the four types of characters. Then review the symbolism of the colors of the make up the characters will wear. 

Color Symbolism of the Chines Opera

Blue- staunch, fierce
Yellow- ambition, cool headed
Purple- upright, just, noble
Red- devotion, courage, bravery, loyal
Green- impulsive, violent, stubborn, lack of self restraint

I don't require that the kids follow the Chinese symbolism. But I do teach them about it. I let them make up their own color symbolism; which they have to explain to me when they hand their project in.

We've made Chinese Opera Masks before, using plaster cloth from the Blick catalog. But this year the plaster cloth wasn't included in my budget, so I had to use a different technique. We started using paper mache masks for our base, sketched in their facial features and started painting on top of the paper mache using tempera paint.


 The Headdress

We create the headdress and hair on oak-tag cardboard. They measure it to the paper mache mask first. Then they sketch it out their design in pencil. Lastly, it's also painted with tempera paint.


We finish the masks by gluing the mask to the cardboard headdress with a hot glue gun.  If they want plastic jewels, those too are glued on with a glue gun.

Would making Chinese Opera Masks something that would work in your middle school art class? Let me know what kind of masks you make. I'd love to hear about it.

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