Ancient Egypt for Teachers Home
Art Language Arts Math and Science Mummies Social Studies
Wall Relief Plaque
Carve images and hieroglyphs on plaster poured into a shallow mold. The finished plaque resembles wall reliefs made for ancient Egyptian tombs.

Michael Michaels, Malcolm X Academy, Detroit



Plaster mold:
  • 5 pounds plaster of paris
Cardboard mold:
  • cardboard box approx. 14" x 11" at base
  • scissors or exacto knives
Wooden box mold:
  • 2 wooden strips 14" x 2"
  • 2 wooden strips 11" x 2
  • plywood base 14" x 11"
  • hammers
  • brads
  • white glue

Have on hand:
  • heavy duty aluminum foil
  • large plastic bowl or pail
  • rulers
  • pencils
  • paper towels
  • plastic spoons or forks
  • watercolor paints
  • covered work surface
  • aprons or paint shirts

  • Goop adhesive or similar product
  • spray sealer
  • plywood or masonite for a backboard
  • black paint
  • picture hanging eyes and wire

Step 1 -- Design
Students work in groups of five. The teacher can point out that ancient Egyptian artisans worked this way, with a foreman or group leader responsible for completion of each step. Artisans specialized and divided work by the process - drawing, carving, painting, etc. Unique and different ideas were not valued in art; rather ancient Egyptian artisans worked in traditional, unchanging styles that were handed down from one generation to the next. Students developed their own drawings based on our discussion (see Preparation and Resources).

Step 2 -- Building a mold
Cardboard Box Mold
Select a sturdy cardboard box. The size is up to you and the time you want to give to the project. Our mold was rectangular, 14" x 11". Measure 2 inches from the base on all sides of the box. Cut along this line and discard the upper portion. Note: This required careful measuring and use of an x-acto knife.

Wooden Box Mold
Buy 2 inch-wide wooden strips, a piece of plywood for the base, and brads, rather than nails, so as not to split the wood. Measure and cut to size in class with hand saws (or have them pre-cut by the lumberyard). Pre-start brads above edges around base. Have a student hold the brad in place and another student hammer them home. Run white glue around the seams to dry.

Line molds with foil. Two overlapping pieces are used, that crossed over each other and continue up the sides of the box.

Step 3 -- Mixing and pouring plaster
Mix plaster of paris according to package directions; the correct consistency should be like sour cream. Avoid mixing with bare hands as the mixture generates heat. Working quickly, pour plaster into the mold. Have two students tap the sides of the mold to bring up any trapped air bubbles. When plaster is firm but still damp, wipe a damp paper towel over the surface to remove any air bubbles.

Step 4 -- Drawing on the Plaster
After the plaster has set up overnight, turn the plaster out upside down onto a covered work surface. The bottom of the plaster is now the top and will become the picture surface. It will still be damp and the design can be drawn into the plaster, using a sharp stick or pencil.

Step 5 -- Carving the Relief
After the plaster has dried overnight, using the end of a plastic spoon or fork, you can carve around the outer lines so that the figures, objects and hieroglyphs stand out in relief. If the plaster is very dry, an exacto knife can be used.

Step 6 -- Painting the Relief
After cleaning the plaster work, students can paint it with watercolors. Several coats may be necessary to get a dark color. Students can also wipe off areas to make the work look aged. Black outlines can be painted around the objects, if desired.

Step 7 -- Mounting the Relief
Paint black a piece of plywood at least 1" larger than the plaster. This wooden board protects the plaster, which is heavy, but fragile. Put 2 screw eyes with wire between on the back of the wood. The plaster can now be glued to the board, using Goop or similar mastic. Now hang the finished piece on the wall and enjoy.

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