Monday, February 22, 2010

The Art of Oaxacan Wood Carvings

Alebrijes are carved wooden figures created by artists in Oaxaca, Mexico. These sculptures are a fabulous expression of Mexican folk art. The talented carvers of Oaxaca create, entirely by hand, wonderful creatures made from copal wood. They decorate these with amazing patterns and colors. These wooden sculptures have captivated collectors worldwide. Some examples of these fantastic carvings can be found at Oaxacan Wood Carvings Gallery El Caracol Zapoteca.

In honor of Mexico's participation in the 2010 Winter Olympics, we decided to make our own version of Oaxaca wood carvings. Traditionally, the animals are carved out of wood, but in order to simplify the process, we went outside and found some snakey-looking sticks. The kids then painted them a solid color with acrylic paint.

After the paint dried, we added patterns. For this step, we used acrylic paint pens instead of paint brushes. It was much easier to make small detailed patterns with these. One of the things that make Alebrijes so unique is their intense, unusual use of pattern. I had the kids work quite a while on this step in order to really create the Alebrijes feel. I encouraged them to use contrasting colors, meaning colors that are very different from the background color. Choosing complementary colors can also provide excellent contrast. Complementary colors are located across from each other on the color wheel, and stand out very well against each other. There are three complimentary pairs. They are red and green, orange and blue, and purple and yellow.

When the paint was dry, we stuck an unbent paperclip in the mouth for a tongue, and turned them loose! Here is my daughter's finished snake, Pinky.

Our finished snakes enjoying the cool grass.

I have always loved the fabulous Mexican Oaxacan wood carvings, and really enjoy teaching kids about this art form. Children enjoy the bright colors and fun whimsical feel of these critters.

Give these colorful, fun creatures a try. It is a great opportunity to create an exciting piece of art and learn about Mexican culture.


  1. Great Mexican Oaxacan Art work. I always like to see wood carvings and for kids to work with their hands. That makes a great combination. Keep up the good work.

  2. These are lovely - I have a whole basket of painted sticks that my preschool kids collected and painted - now I know what we can do with them. Would you mind if I used this on my blog - I have a Nature Play Friday each week and these would be perfect.

  3. I don't mind at all! Thanks for including me in your blog!

  4. I really LOVE this idea THANK YOU for sharing it!
    Donna :) :)

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