Painted Costa Rican Boruca Masks


After what feels like many sessions of intense, focused linear perspective drawing (and before that, days of observational drawing & value), 7th grade is ready to cut loose a little bit. This large-scale painting project is a fun counterpoint.


We start with a think/pair/share activity exploring different types of mask, and talking about how masks and disguises are present in nearly every culture across the world. We talk about why the students think that is, some of the reasons that people wear masks, and how masks both give power and take it away.


Then we view & discuss images of the masks created by the Boruca tribe, indigenous to Costa Rica. The Boruca people create these masks for their annual festival, the Danza de los Diabolitos, in which the men of the tribe reenact the Spanish conquest. In the reenactment, the masks give the tribe the power to repel the invaders.


After working out ideas in their journals, students draw their masks on 18×24″ construction paper using chalk. Chalk encourages students to draw large (I tell them their mask should come within 1″ of every edge), and has the added benefit of vanishing when painted over, unlike pencil.


Before students start painting, we learn about color schemes and how artists use them to create a mood and foster unity in their work. Students can choose from five color schemes to complete their masks: triadic, analogous, complementary, split complementary, and monochromatic.


When painting is complete, we revisit images of Boruca masks to see the layer of pattern the artists add, developing contrast, rhythm, and variety to add interest. Students add patterns using oil pastels, still sticking to their color schemes to maintain unity.