STEAMhome: Mexican Tin Art Self Portraits

Mexican Tin Art

Mexican Tin Art Self Portraits

Many of the greatest artists throughout the ages have tackled the self portrait - now it is your turn! In the style of hojalatas, tin art made in Mexico, the young artists can emboss their likeness into a tin portrait. This activity is best for school age children between 6 and 12 years old.

Gathering Your Materials

There are plenty of options to get you started:

  • Tooling Foil or disposable tin cookie sheets
  • “Embossing tools” : The sky’s the limit here: dull pencils, the opposite ends of paintbrushes or spoon, nails, or a traditional embossing tools like a styluses. Best yet: offer a variety of options and have kids experiment!
  • Colorful sharpies
  • Pencils and paper (for “pre drawing” their self portraits)

If you want to mount your beautiful work you’ll need:

  • Black poster board
  • Tape
  • Staples

Self Portraits and Mexican Folk Art

Ask your young ones “What is a self-portrait?” A self-portrait is a work of art that shows an image of an artist, made by the artist. Find a few examples of famous self portraits, or check out the resources at the end of this post. Compare what you see. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Remind them when you make a self-portrait, you are showing the world both what you look like and something about you too. Ask your artists to ponder, “What do I look like?” “How do I act?” “What do I like?” Hojalatas are the tin art made in Mexico especially the southern state of Oaxaca.

Mexican artisans and craftsmen mold tin specifically. Tin is inexpensive and easily available. It has been called “the poor man’s silver.” Hojalatas can become many things including candelabras, jewelry boxes, or nativity scenes. Often glass, mirrors or talavera tiles are incorporated into the designs. Images of flowers, hearts, stars, skulls, and religious images are common. They can be serious or humorous.

Hojalata artists use a technique called embossing that involves stamping or punching a material to form a 3D imprint or relief into paper and metal. Embossing in metal is also called repousse. In hojalata, the use of bright and bold colors is what makes it unique. Typically embossed metal is left in it’s natural state, but in hojalata the embossed surface is colorfully painted.

There are many YouTube videos that show this process, but one of my favorites is this How to: Mexican Tin Folk Art tutorial by Mark Montano.

Making Your Art

Depending on what you materials you decide on using, the tin and the embossing tools can be sharp so take heed! You can also pre-cut your tin material to avoid issues. If artists want and if time allows they can use the pre-drawing as a guide for their piece. Be sure to demonstrate adding lines can create different areas of colors and encourage experimenting with tools. Once finished you can mount their work to cardboard. If you are working with younger children, BabbleDabbleDo blog offers some helpful modifications.

Keep Learning

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About STEAMhome

STEAMhome is a blog series sharing science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) projects with families and caregivers to make at home with children. For more STEAM program ideas and resources, check out the Maker[Space]Ship webpage.

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