Here’s A Great Art Project With It’s Own Magic Trick

Last week sometime, Mace and I were reading about ancient Minoan culture in a USBorne world history book.  Sometimes on these typically two-page layouts of information, with bright pictures, maps and information, the publishers need to take up a two or three inch square of space that’s left over and insert an art project they do not intend that anyone actually complete.

Here’s a handy tip for how you know that the publisher does not intend for you to complete the project.  The instructions for said project encompass all of two sentences.  For example: “To make a ‘fresco’, mix some plaster of Paris and pour it into a foil dish.  When it is firm, but still damp, paint on it with water paints.”

For an overachiever, those instructions are sorely lacking in detail.  How much plaster of Paris?  Mixed to what consistency (pancake batter or milk)? How deep of a foil dish?  How firm? How damp?  Can I substitute water paints with tempera paints?

So normally . . . I would not have attempted to paint frescoes with my children.

And I’m honestly not sure why I did it anyway, but I had been wondering what I was going to use that other carton of plaster of Paris for  . . . .

Before embarking on the fresco project I consulted the internet and found a few examples of other overachieving souls painting frescoes on plaster of Paris.  Their frescoes looked lovely.

So we began.

I mixed the plaster per the instructions on the carton.  This was my first mistake.  When we made impressions of bird and animal tracks last year about this time, we must have mixed the plaster thicker.  But the internet said that for this fresco project to just mix per the carton and then wait only about ten minutes and then start painting.

So I mixed the  plaster and poured it into small paper plates.


And then we waited for the plaster to dry enough to paint on.

And we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Keep in mind that the directions tell you that the timing of when you begin painting is important — you are supposed to vigilantly watch the plaster for that moment when the plaster is hard, but not too hard; wet, but not too wet.  The boys hung in there for about twenty minutes and then went upstairs to build a Death Star out of LEGOs.

I noticed after about an hour and a half that the plaster had indeed hardened, but was underneath about an 1/8 of an inch of water that was just standing separately on top.  So I poured the water off the top of each of the plaster disks and started getting the paint ready.

We started pulling the plaster off of the plates and I became aware of my second mistake.


Unless you coat the plate with cooking spray or cover it with foil/plastic wrap before you pour in the plaster, the plate will stick to the plaster.  It wasn’t impossible to remove the plates, but it took a few extra minutes to get all of the paper off.

We started painting and the boys had a great time transferring the pictures they had drawn earlier on paper to their plates.


We painted several Christmas-themed pictures, thinking we would give them away as presents to Grandparents, aunts and uncles.


And they did turn out lovely, don’t you think?

That is . . . .


Until they started disappearing.

Apparently, the answer is “No, you cannot substitute tempera paint for watercolors.”

The good news is, I was able to wrap it all up neatly into our history lesson.

“See, Mace?  These frescoes disappeared just like the ancient Minoans.”

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  1. For some reason I feel it a point of honor to be the first to like this post. I would do it more than once if I could. Your disappearing frescoes rock!

  2. Ha! Why do text books insist on adding projects no one will ever attempt! Our history book wants us to mix sand and mud and straw to make bricks. So educational. So not happening! You get points for trying ;-)

    • Seriously, right? I was looking ahead in that same history book today and see that by the end of the week we’ll be on a page depicting Egyptians making paper out of papyrus. I have papyrus growing in my yard, so that would make a spectacularly horrible, doomed-to-fail project worthy of a blog post. But the authors only give cryptic instructions for making a water clock and nothing for making your own papyrus paper. Pansies.

  3. Sounds like projects we do around here! I need detailed instructions WITH PICTURES, step by step, if there is a chance for us to succeed. Or I just stay away, let the kids figure it out. Then, maybe.

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