Mud is a versatile and under-rated material, and lets face it there’s a lot of it about. It has (and still is in some parts of the world) been used for a huge variety of purposes by mankind for millennia, for building, medicinal and beauty purposes, and making pots to name just a few, and of course as a material for making art.
Mud art has lots of advantages, it’s cheap, it gets you outdoors, and it also has an ancient lineage. Some of the very earliest artworks were created with mud – using it not only as a sculptural medium, but also as a pigment, because the colour of mud can vary hugely from yellow ochres, to rich red siena’s and dark umbers (all pigments which are traditionally derived from mud). Of course clay itself is essentially mud, and the best mud sculptures are made in areas where the soil naturally has a certain amount of clay in it, which helps it to hold and stick together. So, having found a nice muddy patch, how can you use it to create some artwork?
- Make mud sculptures – we did a hedgehog and a snail. You can of course further embellish your sculpture with anything else to hand, like sticks, stones, bits of broken pottery, snail shells (we have lots of those!) plant material or anything else. Our soil is rather sandy, which doesn’t make as good a material for sculpture – so we had to use a stone underneath to support the hedgehog shape (this is after all an important sculptural technique to learn) as otherwise it all tended to flop a bit. You can also easily create more abstract sculptures from balls of mud, stacking or arranging them, and then further embellishing them with other materials.
- If you’re really ambitious, you can use mud as a traditional building material (wattle and daub) by creating an underlying structure with twigs and sticks, mixing cut grass or straw into your mud, and ‘plastering’ it onto the structure beneath. Of course for real binding strength, daub would traditionally have contained animal dung, but you may not want to go to those lengths! This is basically the material that you would originally have found between the timbers of timber-framed houses. It’s light, strong, cheap and effective.
- Draw pictures and designs into the mud – and/or add colour with coloured leaves or berries (see the post on Land Art in the Spring).
- Smooth a rock or piece of wood with clay and watch decorative cracks develop as it dries out. You can use this technique on it’s own, or with others to create your artwork.
- Use mud with your fingers or with sticks as a paint to draw and paint designs on a rock surface. True prehistoric art! Try using your hand as a stencil to draw round or for creating hand and finger prints.
- Create plaster casts of a child’s or animal’s hand and foot prints in the mud. I vaguely remember doing this myself at school as a child. The technique is simple: place a ring of thin card around the print to hold the wet plaster, then when it has dried, remove the ring and brush off the mud. In spite of this apparent simplicity, I have to confess here that mine were a bit of a disaster. Never having worked with plaster of paris before, I mixed it far too runny so that it didn’t set. Still, I am undeterred, and shall try again!
- Use mud as ‘war’ or decorative body paint.
When creating with mud, have plenty of water nearby, and mixing sticks and spades etc. as tools. Mud and water really go hand in hand, and only adds to the fun
And finally, it hardly needs to be said: just make sure that old or protective clothes are worn and that hands, faces and anything else that gets muddy, are thoroughly washed afterwards.