Coil a Portrait


Compare modern culture with African tribal cultures by researching how individual and group identity are expressed through hair arrangements and other appearance norms.


1. Investigate the practice of hair sculpture in African tribal cultures. What other alterations of physical appearance have been practiced by native cultures? Discuss how these practices compare to the role of hair styles and other purposeful appearance alterations in your own culture.

2. Research contemporary artist Terry Niedzialak who creates hair montages that make statements about social conflicts (see Fiberarts, Jan/Feb 1991). Study his fiber sculpture style for ideas to use when making your own self portrait sculpture.

3. In the center of a piece of oak tag or poster board, use Crayola® Washable Markers to sketch a simple self-portrait. Use a mirror if it helps.

4. Roll coils of Crayola Model Magic, either on a flat surface or between the hands. Press some coils flat. Roll up others in cinnamon-roll fashion.

5. Place the coils on the sketch to create facial features and hair. With Crayola School Glue, attach the Model Magic pieces to the paper and each other. Cut the rest of the paper away with Crayola Scissors. Let the sculpture dry.

6. Color the portrait using Crayola Watercolors or Tempera Paint and Brushes. Or use Crayola Washable Markers and brush water over the surface. Let the sculpture dry again.

7. Use Crayola School Glue to embellish the face with feathers, dried flowers, or other decorative materials. Glue a paper clip to the back for a hanger.

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.

Crayola Modeling Materials including Crayola Model Magic®, and Model Magic Fusion™, Crayola Air-Dry Clay, and Crayola Dough—

  • Keep away from open flames. Do not use to make candleholders, hot plates, trivets, or other similar objects that will be used or placed near fire and other heat sources.
  • Do not put in an oven, microwave, or kiln.
  • Do not make into vessels/containers that will hold unpackaged food.
  • The use of modeling material to make items that look like food is discouraged for children younger than age 5 to avoid their confusion with real food.
  • Unless sealed with a water-resistant glaze, do not make projects exposed to or immersed in water, such as boats or outdoor bird feeders. They would disintegrate when exposed to moisture.
  • Crayola Dough—contains gluten (wheat flour) as an ingredient.
  • Crayola Air-Dry Clay, Crayola Model Magic and Model Magic Fusion are gluten-free. However, they are produced on the same machinery as Crayola Dough which does contain gluten. Although the machines are cleaned prior to the start of each production run, there is a slight possibility that trace amounts of gluten from Crayola Dough may be present in the other modeling compound products. For information regarding specific ingredients or allergic concerns, please call our Consumer Affairs department at 1-800-272-9652 weekdays between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Crayola Washable Paints—Not for use as body/face paint.

Scissors—ATTENTION: The cutting edges of scissors are sharp and care should be taken whenever cutting or handling. Blunt-tip scissors should be used only by children 4 years and older. Pointed-tip scissors should be used only by children 6 years and older.


  • Teamwork can really pay off on projects like this. Pairs of students can create each other's coiled portraits and get to know each other in the process. They might also write poems to describe their new friends.
  • Learn more about hairstyles and their significance. For example, cornrows represent "courage, honor, wisdom, and strength" according to Frances Ann Day in Multicultural Voices in Contemporary Literature: A Resource for Teachers.
  • Find portraits and sculpture of people in various cultures and eras. Have children compare different types of hairstyles. How do they think these styles were created without curling irons and styling gel?
  • Younger children and special needs students may benefit from short practice sessions experimenting with sculpting and painting techniques before participating in this activity.
  • Teachers may wish to preview books and photographs to select the most appropriate treatment of subjects for students.

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Markers
  • Washable Watercolors
  • Artista II® Washable Tempera Paint
  • Watercolor Brushes with Plastic Handle
  • Model Magic®
  • No-Run School Glue
  • Pointed Tip Scissors
household supplies
  • recycled newspaper
  • paper clips
  • paper towels
  • oak tag or poster board
  • container(s) of water



  • Grades 1 to 3
  • Grades 4 to 6
  • Grades 7 to 12
  • Special Needs


  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • Multiple Sessions


  • Students research African tribal cultures that expressed their identity and group status through hair sculpture.

  • Students compare and contrast their own cultures with those researched.

  • Students make portraits of themselves to express their individuality and group relationships.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards