Shaping Smiles: Play Dough Sculpture

On June 12th, we gathered again at the Government High School for Blind Girls in Hyderabad to hold another fun, tactile art workshop. On this rainy afternoon, 14 girls gathered on the floor of the computer lab to experiment with play dough of different colors and textures. They did not know what to expect, but were eager to learn! 

 A student feels a ball of blue play dough in her right hand, holding a plate with red, white, and yellow dough with her left hand.

A student feels a ball of blue play dough in her right hand, holding a plate with red, white, and yellow dough with her left hand.

The girls paired up to share a set of white, blue, red, and yellow play dough. In order to differentiate between colors, NJA staff added textural elements to each color. Yellow had rawa, a small and rough grain that gave it a grainy feel. Blue had sabudana, a small white cereal that gave it a pebbly feel. Red had saunf (fennel seeds), which gave it both a prickly feel and a fresh, minty smell. White was left plain and smooth, as an alternative to the textured options.

 A student holds a ball of play dough close to her face, in order to inspect the textural elements mixed in.

A student holds a ball of play dough close to her face, in order to inspect the textural elements mixed in.

Each pair of girls was accompanied by a volunteer to help orient and encourage them. We began by exploring the different colors individually. Each girl took a ball of dough and worked it between her hands, warming the dough and stretching it. Some of the girls had never worked with dough like this; their closest point of reference was the dough their mothers would cook into flat roti for dinner. The volunteers used this example to encourage the girls to get rough with the dough: smash it, fold it, twist it, pull it apart. 

Workshop 3

Once comfortable with the various colors, we moved onto color mixing. The girls experimented with combinations of different textures in order to create new secondary colors like purple, green, and orange. They also created beautiful swirls of colors and textures while getting acquainted with the new combinations. These seemed to be the most common creations: spheres and rolls of two or three colors, carefully swirled and curled in marble-like patterns.

 Several plates of colorful play dough creations laid out to dry.

Several plates of colorful play dough creations laid out to dry.

Finally, the girls were set free to form any shape or figure they wanted. Many stuck with round shapes like fruit or snacks (laddoos were popular), while others created small bowls to put the imagined food items in. Some used their rolls of swirled color to create bracelets, snakes, or branches and leaves. Others created flowers and birds, crafted with surprising detail. It was so fun to experience the girls shaping these figures, carefully selecting colors by their textures to add to the compositions. They were focused and attentive throughout the session, even as it extended into the late afternoon.

 A volunteer holds up a student's creation (a pink flower with green leaves) as the student rolls another ball of dough.

A volunteer holds up a student's creation (a pink flower with green leaves) as the student rolls another ball of dough.

At the end, they placed their creations on plates to dry as the rain cleared up and the air warmed again. The volunteers and staff were all extremely pleased by the girls' dedication to the activity. Even more exciting was the immediate interest some girls took in the sculpting process. We hope to tap into this interest in future sculpture workshops, moving onto more defined forms and themes. For now, the girls were content to create shape from shapelessness using their hands and their imaginations.