FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes

Students learn about Mexican alebrije folk art sculptures and use air dry clay and acrylic paint to create their own fantastical animal.

Required Time

180 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 9


Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts



Crayola Paint Brushes - 5 Count Crayola Acrylic Paint - 6 Count Crayola Neon Washable Project Paint - 10 Count Crayola Air Dry Clay - White - about .5 kg (1 lb) per student Water Containers Plastic Placemats - 1 per student Plastic Bags - 1 per student Paper Towels Pencils Paper Clips Masking Tape

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FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step One

Step One

  1. Make 2 small balls of clay about the size of a clementine orange.
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Make 2 pinch pots using steps 1 – 4 in the lesson plan available on this website at 
    How to Make a Clay Pinch Pot
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Score the rims of the pots using a pin tool.
    - Make a pin tool by taping an open paperclip to the end of a pencil. 
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Brush slip onto the rims of both pots.
    - Make slip by mixing some clay with water until it is the thickness of a creamy milkshake.
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Hold one pinch pot in each hand.
  2. Join the rims together with a slight twisting motion.
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Use your thumbnail to scrape the clay from one pot to the other over the joint.
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Seven

Step Seven

  1. Smooth the surface with your fingers.
  2. If the clay seems a bit dry, try adding a tiny amount of slip on the tips of your fingers and work it into the surface.
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Eight

Step Eight

  1. Use score and slip technique to join pieces of clay to the spheroid.
  2. Carefully add details to make your animal fantastical.
  3. Allow the animal to dry for about 1 week.
  4. Place a plastic bag loosely over the animal to slow the drying down for the first 2 days.
    - This will help prevent the thinner pieces of clay from drying too quickly and breaking away from the rest of the animal.
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Nine

Step Nine

  1. Once the animal is completely dry, use acrylic and neon paints to paint it.
  2. Remember to cover the animal with lots of bright patterns.
  3. Use both ends of the brush to make different marks.
    - The neon paint may need several coats depending on the colour. 
FANTASTICAL CLAY ANIMALS – Inspired by Alebrijes - Step Ten

Step Ten

  1. Try using the point of a pencil or cake decorating tool to make small dots. 

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • write a descriptive story about a fantastical animal;
  • create a clay animal based on their story;
  • demonstrate skillful pinch pot handbuilding techniques;
  • use contrasting colours and pattern in the style of Mexican alebrijes;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.


Have students:

  • work in teams to create a step by step How To video for clay handbuilding techniques;
  • create a brochure to highlight alebrije folk art and what it means to Mexico;
  • share their work with others.


  1. Prior to this lesson you may want to have students explore clay techniques with the Score and Slip lesson available on this website at,
    Score and Slip
  2. Make a batch of slip, enough for groups of students to share.
  3. Have students make pin tools by taping an open paper clip to the end of a pencil.
  4. Gather, and make available, books about alebrijes and Mexico, for example, Coco: Miguel and the Amazing Alebrijes, by Disney Book Group; Alebrijes Mexican folk art colouring book - Fantastic & strange Creatures: The Magical World of Alebrijes, by Jorge Lulic; Oaxacan Woodcarving: The Magic in the Trees, by Shepard Barbash, and‎ Vicki Ragan; and Oaxaca: The Spirit of Mexico, by Matthew Jaffe, and‎ Judith Cooper Haden.
  5. Download images of alebrijes from the Internet, for example,
    Two-Headed Turtle
    Water Buffalo
  6. Download and display the Form and Pattern Posters  available on this website.
  7. View the video Making an Alebrije
  8. Review the background information about alebrijes available at,
    Texas National Park Service
    Pedro Linares - Los Angeles Times
  9. Teach/review the descriptive writing form. 
  10. Provide time for students to research alebrije, and then write a story about their own fantastical animal. (Downloads – WriteTo Describe.pdf)


  1. View and discuss the images of alebrijes, drawing attention to their origins and characteristics, for example,
    - Pedro Linares, a Mexican artist created the first alebrijes in the 1930s
    - he saw them in "ugly and terrifying" dreams 
    - he made some that were dark and scary at first, then started painting them in bright colours so more people would buy them
    - alebrijes are very popular in Mexico and are made and sold in different parts of the country
    - featured in the animated film Coco
    - bright colours
    - imaginary combinations of different animals
    - intricate patterns
    - made of papier mâché, clay or wood
    - look like they are moving
    - fantastical
  2. Invite students to visualize their own fantastical animal based on their descriptive story.
  3. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Write a descriptive story about a fantastical animal.
  2. Create a clay animal based on your story.
  3. Demonstrate skillful pinch pot handbuilding techniques.
  4. Use contrasting colours and pattern in the style of Mexican alebrijes.
  5. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - constructed a clay animal using skillful pinch pot handbuilding techniques
    - used score and slip joining technique correctly
    - created a fantastical clay animal 
    - painted my animal with contrasting colours
    - painted different patterns all over my animal
    - created an animal that is sturdy and in good condition
    - written a descriptive story about the animal 
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Encourage students to always join clay using the score and slip technique.
  5. Observe students as they work. 
  6. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Place students in groups of about 6.
  2. Ask them to view the animals and to share thoughts about the works.
  3. During the discussion include references to: 
    Design - How does the design make you feel about the personality of the animal?
    - Colour - How does the colour add to the energy of the animal?
    - Pattern – How does pattern add to the overall effect of the design?
    - Technical Accomplishment - How does attention to detail contribute to technical accomplishment?
  4. Ask volunteers to share some ideas with the whole class. 


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they share and discuss their animals – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads - FantasticalAnimal_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to reflect on their work. (Downloads - FantasticalAnimal_self-assessment.pdf)