How to paint a Tribal War Mask by Elizabeth Osborne

A couple of weeks ago, I issued my first of many Alabaster ID art challenges: find animal bone in deserted place, or driftwood, find tribal mask inspiration, paint into war or peace mask. The purpose of these art challenges are to cause you to think creatively with what you have or found objects you find.

In my case, a client found a pelvic bone of a cow on one of his journeys and requested that I paint it into a war mask. Here is a picture of the cow pelvis:

This is a cow pelvis about to be transformed into a work of art.

The next step I took to transform this raw bone into a work of art was to clean the bone thoroughly so that the paint will have a clean and dry surface to adhere. Painting a tribal war mask has never been a part of my repertoire, so I go in search on the internet for inspiration. Here are the two masks that I found that my art patron liked the best:

Inspiration for the design of the tribal war mask.

Although tribal masks were used in many cultures around the world by indigenous peoples such as the Japanese, African, and South Americans, the pictures that I used are examples of masks from North American tribes. I like the graphic design and bold use of color blocking.

My palette is black, electric blue, aqua, orange-red, and yellow. I go to work on the basic design by starting with black acrylic paint and then back filling the empty sections with acrylic paint in selected bold colors. Here is how progress looks so far:

Initial design using bold color palette against a black background.

To keep the blue areas from looking flat, I first paint the section with a electric blue and, once dry, I go over the blue with an aqua color that has been thinned out with a little water to form of a transparent glaze. This artistic technique gives more depth and texture to the final artwork.

The next step is to add the yellow accents above the eyes as eyebrows, on the inside corners of the eyes, on the cheeks, around the ears, and as an outline around the mouth. The yellow and orange-red paints are not as opaque as the black and blue, so a few layers are recommended to get a rich solid tone.

Tribal war mask in progress with yellow accents.

I take full advantage of the upper portion of the cow pelvis and use my creative license to suggest feathers on wings. To finish the art piece, I paint the inside of the mask flat black and present the custom tribal war mask to my art patron.

The final result is a bright and graphic tribal war mask.


Detail of feathers on wings of tribal war mask.

Have some fun by creating a tribal war or peace mask of your own. Just find a object with an interesting shape, find your inspiration, and then paint your own design onto the shape to create a unique tribal mask.

Keywords: tribal, war, peace, mask, paint, acrylic, art, create, creative, found object, bone, technique, inspiration, how to, tutorial, Elizabeth Osborne, Alabaster, Inspired, Design, artwork, craft