Sunday, February 12, 2012

Daruma Dolls

Before I landed my fabulous new job as an art teacher of some of the most amazing human beings in Pennsylvania, I was working as the Arts & Education Director with Young Audiences of Western New York. I learned about Daruma dolls from one of the extraordinary teaching artists I worked with at this job, Jen Russo. Jen was making Daruma sculptures with at an after-school program for one of the residency programs I coordinated. I had never heard of a Daruma Doll before and as soon as Jen explained the concept behind the doll to me I was instantly intrigued and inspired. In addition to Jen's guidance, I found a few other super online resources to learn more about Darumas such as this informative Daruma PDF put out by the Allen Memorial Art Museum with Oberlin University.

In short, a Daruma is a Japanese sphere-shaped papier mache doll with a red painted body and a white face without pupils!  Daruma dolls represent Bodhidharma, a Zen monk who meditated for almost 9 years while sitting in a meditative posture for so long that his legs were of no use anymore. We compared and contrasted the way we celebrate the New Year with the Japanese tradition of the Daruma doll. The students drew some very interesting parallels!

Throughout the year, but traditionally on New Year's Day, one makes a wish or sets a goal and paints one black pupil onto the Daruma doll. When the goal is reached or the wish comes true one then paints on the second pupil and dispose the doll on the following New Year's Day.

The project began with a full day of Plaster of Paris which the students loved working with. Luckily, the art teacher who was at my school before me bought several boxes of the Plaster of Paris rolls. I prepped for this sculptural building day by cutting the plaster into 2" x 4' inch strips and by blowing up nearly 100 balloons! (My boyfriend Matt was there to help for this, thank goodness!) We used a piece of 9' x 6' manilla paper folded into a bracelet-like ring at the Daruma's base. The students taped this ring to the bottom of the balloon. I also cut tiny triangle pieces of card stock that the students taped onto the balloon for the nose.

On the second day, we started talking about some of the symbols that are typically painted onto the Daruma's face and body. I provided students with variety of colors for the paints. I did not make them stick to the traditional red color as I thought it would be cool for the students to be expressive with color rather than formulaic. I showed the students how to mix a flesh tone to match the traditional Daruma.



I got out the smallest paint brushes I had for the detailed thin lines on the Daruma face and the students practiced using a light, delicate brush stroke to achieve different kinds of line quality. I printed out several copies of Japanese word symbols so students could pick words that relate to their New Year's goal to use in their Daruma decoration.

When the students were finished painting their Daruma's exterior, they were allowed to use a Sharpee to write their goal for 2012 on the bottom of their Daruma and paint one of the eyes in. I really wanted to peek and see what their goals were, but I promised them that I wouldn't look because their goal may be personal.

The hallway display of the 5th grade Daruma's has created quite a stir with students and other teachers. Many passers by are curious why the Darumas only have one eye. The display is located just outside the art room and I have heard more than one 5th grader proudly explaining the Japanese tradition to students in other grade levels. I was happy to hear this!


  1. Sunnylee, that was the most AMAZING tutorial I have ever seen! I love the info about the history of the Daruma Doll as well as your detailed explanation (WITH PHOTO'S!) of the step by step process. I really wish more bloggers would photograph their process because I am a VISUAL LEARNER as a lot of art teachers that I know are. Give me a picture over a lengthy explanation anyday! Thanks for a great post as I love all things Japanese.


  2. Thanks, Pat! I'm glad you found the tutorial helpful. Your comment totally made my day.