If you follow any outdoor learning accounts on Instagram or if your children attend forest school, you will probably be familiar with clay faces decorated with plants and foliage often seen attached to the trunks of trees and which are variously known as tree spirits, clay faces or the green man.
Who is the Green Man?
The green man sounds a little scary when you don’t know much about him, but he’s a benign figure from mythology who can be found in several cultures around the world. He exists as a face surrounded by or made of leaves. Some depictions of him have leaves coming out of his mouth.
If you start looking around you you will find him in many places across our towns and cities, on public buildings and churches as well as in the names of public houses. We have no less than three The Green Man pubs local to us!
His exact origins have been lost in history, but he’s thought to be Pagan originally and represent some sort of nature spirit. His presence on churches and buildings is thought to originate from a time when Christianity was replacing Paganism as the dominant religion in Britain.
In our new environmentally conscious era, the green man has found a new place in society as a sort of green guardian and a representation of the link between man and nature. It’s interesting that even children and adults who don’t know the back story of the green man find an instinctive desire to create these clay depictions of him. It helps us understand a little of how he must have originated as a symbol thousands of years ago.
How to make a Green Man face
Using foraged natural items
This is the most popular method you’ll see online. A loose interpretation of the Green Man concept which gives children lots of opportunities to collect and experiment with natural materials. To create your own green man you’ll need some air-drying clay and some leaves, twigs and natural elements collected from a park or garden.
We usually use this type of clay because it doesn’t crack when it dries, but we have also found it’s less sticky and so doesn’t adhere to tree trunks as well as some others. Don’t worry though you can always let the face dry and then hang it.
Alternative – Using leaf templates for an all clay face
For a face that will last a little longer you can instead use leaves as templates to create the kind of Green Man face you might see for sale in a garden centre or on the outside of a public building (see image above)
First you need to collect some leaves, taking into consideration the finished size that you intend your face to be. Smaller might be better.
Using a rolling pin make impressions of the leaves in a flat piece of clay and then using a blunt knife or clay tool cut around the outside of the leaf shape. Place the leaf shapes around the edges of your clay face to decorate it.
Share your green men!
We’d love to see what you have been creating. Please follow us on our social media channels and tag #littlegreenexplorers. Every month we share our favourite images from the outdoor learning community in a blog post. We’d love to see yours