Art teachers were STEAM-ing before STEAM was cool!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Inuit Soap Carvings

I have been wanting to try this project for a long time! In my "Art Around the World" class we have a little extra time, so I thought it would be the perfect class to try an introduction to carving using soap and simple tools. I originally saw this project in the book "A Survival Kit for the Elementary/Middle School Art Teacher, " by Helen Hume. This is a wonderful book that has a number of great projects. I like how her projects have a "Teacher Page" with background info and alternative lesson plans as well as a "Student Page" that you could photocopy and hand to students to refer to as they work their way through the project.
Polar Bear, looking up.

I started class by flipping through the book "The Inuit: Ivory Carvers of the Far North," by Rachel A. Koestler-Grack. This book is full of great information and images that aided in my giving a brief background on the Inuit people and their beautiful carvings.

I then gave each student a copy of the Inuit Bear Carving Lesson plan from Dick Blick Art Supplies. That lesson is intended to be done by carving a foam block, but the diagrams easily translate to a bar of soap. The handout shows, step-by-step, how the child should carve the block to create a lovely 3D representation of a bear.

I really do encourage you to try this project with your child. It's wonderful to see them working and planning as they carve the soap away! Enjoy!

Supplies Needed:

  • Bar of soap (I used plain Ivory)
  • Newspaper (for working on and collecting soap chips)
  • Skewer or toothpick
  • Potato peeler, plastic knife and spoon
  • Plastic kitchen scrubber
  • Handout from www.dickblick.com (optional, but helpful)

If you are creating a polar bear, you can follow the handout from Dick Blick. Some of my students decided to create turtles since I had brought in a carving of a turtle. I had them work from the figure and I walked them through carving the piece. 

I think older students could design their own carvings, but younger students or first-timers may have more success if they work from a plan. Or, if your student is comfortable "winging it," let them go for it and see what animal emerges from their carving!

Carving the rough shape of the turtle with a vegetable peeler.

Adding the final details with the point of a skewer.

Another Polar Bear!

And a cute little turtle!


  1. Thanks for this post. I used some of your tips for a project I did with a group of my son's friends.

    1. Hi Sheri-So glad you enjoyed the post and tried the carvings at home! Children (especially boys, I've noticed) love to carve soap. Thank you for posting & letting me know you tried the project. Take care, Mrs. P

  2. If you are interested in seeing what you can do with soap on a intricate level .. I have several videos of carving Ivory and Zest soap .. I am a woodcarver who injured himself and now carve soap until I can get back into wood . http://www.youtube.com/user/whittler0507

  3. This was the perfect project for our Inuit study! We made whales today and credited you for the idea. Thank you for sharing!



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