Activity Guide - making and carving PVA Mudrock

Carving earth blocks and frozen balloons with sticks and blunt tools


Humans have been engraving and carving for 100,000’s of years. As a 9 year old I spent hours bashing quartz rich rocks with an old screwdriver and a hammer. I must have been “up” on healthy and safety because I was wearing my snorkeling mask. The lens misted up pretty quickly, and I remember my forehead getting ever so sweaty and my eyes stinging as perspiration ran into them. Although I never made book ends that actually stood up straight, like the ones I had seen in my minds eye, I very much enjoyed the process. Today, I am inspired by many sculptors including David Nash and one of the most amazing buildings I have seen is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona… and that was just the outside.

Once upon a time I came upon a chalk-carving workshop at The Green Scythe Fayre, based in Somerset, UK. ( Anyone of tool holding age could have a go at chalk carving. It looked like such fun. My son had a go. HIs mum brought some chalk back home and later went to the local recycling centre to get some old tools so he cold continue the creative streak. I wondered how to enable the experience for anyone… especially if there is no chalk in the local area. I heard about people filling balloons with water and freezing them…and then carving the ice. I then had a go at mixing PVA with some earth from the garden, pouring it into some old juice cartons so the mixture dried into blocks for carving. Bingo! A cheap way, to make simple carving blocks from local materials. 

Get Set

You will need two buckets, spade, mixing stick, water, PVA glue, and empty 1l ‘tetrapac’ juice/drink cartons.

When I can I use molehill soil…it’s pre-dug and crumbly ready for mixing. I prefer to use a more sandy earth than soil with a high clay or organic matter content, however local soil is best! The sandy soil dries much quicker than the clay soil, which also ends up being much harder to carve. I will usually sieve the soil to remove sticks, stones and bigger creatures, and say I am sorry to the smaller creatures I can’t sieve out.

Leave one end of the carton open and when the mixture settles pour off any extra water that comes to the top. Leave in the sun or in a warm dry place to harden - a greenhouse can be ideal.

A thought for the creatures of the soil: Depending on the quality of the soil there may be millions and millions of teeny tiny organisms living in the soil you are going to use. EEK! Someone once said to me that in a teaspoon of really healthy garden soil used for growing veg in there may be more micro-organisms in there than there are people on the planet. Soil is vital to our survival. When the carvings and associated dust return to the earth, it will once again become a habitat for soil organisms.


Pre-mix a water and PVA glue mix in a bucket - anywhere from 4(water):1(pva) to 10:1 depending on the PVA strength.

Add enough soil into the bucket to fill all the cartons you want to fill. Slowly add in the water/PVA mix until a lovely thick paste is made. Scoop it out and dollop it into the cartons, and leave to stand to dry in the sun. Sometimes if the paste is too watery a puddle will form on top of the earth…this can be drained off. When the earth has hardened to firmness peel off the carton outer to allow the block to dry more quickly. and Store the block in readiness for carving or construction!

Place the blocks on a suitable surface to work and start making some marks with whatever tools you have. Old cutlery, screwdrivers and chisels are all good.

Carving ice…. With tools and Water!

If you decide to carve water that has been frozen in balloons, then an extra level of excitement and creativity can come from carving with a water gun – like a plant sprayer that you can pressurize…great fun! 

Here we have an ice dragon egg:

Being subsequently sculpted with a plant sprayer.

I hope you have lots of creative fun out there!

With thanks for all the things we use in the world, 


The Storyteller's Playbook - for teachers and educators

with CBBC special guest Chris Holland

Already enrolled?
Sign in to continue learning.