DIY Sailor's Valentine

Appropriate for grades:
Subject areas: Visual and Performing Arts

Sailor's Valentines are intricate mosaics composed out of seashells of various colors, forms, and sizes. The mosaics often feature a centerpiece such as a heart, flowers, or nautical symbols like anchors and compasses, surrounded by geometrical seashell patterns. Sailor's valentines were typically displayed inside a two-sided octagonal wooden box, each side covered by a glass plate.

This unique art form appeared in the Caribbean during the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the arrival of trading sailing ships. It was believed that sailors were the makers of these seashell mosaics. However, recent research has attributed the art form to islanders from the West Indies (Caribbean). After a long voyage at sea sailors would buy special gifts for their loved ones, such as sailor's valentines.


You'll need:

  • air dry clay
  • paper plate 7"
  • beads or pebbles
  • pencil
  • container with water
  • Optional: small seashells


Procedures A grouping of images that showing the steps of how to make a Sailor’s Valentine using airdry clay, colorful plastic beads and small seashell.

  1. Roll the clay into a ball. Poke both thumbs into the ball to create a hole. Keep turning the ball while pinching with your fingers to flatten out the clay (like a tortilla). The clay slab should be about 1/4" in thickness.
  2. Place the clay slab on the center of the paper plate. You can also shape the clay in any form besides a circle such as; heart, star, hexagonal, triangle, etc.
  3. Smooth out any cracks or bumps from the clay by dipping a finger into water and smoothing the surface.
  4. Lightly draw a design onto the clay using a pencil.
  5. Push your beads firmly into the clay, on top of your design. Work from the center out when placing the beads and shells. Consider color, symmetry, and balance.
  6. Use any coloring materials to decorate or write messages along the border of the plate.
  7. Once the mosaic design is completed let your sailor valentine air dry.


Download Lesson Plan