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Restorative Art Workshop

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

A restorative art workshop was held in Auckland in March 2019. The following article by Tim Brown was published in the March 2019 edition of Funeralcare magazine. Tim is an embalmer at Dil’s Funeral Services, North Shore. He is also on the Editorial Board of Funeralcare.


WORLD OF RESTORATIVE ART Being an embalmer is having the responsibility of caring for the deceased, while the funeral director primarily cares for the family in their time of need.

When someone suffers facial trauma, either from disease, decomposition or an accidental death, skills are required to be able to give them back their dignity. But with the growing weight of expectations when it comes to families viewing their loved one, it is an embalmer’s obligation to do what we can using the skills we have.

Reconstruction has always been a challenging task for embalmers, but with enough confidence we have been able to do work over the years using clever methods of trial and error, while improvising to accomplish some good results for difficult trauma cases. Having a course specifically designed for reconstruction will be able to give many embalmers new skills and confidence to take on more challenges.

In a New Zealand first, a three-day Restorative Arts Work Shop was held recently, at Davis Funerals in Henderson, Auckland. It covered a wide range of teachings, including new techniques, different materials, and new applications that would be useful in any mortuary.

Seven embalmers from around the country attended. RAW (Restorative Arts Workshop) was developed by artistic training consultant Will Huntley and Jan Field, General Manager of Dodge, Australia. The course started with Will teaching us the basics of facial anatomy. He has 25 years’ experience as an artistic training consultant and professional sculptor, working on numerous films, including Starship Troopers, Wild Wild West, and Austin Powers 2. He gave us an emphasis on detail when it came to reconstruction. By sketching the face we were able to get an understanding of the symmetry and placement of each feature, from the size of the nose, to the shape of the mouth, and the placement of the ears relative to the eyes.

We were able to put into play our sculpting skills, each sculpting a celebrity of our choice from a photograph. Using the ‘cannon of beauty’ and the basic proportions of the head, we used different sculpting instruments and measuring techniques to create our chosen idol from clay. After two days of intense sculpting these lumps of clay now resembled people, and that brought out the confidence in our new reconstructive skills. Using these techniques, we were able to recognise the many benefits of reconstructing the face of a deceased. By using either a photo provided by the family, or symmetry by referencing remaining features of the face, we can restore a family’s loved one to resemble more who they were and not what they have sadly become.

On the final day, Jan Field covered the benefits of airbrushing. She is a qualified embalmer, funeral director and technical support consultant, and she took us through the detail of cosmetic reconstruction and the benefits of using an airbrush in the mortuary. We learnt that airbrushing over waxed surfaces and discoloured tissue provides a realistic colour and complexion without damaging reconstructed areas of the face as you would with a normal cosmetic brush. We learnt how to evenly distribute natural-looking colours without hiding unique underline features of the face that would traditionally be covered with heavy makeup e.g. facial lines, liver spots. This helps to still have the deceased looking more naturally like themselves.

In the final part of the course, Will focused on the art of ‘life casting’. If a situation presented itself where a family requested a casting of their loved one’s face, hands, for example, we would be able to create a lasting memory by using modern moulding techniques. We were taught how to use silicones and moulding materials to create detailed life-like castings of hands, fingers and (involuntarily) my face. The benefits of castings are obvious, providing options other than ashes. Casting at the funeral home could provide something more personal for families to have as a keepsake, a physical piece of their loved one that would last forever.

Lessons like this are essential to progress embalming in terms of what we can provide. These techniques will help us restore the dead as beautifully and realistically as possible.

To provide more of a service for the families and people we help, we could open up many closed caskets across the country. News item follows: