Subject/Title: "Virtual Art Student" Sculpture
Grade Level: 5-12
Goal: To introduce students to a large-scale constructive sculptural technique.
Objectives: Students will create a life-sized sculpture of a person using a variety of materials and techniques.
Steel brackets and screws
¾ inch plywood, cut to 2-foot square for base
Strip of perforated metal to serve as armature
Nuts and bolts
Chicken wire, wire cutters
Coarse, fine, medium sandpaper
Brushes or sponges
Cloth or clothing
Plaster gauze for casting
Medium size round balloons
Acrylic paint, brushes
- Determine size and position of the figure to be sculpted. Take measurements, do sketches.
- Using a piece of ¾ inch plywood, 2-foot square for base, attach bracket(s) where foot/feet will be.
- Create an armature by attaching a strip of perforated steel to each bracket with nuts and bolts. Wrap with coat hanger wire to add extra stability. Angle the armature to approximate the position of the leg.
- Working from the bottom up, form the legs by molding chicken wire around the armature. (Leave the feet until later.) To help maintain the shape, corrugated cardboard can be inserted into the chicken wire wherever necessary. Coat hanger wire can secure the armature to the chicken wire to increase stability.
- Continue working up the torso, adding and forming the chicken wire. Measure regularly, to determine correct size. Make somewhat slimmer than desired actual size as layers of papier-mâché will add inches to the form.
- Create arms and shoulders, adding support wires as needed.
- Keep going until the entire body—except for head, hands and feet—is formed. Leave excess wire in the area of the hands and neck.
- Apply masking tape to the chicken wire to help the papier-mâché stick and to reduce the number of cuts received while trying to mold it! Tear strips of paper and mix paste.
- Work from the bottom up, apply several layers of papier-mâché to the chicken wire.
- Continue until the entire torso, arms and legs are covered. Examine proportions. If necessary, remove papier-mâché to alter the chicken wire, then reapply papier-mâché. Apply three to five layers then let dry.
- Using plaster gauze and following package direction, make a cast of a volunteer's face, feet and hands. Liberally apply Vaseline before starting with the plaster gauze!
- When set (after approximately 20 minutes), carefully remove and allow parts to finish drying.
- When face "mask" is dry, carefully tape to a round balloon to create a head. Cover balloon and edge of mask with papier-mâché and allow to dry.
- Use masking tape to attach feet, hands and head to torso. Papier-mâché to securely join together.
- Continue to examine form and add additional paper and papier-mâché to achieve a reasonably-proportioned figure.
- Using modeling paste, carefully apply to face, hands and feet and smooth with water using a brush or sponge. Two or more coats may be necessary, allowing to dry between coats and sanding if necessary.
- Paint the board that the figure is standing on.
- When all parts are attached and dry, paint entire sculpture with gesso. Two coats may be necessary.
- Using acrylic paint, mix a skin color and apply to all parts of the sculpture which will not be covered by clothing. If desired, some of the clothes may be painted on.
- At this point, details may be added. The face may be painted realistically (a combination of paint, colored pencils and pastels seems to work well).
- Add clothing as desired, and a wig, if one is available. Accessorize, to place the sculpture into an "environment."
- If additional support is needed to make the sculpture free-standing, consider concealing a metal rod or board under the clothing to the waistline.
My students and I found chicken wire to be extremely difficult to work. It is not as pliable as it might appear to be, and the cut edges are sure to deliver some nasty scratches when modeling is attempted. Someone suggested using window screen to form armatures and I'm willing to try that, but it would certainly involve an additional inner support or armature. I guess we'll figure that out NEXT year!
The plaster gauze-cast face, feet and hands worked quite well. We could have added additional layers to make them stronger, but it was very difficult for my 11-year-old models to be still for more than about 15 minutes!
Stability is an issue. If we did this again, I would use a metal bracket in each leg instead of one, and I would probably use more coat hanger wire to attach the outer framework to the brackets.
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