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Kicking Off the Series
by Debi West
I am very excited to be bringing another yearlong series to Arts & Activities magazine, especially one that I think is very timely and very relevant. We tend to see a plethora of 2D lessons out there, but rarely do we see a series of 3D lessons. So, this year, I am happy to be sharing a few of my students’ most successful 3D projects.
I taught kids through the discipline of the visual arts for 24 years and am now writing about their successes and sharing lessons that I hope you will springboard from and make your own.
After working at the elementary level for 14 years, I moved to the high school arena and from day one, I realized my high school kiddos were very similar to my elementary kiddos. They absolutely LOVED to build stuff! They loved to work on unconventional surfaces, create reliefs, work in the round and experiment with clay. And, that is what this 3D curriculum is all about!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I truly believe that our secondary introductory courses are the most important art classes visual art students will ever take. I realized early on that many of my high school students had not had an art class since they were 10 years old, but they were all so anxious and excited to be in their elected art course and to learn.
So, it was my job to guide them and teach them the tools and techniques necessary to help them become the artists they aspired to be. Most of my intro students went on to take art throughout their high school careers and our sculpture and ceramics courses were always some of the most popular classes—not to mention how this intro course sets them up for their AP 3D portfolio.
At North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia (where I spent the past 10 years) we offered intro art courses that taught 2D first semester and 3D during the second semester. These were the prerequisites that our students were required to take before they could move on to their Art II courses, which included photography, draw/paint, sculpture/ ceramics and graphic design. From here it was our hope that they would move to the art III level and, eventually, to the AP level.
With this in mind, our visual art team was fully aware that in order to build our students to the AP level, we had to start from the beginning and that is where this series begins.
On the very first day of school, we went over our rules: A=Act Appropriately!, R=Respect Everything!, T=Try, and you Can!, our expectations and our syllabus. Then we moved right into our very first 3D art project—a week of open studio! That’s right, I gave my students a week to work in stations around the room where they could experiment and work with relief, earthen clay, modeling clay, mixed media, building blocks and architectural inspirations. They also conducted research on 3D master artists, as well as in-the-round art projects.
Students were taught to brainstorm and think creatively as they built maquettes (small models or 3D sketches) and explored the art of sculpting in a new context. Giving them this free time allowed them to feel more confident when the first 3D lesson was given to them.
I also used this time to introduce my students to their semester’s worth of prompt-based journals. Back in the day, I wasn’t sure how to implement our journals into our 3D curriculum, but I soon realized that our county assessment final exam was very heavy in 3D art history. Therefore, our journal prompts became art history–based journal prompts. Please see the above box for the list.
Each assignment had to include a direct observational drawing of an appropriate object, collage and text, which served as their research. These three components had to come together to create an engaging composition that became a strong teaching tool for my students.
I generally had these due on Mondays and enjoyed calling students up one at a time so they could share their work with me and we could grade it together. By doing this, it held them accountable and motivated them to work hard. If their work was well done, I would take a photo and publish them on my Pinterest board.
I can’t wait to share these nine lessons with you over the course of this school year and most importantly, see where you and your students take them. Remember, #togetherweARTbetter, so here, we, GO!
Next: Cardboard Relief Sculptures!
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A&A Contributing Editor Debi West recently retired from her job as department chair and art educator at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She owns and operates WESTpectations Educational Consulting and resides in Hilton Head, South Carolina