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Cardboard Relief Sculptures
by Debi West
There’s just something really awesome about cardboard! I remember early in my career how excited I got when all of the new art supplies arrived in boxes of all sizes.
After the supplies were organized and put into their proper locations, being an environmentalist (and perhaps a bit of a pack rat), I began to cut up the cardboard and started stocking it in a back area in the art room. And thank goodness I did, because I actually ran out of supply funds and found out pretty quickly that I had to be creative with what little materials I had left.
As I looked around my stark art room, I realized I had actually collected quite a bit of cardboard, so my painting surface was literally, right in front of me.
Cardboard was a material that my advanced students began using quite a bit, but my intro 3D students were required to create relief sculptures and cardboard was the perfect medium for my students to use.
I designed this lesson to teach the elements in a 3D course. So, as we reviewed lines and shapes, we began discussing geometric and organic shapes in design. I was also anxious to reiterate painting techniques using tints and shades, using acrylics. About this same time, I had taken a weekend trip to my favorite city, NYC, and was intrigued by the large relief sculptures by Elizabeth Murray, which I found at the MoMA. So, just like that, a lesson emerged.
Students began by drawing out their large shapes on cut cardboard. Once their initial shape was selected and cut out, they began to create medium- and small-sized shapes and alternated between geometric and organic. I reminded them that a variety of shapes and sizes would make for a more exciting final relief.
I encouraged them to play with their cut pieces, rearranging them into new and exciting compositions. Once they found one they were happy with, they began to glue the pieces down. We found that Elmer’s glue worked best, but for some of the larger pieces, students went to the glue gun center so their pieces could be adhered quicker.
Once the reliefs were completed painting began! I had my students select an initial color scheme and most went with a cool/warm theme. Then they began experimenting with tints and shades, mixing white with their colors and then adding gray tones and darker shades and wow, magic was made!
When students have the time to experiment with color mixing and playing with gradation, it takes their final works to the next level. I also recommend giving students a variety of brush sizes since the goal is to completely cover every area of the cardboard. Watching students experiment with color, paint, shape and cardboard textures, helped me to realize that this would become one of my most successful 3D intro art lessons. I think they get better and better each year!
Next up … Who Am I 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.