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Who Am I? Relief Sculptures
by Debi West
I think it’s always so important to ask our students to think deeply about who they are. I start off many of my projects with this idea in mind, but for this lesson it’s more about what encompasses them as a person.
This lesson has them questioning who they are on the outside—the part of them that the world sees. For example, a girl, a boy, a blonde, a brunette, an athlete, an artist? It then pushes them to think about who they are as a person. Are they spiritual, kind, funny, quiet, loud? The final part of the lesson has them thinking deeply about who they are that no one perhaps really knows. This type of deep thinking then becomes a visual story that becomes a three-layer “who am I” relief sculpture!
When we get our students thinking this deeply about who they are, we are not only having them reflect on their personalities and actions, we are showing them that we care about them. We have an interest in wanting to know the whole child.
So here’s how it works. I start off the lesson by having them reflect on the questions mentioned earlier, and sketch out images and thoughts in their visual journals. Once this is completed, we go on an image hunt in magazines. Kids today are used to going to the Internet to find an image they may need so having them go “old school” and seek out images in magazines has them literally going on an aesthetic “ah-ha” hunt! As they find the objects and words that describe their three layers of personalities, they also find colors, textures and other elements that make them stop and say, yes!
As they go through this hunt, I have them tear out the pages and hold onto their collection. Once they have at least 20 images, they begin to cut these out neatly. And finally, they then take all of the cutout images and lay them out to create their layered compositions. These three compositions are then laid on top of each other with transparency paper on the top layer so images can be seen through the pages in areas and each layer can be lifted for those who want to look deeper. Giving the students the opportunity to make this an interactive piece makes it, literally, an uplifting experience and has them considering the ways they might want to hinge the layers together.
These pieces are then manipulated with dry printing, where students take a dry sponge and add a bit of acrylic paint to blend and “artify” their images. This technique takes a traditional collage and turns it into more of a painted finish and often I encourage students to consider adding soft burnished oil pastel marks as well. I have used Robert Rauschenberg’s Overcast III as a wonderful inspirational piece to motivate my students.
I’ve found that giving students freedom over their size and surface adds to the individual personality of each layer. They really dive deep into the images and words on each of the three layers of their final collage relief sculptures. I have had students bring in personal objects and build little areas on their boards to house the objects and some have even brought in locks and keys to hide the third, very personal layer of who they are.
This lesson is always successful and very personal and starts off our 3D intro art course really well. Students have the freedom to create something very meaningful while learning the art of seeing, the art of collage, and the art of composition as a means to tell a visual story. Not to mention, it has them learning about the art of relief sculptures. It is my hope that your students enjoy this lesson and push their own creatively so this becomes an “uplifting” experience for them as well!
Next up …Wonderful Weavings!
Arts & Activities 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 she and her husband now reside in Hilton Head, South Carolina.