Foreground, middle ground and background seem like easy concepts to teach our students, but when moving to the 3D realm, it’s often a bit trickier than you would think.
Over the years I have played around with ways to get our kids to better understand this important art concept and I think I figured it out with my Environmental Installation Boxes!
TO BEGIN THE LESSON, I have students consider foreground, middle ground and background in a real-world setting. I have them stand up and point out what is closest to them and how large it is. Then we do the same thing with middle ground and background. We discuss the size of the school bus across the street from the art room and have them measure it from where they are standing.
They quickly realize that background objects are small, while foreground objects are large. Then the real challenge begins!
Students are then taught to make beautiful art that teaches them important art knowledge and here’s what it looks like. Students bring in a shoebox, or provide a shoebox to each student. I have found that Payless and Walmart are always happy to donate shoeboxes to school projects.
STUDENTS THEN DECIDE on an environment to create inside of their shoebox. This often takes a bit of time so often I will pass out their magazines immediately so they can go on a visual hunt, which helps inspire ideas. These magazine images will serve as their visual images.
I have had students create everything from NYC, to outer space, to a South African Safari, to a shower; to a fish tank to Antarctica … their ideas seem to be endless!
I model how to cut out the images neatly as students consider the visual story these images will tell. Remind students that they are required to show that they understand foreground, middle ground and background and therefore must have their largest image in the front of their box. This is a challenge and my favorite part because seeing the student’s creativity is incredible!
If students have a difficult time locating all of the imagery they need I have had them go to the computer lab and find their images on line and print them in color. Or they can take their own photos, print and cut those out as well.
Once all the images have been selected and cut out, students place them in the box and consider the methods needed to ensure the images stand up vertically. I have found that cardboard backing works as well as handmade cardboard or poster board tabs. Fishing line also works well for flying or hanging objects.
ONCE ALL THE IMAGES ARE UP, students then have to consider if they will paint or collage the areas of the box that are still visible so the original shoe box disappears and the box becomes part of the environment.
I also encourage students to bring in objects from home that may enhance the overall environment so often there will be some exciting additions such as lights or small toys that work well in the environment they have created!
As a fun extension, you can have your students design a title or a story that goes with the environmental box they created to bring in literacy.
And finally, I love to have my students exhibit these 3D artworks in the hallway for the community to see!
This lesson not only teaches my students about foreground, middle ground and background, but it has them working their fine motor skills through the art of collage, their creative skills as they peruse the magazines and their craftsmanship skills as they turn an everyday shoe box into an incredible piece of art! Not to mention they are recycling these boxes and saving our landfills one art project at a time!
Next up … Chopstick Sculptures!
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.