Type and Press Enter

Letter Perfect | Arts & Activities
Apr 2016

Letter Perfect

Letter Perfect

Whenever I find a 3-D project that everyone is successful with, I feel fortunate. These papier-mâché letters are one of those projects.

Before beginning this project with my students, I present a lesson on typography, and introduce them to Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1398–1468) and the invention of the printing press. We discuss the enormous impact this invention had on the availability of books and the art world—including the works of Albrecht Dürer.

We look at early examples of typesetting, learning terms such as font, kerning, leading, serif, and sans serif. We view examples of contemporary art that incorporate typography, as well as Robert Indiana’s Love (1966), and others.

After discussing these topics, we go to the computer lab where each student will print out a letter of their choice. They are instructed to use a “chunky” letter and that the printed letter should fill an entire page.

Back in the art room, students cut out their letters, then trace them twice onto a cereal box. Once these are cut out, students take one of them and begin to build up the sides using 2-inch poster-board strips, which they attach with masking tape. (I show students how to mark and score their strips to create the neatest corners possible.)

When there is a side around the perimeter of the letter, and any cut-outs—such as those within in an “A,”  or “D”—students then build supports by accordion folding more strips and placing them across the open areas. The letters are then stuffed with crumpled newspaper. If a letter will be top heavy, such as an “F” or “P,” the leg of the letter can be filled with a weight, such as small bags of sand. Once firmly stuffed, the other cardboard letter is laid on top and secured with tape.

Papier-mâché comes next. Our school’s brown paper towels make a nice base coat. Once the papier-mâché letters are dry, they’re painted with a coat of white house paint.

While the paint dries, students plan a black-and-white design on their original printed letter, such as checkers, dots and various other geometric designs. Some choose to do more of an organic design incorporating leaves, vines, flowers and so on. Once the white paint is dry, students transfer their designs from the printer paper to the letter sculpture by coating the back with graphite and tracing over the design.

Using black paint, students paint their letters to complete the black-and-white design on their sculptures. They then choose one color to use as an accent, to add in selective areas on their pieces. The finished works are then coated all over with Mod Podge®.

This project is a student favorite. Each student’s own style shines through in his or her choice of font and design. This is always an artwork of which they are all quite proud. AAENDSIGN



The letters’ sides were built up with 2-inch strips of poster board and masking tape.



The letters were then papier-mâchéd, using the school’s brown paper towels.


















High-school students will …
• understand the evolution of printing and typography.
• implement basic paper construction techniques.
• create a sculpture using papier-mâché.
• create a unique design using a repetitive black-and-white pattern.

• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

• Cereal boxes, 2-inch wide strips of poster board
• Papier-mâché paste, paper towels, newspaper, small bags of sand
• White and black house paint, various colors of acrylic paint, paintbrushes
• Mod Podge®


Rebecca Tarman teaches fine arts at Fairfield Junior-Senior High in Goshen, Ind.





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