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Spiral Staircases | Arts & Activities
Mar 2017

Spiral Staircases

Spiral Staircases

Spiral staircases are fascinating. Some are solid and others have openings between each step. There are different kinds—all of them intriguing. I knew my Art II students would feel the same way about them.

To begin the lesson, I showed my students a PowerPoint presentation I had prepared, which showed 15 unique spiral staircases. Afterward, using pencil, they had 20 minutes to record in their sketchbooks the staircases they saw. I encouraged them to draw large.

They selected three of their best staircases, then retraced them with a black permanent marker. This was so the drawing could be seen on the front side as well as the back of the paper. Once finished with this step, the students applied gesso on their canvas boards and set them aside to dry.

Students then cut these out and composed an arrangement, with one side of each staircase touching the edges of their 12″ x 16″ paper. The images could be used right side up, upside down, flopped, front or back, appear in duplicate, triplicate and/or as mirror images, and so on. They were to create total compositions, with visual movement throughout. If necessary, they could use partial staircases to achieve this movement.

Students chose their color schemes from complementary, monochromatic, analogous, triadic or split complementary colors. The students played with their color schemes using colored pencils on their drawings. They were encouraged to balance asymmetrically with color, and to include gradations of color in their compositions if they wished.

TIME TO PAINT Each student received lidded plastic containers of white, black, matte medium, plus empty containers for mixing their basic colors. Zip-lock baggies were also handed out in which to keep their paint, and rolls of painter’s tape. The students liked the portability of their materials, as many of them chose to work on their paintings at home, as well as in the classroom.

The students started by carefully taping the edges of the stairs that bordered the background, then applied the first coat of matte medium. After this was dry, they painted their backgrounds with color. I encouraged them to paint light colors first, followed by darker.

The stairs were bordered with tape each time a new color was introduced. Matte medium helped keep the edges straight. While not a requirement, some students opted not to use the matte medium for the colors applied after their backgrounds were finished.

Each composition created its own mood with its own particular color scheme. The students learned much from this project about composition, color and hard-edge painting. AAENDSIGN











Each composition created its own mood with its own particular color scheme.


High-school students will …
• become familiar with contemporary and historical examples of hard-edge painting.
• use spiral staircases as a unit of design for a painting.
• use perspective to make drawings.
• become familiar with aspects of a great total composition.
• be familiar with technique to achieve a hard edge on a painting.
• choose a color scheme to best suit the total composition based on the color wheel.
• mix tints and shades of colors.

• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

• Sketchbooks, 12″ x 16″ drawing paper, 12″ x 16″ canvas board
• Pencils, fine-point permanent markers, colored pencils (we used Prismacolor®)
• Painter’s tape (blue is preferred), scissors
• Gesso, sponge brushes
• Matte medium, acrylic paint, paintbrushes

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Now retired, Sandi Pippin taught art for 38 years. This project was done with her students at Langham Creek High School in Houston, Texas.




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