Most everyone knows how to wrap a birthday present, but can everyone wrap an artwork?
The artist Christo and his late wife, Jean Claude, were the masters. They have wrapped mountains, rivers, cathedrals, and government buildings, and are the inspiration for our building/wrapping “Toothpick Sculptures.”
The abstract, geometric planes of the toothpick sculpture will contrast with organic curves of the wrapped sculpture; toothpick construction will be transformed into abstract/non-objective sculpture. Students love building, from early beginnings working with LEGO®s, building blocks or bricks. Putting things together—the additive process of sculpture—is easy to understand.
This project begInS with a lively discussion about Christo and Jean Claude, the size of their work, the materials they used, places for their work, and recycling, This was followed by a PowerPoint that emphasized several of the famous duo’s artworks.
To build their abstract toothpick structures, students start by forming a cube with a small number of toothpicks on a small piece of cardboard. This warm-up allows them to experiment with the toothpicks and hot glue, eventually figuring out how hot the glue is, and how long it takes the glue to dry and set up.
Students may add on to the cube or they may add toothpick shapes, cubes and cones as they build. They may continue onward and upward to somewhere between 10 and 12 inches, which will take a few days. Students share the glue guns, which sometimes is a problem, so we added electrical strips to help at each table around the edge of the room.
Sometimes a discussion on support may be necessary as students are adding on to the sculpture. Some students need to double the thickness of the toothpicks for support, especially at the base.
At this point in the process, we share a brief critique session. It is stressed that students should make sure their structures do not look like a building or a church or a store. No one should be able to name what the structure looks like. Again I emphasize that the objective is to produce an abstract sculpture. This can be challenging for some students.
We then start the wrapping. We often photograph the structure to provide a comparison of before and after. Students are anxious to get started. This is a good time to reinforce the idea of volume, hollow structure, and the change from geometric shapes and forms to organic forms.
For wrapping, my preference is dental floss. It is thin and pliable, and minimally interferes with the final product’s appearance. Plus, most students are willing to bring in their own floss. Alternatives to dental floss are thin string and yarn, each with their own unique texture. Dental floss is thin, plastic, and light, and string is thicker, fibrous and becomes heavy with the spray paint.
To start the wrapping, put hot glue on two vertical toothpicks at the base of the sculpture, slide in the string, let the glue dry for a minute, begin wrapping around the bottom. Only glue about every four to eight wraps. It does not have to be perfect. Pull the dental floss taut, but not so tight as to crush the beginning cube. On areas that are vertical, more glue will be needed. Keep wrapping until the structure is covered.
We then move the sculptures to a well-ventilated outside area where they are spray painted. Each student selects a single color for his or her sculpture. Because dental floss is plastic, it takes a small amount of paint, while the texture and thickness of the string will absorb more paint. It may take a few coats to cover the string. Make each sure student’s name is on the bottom of his or her cardboard.
Just as Christo and Jeanne Claude built their sculpture, students will wrap the sculpture they create and achieve a sense of mystery and an object of wonder.
High-school students will …
• learn about Christo and Jean Claude.
• build a sculpture using the additive process.
• better understand the concept of abstract vs. realistic.
• use materials and equipment responsibly.
• design and create an abstract sculpture that will be wrapped with a string material to become organic.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• 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.
• Cardboard base (approximately 6″ x 6″)
• Hot glue guns, refill glue
• Electrical strips, extension cords
• Dental floss, string, yarn
• Spray paint
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Paula Wiese teaches art at Portage (Indiana) High School.
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