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Balancing acts: teach your students how a delicate touch and an eye for balance can turn paint and plastic foam into a colorful sculpture.

Teach your students how a delicate touch and an eye for balance can turn paint and plastic foam into a colorful sculpture.

I asked the girls and boys in nay class to stand on one foot as long as they could without falling over. I, too, stood on one foot as I asked them to think about balance.

"What happens if you lean over to one side?" I asked.

"You could fall over!" came the prompt answer as they tried leaning until they began to fall.

"Now reach out with only one arm," I said. "What happens?"

"You've got to bend a little so you don't fall," they said as they all tried it.

"Good. You have to balance yourself," I said. "Have you ever thought that art, too, has balance?"

No answer. I continued while we all kept standing on one foot. "Sculpture, too, must have balance so it doesn't fall over. So we want to keep thinking about balance while we build these sculptures."

As the students glued pieces of plastic foam together, we frequently returned to the problem of balance. The school glue would hold the almost weightless plastic foam, but only if the design remained in balance. If a piece of foam reached too far to one side, the glue would let go. If too many pieces were put on one side, that side would drop off. Delicate and careful handling was a necessity. Clumsiness would not do the job. But the students soon learned how to make the sculpture stand on one foot. Many of them built surprisingly tall designs that seemed to defy gravity.

We wanted to paint these delicately balanced forms before the glue had dried but the pressure of a paintbrush would have knocked them apart. So we dipped drinking straws into the paint, held one finger over the upper end and then dropped the paint on the sculptures. As the paint ran down the sides it was forced to follow the contours of the design. The result was lines of color that accentuated and enhanced the three-dimensional form. Some used small spoons to drop paint with a similar effect.

The base for the sculpture can be a horizontal piece of plastic foam or a piece of cardboard. It is best to glue the first vertical piece of foam on the day before so the glue will dry and hold that first piece securely before other pieces are added. After all the glue has dried, more plastic foam can be added to expand the design. The project can be continued for several sessions, each day expanding on the original balance.

An advantage of plastic foam is that the children can easily break it into any shape they desire. It does not always break exactly where the child intends. This too is an advantage as it makes the children find their own patterns as the work proceeds. As the plastic foam responds imperfectly to the children's demands, they find it necessary to respond to the demands of the material. They learn to respect the structural behavior of the material and to use that behavior for a constructive purpose.

Another advantage of plastic foam is its availability. Leftover packing material is often available free of charge. The larger blocks can be broken or cut with a small saw. Even small "popcorns" of foam can be glued together to build designs. Sheets of I" foam can be purchased in lumber yards where it is sold for insulation.

Lynn Olson teaches elementary art in Valparaiso, Indiana.
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Author:Olson, Lynn
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Journey into Art.
Next Article:Concentration on sculpture.

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