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Wired for artistic success.

I have been teaching art for over 30 years, continually looking for that miraculous project that would engage sixth graders and ensure their artistic success. I finally composed a group of ideas that work! Using a sculpture assignment modeled after the work of Alexander Calder, I have my students sketching, modeling and forming wire to represent the human form. I was inspired to start this project when I passed one of his pieces in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

I INTRODUCE THE LESSON with this statement, "Artists and scientists both observe and record the natural world." The key to good drawing is observation. I model sketching a student who is posed in an action, looking at the model, not my paper, and I sketch the gesture in less than 3 minutes. I point out where I could have improved on my work and go over the areas again in marker. I also remind them that this is a warm-up activity--the more they practice, the better they get.

The student who modeled for me then chooses another model, who gets up on the table and I pose them. I make sure students know that I am the only one that can tell the model what to do. We also talk about how hard it is to present one's self in front of others and that it's hard to hold a pose, even for 5 minutes. When I first did this lesson, I thought students wouldn't want to pose in front of their peers but, to my surprise, the sixth-graders love it.

To accommodate all who want a turn to pose, we sketch models for three class periods. On the third day, I highlight facial features, size and placement as we focus on portraiture. Once students each have a number of drawings completed, they review their work and pick their best drawings to sculpt out of wire.

AFTER SHOWING STUDENTS Alexander Calder's wire sculptures, I put on safety glasses--required when working with wire--and demonstrate the sculpting process as they record the steps and make notes in their sketchbooks. Students put on their glasses and start tracing their drawings with 20-gauge aluminum wire, using masking tape to temporarily hold the wire in place as they proceed.

All details must be wired together. If a student runs out of wire, the new piece needs to be lashed onto the previous piece. The entire form must hold together as one. Inside details can be wired in copper, brass, or Twisteez[R] plastic-coated copper wire, which is a great way to add color.

When wiring is complete, students remove the tape and the wire sculpture is ready to showcase. It can result in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional product: They either staple the wire drawing onto construction paper using as few staples as possible, or insert the bottom end of it into a groove the width of a saw blade that's been cut into a wooden stand. Wiring and finishing takes two class periods. If I have more time in a 10-week session, students form groups and create mobiles fashioned after those of Calder.

THE BENEFITS OF THIS PROJECT are that students are actively engaged in processes that are new and enjoyable. Unacceptable behavior flees when students are interested and active. They like drawing and modeling. Forming the wire and wearing safety glasses is challenging and makes them feel professional.

Students are proud to get their piece ready for showcasing. They comment about how quickly time goes by in art. Even students who may not feel that they have fabulous drawing skills are able to forge a wire sculpture that looks like a figure exhibiting a gesture. Students feel confident in knowing that their grade is based on progress, not product. They use the opportunity to set a drawing goal and then get several chances to attain that goal.

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Middle-school students will ...

* participate in the studio art experience of figure drawing.

* create many figure drawings exhibiting different gestures each within 5 minutes.

* choose the best drawing to transfer into wire.

* manipulate the wire to re-create the form.

* prepare their wire sculpture for an exhibition.


* CREATING: Conceiving and developing new 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.


* Newsprint

* Pencils

* 20-gauge copper, brass and or aluminum wire, plastic coated copper wire

* Masking tape

* Scissors, needle-nose pliers

* Safety glasses/goggles

* Construction paper or blocks of wood for mounting

Julia Tomaro is an art instructor at Anderson Middle School in Berkley, Mich. Photographs by Crystal Connor.
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Title Annotation:wire sculpture
Author:Tomaro, Julia
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2015
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