Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Figure - A Sculptural Project

In the course of teaching Art at some point you will address the importance of the figure.

Now you can sketch the figure, paint it, pastel it, with it in a variety of ways but a sculptural project allows kids to really appreciate the way the figure occupies/moves in its space.

I'm always looking for sculptural/3D projects so this is what I came up with.  It is paper mache on a wire armature that is easy enough for the kids to construct and utilizes recyclables.

Now the inspiration for this project is Mario Armengol's "Family of Man" sculptures.  They were first exhibited in Expo '67 and since then have resided in Calgary.  We are lucky to have them.

I grew up with these statues and they have always fascinated me.

Whenever I am downtown I try to spend some time appreciating them, .........their size, they way they occupy their space, their relation to one another, their story.
My kids love them to and are always trying to figure what's going on between the figures.

- recycled tuna can
- awl
- wire
- duct tape
- paper towel
- wax paper
- white school glue
- acrylic paint

Before you start your sculpture you may want to discuss the way the figure moves in space.

Discuss different positions the figure may take, you may also want to have the kids sketch out some figures to plan out their sculpture.

Take your tuna can and poke 2 holes thru the bottom with your awl. This needs to be done by an adult.

Now I have a can opener that makes a "safe edge" when it cuts but you can always use some duct tape along the edge to cover the sharp edge.

For this project I used some wire I purchased from Wal mart.  I can't remember the gauge as the label is gone but it is soft enough to bend with your fingers but strong enough to hold the shape.  Take a piece about 18 inches or so. and bend in half.

Feed the 2 ends thru one of the holes.  Twist them together a few times and then bend them flat to the can.

Use a few pieces of duct tape to secure.

This will be underneath your sculpture so you won't see it.

Do the same with a second piece of wire.  It should look like this.

Twist the 2 wires together to form the legs and the torso.

Take a wire that is about 12 inches, bend in half and twist the ends onto the top of your torso.  This will be an arm.

Make a second arm and bend your wire armature into the position you want your figure to take.

For the head make a loop in a wire about 6 inches long and twist into place at the top of the torso.

Add a few pieces of duct tape around the torso to hold it all together.

Take some strips of paper towel and a glue/water mix (1 to1 ratio) and begin covering the armature.

Add additional strips to the areas where you want more shape. Just try to keep the mache tight on the armature.  You don't want it too bulky that might lead to the sculpture collapsing before it can dry.

For the head make a ball of mache and then wind some strips around it to adhere to the wire loop.

I left the wire exposed for the hands as I liked the look of it.

Add some strips to the base to cover the tuna can.

Let dry.  It takes about 2 days.

Paint with acrylic paint. I wanted a metallic look so I first painted the whole thing black.

I then dry brushed on some bronze paint letting some of the black show thru.  I left the face black like it was in shadow.

I also left the base black to contrast with the figure.

That's it.

You could do a whole set similar to the "Family of Man" or have each student select one figure from series and then exhibit them together.

My plan is to do this project with Grade 5 as soon as I have collected enough cans.

See you soon with another art adventure.


  1. Your tutorials are so fantastic! This is a great project to teach the (somewhat intimidating)human form. Yet another project on my list. Thank you!

  2. Gail,I've always enjoyed browsing your blog, and I had to do a double take today when I saw those statues!! I'm from Calgary too and grew up with those funny skinny characters downtown :-) I never gave much thought to them though. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Gail,
    Thanks for the post. What grade did you teach this lesson to?

    Big Rapids, MI

  4. Your blog is awesome!
    I just love it here.
    So much to see and do and learn!
    So wonderful!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Blessings Eden

  5. Thanks everyone!
    Melanie, glad you recognized those statues as they are a real treasure for us Calgarians.
    Kate, I'm planning to do this for Grade 5 but I think it would work for Grade 4 and up.
    Keep up the great comments everyone, you keep me motivated to keep churning out those posts.

  6. Gail, I just thought I'd let you know that I did this project with my children, and it was a great success :)The second post (with a link to the first stage and a link to your post)is here if you'd like to see:

  7. Thanks for the step by step for this project - can;t wait to try it with our Tuesday art class!

  8. You are so inspiring, I have been following for over a year and my kids love your activities! Keep the ideas flowing!