Students always love working with clay. It is one of the best ways to get students engaged in a lesson. Because of this, it's a great medium to learn and practice other art elements. In this unit, students in 3rd grade were able to review shapes, both geometric and organic, along with discussing texture and learning a bit about a contemporary artist.
This lesson was first introduced to me by one of my best student teachers. When her time was up, I continued the project with a group of students that were behind and I repeated it the following year.. Students were first introduced to the artist Kimmy Cantrell. We looked at some of his sculptures and talked about what students saw in his works. The students were great at picking out many elements and concepts in the work.
After introducing the sculptural faces of Cantrell, the students were instructed to draw out an abstract face inspired by his works. They used black crayons to do this. We reviewed texture and use rubbing plates to color in different sections of the drawing with different textures.
Some wonderful finished works! The first is my example.
Another great option to this project would be creating holes in the clay to add nails or wire to the work after it was finished.
Do you have any other great clay projects that help reinforce shape with students?
Most of the time in my art room, I didn't do much teaching of shapes directly. They just fell in with multiple lessons and we discussed them when it seemed to be needed. There are a few lessons where I concentrated on shapes as one of the core concepts in the lesson.
This is one of them and is my favorite way of teaching students about Organic shapes. It doesn't have a fancy name. I simply referred to it as my Organic Shape lesson. It was generally geared toward to my 1st grade students, but once in a while I came across an older class that could use the practice.
Along with Shape, I also squeezed in an introduction to Space in this lesson when we talked about the background, middle ground, and foreground.
The lesson starts out by handing students a simple piece of grey construction paper that is cut to 9x6.
I hold up my paper and tell students that everyone knows what shape this is. It's a rectangle. I ask students how I know it's a rectangle. I ask them what are the "rules" that make it one. Then I explain that I want to get rid of all the straight edges and turn the shape from a Geometric shape to an Organic or Free-form shape. I demonstrate how to tear off the straight edges going slowly so I don't make it too small. I explain that I still want to have a nice big shape but don't want it to have any straight sides.
I ask students to do the same with their paper. After all of our papers are torn I hold up my paper and begin to slowly rotate it. I explain to students that this is still a shape but now it's not a Geometric shape it is an Organic shape. I ask them to look at my shape and see if they think it looks like something. Students one by one say it looks like a dog, a mountain, a bird, a fish... I then decide on what I think it looks like. I show students how to glue it to a 9x12 white or sometimes light blue paper (depends on what I have on hand). Then I do a quick talk-aloud as I use my crayons to color and add details to my shape to turn it into what I think it needs to be. I also discuss what my background, middle ground, and foreground might need to make a complete picture.
Then I turn the students loose. If they have a hard time figuring out what their shape looks like they brainstorm with members of their group. It's always a fun project that is simple. As students work, I continue to discuss some more shapes that would be Organic and how these shapes are usually found in nature and don't have the names and rules that Geometric shapes do.
Here are some of the results completed over the years.
Theresa Gillespie spent over 20 years teaching Art in the Moline School District in Illinois. She has a BA degree in Art Education and a MEd degree in Education & Technology. She also is a graduate level instructor for The Art of Education