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Chances are, if you ask your students what art is, many will say, “Drawing and painting.” Even when other adults or colleagues find out you teach art, their responses usually run along the lines of, “I can’t even draw a stick figure!” Drawing is the medium primarily associated with art, and sculpture is usually an afterthought.
Be honest—how many three-dimensional projects do you incorporate in your curriculum? It is difficult to remember sculpture in our art classrooms if we aren’t teaching a siloed ceramics or sculpture course. If you teach a focused drawing course, have you thought about incorporating a three-dimensional project here or there to amplify drawing skills? Suppose you teach a foundations course or a general art class at the elementary or middle school level. Have you considered how adding a sculptural component could enhance engagement and push artmaking to the next level?
Debi West is going to help us answer these questions! Debi is a retired art educator with over thirty years of teaching experience. As a former writer for the online Magazine and an adjunct instructor for our graduate courses, she is a valuable part of the AOEU family. Debi has experience teaching drawing, watercolor, printmaking, and tempera and acrylic studio courses; however, she has particularly loved her last four years facilitating the sculpture course.
Before we dive into how sculpture creates better drawers in your art classes, let’s take a quick moment to address some questions and put your reservations at ease.
“But what if…”
As an art teacher, I think drawing is fun! Unfortunately, many students do not feel the same way. Some students love drawing while others get bored. Switching things up with a sculpture activity or project now and then will break up the monotony of the curriculum. It can also support skills and learning in a new way. Throughout Debi’s thirty-plus years of experience in the art classroom—no matter the grade level—students consistently perk up when they hear they are about to make a sculpture!
Drawing requires you to look at the person or object you are drawing and break it down into basic shapes before adding details. Sculpture is very similar in that it requires you to look at the person or object you are modeling and break it down into basic forms before adding details.
Try the following activities in your classroom:
Drawing is usually one fixed perspective of a person or object. Sculpture helps you to understand your subject matter because it includes all angles. This gives you a more complete picture of a person or object. Sculptures also create shadows naturally as the piece is being formed. Observing where shadows occur on a sculpture can inform modeling on a two-dimensional plane. Being able to feel and see how deep an object is and how much space it takes up can also help students determine a realistic place to put a horizon line or cast a shadow in a drawing. Likewise, creating three-dimensional art involves an engineering aspect. How do you get the artwork to stand up and not fall over, fall apart, or droop? Understanding these elements can help students render proportion and scale more accurately in a drawing.
Do you want a quick activity for your classroom?
Students draw a well-known sculpture for a sketchbook assignment. Be sure to provide a pre-selected list of sculptures. This incorporates art history and exposure to three-dimensional art. It will also provide students an opportunity to practice their shading and modeling techniques.
In a drawing, the student determines the background and draws it. The background can be from observation or imagination. Because sculpture can be viewed from all angles, the background is often the exhibition surroundings of the sculpture. This can raise more questions around the impact of an environment on the material selection, the creation process, and how a viewer experiences an artwork. Applying these considerations to drawings will prompt more conceptual thinking.
Give these ideas from Debi a try the next time you want to challenge your students to think deeper:
Observational drawing is all about looking at your subject matter and transferring that to your paper. Your eyes are flitting back and forth as your hand is constantly moving with the pencil. The motions are fluid. Sculpture is the same way. Your eyes are glancing back and forth between your subject matter, maquette, or preliminary sketches and your in-progress piece—all while both hands are modeling, bending, twisting, rolling, or more.
This is a fun bellringer activity to bring into your room:
Bring in building blocks or interlocking plastic bricks. Students construct something and then draw it from observation. Then switch things up. Students sketch a design and use the blocks to make the design a reality.
For the most part, drawing can be a way to refine ideas before creating a final sculpture (or even drawing!). Look at it as formulating a plan and working out logistics before getting involved with materials. Sometimes a drawing won’t be fully realized until it’s completed as a three-dimensional piece. Imagine your student’s amazing drawing was just a plan. Stopping at the completion of a drawing could be holding a student up from developing their work or discovering a newfound love of sculpture!
Take a look at Debi’s two ideas to merge drawing and sculpture:
Sculpture does not have to be intimidating, expensive, or space-consuming. Rather, it can be a fun way to engage your students in all your classes and courses. It can also support and strengthen your students’ drawing and coordination skills. Three-dimensional art can help teach how to break down subject matter. Students gain a deeper understanding of subject matter by looking at something or creating something from multiple angles. Sculpture can also encourage a deeper thought process and the development of ideas. As you continue to plan your lessons and professional development this year, consider how to create connections between drawing and sculpture for your students.
If you are interested in adding more sculpture to your curriculum, check out the following resources to get you started:
What are your favorite sculpture projects to do with your drawing, foundations, or general art classes?
How do you create connections between two and three-dimensional art with your students?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.