Monday, March 18, 2013

Lesson (Elementary): Introduction to Carving: Creating Totems in Plaster

Although this lesson takes some planning (plaster blocks should be made at least a few days ahead of time.  I had the 4th graders help me at the end of the prior month's class by mixing and pouring the plaster mixture into cut milk cartons (about 2-3" high, trimmed bottoms of 1/2 gallon milk containers), it is a great tie in to studies of Pacific NW Indian tribes.
For this lesson, I presented a slide lecture (pdf version of lesson available here) discussing the various animal totems along with examples of Native American carvings and basic introduction to sculpture (how is sculpture different than painting, how it depends on light to define its form, the importance of shadows, types of sculpture (subtractive), etc).  I gave them a homework assignment (after we made the plaster blocks as noted above) that listed the animals to choose from and at the bottom of the page, an empty 3.5" x 3.5" square.  In this square, they were to do a line drawing of the totem they wished to carve.
During the next art class, the students then cut out their 3.5 squares from their homework sheet and with a dulled pencil, placed their drawing face up on top of the plaster block and firmly traced over their sketch.  Then using a file, rasp, and flat head screwdriver, they began to remove the excess material and see their totem take form.
Unfortunately for our class, the school did not have available wall space when it came time to hang their work.  The display ideally was to have the students' totems mounted on chipboard with narrow margins and have then stacked vertically directly on top of one another to resemble a totem pole.
Be aware, if you are limited to a one hour class period, you may need 2 classes for all students to finish carving.  For most kids, it is their first exposure to carving - they loved this project.  You may want to check the drawings first to make sure they are not too detailed and able to be carved without frustration.

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