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Middle [6th-8th] Lesson Plan

Expressive Sculpture

Created on October 02, 2011 by jmhurt

Students look at examples of abstract sculpture made by Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, and create an abstract sculpture that represents an emotion through color and form.

77 Keeps, 21 Likes, 11 Comments

10 sessions; 40 minutes per session

SWBAT symbolize an emotion through form and color.
SWBAT use subtractive sculpting techniques to define an abstract form.
SWBAT mix color using acrylics.
SWBAT enhance a form using shifts in value.

3" x 3" x 9" styrofoam carving blocks
Xacto knives
clay carving tools
acrylic paints
palettes, etc. for color mixing
wood scrap for bases
clear acrylic spray for sealing (opt)

Need these materials? Visit Blick!

1. Introduce students to the Abstract Expressionist art movement, and to the sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Show many examples of his work, and discuss how it relates to the Abstract Expressionist movement. Reveal student objectives to the project, and how they relate to Abstract Expressionism and Noguchi. Show student examples.

2. As a group, brainstorm a list of emotions. Discuss how emotions can vary (Ex. feeling pleased vs. feeling ecstatc, both are happy feelings.) Have students choose 3-5 they would like to work with.

3. Review color mixing (Intermediate hues, tints, shades, low-intensity hues.) Discuss how emotions can be symbolized through color (Ex. blues = sadness, etc.) Have students establish a color symbol for the emotions they have chosen.

4. Pass out styrofoam blocks. Have students trace around one long side 3-5 times. Demonstrate how to draw an abstract shape that touches all four sides of the rectangle. Discuss how different shapes can symbolize different emotions (Ex. rounded, curvier shapes = happier emotions; jagged, angular ones = angry/unhappy ones, etc.) Have students sketch a plan for their sculpture using the rectangles they drew as a guide. With the student, collaborate to choose one design that would be the best solution to the visual problem.

5. Transfer drawing to styrofoam block. Show students how to continue the design to the other sides of the block.

6. Using Xacto knives, "rough out" the basic form of the sculpture.

7. Using clay modeling tools and fingers, "round out" and refine the form of the sculpture. Add textures and details, if wanted.

8. Smooth out the form using fingers. Sandpaper can be used, if desired, but it can leave grooves if not used carefully.

9. Prime forms using gesso and allow to dry.

10. Paint forms using symbolized color. Demonstrate how to use other colors to create value/hue transitions to enhance the form (Ex. darker hues in the recessed areas, lighter hues as highlights.)

11. Choose a base and paint it in a coordinating color.

12. Attach sculpture to base with glue, spray with a clear acrylic spray finish, if desired.

Students are assessed on their ability to symbolize an emotion through color and form. They are also assessed on carving craftsmanship, color mixing, and painting craftsmanship.

I used a variety of websites to locate information about Abstract Expressionism and Isamu Noguchi, but I can't find my documentation to list them here.

Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions regarding this project. I've tried to be as thorough as possible, but I might have left some important details out.


Visual Arts Standard 1:
Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

[5-8] Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas

Visual Arts Standard 2:
Using knowledge of structures and functions

[5-8] Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas

Visual Arts Standard 3:
Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

[5-8] Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks

Visual Arts Standard 5:
Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

[5-8] Students analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry

Abstract Expressionism

Color/Value, Form, Movement, Unity/Harmony

Acrylic, Sculpture

Multicultural Studies

  • The_smARTteacher 10/03/2011 at 04:18am
    Excellent resource, excited to see much more from you!

  • jmhurt 10/08/2011 at 01:48pm
    @The_smARTteacher Thank you!

    @CaptureCreativity Thanks! Maybe? Is there a specific part of the project you'd like me to address?

  • CaptureCreativity 10/19/2011 at 08:37pm
    Sorry for the lack of clarity; I was actually just curious about how you were able to get such great pics!

  • jmhurt 10/21/2011 at 08:37pm
    @CaptureCreativity Oh! My mistake! Hee hee. I don't have a special set up...just use a large piece of white paper taped to the wall that cascades onto the counter to get that seamless appearance in the background. I use a dslr to shoot my pictures, but you can get similar results with a point and shoot. I shoot under the fluorescent lights in my classroom, and I just make sure the white balance setting is set to that type of lighting. You'll notice the first two pics have a yellowish tinge to the white background...yep, forgot to adjust the white balance on those. I can adjust the warmness of those images to make them bright white in photoshop, if needed. Hope this helps! :)

  • lightARTed 03/26/2012 at 05:17am
    Great plan!!! What kind of glue do you use to attach the base?

  • AmyHall 04/22/2012 at 05:37pm
    These are beautiful!!

  • MrSamarty 01/14/2014 at 03:29pm
    Great lesson with awesome results. I am curious about what kind of Styrofoam blocks you use?

  • Kunsjuffrou 04/07/2014 at 05:56am
    Great lesson, thank you! I am curios about how easy it was for the students to carve with the Xacto knives to carve the styrofoam with. No bleeding? Is this the pink (thick and strong) or white (softer) styrofoam blocks?

  • ArtGirl202 10/01/2014 at 03:46am
    thanks great lesson. I use Weldbond glue with styrofoam, it works great.

  • epowers 06/16/2015 at 04:39pm
    Hi there,
    I LOVE your project and am going to try it with my grade 8s! I have two quick questions… What is the best way to transfer the drawn design to the foam? And, do you think a block of green florist foam would work? What type of foam do you use?
    Thanks for your help!