The most creative people on the planet are under five feet tall. Watch a group of children gathered around a sculpture center in an art room. You'll see flying fingers as they try different attachments on their 3D constructions. When one doesn't work, another is tried, and another and another, until things hold together. There are developmental stages in sculpture just like there are in other areas of learning. In a 3D center like the one at Evergreen, the "scribble stage" usually manifests itself as 1) toilet tube binoculars held together with multiple pieces of masking tape, 2) a robot made from a single tube with straws stuck through holes, or 3) a single tube rocket with a triangle shaped piece of cardboard attached, wedge-style. It isn't long, though, until children start trying more complex structures and manipulating more challenging items from the recycle bin.
Our stock of building tools in the 3D center varies, depending on what our learning community donates, but some things simply *have* to be in the kit. Staples include craft sticks, small paper cups, drinking straws, coffee stirring straws, brads, rubber bands, masking tape, and glue. We have four boxes along a counter beneath our menus that hold cardboard tubes, pieces of cardboard, cool stuff (this is where the small boxes and containers, egg cartons, etc., live) and one box of cardboard scraps. When there are limits because of the number of artists who come through our studios each week, they're posted on the box and on the menu. Most of us are really good at determining a reasonable number of items to use in a creation. We're also guided by a polka-dotted (for visibility and to make certain it doesn't get cannibalized) size box. The box measures about 10"x18"x18" and is a handy guide to check to see if something exceeds our size limitations. Part of the learning that takes place when an artist works with sculpture is to work within space guidelines.
In addition to the constant "pantry" of supplies, we have some fabulous extras. In a plastic stack of drawers are plastic test tubes, spools, medicine bottles, lids (I no longer look at a small lid without picturing it as a monster truck wheel, thank you very much,) metal screens, balls of string, and odd shaped things that are donated by friends of our program. We're good at sharing resources, and as we get deeper into the school year, our eyes get better at recognizing things that would make good additions to sculptures.
Choosing an attachment strategy can be tricky. To help, there's a Sticky-o-meter (thanks to Diane and Nan from the TAB teachers' group!) that helps us to decide what will work best for our sculpture. We use a rule of thumb (outrageous pun intended) to measure how much masking tape to use, and artists beyond kindergarten learn to use a drop of white school glue to hold paper/paper connections with a bit of tape to offer stability while things dry. For fabric, there's Tacky Glue that lives on my teacher desk. Looooong experience has taught me to hover a bit when tacky glue is used - it's just too much fun to watch the entire bottle gloop down with gravity's pull. For the toughest attachment challenges there is a hot glue gun. Fourth and fifth grades get a lesson in safety, use leather gloves and serious caution to glue plastic items together. Younger students just ask if they need that level of hold and I glue things together at their direction. I get to hear lots of stories about how Mom and Dad *always* let everyone use glue guns on their own but I'm a stubborn art teacher and prefer smiling, unburned children to the alternative.
After a piece is finished, the artist asks a few questions. Since projects become more complex with age and sophistication, finishing touches might include paint, fancy paper, or texture from another center. Each artists decides when something is complete, but there is an expectation that older students will put more time and thought into sculptures than they did when they were younger.
The final test is the dreaded shake test. OK. It's not really dreaded, but celebrated. The idea is this: If I've created a secure, well attached piece of sculpture, it must be strong enough to survive three trips. The first one is from the art studio to class, the second, the bus or car ride home, and the third, (shudder) first contact with little brother or sister. To that end, the artist shakes the piece as hard as possible to make sure it's REALLY strong. Rarely does the Bossy Art Teacher (BAT) have to step in to demonstrate the dreaded BAT adult shake. Most artists gleefully demonstrate the strength of their pieces and we all laugh when they survive. Or not. (Flying objects are, thankfully, rare...)
We love sculpture!
Most of the artists in Evergreen's art studio walk (dance/march/pirouette/boogie) into art class with an idea in their heads. I can see it behind their eyes some days - a kind of quiet focus that bespeaks of the pictures and planning that is going on in their heads. Some children trumpet their intentions, "Hey, Ms. J.! I'm gonna make a rainbow rocket today!" Others are less certain, or, because they come later in the choosing rotation that day, prefer to decide when they see what materials are available in the studio where they find themselves.
Collage offers an interesting view of a child artist's planning. Children walk around the table, sampling papers from the bins that are available. At the moment we have tubs of varied size with tissue paper, "beautiful papers" (recycled from the paint or print centers, these are brightly colored - think Eric Carle) a stacked plastic chest of paper drawers, separated by color families, a selection of small paper bags, rolls of wall paper and brightly colored cellophane, some greeting cards (I have them up high because they seem to kill creativity rather than encouraging it...) and one box of special paper - mylar balloon scraps, sparkly paper, fancy greeting paper and paper doilies. There is a tall bin of odd-sized cast off mat scraps from a local art gallery's framing business. Sometimes I have magazines and sometimes they are intentionally scarce. I want my students to balance the tendency to do simple collections ("Look! 35 cars!) with other aspects of color, layout, and balance in collage work.
When magazines are placed in the studio I control fairly tightly - National Geographic, nature magazines, sailing, sports, cars, Smithsonian and always, always "looked" first to cull images that are overtly salacious or that show too honestly the reality of war. Scissors? Yep. Straight, fancy edges, "Mom scissors," (I keep large craft scissors sharpened to serious edges and do LOTS of prep in their safe use) and multiples of kid scissors. For second grade and up, we have a couple of crimpers, too. I've gone through lots of How To Manage Glue Without Going Insane periods, and have hit on an idea I gleaned from a helpful colleague on the TAB Yahoo list. Glue pots are nothing fancier than cheap sponges cut to fit inside plastic containers with lids. I thin white school glue just a little and turn the kids loose with them. We've loved the result - far less mess, glue pot lids are finding their way closed during clean up and they stack neatly.
Back to our wandering artists... Children usually only take one turn through the materials before selecting a project and getting to work. Collage, more than any other medium, lends itself to arranging and rearranging elements before gluing things together. I'm intrigued with the variety of expression and simply love the peculiar personalities of some of the puppets that are born in this studio.