Tag Archives: high school

How to Make Clay Human Figures

30 Jan


war veterans art center

MoMA’s ‘How to Make Pottery and Ceramic Sculpture’ was initially published in 1947. Photo source: moma.org

MoMA’s 1947 publication, How To Make Pottery and Ceramic Sculpture, by Julia Duncan and Victor D’Amico, contains 20 hand-built ceramic projects, from pinch and coil pots to slip casting. Here is Project VII – The Human Figure.

20140129-081215.jpgMoMA clay figure step by step

The projects in How to Make Pottery and Ceramic Sculpture were taught at MoMA’s War Veterans’ Art Center. Did you know that from 1944-1948, MoMA operated an art center just for WWII war veterans?

The War Veterans’ Art Center was devoted to the rehabilitation of veterans. Its goal was “to discover the best and the most effective ways of bringing about, through the arts, the readjustment of the veteran to civilian life.” The work of the War Veteran Art Center was considered progressive within the field of art therapy in the United States (source: moma.org).

Over 1000 vets took classes in painting, sculpture and ceramics, jewelry, design, illustration and more. The War Veteran’s Art Center couldn’t accommodate all the vets on the waiting list, so MoMA put out a series of art manuals that could be used for self-instruction or as an aid to any teacher of large groups.

The 20 hand-built projects in the ceramics manual are well-written and well-photographed. Stay tuned – I may feature more later this year.


Happy Throwback Thursday! Stop by on Thursdays to see what I’ve found in my vintage art education collection.

Winter Olympic Sculptures

27 Jan

ski racing olympic trophy

Thinking about a Winter Olympic art project? Why not make your own sport trophy for your favorite Olympic event? Our fifth graders created these sport trophies using floral wire, foil, and plaster wrap. Accessories were made from toothpicks and popsicle sticks. We used acrylic paint or metallic spray paint (everyone can ‘get a gold’ if you use gold spray paint!). Everything was attached to a wooden base. You’ll need reference photos as well.

Click here to see all my links to my favorite sculpture supplies.  You can also find the floral wire at Michael’s and my favorite pop-up pre-cut foil at Costco and Smart and Final.

olympic skating trophyClick here, here, and here to see more examples and the complete lesson plan.

winter olympic curling trophyI taught this project to adults as well – they were able to create the unpainted trophies in about an hour. At the elementary level, this took us 6-8 sessions at 40 minutes per class. Middle and high school students with NICE LONG CLASS PERIODS (envy envy envy) should be able to do this in a couple of weeks.

Our students look forward to this project for years. They treasure their trophies for years after. A lot of work, but worth it.


Copper Repousse Mural

9 Jan


Mural project by Shirley Dieffenbach, art teacher, Williamsport High School, Williamsport, PA. School Arts Magazine, June 1965

Mural project by Shirley Dieffenbach, art teacher, Williamsport High School, Williamsport, PA. School Arts Magazine, June 1965

Here is a write up of a BIG copper repousse group art project for high school. It was written by art teacher Shirley Dieffenbach and appeared in School Arts Magazine, June 1965.

“I had considered the idea for several years of using a craft project for a mural or wall hanging to enhance our school building.

I wanted this group project to be one where many students would have a chance to participate and display their combined yet individual artistic expression.

The students chose copper metal repousse for the medium and technique.  Initially I motivated the students by demonstrating the process of tooling on copper and showing various completed pieces of work.  After their enthusiasm had been brought to a high pitch I suggested that we all pool our efforts in both Art II classes of approximately 30 students, each of which included students with good, bad, or indifferent art ability.  In several cases this craft demonstrated that students with limited art ability or talent could accomplish a successful work.

The subject we chose to illustrate, as a group, was the various phases of our high school life. After hours of research to make sure we had listed all the departments and activities of our school, we launched the project and each art students chose one activity to illustrate.  The design could proceed from either one of an abstract nature or from a realistic approach, depending on how the student wished to work.

After a week or two some of the finished pieces were completed, including the oxidizing and polishing processes which definitely enhanced the finished projects. A coat of brushing lacquer was was brushed on each piece to preserved the polished luster.

We then chose the proper setting where we wanted the mural to hang and ordered the plywood and frame lumber on which the individual pieces of meal work were to be mounted.

Several students were chosen to lay out the various pieces so as to form a balanced and interesting arrangement. Between the individual pieces of work we nailed stripping of half round wood, which was stained a dull green to complement the color of the polished copper.  This wood stripping was measured and cut to fit around the particular space and in such as way as to hold the metal piece in place.  The students who had some carpentry experience fitted, mitered, cut and nailed the pieces together to give it a finished professional look.

As each student finished his individual piece of work, he was most interested in observing how the whole pattern would finnaly fall into place.  They were beginning to visualize the finished copper mural as it might look hanging on the wall of the foyer of our school.

Our goal was to have it installed by commencement time, which we accomplished after a great deal of effort on everyone’s part. The end result has been a most rewarding teaching-learning experience. The combined expression of delight and interest form both faculty and students has brought the Art department a great deal of publicity, commendation, and support which is always welcome by both faculty and students.  However, the greatest value to come from such a group endeavor is to hear the remarks of pride from the many students who contributed their individual artistic effort to a common esthetic goal.”

High school students create group art mural using individual copper repousse designs.

High school students create group art mural using individual copper repousse designs.

These black and white photos do not do the mural justice. I looked around the web for a color photo, hoping this mural was still hanging 50 years later.

Looks like the mural is no longer around, but guess what? The art teacher is!

On January 8, 2014, art teacher Shirley Dieffenbach turned 94 years old. She is the oldest living art teacher in Williamsport, PA. Click here to learn about her. I am honored to share her work so that others can benefit from it.


Happy Throwback Thursday! Stop by on Thursdays to see what other cool things I’ve unearthed from my stash of vintage art ed magazines.


Block Printing with Art Club

16 Jun

This is the first year I offered art club. It was so much fun! Small group. Motivated kids – sixth grade only. Friday afternoon. Ahh…

We did block printing and the kids who learned this skill were enthralled. They kept popping by the art room every day, hoping to carve a little more. They skipped recess to carve. They hung around Friday after the bell rang.

eraser carving materials



  • Magic Rub Erasers
  • Soft-Kut Starter Kit (includes Speedball cutters, handles, carving blocks and printer’s ink)
  • copy paper and tracing paper
  • pencils
  • Crayola markers
  • Ink pads
  • Brayer and flat surface for rolling ink

Eraser carving:

Students started by sketching a variety of simple designs using pencil and copy paper. They traced their favorite design onto tracing paper, then transferred the design to the eraser. Then they carved out the white parts of the design using a lino cutter. CLICK HERE to see an excellent carving video. I did this project with sixth grade last year – read more in this post.

carving erasers

Once students had a little carving experience, they moved on to more complex designs on the back of their erasers.

all the eraser collage

Soft-Kut Blocks

Students used the same techniques to transfer their designs onto the larger blocks. Some students used Crayola markers to ink their blocks (I think the inked blocks are beautiful on their own!).

sophia's block


alexita's block

Others used block print ink applied with a brayer.

big blocks

iPad in the art room:

We used iPads two different ways for this project.

  1. Looked at images of linoleum carvings on Google images
  2. Had fun testing out the carving process using the free Ukiyoe app (available on the app store).

ukiyoe app


Art club was a hit. Carving was a hit. I will definitely offer it to my sixth graders next year.

Do you offer art club at your school? What sort of projects do you do?

How to Make a Calder Mobile

2 Dec

I love Alexander Calder! I teach a Calder wire project each year, but I have never successfully made a Calder-inspired mobile. Until now!

I recently received this 1975 edition of Making Things: Book 2. The Handbook of Creative Discovery by Ann Wiseman. Inside this gloriously illustrated book I found these  instructions for making Calder mobiles:

Making Things Book 2 – Handbook of Creative Discovery by Ann Wiseman. ISBN-10: 0316948519


Easy to follow step by step illustrations for a variety of mobiles


I decided to test it out with items I had on hand in the art room.

Materials for first mobile:

  • 18-inch pre-cut Stem Wire (AKA floral wire) 20 gauge
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • hole punch
  • pliers (note: I didn’t have any pliers so I just did this with my hands)


Materials for making a simple Calder-inspired mobile


Ms. Wiseman tells us mobiles are built from the bottom up. Aha!

Success! A 4-tier mobile!

Now for my second mobile. I made this mobile using Ann Wiseman’s illustrations and Peel & Stick Foam Sheets.

Calder-inspired mobile made with wire and self-adhesive craft foam.

To add interesting organic shapes, sandwich wires between matching pieces of self-adhesive craft foam.

If you choose to make these multiple tier wire mobiles, try it yourself first, be patient, and expect a lot trial and error. Balancing those wires is tricky and takes practice. I think these projects would be great for middle and high school students.

If you want to try this with a whole class of upper elementary students, I would keep it simple. Stick with one or two wires. Check out this project from Meet the Masters. I like how they have three degrees of difficulty and incorporate a stabile as a base.

Illustration from Meet the Masters website.


Here are some more ideas for Calder mobiles for kids:

If you love Calder, you might like my previous Calder posts:


Have you ever made a mobile with your students? 


Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Note: post updated 12/30/13