Studio in Art is one of those jack-of-all-trades courses. I cover drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics and technology. I teach still life, landscape, portrait and abstract concepts as well, so it is a little bit of everything.
Every so often I do this sculpture/installation/photography project based on the work of American artist Sandy Skoglund. I love how this lesson has so many concepts all rolled into one.
First, students create the armature then plaster and paint a rat sculpture. I’ve always done it with rats because they can be simplified and look both uniform and unique – usually students create a tail that makes their rat easy to identify in a “police line-up” of rats, lol.
I usually give students a small Gatorade bottle then show them how to add newspaper or paper towels and masking tape to shape the armature, adding tagboard for ears and aluminum foil for the tail. This year I drank a bunch of Simply Orange and Simply Cranberry and we used those bottles to make giant-sized rodents.
I have fourteen students in class. They painted the rats gold – there were three hues from which to choose. Every time I do this lesson the rats are a different color. We’ve done them in red, blue, yellow and green, so I thought the gold ones would look fun. Plus, I just bought more metallic paint. It is Sargent’s metallic acrylic. Love it!
Next, we take a tour of the school to spot areas that we travel everyday – to make the invisible visible. We look through viewfinders made out of index cards to see the space from a number of different angles. There are some wonderful bits of architecture in our school that make for great photographic landscapes!
I have the students create storyboards – just a sketch of what they want to do for their photograph and I give them a hand-out with some questions to help them solve the riddle of this project. For example, what emotion will they convey? Will it be funny? A depiction of social injustice? Romantic? Who will be in it? What will they do? What will they wear?
In addition, we talk about POV – will the camera be at eye level or above eye level (w/ photographer standing on a ladder or standing at the top of the stairs looking down) or will it be at rat level? And is it an active or passive photograph? Is the viewer directed to what the people are doing or what the rats are doing? Or is the viewer looking at what the people are looking at?
You see, there are a lot of options and a lot to think about. Sandy Skoglund’s models wear the same color to create rhythm and harmony. Successful images would be ones where the photographer coordinated their models to do the same.
I assigned the dates for their photographs, which were taken during class or after school if they wanted to take the shot upstairs (no one did this year). The rats were housed on carts that they rolled out to the installation area. They did this unsupervised (I know! Can you believe it? I am actually letting go of my inner control freak! It’s a slow process but it is happening!). I gave them the camera and they came back with the rats and several shots. They told me which one they wanted and I printed them.
While this was going on, the rest of the class worked on a wood sculpture lesson based on the work of Marisol Escobar.
All of the photographs are on display in the school hallway. In addition to seeing great art, the fun of it is to view and search for their rat – is it a star or a supporting player? And of course, it is fun when they see themselves as models in their friends’ pictures.
Artwork is assessed as follows – how closely it resembles the storyboard vision, composition, which includes how well they have utilized foreground, middle ground and background concepts, and if characteristics of the work resemble Sandy Skoglund’s. The rats were assessed separately (armature, plaster application, paint application).
Yeah – this lesson encompasses so much, I think. They must create a sculpture then create an image with a point of view, make that image come to life…and there is a lot of freedom, and yet, there is also tremendous responsibility. So many of the images were nearly spot on from the original storyboards! It was a really amazing experience this year – for my eighth graders and for me.