Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Calder Inspired Wire Drawings


I have wanted to do this lesson for a long time! After weeks of drawing exercises using sighting, guidelines and crosshairs, I wanted to provide my Art One students with an opportunity to use line in a whimsical, playful way.

I pulled together some online resources, including a slideshow from the Whitney Museum and a youtube video of Calder performing his circus, as an introduction. Next, I had students brainstorm a list of people or animals in motion. Then, I introduced and demonstrated gesture drawing. We grabbed some drawing boards, conte crayon and manila paper and headed to the hallway so we could spread out.

In groups of four, students took turns modeling some of the actions they brainstormed earlier in class. I encouraged students to think of lines beyond stick figures. After the first drawing, I gave them advice to look at how the model's shoulders were in relationship to the hips and to take note of the direction of feet.

We had just enough time left in class (a double, 88 minute period) to return to the room and debrief. I asked how gesture drawing could apply to developing their sculpture. Many saw the connection and had a great starting point the next class when they began to flesh out and develop their own ideas.

Students liked the idea of making a "sculpture" but when it came to the actual construction, I was met with some resistance. Instead of having 30 students crowd around a wire demonstration, I found a simple video tutorial. This way, I was able to give individual instruction to those that needed it and let other use the video as a starting point for their own exploration. At that point, I gave students a two to three foot piece of stove pipe wire and a run down of how to use the tools before allowing them to practice making connections and bends.

There was a bunch of complaining that building with wire was too difficult. I honestly think that physically using their fingers and having to plan where connections would be, was the difficulty. There was no formula to follow and that was tough for some kids to get over. I really pushed students to think for themselves and experiment.

For the final sculpture students used more pliable, silver wire ( 18 gauge? I can't remember) I also provided some white and yellow, thin wire, copper wire, buttons and electrical tape. In the end, I am proud of what my students accomplished. I am proud that many pushed themselves outside of their comfort zones and tried something new with many successful products.


  1. I love Calder's Circus and it's definitely a fun challenge for kids to work in that spirit. One suggestion, if you don't mind - These 'sculptures' (as you call them) are really just line drawings done with wire instead of pencil or marker or brush. I say this because they mostly look as though they lay completely flat. Can I suggest that, if you try this again, you remind your students that the primary attribute of a sculpture is that it has 3-dimensions. Have them hold them up and figure out if they can bend a leg forward or tilt a foot back, twist the hips, lean back the shoulders, reach forward with a hand, push back an elbow, and so on. They can mimic the poses for each other to look at, and will realize that we don't exist on one flat plane. It's impossible to stand in these poses if you don't use space! Learning to translate line into 3 dimensions is really challenging, but also fun. Mostly, you want kids to learn that if they are calling their work a sculpture, you have to use three dimensions! If they get an opportunity to see Calder's Circus (if I recall, it's at the Met. Or is it at MoMA?) they will notice the pieces are free-standing; not flat.

    I hope you take this comment in the spirit in which it is written, and not as a criticism! You are always free to delete if you want...

  2. These came out great! Working with wire is always tough. I did this project a few times, years ago, and if you're looking for an extra challenge, I gave each of my kids 6 feet of aluminum wire (I think ours was 14 gauge- super pliable) and they had to make their sculpture without cutting or "wasting" any of the wire. Many of them got frustrated once they started their piece and realized it was going to be entirely too big/too small, but in having to create and re-create their sculptures, they learned a lot. I also had them come up with a plan for presentation: Will your piece be free-standing or hanging? It's a good project, and your post has me wondering if I'll bring it back into the swing of things...