This post will describe my favorite seven sculpture lessons that are not clay. Building a 3D program with a variety of processes and materials can be challenging. There are budget constraints and sculpture supplies can be so expensive. Some of the techniques can be intimidating and I don’t always have a lot of experience with certain media. Flashback to the time I bought a bunch of alabaster…👀
This is NOT a clay bashing post. I absolutely love clay. Ceramics was my area of emphasis in college and it will always be my favorite way to teach sculpture. It’s sensory friendly (for most), beautifully time consuming, and a crowd pleaser with almost all students. There is something innately human about sticking our hands in some dirt and creating something beautiful or functional. However, most art teachers don’t have the budget or course description to teach clay all day. I like to sprinkle 3D lessons in all of my classes and I teach two dedicated sculpture courses. That means I need two courses with 3D lessons that are NOT clay along with with my favorite ceramics units.
Most these have their own detailed lesson outline, with student examples, and a classroom ready video to accompany it. A couple don’t have a detailed lesson yet, but it’s on my to-do list! All my lessons and resources are free, feel free to use and adapt them for whatever fits your current situation.
I will also add links to products I use in my classroom, mostly from Blick Art Materials.
***This post contains affiliate links to products I truly love and use in my classroom. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this public school teacher’s side hustle so I can continue to provide free content.
Let’s dive into my favorite seven sculpture lessons that are not clay!
1: Wire Figure Sculpture
I absolutely love this lesson. I have been teaching it consistently since 2009 and I never, ever get sick of it. I like how it can be broken down into manageable steps and the human body is a wonderful jumping off point for creativity. Over the years I’ve probably had 1,000 wire figures made in my classes, and each time I am completely blown away at the creative solutions to this design challenge.
Wire Figure Detailed Lesson
2: Wire Portraits
This lesson a good solution if you want to simplify the wire figure unit or do an add on at the end of it. I love the connections to contour drawing and it’s really easy to do multiples. These can be attached to a base to be free-standing or can be hung relief style.
I don’t have a detailed lesson yet, but this video covers everything we do in class:
Wire Portrait Video Lesson:
3: Found Object Assemblage
This is such a fun introduction to found objects and composition. Students will really get into the collecting aspect of it, and I love hearing students talk about their objects. This can be done as a flat relied on a piece of wood or other sturdy surface or students can create their own 3D boxes using cardboard.
This detailed lesson will show you both methods. They also look great displayed together and create a wonderful collaborative sculpture to add some wow to a school art show.
Found Object Assemblage Lesson:
4: Found Object Mosaic
I absolutely adore this lesson. It has so many opportunities for personal connections and the results are stunning. The grouting takes some planning and can be messy, especially in a 45 minute course. The materials can be costly up front, but they last a long time. I teach this in my Sculpture II course since those classes have smaller numbers.
I don’t have a detailed lesson outline yet, but this tutorial describes every step and is ready for students.
Found Object Mosaic Video Lesson:
5: Modular Sculpture
I love starting a 3D course with this modular sculpture. It’s a simple concept, not a challenging materia and very cost effective. Students will surprise you with their creativity, and students will surprise themselves by making a free standing and balanced a sculpture that looks cool and modern.
Modular Sculpture Detailed Lesson:
6: Soap Carving
Fun, easy, satisfying and affordable. A great way to hit a subtractive carving while keeping costs and time in check. I like to use it as a lead in to my plaster carving unit, but it can totally be a stand alone lesson.
Soap Carving Detailed Lesson:
7: Plaster Carving
The last sculpture lesson that is not clay is a doozy. I described the soap carving lesson as fun and easy. In contrast, I would say the plaster carving is challenging and difficult. But…it’s worth it!
This unit is a solid introduction to subtractive sculpting and the results look really expensive and impressive. It is messy, takes forever, and trying to incorporate subtractive and abstraction is a mind eff for many students. I love teaching it regardless, and save it for a Sculpture II course or a final artwork in a 3D fundamentals class.
Another option I have used is plant foam or sculpture foam I purchased. I didn’t love the texture of this option, and it is surprisingly expensive to get in the hands of 60-150 students. I prefer plaster and I have found that if you give students an appropriate challenge, they will most often rise to the occasion and often surpass it. I have learned to not be afraid to give students a difficult task.
This is another unit that I have not finished a detailed blog lesson yet. It is on my short list and I will update this post as soon as it’s done.
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What are your favorite sculpture lessons that are not clay? I’d love to hear from you!