By Paula Briggs
I’ve been working with a group of Year 3 and 4 pupils at Bourn Primary Academy during an after school art club. The sessions are only an hour long, and that includes time to set the room up and clean up at the end, so I decided to do an activity which carried across the whole term, giving the children plenty of time to try new approaches and materials.
I wanted a subject matter which the children would warm to and which would work for both drawing and sculpture. I’d been watching the amazing BBC series The Polar Bear & Me, and was struck by the beautiful forms of the bears – forms which were simple, sculptural and yet recognisable as being “polar bear”. The bears seemed the ideal subject matter (and we even had snow outside!). Even better, the bears would provide us with an opportunity to make individual sculptures, which could then be brought together as a communal artwork.
Session 1 Drawing & Looking
Children were asked to bring in toy polar bears, and I took in photographs of bears. We needed imagery as a starting point and the fact that the sources were mixed worked well – children could find their own way in. The children were given a speedy introduction to different drawing media, and then we started off with simple “backwards forwards” sketches of the bears. Backwards forwards sketching is a great tool in getting children to slow down their drawing – giving them time to really look. In essence, the drawing motion is made by moving the wrist from left to right – creating a line which does not leave the page.
While many children feel comfortable exploring new materials, others lack confidence to make a drawing outside their comfort zone – put off by the white paper and unable to visualise their drawing. I never like to draw directly on the paper, but for those children who feel intimidated and can’t get started, I often hold an invisible pencil in my hand and show them where they might “see” the marks appearing – “here might be it’s rounded back… and here it’s head, and look how my hand is moving from the wrist, can you see that…” It’s amazing how this can help children suddenly imagine their drawing on a blank sheet, and then once they can imagine, once they have a clue as to a way in, they are off…
For these backwards forwards sketches we used soft b pencils and allowed about 20 minutes.
We then went on to try a backwards forwards sketch using charcoal instead of a pencil…
We tend to use rubbers in our classes as mark making tools, rather than for rubbing out “mistakes”. Sometimes having rubbers around can really mean children get hung up on every line they make being “perfect”, and the rubbers can stop the flowing of drawing. When children are really struggling to “see” an area of their drawing, instead I get them to cover the area of the drawing they are unhappy with with paper, so that they are not held back by their “mistake” and then they can re-see freshly over the clear patch of paper. Sometimes the mistake is not where they think it is! This way they can compare (and learn from) what they drew previously, and what they are re-seeing…
We ended with a discussion about our drawings. It’s always great to see all the drawings on the floor at the end – sharing is a great way to be inspired. We also had a quick recap about all the information we had gathered through drawing – the lovely shapes of the polar bears, what made a polar bear a polar bear and how we could use this information in our sculpture making sessions…
Session 2 Making the Sculptural Form
We used either plastic bags, or newspaper (personal choice) to create polar bear forms, which we would then cover in modroc. This was an energetic, messy and noisy session as children battled with the materials to create their forms. I decided to arrange the children in a circle on the floor, with everyone facing inwards, and all the newspaper, tape etc in the middle. I often work like this with children when we are making as it help keep the noisy energy focussed. There’s always lots of chatter (and frustration) but working in a circle like this definitely helps children to focus, and to become aware of what others are doing – which in itself helps the making process. I also acknowledged at the beginning of the session that some might find it tricky to manipulate the paper into a polar bear shape – but that I knew they were all going to make great things – and that the battle was OK! I gave a very quick demonstration of scrunching paper and how to make, add and fasten the legs and head on the bodies etc. We also recapped those lovely polar bear shapes – nice rounded bottoms, heads lower than the shoulders, large pointy feet, small ears etc… Most children needed a full hour to make their polar bear forms…
Session 3 Covering in Modroc
Once the forms were completed we began to cover them in modroc. See How to Use Modroc which contains practical advice about how to use modroc, including tips about containing any mess.
Working now in groups on tables (to help contain the mess!) the children were introduced to how to use modroc. In addition to covering the polar bear forms, the children also used the modroc to add detail (i.e. brows, ears, feet, and to remodel any areas they felt needed extra attention, i.e. adding to the polar bear’s shoulders etc). It was also at this point that we addressed any structural problems with bears which could not stand – by adding small amounts of modroc to any legs which were a little short. Most children needed 1 whole session to complete their bear.
Session 4 Painting the Sculptures
Before we painted the modroc we looked again at the images I had taken in to understand how polar bears are not really white at all. We used white poster paint mixed with tiny amounts of gouache to paint the bears off white, yellow-white, brown-white etc. We also observed how the browny-black markings of their eyes/nose etc helped give further definition to their forms.
A few finished bears!
The bears looked great, as you can see below, but I wanted to add to the project by building icebergs for the bears, giving the children more opportunity to develop their construction skills, think about how to make exciting, dynamic forms, and to help them see their finished sculptures in a new context. Find out how we built icebergs here!