Saturday, September 30, 2017

RESEARCH PROJECT: Celluclay Planter Person

Over Labor Day weekend I sent my children outside to play, my husband chipped away at doing flooring in our new home, and in the middle of house renovations I took over the dining room table to set to work for YOU! Coffee at hand, sleeves rolled up, and rings removed from fingers (you'll need to do this too), I was ready to go.


Teachers inspire each other. True story. We have ideas of our own, sure, but we also get ideas from other people and places, and then we use them to help you learn. In my free time, I read other art teacher blogs for ideas that I can add personal flare to that I think you'll enjoy. While visiting Cassie Stephens art teacherin' blog (she's my art teacher hero, btw) I struck pure gold! SERIOUSLY. She made awesome ZOMBIE planters with celluclay! While I was looking at them, reading about them, and drooling all over the place because they're so cool, I realized you'd probably love them too. The big question was, how could we use this for our research project? You're not researching zombies! And then it hit me. A big "Ah-HA!"moment. This is where inspiration triggers thinking like an artist. Imagine, if you would, for just a moment, that the zombie planter from her blog wasn't a zombie, but was instead a research person of interest, like, oh, let's say Albert Einstein. 


Once I had this idea, there were several problems to solve. Instead of flowers coming out of his planter head, what could I use that would represent parts of his life, fun facts about him, his contributions to society (all that important stuff you're researching)?... Anything sticking out of the top of his head would look like thoughts, ideas even, and isn't that what he did? He was good at figuring things out, like E=MC2...would I need thought bubbles around each thing, should I put them inside drawings of lightbulbs so they look like ideas, or could they just float around him from sticks poked inside the head? More abstract that way....Yeah, this could work....It's GONNA WORK! 

(quick sketches don't have to be pretty)

After figuring this out, I presented the idea to our principal and your teacher. I also reached out to Cassie Stephens to ask if we could use her idea. She was excited to share, so here we are! Ready to start (THANK YOU CASSIE!)!  In true art teacher style, I chose an influential artist that I could display in my room more permanently than Albert. I chose a personal favorite, Frida Kahlo. I know plenty of facts about her (it's my business to know lots about folks I teach about), but how was I going to take the zombie planter idea and turn it into Frida? I wanted to base my sculpture of her on my favorite photograph of her. I made notes to myself of ideas. I sketched a plan because I forget things, even great things I can't wait to try. WRITE DOWN YOUR IDEAS. MAKE A SKETCH. Trust me. It doesn't mean you can't change your mind about how to tackle something later on, it just gives you a solid place to start from. 


Once you know your stuff (you've done your research), you've got a sketch and a plan, it's time to get started. Things you'll need to make a celluclay planter of your researched person:

- celluclay (of course!)
- a plastic container to mix it in (nothing important to you, it's gonna get gross)
- a container/dish of water for mixing your celluclay
- 2 containers, 1 to use as the base and 1 to use for the head
(plastic containers works great, you may also use small flower pots, but look for something with tapered edges- that means it's bigger at the top and smaller at the bottom. I wish mine were more tapered, but I used what I had on hand, and that's just fine)
- make sure your table surface is covered, this is messy!


You can see some celluclay treat buckets I made in the background here, also inspired by Cassie Stephens. To make the most of my minutes I worked at painting those while Frida dried!....Anywho, you'll need to put your dry celluclay into a plastic container for mixing. It'll feel like dryer lint and it's very dusty. Try not to breathe too much of it in. 


Slowly add water. SLOWLY....You can always add more water if you need to, but you're limited in how much celluclay you're allotted for this.


As you add your water, start mixing with your other hand, working out the clumps. 


It'll be sticky and should feel like clay, not too mushy. I will help you!


Once it's mixed well, take small bits of your celluclay and start smoothing it over the surface of 1 of your plastic containers (I made the head of Frida first so I'd know where I wanted her outfit and jewelry to line up with her face later)


As you cover the plastic container, be sure to make an even layer that's fairly thin (1/4" or less). 


Do NOT cover the very bottom of your container OR the inside. Just the sides will do. 


Once covered, I like to use a bit of water to smooth out the texture of the surface a bit. Just dip your fingertips in water....


....and smooth the surface. Just a little bit of water so it doesn't get too soft and muddy. It won't be perfectly smooth, but that's okay. It's handmade, not factory made. It'll have character! 


This picture shows you that the left side hasn't been smoothed with water yet (it's got more nooks and crannies, like an english muffin) while the right side has been smoothed a bit. It's still a wee bit lumpy, but that's normal. 


I carefully place the covered container end to end with the bottom container and set to work forming facial features. 


This magical stuff sticks so well to itself! Just gently press and blend together! 


While attaching parts of the face, look at your sketch and reference photo. What are obvious characteristics of their face that you should include? Frida has a signature uni-brow so that was a must! She also didn't smile in her paintings, so I didn't make her smile either. She wore her hair braided and pulled up with ribbons and flowers. I thought I'd add real ribbon and faux flowers later. Her ears were pierced, and she loved jewelry. In one of her self-portraits she wore a pair of earrings that looked like hands. They were a gift from famous artist pal Pablo Picasso. I thought it might be cool to make tiny clay hand earrings for my sculpture to reference that painting, gift, and artist friend. I didn't have any fencing wire to pierce her celluclay either with, and this was the best I could find to do the job. It worked! Creative problem solving.....


Since these are sculptures in the round, viewers looking at your work will be able to see it from all sides. A famous example of sculpture in the round would be the Statue of Liberty. She's interesting to look at from all sides. I was running low on my allotted celluclay, so I did my best to make the back of her head less boring. Thankfully her hair was most often pulled up tightly. If I had run out of celluclay I had a Plan B: add rigid wrap as hair once the celluclay dried; Plan C: hot glue yarn; Plan D: use acrylic paint or medium to adhere tissue paper as hair. 


Her nose, lips, eyebrow and eyes all started as coils, just like we make with ceramic clay. If I needed to press something down, blend a tiny piece, or make a deep line I often used a pencil because it was smaller and easier to use than my finger. Notice I added the hint of a chin! I kept in mind that it had to be out of the way of where her neck would be when I started the bottom container. 


The back doesn't have to be as exciting as the front, because that's not where the focus will be anyway, but it should be thoughtful and not totally bald. We can brainstorm together if you need me!


Cover the bottom container just like you did the top container! 


Then add a shirt line (I blended a coil in to create the illusion of the top of her shirt and the edges of a sweater). Add other important details like a neck tie, a shirt collar, and/or jewelry. 


We don't want the top container to stick to the bottom container, so I put a small piece of plastic wrap between them and set them aside to dry. Kinda looks like a superhero cape, doesn't it? 


As it dries you'll notice the color change a bit, just like ceramic clay does. The drier areas will be lighter, and the damp areas will be darker. 
- Do not attempt to paint until all areas are light and fully dried! It'll trap moisture inside. 
- If anything falls off, no worries! We'll glue it back on before painting. 
- If you're waiting, don't just hang out. What other parts could you work on? I could tackle clay hand earrings or start working on anything I want sticking out of the top of her head as symbols of her life, work, facts. 
Use your time wisely. Save any paper drawings that need colored/painted (that will stick out of the top of the head) in your art folder so you can continue working on them when you have time. 


Once your celluclay is dry it's finally time to paint! We are using acrylics. They dry fairly quickly, you can paint right over mistakes, and they're easy to blend; HOWEVER.... they dry waterproof! You MUST take proper care of your brushes (don't let paint dry on tips- adding a tiny drop of dish soap to your water will help). Acrylics will also ruin clothes, so wear a paint shirt and avoid wearing your favorite outfits on art days. Trust me on this....


There are so many ways to paint! You can use solid colors straight from the bottle/tube or you can blend colors, as you can see I did on her cheeks. You can add a color on top of another wet color to streak them together a bit before either is dry, as I did on her lips to make them appear more shiny. We'll go over some tips and tricks together. I referenced my favorite photograph of her often while I painted. Sometimes I followed what I saw, and sometimes I used "artistic licence", meaning I made changes and made things more funky to make it look the way I wanted it to. 


Once the paint was dry I was ready to fancy her up! I fully intended to make clay earrings like those gifted to her by Picasso, but I ran out of time. I pulled this gold paper from the scrap paper bin and found this fancy wire in the cupboard. PERFECT!


The wire is much thinner than you're used to working with, and was easy to twist behind her earlobes like a bread tie. I can easily change these out for clay earrings later if I get around to making them!


Her outfit was dark and the whites of her eyes were so bright, I felt like I needed to bring in some more white somehow. After digging around in the cupboard I found this funky gold trim and this curly white trim. A bit of hot glue, and, voila! Fancied up and colors balanced!


A relative and friend was redecorating and gave this cute little pumpkin to me. I needed something to fill Frida with, and this was just the ticket! 


After working it out of the pumpkin I had to shave down the sides of the foam so it would fit in the top of my Frida. 


After checking to make sure the flower filled foam fit I removed it so I could add some ribbon to her hair. This lovely ribbon was donated by a local costume maker. You never know what kind of fun bits-n-pieces you might find in one of her bag-o-scraps. This ribbon was PERFECT!!! I cut it a bit longer than the space I wanted to cover, folded one end and glued it behind her ear, tucking it with the end of a paintbrush. Then I glued the other end down inside the head. I repeated this on the other side and then replaced the foam. Almost done!


To add more details and clues about my person of interest, I used symbols and images from her life to help tell her story, including a picture of Frida with her husband, Diego, a self-portrait, a portrait of her father (she was very close to him), paintbrushes, the color blue was a nod to her Casa Azul, and a sugar skull pen. 


I love how she turned out and cannot wait to see what you create!


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