In my ninth-grade studio art class, we traditionally do a design unit as well as a 3-D unit over the course of the semester. One semester, when we were pressed for time, I decided it was best to combine both units into a single project. Not only were the results better than I imagined, but the sophisticated pieces that resulted, created with simple tools and materials, were greatly admired and appreciated by the entire school.
This project, a cut-paper low-relief, is based on a lesson that I discovered on an art supply website. The original lesson was created using geometric shapes drawn with architectural templates. I decided to put my own spin on the lesson by incorporating hand-drawn organic shapes with an emphasis on positive and negative space. Most of my students had done a shape-based project with me the year before called Notan, which focused on using black cut-paper shapes on white backgrounds. It seemed only natural to have them transfer concepts learned in that lesson to this relief sculpture project.
Small Square Designs
Students began by drawing shapes using geometric drawing templates. I gave them a photocopied sheet of diagrams demonstrating how these simple geometric shapes can be centered in a 2×2” (5×5 cm) square and cut (on solid lines) and folded (on dotted lines) to create a low-relief effect. Students then attached worksheets gridded with printed 2” squares to scrap pieces of black paper on cardboard. They drew simple geometric designs in the center of each square and cut and folded back the paper to create a low-relief that revealed the black space below. This gave students an idea of how the finished squares would look on their final designs.
I encouraged students to design their own squares using both hand-drawn organic shapes and the already practiced geometric shapes on the gridded practice paper. I reminded them to be aware of the importance of both positive and negative shapes in their own designs.
Gridding and Cutting
When the practice paper was filled, students ruled their large grids, composed of thirty-six 2” squares on 12×18” (30×46 cm) heavy white drawing paper separated by ¼” borders. We discussed some of the ways students could arrange their final designs, keeping in mind pattern and symmetry. Students then selected a minimum of two of their own small square designs to use in their final pieces. They labeled their grids by letter, keying the grid to match the designs they chose. Using their small square designs as tracing templates, students traced the appropriate design in position on their ruled grids. They worked on what would eventually be the backs of their artworks so that the pencil lines would be hidden from view.
Once the grids were completely cut, students flipped their paper over and folded the cut shapes outward to create a relief effect. It was a pleasure to see students’ looks of surprise as the 3-D quality of their designs were revealed to them. I think it made the arduous and time-consuming task of drawing a grid and carefully cutting worthwhile.
The final artworks were lightly taped to black board for contrast and hung in display cases lit from above. The lighting enhanced the 3-D quality of the designs beautifully and made for a dramatic display that was marveled at by the entire school.
Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work
Copy paper gridded with 2” squares, separated by ¼” borders
12×18” white drawing paper
12×18” black construction paper or black cardboard
Craft knives, blades, and scissors
Surfaces to cut on, such as cutting mats, magazines, or heavy board
Teacher-made handout of geometric patterns
Michael Sacco is an art teacher at Three Village Central School District in Long, New York. firstname.lastname@example.org
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