Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Student Project: Inside-Out Masks

One of my favorite projects I do with my 3D students is making masks.  We start with a blank mask as a canvas and then build upon it's three-dimensional surface.  (Since we start with a ready-made mask, I guess we're doing more mask embellishing than making but it's a small detail I don't care to correct but just this once.)

The mask project wasn't my idea.  Before I came to the school, the teachers before me did it.  Upon their exit, they gave me the yearly rundown and I was intrigued by the masks more than any of the other projects.  I spent hours preparing for how I would carry out the lesson and as it has turned out, they are one of the legendary projects that every student at my school either wishes they had been able to make OR can't wait to make themselves.  Apparently, before me, the mask making extended very little beyond just painting the surface and maybe doing some very light relief sculpturing.  When I researched and prepared my lesson plans I found all kinds of inspiration and thought it was completely natural to bring in other elements, textures, and otherwise non-traditional materials.  The masks have become the ultimate in mixed media 3D art work.

Last year I gave my students very little direction.  I showed them a few examples, we discussed a few options/paths they could take, and then I just let them go.

I think you would agree that what they turned out was reasonably good.

And now here's just a sampling of what my students turned out for this semester - Fall 2010.  [Please note: Not all work I share here will be my work but I will ALWAYS indicate what I've created and what comes from someone/somewhere else.]

This semester was the first one where I gave my class a little more specific direction for what they were to do.  Normally I just show them some examples, we discuss options/paths that they can take, and I just turn them loose.  This semester I thought it would be both an interesting and invaluable experience if they used the creative process of the project to do a little self-exploration and introspection.

The name of the project was "Inside-Out Masks" and the idea was to create a visual representation of the things that we naturally conceal from others OR things that exist inside of us that aren't easily noticed.  The interiors of the masks (so, the faces that we wear everyday) featured designs as well but they were much less  complex and dimensional as they were really just their names written in decorative/stylized ways.  Since their names were used as central parts of the interiors I am not sharing them.

The creative journey of the mask started with an intensive planning process that included the following:

  • Viewing a Nooma video by Rob Bell called "Name"
  • Discussion guided by Essential questioning
  • Group prayer
  • Individual prayer
  • Silent individual reflection including prayer and doodling/sketching/thumbnail creation of ideas
  • Responding to questions intended to help provide a detailed inventory of what is/isn't important to each individuals (Ex. What brings you joy? What scares you more than anything in the world?)
  • Completing sentence starters using information drawn from questions (ex. I am ________.)
  • Creating 2D mock-ups/rough sketches of at least (4) possible designs that specifically focused on depicting objective ideas in non-objective/abstract ways and using the less obvious symbols to convey specific messages
  • Mask fabrication using mixed media materials that include (but are not limited to) the following: Plaster tape, fibers/cloth, Acrylic Paint, white glue and hot glue, organic materials (feathers, sand, etc.), white Crayola Model Magic, 14 gauge aluminum wire, various weights of paper, plastic sheeting (Dura-lar) 

Something important and significant to note is this: The class that created the masks featured in the slideshow above are NOT advanced visual art students.  I have an odd assortment of students who have a wide range of abilities and understandings of visual art.  The majority of the students in this semester's class fell in one or more of the following categories:

  • Little to no previous experience in Visual Arts (this 3D class is actually one of our foundational courses)
  • Top-performing/star student athlete
  • Struggles with traditional classroom academia and has diagnosed learning challenges
  • Commonly a classroom management issue in other classes
  • A male (I mention this because 75% of the class was male and this was unusual for me, usually it's much more evenly distributed male-to-female)
  • An ESOL student

I'll do these masks again. They take a long time to do to achieve the second set of results (one week of careful planning, two weeks of fabrication) but it's hard to look at what the students turned out and say that it was all done in vain.  And it was a wonderful thing to start a project and "interrupt" their busy days with  prayer and serious self-analysis.  I feel like the "proof's in the pudding" based on what they turned out with the prayer compared to the ones where I just let them loose.  And it only compels me to use prayer a lot more often in my own work.

As one of my recently graduated students of Graphic Design likes to say...

"When GOD is GLORIFIED, we are SATISFIED, and the world is EVANGELIZED."

What better way to glorify Him and evangelize than with Visual art!

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