Paper Mache: A Medium for Creative Exploration

Lucy, our long-term art specialist substitute, loves paper mache because it lends itself to exploring design, shape, and form. It is a very forgiving medium that allows students of all ages to experiment and express themselves creatively. It is also a medium that requires the artist to figure out how to engineer what they are trying to create. Students ask themselves, how do I create an internal structure that will end up supporting an external structure that looks like what I am trying to represent?

For several weeks each grade level has been working on a paper mache project. The projects all require the students to practice observation, critical thinking, and design. 

Kindergarten students studied jellyfish in art class. They initially started with observational jellyfish drawing and then moved onto using balloons to create paper mache jellyfish. What are the different parts of the jellyfish? How do they look? How do they move in the water? What materials could I use that would best represent them? 

They also thought about the materials they were using. How do you add the idea of transparency to the design? Tissue paper did the trick. 

After students created their jellyfish, they had a jellyfish parade through the school. 

Grades 1/2 and 3/4 
Grade 1/2 students had been doing observational animal drawings and were particularly drawn to sea life. Because they were drawn to sea life, they decided to take their scientific observations and apply them to creating paper mache fish. Grade 3/4 students had been studying birds in their classes so they took their scientific observations and applied them to designing paper mache birds. What shapes and patterns can I find in my creature? How can I mix colors to create the colors I need? What materials can I use to create the legs for a bird? What about the fins of a fish? How can I engineer my design so it stays together and looks the way I want it to look?

Middle School
Middle school students explored storytelling and making a character or object come to life from their story. They brainstormed a story and then illustrated storyboards. After that, they picked a character or significant object from the story and created paper mache 3-D versions. What parts of this story should be represented on a storyboard? How can I represent my story through drawing? What character or object is most significant in my story? How can I make a 3-D version of that character?

Although it wasn’t always explicitly stated, this paper mache project was a perfect way to explore and apply the principles and elements of design. It is also a thoughtful cross-curricular project where students use their observations and learning from one subject to creatively explore another subject and create something. This cross-curricular work helps students improve their critical thinking skills, creativity, making connections and further constructing their knowledge. It is also fun, and fun is important, too!

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