Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shadow Boxes: a New Artist Project

This was a successful project we did in our New Artist program - "My Dream Room" Shadow boxes. The prompt for the project was to create an art piece out of a shallow cardboard box, which would express your "dream room," the ideal space you would like to inhabit. I encouraged students to create imagery that dipped into their imagination and explored the concept of one's "room." It was also a creative introduction into Interior Design.

Every student started with the same dimensions of a cardboard box: 10.5" wide, 7.5" tall, and 3" deep. I was inspired to do this project from my fascination with the assemblage artist, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972). He created marvelous box constructions, and filled them with photographs, drawings, collage, trinkets, ephemera, and fragments of found objects. His work has a surrealist bent, and evokes fantastical day dreams.

We discussed the different terms for this kind of sculpture. You could call it an assemblage, an artistic process composing found objects, or a diorama, a miniature scene in front of a painted background. We chose to describe our project as shadow boxes, a box construction containing objects arranged in a thematic grouping. Our goal was to transform commonplace objects into something interesting and personally meaningful.

We used a wide range of materials, and this project spanned several sessions. The first session, we concentrated on gluing collage materials to the interior and exterior of our box. Students had a selection of postcards, magazines, colorful tissue paper, fabric, and printed paper. Next, we brought out a few more sculptural objects that could be used to construct their room. One of the most popular materials were window blind samples. When stretched out, these samples made accordion shapes, which made interesting dividers inside the box. These blind samples were a find at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.

To create furniture and further populate the shadow box, students also used interesting-shaped wood scraps, corks, popsicle sticks, rubber material samples, string, tape and pieces of cardboard. Clothespins came in handy as clamps, and were incorporated into some of the boxes. On the second day of working on this project, students also had the option of using paint to unify their boxes and add some more color. Hot glue was an option for attachment, though many of the students found creative ways to attach their objects without glue!

Everyone was very enthused about working on their box, and the classroom took on the busy hum of a focused workshop. The final touches were the placing of trinkets to populate the shadow box. We had a selection of all sorts of odds and ends: marbles, small toys, plastic leaves, and prizes. Students were especially enthusiastic about the supply of miniature baby figures we had. These babies were a gift from a fellow artist educator, LaVerne Kemp. This project was especially good for making use of small treasures that one has stored away!

 This was one of my favorite projects of the year. The finished shadow boxes were displayed at our New Artists show. Read more about that here.


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