Additional Considerations for Teachers When Making Found Art Figures

Found art figures can be made with classroom students as young as second grade, with neighborhood center participants, in therapy sessions, as inter-generational and multi-cultural activities, at birthday parties, or with other groups. Classroom teachers can organize their own found art figure activity or have an artist-in-residence lead their class or school in a found art figure project of 1 – 3 sessions. Boys participate equally in making found art figures.

Begin to collect items which can be used to make your found art figures. Any small household or hardware item might be useable. Put a box in the office for donations of items. Sort your objects. Use plastic containers or shoe boxes to store similar objects together. Keeping items sorted is key to this being a successful project.

Construction methods can challenge student’s creativity as much as the variety of items that are gathered. Have volunteers to help with construction. Encourage students to have a plan in their mind before they start to construct – most usually do this naturally. Younger (first grade and under) students are often more successful at making simple fabric figures. The variety of materials and endless possibilities that found art figures offer can be a better challenge for second grade and older students. Even older students might take a while to get started and need sufficient time to plan.

Allow plenty of time and have lots of volunteers if all of your students are going to nail their figures together. This will make the entire project longer, but will ensure that the figures can withstand handling. If you are going to hot glue the found art figures, be sure to have adult volunteers who will help with the hot gluing. Do not let students use the hot glue guns.

If your students found art figures can’t stand up, have pieces of wood and matt board available so that their found art figures can be mounted and hung on a wall. Encourage your students to make their found art figures as sturdy as possible. You can incorporate fabric and yarn scraps for clothes or hair on the found art figures. (See How to Make a Fabric Figure for additional ideas of how to use fabric scraps.)
Some classes have created hybrids of the 2 projects.

Classroom teachers can use found art figures for storytelling, plays, and other literacy work. Found art figures can be used to tell family and cultural histories. Making found art figures with a child can be a very effective activity for therapists. Therapists can use making found art figures as an activity when first getting to know a child, when they are trying to make an important breakthrough with a child, or as a parting activity when therapy is drawing to a close. Making found art figures can be a fun activity at birthday parties or other gatherings, especially at which various generations or cultures are together. You never know what exciting creations will come to life!

Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoMakeaFoundArtFigure-Teachers

How to Make a Found Art Figure

A found art figure or creature is a figure that is constructed from various recycled or “found” items. A found art figure can represent a human, an animal, a creature or an inanimate object, such as a plane. A found art figure is usually about 10” – 18” long, but could be smaller or bigger. A found art figure is made from scraps of wood, cardboard, plastic bottles, spools, bottle caps, picture frame molding, various yarns, beads, and other assorted embellishments and found objects.

Found art figures are small scale human representations which can tell us something about the human condition. All cultures throughout the ages have made miniature representations of the human form. My inspiration for found art figures came from an artist in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who made fabulous found art figures out of scraps of wood and assorted common objects. All of his figures had names written on them. Many had bottle caps or plastic lids for hats.

By making found art figures, we divert material from the landfill. It is a way to recycle common objects, and put them to good use. Your imagination can go wild! Many participants have said they never look at their recyclables or trash the same as before!

Begin to collect items which can be used to make your found art figure. Any small household or hardware item might be usable. Sort your objects. Use plastic containers or shoe boxes to store similar objects together. Construction methods can challenge one’s creativity as much as the items that are gathered. The first step in constructing your found art figure is to gather a sampling of various objects from your collections. See what interesting combinations you can create. Have a plan in your mind before you start to construct.

Put your found art figure together using nails, wire, hot glue or a combination of these methods. Hot glue might not hold heavy items. If your found art figure is built around scraps of wood, you might want to put the entire figure together using nails. This will take you longer, but will ensure that your figure will withstand handling. Think about making a base that your figure can stand on, or make sure it can balance. You could use small pieces of wood for feet. If your found art figure can’t stand up, you might consider mounting it on a piece of wood, or on a piece of mat board, so that you can display it by hanging it on a wall. Try to make your figure as sturdy as possible. You can use fabric and yarn scraps if you want to put clothes or hair on your found art figure. (See How to Make a Fabric Figure for additional ideas about how to use fabric scraps.)

Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoMakeaFoundArtFigure

Additional Considerations for Teachers & Therapists When Making Fabric Figures

Fabric figures can be made with classroom students as young as kindergarten age, neighborhood center participants, in therapy sessions, as inter-generational activities, at birthday parties, or with other groups. Classroom teachers can organize their own fabric figure activity or have an artist-in-residence lead their class or school in a fabric figure making project. Boys participate equally in making fabric figures, and can benefit from the opportunity to create human representations – an activity often reserved for girls only.

If you are making fabric figures with more than 2 or 3 children at a time, you might want to pre-make basic figures. (See How to Make a Fabric Figure handout) Be sure to use a variety of skin tone fabrics to represent the diversity of people in the world. You can also pre-make skirts and pants on a sewing machine– this step will greatly simplify your project, especially for very young children.

Children can be taught basic sewing skills through the construction of fabric figures, or you can enlist the help of volunteers to hot glue fabric figures for children. In a classroom setting, a selection of pre-made basic figures can be placed at the tables. Stations can be set up around the room for hot gluing, and for selecting skirts, pants, strips of fabric for tops, small pieces of fabric for hats, capes and other clothing items, yarn for hair, trim, beads for eyes, etc. Try to keep everything orderly! Children will have plenty of opportunity to exercise individual creativity in their choices of fabric and ways they choose to embellish and finish their fabric figure.

Once they are completed, fabric figures can be displayed in a variety of ways. I like to mount them on matte board, using 2 pins to secure them. This way, the pins can be removed later, if so desired. At some schools, volunteers have sewn sleeping bags or cut thicker fabric for blankets. Children can also use plastic containers or baskets as beds, make houses out of cardboard, or decorate / embellish their matte board. Classroom teachers can use fabric figures for storytelling, plays, and other literacy work. Fabric figures can be used to tell family and neighborhood histories.

Making fabric figures with a child can be a very effective activity for therapists. Therapists can use making fabric figures as an activity when first getting to know a child, when they are trying to make an important breakthrough with a child, or as a parting activity when therapy is drawing to a close.

Making fabric figures can be a fun activity at birthday parties or other gatherings, especially at which various generations are together. You never know which child’s grandfather once worked as a milliner, making hats!

Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoMakeFabricFigures-Teachers

How to Make a Fabric Figure

A fabric figure is a soft sculpture, a rag-type doll or “persona” doll. It can also be referred to as a puppet. A fabric figure usually represents a human person, but not always. A fabric figure is about 6” – 12” long, but can be made smaller or bigger. A fabric figure is made from scraps of fabric, batting, rope, trim, lace, yarn, other embellishments and assorted objects.

Fabric figures are small scale human representations which can tell us something about the human condition. All cultures throughout the ages have made miniature representations of the human form. Fabric figures or rag dolls serve as playthings for children, who learn life’s lessons through play. Children learn how to nurture other people by taking care of fabric figures, rag dolls or puppets. We give children fabric figures or dolls when they are about to embark upon important journeys, to give them a sense of security. When dolls accompany children, they carry a piece of home with them.

To make a fabric figure of your own, begin by collecting fabric, yarn, batting, rope, trim, lace and other items to include in your fabric figure. All elements of the fabric figure can be hand-sewn, or made with a combination of hand sewing, machine sewing, and gluing with a hot glue gun.

The first step in constructing a fabric figure is to make a head and body. Use a small handful of batting or similar material inside a square piece of fabric roughly 12’ square or so. Use a color fabric that is the color you want your fabric figure’s face to be. Use a 10” or so piece of 3/4” thick rope to tie around the figure’s neck. The extending pieces of rope form your figures arms. (I prefer to use natural rope rather than plastic rope which tends to slip and not hold firm when tied.) At this stage, your fabric figure looks like a ghost. You can use the fabric hanging down from the head to add bulk underneath a skirt, or you can cut it into 2 pieces to use to stuff into pants legs.

The next step is to make a skirt or pants. You can gather fabric by hand for a skirt, or wrap fabric around your person for a tighter skirt. For pants, one method is to wrap fabric around the 2 segments you created by dividing the fabric hanging down from the head. I often use my sewing machine to gather skirts and make simple pants ahead of time, if I am making fabric figures with groups of children. Next, create a top. Use strips of fabric to wrap the arms for sleeves. You can experiment with different styles of sleeves. Also wrap strips of fabric around the middle section as the body of a shirt or blouse. Add final touches – yarn for hair, bottle caps for shoes, vinyl fabric for a cape – feathers for a hat – let your imagination go wild!

Your fabric figure is a typical rag doll – depending on your construction method, it might not take a lot of abuse. You might want to put it on display, rather than playing with it repeatedly. Display your fabric figure by pinning it onto a piece of matt board, placing it in a basket, or making a fabric sleeping bag for it. You can use heirloom fabric for your fabric figure – fabric from a wedding gown, or quincenera dress, favorite upholstery fabric from your grandmother’s sofa, or scraps from an old embroidered tablecloth. Fabric figure gifts made from heirloom fabric will be gratefully received and treasured forever!
Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoMakeFabricFigures

Additional Considerations for Teachers when Making Fabrications

Fabrications can be made with classroom students, scouts or camp-goers. Each student can contribute a “treasure” to the composition. Depending on ages and skill levels, students can help construct the fabrication. Volunteers can help sew, too. This is a good way to teach basic sewing skills to children.

Be sure to have extra “treasures” for students who do not bring contributions from home. Another possibility is to take students without treasures to a thrift shop to choose a treasure there. All students can write a short piece describing why their contribution is a treasure, or what is meaningful to them about the item.

Fabrications can be made with other groups, too. Community centers and retirement centers can use fabrications as inter-generational projects and story-telling opportunities. Fabrications can be used to celebrate a common history, such as “Fabrications – A Celebration of Madison’s 150 Years – in Cloth” – a project I conducted in 2006.

Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoMakeaFabrication-Teachers

How to Make a Fabrication

“Fabrication” is a new art form. A fabrication is a fabric collage which incorporates pieces of clothing and related items such as hats, gloves, slippers, belts and jewelry into a design. It can serve as a “memory quilt” in which families, classrooms or communities can create visual repositories for collected treasures and heirlooms. I believe that a human “essence” lingers on the clothing and related items that we use. My intention in creating fabrications is to evoke that human presence. Another intention is to create a pleasing composition, as with all art. Since a fabrication is hand-sewn, it connects us with generations of sewers, from many cultures, who create beauty with a needle and thread. By hanging these often anonymous bits of sometimes exquisite handiwork on the wall, we are saying “this work, often made by women, matters.”

To make a fabrication of your own, begin to collect items which you want to include in your fabrication. Organize your items. I usually do this according to color combinations. Decide on a size for your fabrication. The size of your work can be dictated by the space in which it will hang, by an available frame you want to use, or by the amount of materials you collect. When planning your fabrication, consider that your overall composition is made of lines, shapes and colors. Pay attention to all of these elements. Consider that your items will probably be of varying textures, sizes and shapes. Therefore, an asymmetrical composition might be more easily achieved than a symmetrical one. Fabrications can be surprisingly abstract. Even an asymmetrical composition includes its own inherent balance. Some items you use will come in 2’s – such as slippers. Some might come in 3’s – such as hats. Triangles within compositions can be strong design elements.

Color is the strongest design element for most of us. Know how many colors you can successfully combine. Monochromatic compositions can be wonderfully successful. Two-color compositions can be particularly strong – think of black and white, red and white. I feel that I can successfully combine up to four colors – more than that is quite a challenge. Use color wisely.
The first step in constructing your fabrication is to choose a background fabric. The background fabric needs to be heavy enough to support the weight of the objects you will be sewing to it, without sagging or puckering. I usually choose a durable, fairly stiff fabric that can be sewn easily, but that does not stretch easily. I often use duck or a lighter weight canvas. I use a black background for black pieces, and white for almost all other colors or color combination. The background usually does not show. How big your background fabric should be is determined by the size of the piece itself. Leave at least at least 6″ for stretching inside a frame, or 2″ for binding, on all sides of your piece, depending on how you will finish the piece.

To compose your piece, lay your background fabric out on a horizontal surface. Place items in a way that is pleasing to you. Approach your piece as if you are the conductor of a symphony and the items are individual musical instruments. Feature all instruments, yet achieve a good overall tone. Use various related scraps of fabric, from clothing or not, to fill in behind the items you are highlighting. Pay attention to the combinations of texture. Texture will give your piece richness and depth. Pin as much as you possibly can pin in place. Hang your composition vertically, as often as possible, while you are sewing it. Stand back and observe it. Change what needs to be changed. Photographing the composition at this stage can be helpful.
To construct your piece, I suggest that you sew your fabrication by hand. A pleasing effect is attained this way. Sew through as many layers as you can. This will make your work more stable than if you sew layers one at a time, plus you will not be as likely to forget what goes where. Keep checking to make sure there is no puckering. Attach jewelry, slippers, shoes, belts, last. You might need to use a leather punch, awl, or thimble to attach some items.

Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoMakeaFabrication

 

Additional Considerations for Teachers & Community Groups When Painting a Mural

Murals can be painted with classroom students, neighborhood center participants or other community groups. Each person can contribute to the mural at their level of ability. I have worked with children as young as 4. Depending on skill levels, students can help with various parts of the mural – younger children can help with priming and creating a background, while older children and adults can help with detail. One of the best things about painting a mural is that it fosters cooperation. I recommend NEVER break the mural up into individual sections – like a quilt – one per student. You will be missing a great opportunity to teach your students to develop a design and make a mural together.

If you are inviting a muralist to work with your group, it is best that your group develops a theme, not the muralist. The muralist will work with your group to foster a sense of community and further the goals of the theme by leading your group in the cooperative project, but the theme should reflect your group and your unique community. When working with a school, I usually visit all of the classrooms, and discuss the theme with the students. This can also be done in an assembly.

You can solicit design ideas from the greatest number of participants possible. You can set up “mural idea drop boxes” in the school office, the neighborhood center, or at local businesses. USE AS MANY OF THE IDEAS AS POSSIBLE IN THE DESIGN. Do NOT choose one design – like a contest – you will loose the chance to build inclusion into the design process. Your muralist or someone who has drawing skills should use all the design ideas submitted, and form then into a coherent design. Many elements can be added to your mural as it develops, but a strong overall sense of design is often best accomplished by one person or a limited group. This is a step that usually cannot accommodate many people. Make sure the muralist knows if there are certain elements that are particularly desired. Also discuss censorship with the muralist. Certain elements, such as gang or religious symbols might not be appropriate for your mural.

After a preliminary design is developed, it can be put on display for community input. A slide show introducing the history of murals can also be helpful. I have been invited by some groups to shows slides of my murals and talk about mural making, but not lead the mural project. These have mainly been college groups. Some schools choose to have a “core” group of particular students work closely with the muralist, although I particularly enjoy working with kids who might not typically “shine” in the usual classroom setting. Some elementary schools have only 4th and 5th graders paint a mural – a “rite of passage” as one reaches a higher grade.
Neighborhood centers or community groups can work with a muralist during “community paint days.” Publicize these well. Mural dedications are great opportunities to celebrate your school, neighborhood center, or community group. They are also opportunities to invite local dignitaries to visit, and to get press/TV coverage for your school or group.

Sharon Kilfoy

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HowtoPaintaMural-Teachers