Art lesson: Wire sculpture, part 1

Published by Lori Pickert on February 25, 2008 at 03:04 PM


It's always interesting starting off a class with a large group of kids of various ages (5 to 12) and various previous art experience. They all come to the class with different expectations, different ideas, different biases, and different approaches.

Observational drawing is a great leveler. It gets us all looking at more or less the same thing and talking about the same thing — paying attention, drawing what we see.

Last week we did some blind contour drawing and we talked a lot about lines and outlines. We tried to follow things very carefully with our eyes and not look at our hands or the paper at all. The results were very interesting.

This week we started off with another blind contour drawing and we talked more about lines.

We talked about points, lines, planes, and cubes — when is something two-dimensional and when is it three dimensional? (Some good talk about 3D movies and things here — I remember cutting 3D glasses from the back of a cereal box, but then I'm about a hundred years old.)

While we talked, we drew. And after we finished our blind contour drawings and talked about them, we did an observational drawing. All in all, we completed our drawings in under 15 minutes.

Today we are working with wire, a great thing to start with after you've been talking so much about lines. With wire we can make linear two-dimensional works or three-dimensional sculptures. Each child was given several pieces of wire about 12 inches long.

I have a big cache of leftover wire cable that was used for running telephone and computer lines in our school. Most of it comes in cable form, and I use wire cutters to trim away the plastic from each section so I can pull the wires out.


You can buy this sort of wire at an art supply store like Dick Blick, however it is quite pricey (to me — but then, I am very cheap). You might want to ask around and see if a friend — or a friend of a friend — has access to some wire from a telephone, cable, or construction business. You don't need much.

This type of wire is easy to bend and form, soft and easy to cut with safety scissors, not likely to poke yourself (or a friend) with, and quite colorful.

We have also made great use of the type of wire that you can buy on plastic spools at the hardware store; it is very inexpensive. You can buy silver or copper wire of various thicknesses — as slender as a hair or so thick you can barely bend it. (The thicker the wire, the sharper the ends when you cut it and the more easily you can poke yourself and get hurt.)

This type of wire is easy to find, inexpensive, available in a variety of thicknesses, and comes in limited colors. I prefer it for doing more advanced work, because with color out of the equation they tend to focus more on form. The thicker wire has an entirely different look and feel, and it can hold its shape much more easily.


We are starting with telephone wire, and in this first lesson we will first review safety measures:

• Wire is sharp on the ends and can poke you or the person next to you — be careful!

• Don't whip your wire around in the air or throw it.

Keep the wire pieces 12 inches or shorter (no longer than, say, a pipe cleaner) to make it more difficult for a child to poke themselves in the eye. Still, this activity requires supervision! Some of us do like to crouch over our work.

Now we will enjoy some free exploration of the material. Everyone has their wire; they can do with it what they will. They will bend it, wrap it around things, see how well it holds its shape, twist pieces together, etc. We talk while we work and play — about what we are making and what the wire can do. I bring extra wire to anyone who needs it. If I can, I will sit and play with the wire beside them.

If someone does something interesting, I ask them to show it to the group.

Today, we simply play and explore. Next week, we'll extend our work and do a more involved project.


See also:

Working with wire

Adventures in wire continue

More fun with wire


Comment by Sarah Jackson on February 25, 2008 at 05:01 PM

how cool! my kids would love this. My youngest is totally resisting observational drawing because it isn't "perfect". This will be something that I can use to ease her along. Thanks!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 25, 2008 at 05:15 PM

hi sarah - great! i hope you guys can try this and you have fun!

(I e-mailed sarah about the perfectionism - and I will post about it soon, in case anyone else is having similar issues!)

Comment by mary on February 25, 2008 at 07:43 PM

We used to do this at the museum all the time and it was always one of my favorite programs. I will say that stripping and cutting wire for 100 odd kids was a bit tedious.
Sometimes we would provide little scraps of wood for bases and a bit of colored tape.

Comment by Nancy on February 25, 2008 at 08:37 PM

I am NEVER going to get any of my class work done. I am so into the art lessons and now I have to find wire-oh... we have electricians at Parkland...maybe they have wire...........

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 25, 2008 at 09:20 PM

mary - groan - i know what you are saying. i noticed that the blue cable i had cut easily and the wires pulled right out, but the tan cable (which i got from a phone repairman) was much more difficult to work with.

nancy, i bet they do! :^) (and - i meant to respond to your earlier comment - *yes* that was the new library - it's very nice!

Comment by Eren on February 26, 2008 at 10:23 AM

Im raising our hand to the perfectionism issued least Zane is having some issue with it.

And I love that you noted you tell them not to swing the wire around or poke anyone. A very important and often overlooked part of craft play sometimes. He,he.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 26, 2008 at 04:18 PM

safety first! :^D)

all these revealed perfectionist tendencies .. give me something to post about today .. ;^)


Comment by Deirdre on February 26, 2008 at 09:00 PM

Could you please just move here and run the same program for me and my little guys? I know my boys would love it but their momma is just too big and preggo and lazy right now to even track down some wire;-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 26, 2008 at 09:12 PM

rofl, deirdre - i understand about the pregnancy-related laziness, for sure ;^)

where do you live again? maybe i could just come for the weekend...

Comment by molly on February 27, 2008 at 02:44 PM

i just put out a plea on our local freecycle board for some wire. crossing my fingers....

we used to make rings out of the stuff when i was younger. i thought i was so cool.

Comment by Deirdre on February 27, 2008 at 04:09 PM

Just a hop, skip and 1000 miles from Illinois (Moab, UT) but your boys would love it---we're surrounded by National Parks, red rocks, and wildlands.

And my boys would love it because they could create all day with you:-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 27, 2008 at 10:17 PM

molly - freecycle is such a great idea - i wish i would have thought of suggesting that in the first place!

'round here, i think pretty much everyone has a friend with some sort of panel truck or van full of building supplies, so it's not too hard to lay your hands on a little wire. ;^)

lol, deirdre - i'll be out your way this fall - maybe i should outfit the airstream as a traveling art studio and we could meet up with camp creek friends all the way across the u.s. ;^)

Comment by Z on April 28, 2009 at 02:28 AM

I just went back to my own childhood reading this post! The guys of the telephone company would drop a bunch of these all over the ground and we kids would rush to pick them all to make dolls, necklaces and all sorts of fun things with them. I still remember...I was around 9 years old with my friends at the side walk working with colorful wires and chatting about it!!! Funny is that nobody taught us to make anything. We were experimenting and enjoying possibilities.

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