Yes, I Broke the Paper Cutter

Austin & Dillan 6thI broke a guillotine paper cutter once cutting rolls of newspaper. A paper cutter is an expensive piece of equipment for a public school, and they are remarkably durable  so I was shocked when the bolt that holds the cutting arm just flat sheared off and the arm came away in my hand. My first thought was “Hmmm….how am I going to explain this one.”

A hush fell over the classroom, broken finally by a student with a penchant for the obvious. “Well, we’re gonna need a new paper cutter.” I was still counting my fingers. I blame Pinterest. See a more sensible lesson plan here that uses smaller tubes.

We were making icosahedrons out of newspaper in my 6th grade art classes. An icosahedron is a geometric form; a polyhedron with twenty faces. Per Wikipedia each regular icosahedron has thirty edges and twenty equilateral triangle faces with five meeting at each of its twelve vertices. This requires a LOT of newspaper tubes. A LOT that have to be cut to equal lengths. Twenty-five tubes per student. Of course a paper cutter is not designed to cut that many thick paper tubes. But it did for a while.

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I was proud I could even pronounce icosahedron, since saying I am mathematically challenged is like saying the Titanic had a small leak. But newspaper was cheap and readily available from the library and classrooms. Ahhh…the digital world is changing that now.

I also was proving to my students how incredibly strong layers of newspaper are when rolled into a tube and taped into triangle faces. They worked together to construct their icosahedrons which were pretty impressive when they got them done. We had a blast making these, and I always wondered where they ended up when the students got them home.


Throwback Thursday – Geckos

My Throwback Thursday art project is one from 2010, where my teaching partner Skipper Bennett and I created giant Geckos with our 6th grade advanced art group. I have a love/hate relationship with papier-mâché. Love the results. Hate the mess.This was a BIG, MESSY project, but boy it was fun. It was like a mini-science fiction movie, when the giant geckos appeared on the front of our school building. It was great to see the parents reaction as they came around to pick up their kids at the front drive. Geckos!

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Dragons Invade Travis

I try to do at least one papier-mâché project a year. Only one, because the process takes a long time and I only have each group of students for twelve weeks before they rotate to another fine arts class. Only one because I can’t stand the mess for any longer than that. (I’m sure the cleaning staff at my school agrees.) But the results are always worth the mess. This year it is 6th grade papier-mâché dragons.G. Dragon Profile

There is not any more inexpensive and versatile sculpture medium for children than papier-mâché in my opinion. Newspaper, tape, flour, water, paint. That’s the basics of what you need. The only limit to what you can do is your imagination.

For this 6th grade project I started the process by simply offering a dragon as the subject. The size and demeanor of the dragon (cute or scary) was up to the student.

Small is good.
Small is good.

I demonstrated how to make a simple substructure using newspaper and masking tape. We had poster board, beads, tooling foil and other odds and ends from around the art room at the student’s disposal. We looked at dragon images on the internet and then I turned them loose.

I love the fact that sculpture is something you have to build with your hands and you don’t always know where you are going when you start. So the act of creating is very challenging and exciting. We ended up with some very awesome tiny dragons and some very spectacular large dragons. Hope you enjoy them too!

Learning to balance the substructure.
Learning to balance the substructure.
His is still in progress, but here is where he ended up.
Still in progress. Love the foil wings.
Inspiration happened quickly.
Inspiration happened quickly.


EXO good
Cute is good.
The messy stuff. Mixing flour and water paste.
The messy stuff. Mixing flour and water paste.

Bug Eye

Blue GuyBrandon

Love the teeth.
Love the teeth.
Looks like something from Finding Nemo.
Looks like something from Finding Nemo.

Nemo Fish 1




When Horses Roamed at Travis

A few days ago I found images from a sculpture project my teaching colleague Skipper Bennett and I did with our 5th graders in 2009. Time flies. Our student artists made a herd of found wood horses based on the work of sculptor Deborah Butterfield. Today I look at this project as an old friend that I found again by chance and would like you to meet now.

Hina 1990-91 Deborah Butterfield, American, born 1949 Unique Bronze 80 x 112 x 28 inches

What struck me as I looked at this project now is how often artists find their inspiration in nature’s left-overs or in cast-offs from other processes. Somehow the artistic mind is able to put the random pieces of our visual world into their unique art, much like writers take random thoughts and build their writing into a cohesive whole. Small artistic world isn’t it?

Skipper and I had a great process for this project, from the original seed of the idea, which came from another teacher, Mary Fields, showing us Deborah Butterfield’s work, all the way through the finished project.

BullettHead bent

Trigger in Front of School

We started with a field trip to Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth. Their education department worked with us to highlight some wonderful equine artworks on the trip.

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We took a walking tour to view equine statues in the museum complex area. This included statues in front of the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.


At the national Cowgirl Museum and hall of Fame.


Finally a stop at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, to take in Butterfield’s horse. It was an amazing experience.

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A teachable moment with Mr. Bennett and Butterfield’s sculpture.
A hands-on experience with the art – priceless.

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Next the students toured the Bryant Art Foundry in Azle, Texas, where our kids saw the steps of creating a metal sculpture.  It is an invaluable part of any art form, learning the process of how things are really produced. The people at the foundry could not have been nicer or more willing to share with our students. Remarkable people.

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A connection was made.

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Back at school we had a studio space to work in (a portable building), because this was messy work.


The wood was procured from the local land fill. Recycling at its best

. Landfill2 Load er up

It was a challenge to get our students to see the bone structure of the horse and how the wood suggests where it should be joined.


wood Joint

We made maquettes of the horses we were about to build to teach the students the basics of combining wood shapes.

Best #2Horse 1

Still when you are asked to make a horse, then confronted with a pile of branches and a spool of wire, it can be a daunting moment for a 5th grader!


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We forged ahead and after weeks of work and a few thousand wire cuts, the horses were transported from the studio to the front of our school campus and staked and wired into the ground.

Loaded Up
Loaded up for installation.


Afternoon ShotFront View

The Big Guy

This was a special group of art students and you can see their talent and effort in their work.

The Travis Herd. Hope you enjoy their work as much as we did. The most fun I’ve had with stick horses since I was a kid!