Oh man, we literally lost our minds over this Mechanical Creatures project we did in our Election Day camp yesterday!
It was loosely inspired by Leonardo DaVinci, steampunk, the Renaissance period, and royalty, all wrapped up into one! Our imaginations were sparked in recent weeks by the artwork of Elke Trittel and a cool “circuitry art” project taught by a super talented art teacher in Taipei that we follow on Instagram (Stephanie Lee).
We were inspired by the age before electricity – when everything was mechanical – and the amazing inventions of Leonardo DaVinci (a genius so ahead of his time!). We imagined students designing mechanical fantasy creatures (is it a bird? a dragon? a human?) that had somewhat humanistic features and were ornately dressed like royalty in the Renaissance period (robes, sashes, capes, crowns, scepters) and all of their body parts connected by mechanical components (gears, levers, wind-up keys, rivets, screws, hinges, chains, etc.).
We brought in a bucket of loose parts to get imaginations turning: rusty hardware, gears, and drafting tools (compasses, etc.) – and showed students images of gears, sketches by DaVinci, playing cards (great source of imagery!) and the artwork of Elke Trittel. Our enthusiasm was initially met with blank stares, but we kept talking and slowly we could see the wheels – I mean gears – start turning and the concept for the project start clicking! Mechanical creatures were slowly coming to life in their minds.
Students first worked on their background (we didn’t get pics of them creating these but scroll down to see the finished pieces) – they selected either a warm or cool palette & laid down a thick layer of oil pastel on cardboard, then covered it with tempera paint. As the tempera was trying, we had them add a third layer or metallic watercolor paint, and then “etch” lines and designs into the depth of the paint+oil pastel. They were free to choose what to etch – words, shapes, lines, etc. We set those aside to dry.
Students then used a fine tip black permanent marker and drew their mechanical creature designs on heavyweight colored vellum paper, in the opposite color family of the background that they just created. The vellum provided an interesting drawing surface, and added an element of transparency that we were excited to see how it would play out.
Students then added small details of color with colored pencils.
The last step was to “mount” their drawings onto their background. For this we simply had them apply a layer of white school glue, and working quickly with their fingers, place the drawing down and then squeeze out the excess glue and rub it all around the top of the drawing (sort of a crude decoupage process) -pushing out airbubbles, and making sure all edges were firmly attached. Can you say sticky?! Finally they selected a few items from the hardware tray and add them to their background.
Pictures, as is often the case, just don’t do these justice! And parents were literally picking up right as they are slathering the glue all over, so we could only snap some quick pics while they were still wet! It is so interesting to look at these images after these have all gone home, and notice all the little details that we didn’t have time to pick up on while they were drawing. Kids have amazing imaginations!