Friday, October 26, 2012

Foil Giacometti Figures

This week, I had my students create sculptures with foil similar to Giacometti. Foil is inexpensive and easy to mold (and pretty addicting when you get twisting and turning). I also wanted to give the children an opportunity to learn the proportions of the human figure and practice gesture drawing.

Look at those muscles!
We were also able to talk about 3D versus relief and then I introduced Giacometti's work. We had an interesting discussion about how his pieces LOOKED (skinny, stick-like, like a zombie, like they had been burned up like a match-stick) and how they made us FEEL (sad, not sad, scared, uncomfortable).

I saw that another blogger, mccann at Doodles & Noodles, added another dimension to this project by having the children include the shadows of their figures. I thought that was an interesting idea. Not only does it look great visually, but it is interesting to compare the original gesture drawing of the figure to the 3D sculpture and the contour of the shadow.

Giacometti Figure Study

Supplies Needed:

  • A few sheets of 8 1/2" x 11" copy paper
  • Pencil
  • A manikin, if possible (I bought mine at IKEA for $5) and a friend to draw
  • 3-4' section of aluminum foil (I buy mine at the Dollar Store)
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Matte board or thick cardboard
  • One 9" x 12" piece of black construction paper
  • Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Lamp (we used a flashlight but that moved too much)

1. Warm up by drawing a few gesture drawings of the figure in different poses. I talked briefly about the shapes that make up the human figure and how to draw the figure step-by-step. As the students posed, I posed Manny, the manikin, into the same pose so we could talk about the parts of the body and how they were arranged in each pose. I pointed out how the parts of the body joined and how they bent. Many times, young students will add too many joints or make knees bend the wrong way (OUCH!). One of my students asked, "When did this become a science lesson?" And it's true, learning to draw from life forces us to study and learn the structure of objects and beings.

2. Choose a pose to use as inspiration for your sculpture. I gave each student a 3'-4' piece of foil. I demonstrated how to shape a figure from the foil. I suggest scrunching the foil lightly at first to get the overall shape of your figure down and then squishing the foil to be more compact once you have all of the parts figured out. I really encouraged the students to create the figure from the one piece of foil and not pull off bits of foil, make parts, and then try to join them into a figure. Once you have your figure, pose it in the way it should be, using your drawing as a guide.

3. Use the hot glue to tack the figure's feet to the matte board. 

4. Slip a piece of white copy paper under the foil figure's feet in the direction you want your shadow to fall. Place the entire sculpture in front of a lamp or bright light source so that a shadow comes from the foil figure and goes across the white copy paper. Trace the shadow onto the copy paper using pencil. 

5. Compare the contour of the shadow to the gesture drawing you originally made--how are they different? How are they the same?

The elements of the Giacometti Figure Study (clockwise from top):
Manny the manikin, the gesture sketch, the shadow tracing,
 and the completed foil figure.
6. Staple the white copy paper with the shadow on it to a piece of black construction paper. Using your pencil line as a guide, cut through both layers to create a shadow from the black paper. Remove the staples and glue the shadow to the matte board using a glue stick. Note: Make sure you glue your shadow down facing the proper way--some kids tried to glue their shadows on upside down! Also, make sure that you slip a bit of your shadow under the foil figure's feet--shadows start UNDER our feet.

And Yet ANOTHER Science Link: If you had the luxury of time and patience, you could trace your foil figure's shadow throughout the day (say three times?) and cut each shadow from a different color of construction paper and then layer them on the matte board to show the passage of time or how our shadows change as the sun's position changes...just sayin'. That would be pretty awesome! ENJOY!

"Running To A Friend By The Sea"


  1. Excellent that you have traced the actual shadow of the sculpture to incorporate into your finished piece :)

  2. I like this idea... what age group...or did I miss that!

    Chris at

  3. I did this project with a mixed age group of home schoolers. Most of the students range from grades 2 through 5 but this year I have a 6th grader and a 7th grader in there too. None of them had any trouble with the project and I think it was good for all ages to practice all of these aspects of the figure study--for some it was an intro and for others it gets them to hone their skills. So glad you asked that, but right now, in my "art on a cart situation," all of the classes I tend to teach are mixed-age groups.

  4. I am such a fan of Giacometti's work and this is a great inspiration project idea of it. I have never thought to use foil but I might have to after you reminding me of it. Have you seen the large foil installation at the National Portrait Gallery in DC? I love it so much and how it takes foil sculpting to a whole new level.

    1. Hi Andrea-I haven't been to DC (yet), so I looked up the foil sculptures you mentioned online. WOW! I cannot believe that someone could do such intricate work in foil. I imagine that the person who opened the garage and saw janitor-turned-folk-artist James Hampton's life's work (all 180 pieces!) must have been awe-struck. I'd love to see them in person (and it would be nice if they had them as he had them set up originally). Thank you for introducing me to this artist and his work--I sense another lesson plan coming!

  5. I have seen several examples of students responses to Giacometti's work. Your lesson is excellent. I've not had the push to take this on until now. Thanks for the details Mrs P.

  6. Glad you enjoyed the lesson! It is super-easy and inexpensive to create with foil--I just warn the students not to go home and use the whole roll of foil from their kitchen! And there is the occasional student who just loves to crumple the foil into a tight ball. But it really is a great way to get them thinking about the human form in 2d and 3d. Thank you for your comments! Enjoy!

  7. Great lesson! There is an exhibit at a local museum with some of all the Giocometti brothers work displayed. Beautiful stuff.


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