This has got to be one of my favorite projects to work on with my middle school art students. The project goes relatively quickly (2 class times) and my students love to learn about the glass artist Dale Chihuly. The sculpture in the picture above is made of 200 plastic bottles. Each bottle was donated by a student or staff member at our school. We started collecting bottles about 3 weeks before we started the project. Each student selected a bottle & painted it with acrylic. Acrylic paint works much better than tempera. Next, each student was assigned a style for cutting the bottle apart (star shape or spiral shape). Some students modified their styles slightly for a more unique design.
I have seen many art teachers attempt a Chihuly-inspired sculpture. This was a quick two-day project that had great results! We collected over 350 plastic bottles from students, parents, and staff over the semester. As a quick project before winter break, we made four Chihuly sculptures.
Students were introduced to the artist Dale Chihuly. We talked about the principles of design of form and movement. We looked at the Mayo Clinic's collection of Chihuly's art in the Gonda Building. Many students were excited about this because they had seen these in real life. We also talked about abstract art and what this meant. We had a short discussion about Chihuly and his team. I asked students if they thought Chihuly was a real artist if he has other people make his work. This created a great discussion/debate about the difference between an artist and a designer.
Students then took a plastic bottle (some chose the same one from their drawing). I told students to choose a bottle that wasn't too thick. The really thin and cheap water bottles worked best. AVOID the gatorade, ICE, and thicker milk/juice bottles. I had students write their name on some masking tape and stick it to the bottom of their bottles. Students then used coarse sand paper to sand their bottles down. This helps the paint stick better.
I used elmer's glue, neon paint, and a small bit of water to create the paint mixture. After students sanded, they immediately painted their bottles. I allowed students to use more than one color and they could also do a design like stripes or polka dots. I told students that it was okay if the paint was thicker in some places than others. Once they were painted, we left them standing up right in the cupboard to dry.
We reviewed form, movement, and abstract art. I did a quick demo on how to the cut the bottle in either a spiral or flower design. I numbered students off 1-2. #1 did a spiral. #2 did a flower. Students cut the bottoms of their bottles off and then cut their design.
I created wire cages with christmas lights in advance. I used string to hang the wire cage from the ceiling. We attached the bottles by tying with string/wire at the opening of the bottle and attaching to the wire cage. I did most of the tying to the cage as it got too chaotic to have all the students at once trying to attach their bottles. Some of the paint flaked off a bit, so we did quite a bit of sweeping. Students who finished early were required to clean up and help students who might have been a bit behind. Once we had them all attached, we lit it up and turned the lights off....there were A LOT of "oooohs" and "aaaaahs". The last part of class we watched a 15-minute Video on Chihuly Chandelier's and Towers and how the glass is blown.
There were four chandelier's total (2 classes for each chandelier). I plan on giving one of the chandeliers to another interested art teacher and keeping one. The other two I am hoping we can raffle off at our end of the semester "classroom art show". I can just see these hanging up in a kid's room or outside on a deck (they are completely outdoors-proof). This was a lesson that EVERY student seemed to enjoy and was capable of doing.
I am a 7th year high school art teacher in Rochester, MN. I have taught middle school for 2 years and high school for almost 5 years. I truly enjoy working with students on a daily basis. I also enjoy teaching real-world skills such as problem solving, using technology, and the power of teamwork and collaboration. My joy is sharing my passion for art with others!
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