By Melanie Robinson and Kay Leeper Cameron,
posted on Oct 7, 2021
I have a lot of recyclable materials in my art room and thus began searching for a way to use some of them in a lesson. Little did I know that I would end up with a bunch of new recyclable materials during this lesson! During my search, I came across an image of steampunk artwork on Instagram. Typically, steampunk is set during the Victorian era and is a blend of romanticism with steam-powered technology. I was inspired by these ideas to create a new and unique project for middle-school students.
Trevor W., grade eight.Left: Adlai W., grade six. Right: Jordyn R., grade six.Assemblage in progress.
As a class, we began scavenging the internet for more steampunk inspiration. We found almost everything imaginable, from sculptures to clothing and machinery. We discussed how gears and pulleys work together and how the use of steam made life easier for people throughout history.
We also looked closely at the metals used in the gears and pulleys and discussed their different finishes. Most were darkened with a patina, and all had a metallic look. The colors of these finishes varied depending on which metal was used. We also talked about how the variations were pleasing to look at and observe.
Creating a Background
After researching and exploring various ideas, students began to construct their own steampunk mosaics. Using cardboard for a base, students changed the background by dampening it with water, then peeling back some of the surfaces and finding different materials to transform and break up the areas. These materials included cheesecloth, bubble wrap, deflated balloons, textured paper, and cloth.
With the backgrounds completed, students layered found objects on top to create additional interest and dimension. Students brought in more supplies, and one student brought in boxes of actual gears, which excited the group. Another student realized that foam snowflakes look like gears when the color is transformed. Pool noodles were cut to create a unique look. Markers that no longer worked, marker caps, plastic lids, spools, wood scraps, and small toys (transformed by deconstructing them) were all incorporated into students’ creations.
The images began to accrue the look of a junkyard layered on cardboard, mostly brightly colored. This was a moment that took students by surprise. Almost all of them had difficulty visualizing how these colorful junk piles, some with moving parts, would be transformed.
Students painted their mosaic assemblages with a mixture of green, orange, brown, and black paint. Once their mosaics were dry, students used a dry brush technique and added a patina to the surface of their mosaics using metallic paint. Voilà—their creations resembled steampunk! What I found to be most wonderful was that all students were successful, and each one of them had a unique and amazing piece.
Art teachers introduce the concept of structure with 3D art, assemblages, and architecture. Young students use empty boxes to build an in-class art museum, elementary students embrace design-level thinking while using found objects to create personalized theme parks, middle-school students use printmaking and mathematical concepts to create 3D hanging sculptures, high-school students demonstrate three types of framing in surreal photographs inspired by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and more.