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Cardboard Portrait Project Relief Sculpture

Updated: May 10, 2020

Materials: printed photo for reference, pencil, cardboard, craft scissors, pen or extra fine tip marker, Elmer’s glue

A relief sculpture is a sculpture in which forms project out from a flat surface. High relief has forms that project greatly from a surface. Low relief has forms that project slightly from a surface.

First take a photo of yourself or someone else and print it out for reference. Plan ahead, and think about what features you want to cutout and add layers to that will push this shape forward, and what features you want to cut out, and push back. Think about not only your features: eyes, nose, mouth, hair, but also about what you are wearing in the photo. Can you layer clothes to create a higher relief or is something else in lower relief?

Then, draw the portrait onto a piece of cardboard with a pencil. Once you are satisfied with the completed drawing in pencil, use a extra fine tip marker or pen to darken the lines of the drawing, details, and shadows.

Carefully cut out the portrait with scissors. If you want stronger scissors to cut with, these heavy duty ones cut cardboard really well, just be careful, they are very sharp.

Next, trace the cutout portrait onto another piece of cardboard. Then, cut out this traced shaped slightly smaller than the original portrait. This will be your backing piece of cardboard that you will glue down all the pieces to.

Then, think about which areas of your portrait you want to push out or recede. Carefully cut out the pieces of the original portrait that you want to create depth with by adding more or less cardboard behind them, in other words, which pieces are the highest and lowest relief.

Cut out pieces of cardboard smaller than the pieces with the portrait drawn on them to layer behind.

Next, glue layers of cardboard to the back of original portrait pieces until reach the desired height.

Arrange the pieces on the backing cardboard like a puzzle. Then, glue down on cardboard backing.

Let the portrait dry flat overnight.

This same process could be used for other subject matter: a landscape, an animal, a cityscape, etc.

I hope you enjoy making this project as much as we did. This took a total of seven days in the classroom to complete with 7th and 8th grade students. This includes the first day of lecture and demonstration, and each day students had a forty-five minute class period to work. Prerequisite lessons and projects included learning proportions of the face, and grid portrait drawings; so, students were familiar with how to draw portraits.

Let me know your questions, and I would be happy to answer.

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