By discussing the different styles of relief sculpture, and by being introduced to the appropriate techniques, students will be able to create their own sculptures in relief.
relief sculpture (alto, mezzo and bas), free-standing sculpture, composition, subtractive, additive
Pictorial examples of reliefs
Water and/or spray bottle
Working boards/working surface (masonite, cardboard etc., newspaper)
BACKGROUND The technique of sculpting in relief has been widely used since ancient times throughout many different cultures. Reliefs are often integrated with architechtural structures such as churches and cathedrals. They are also used for simple, everyday objects such as coins.
A relief is characterized according to the depth of the projection from the flat surface. The three categories are: Alto rilievo (Italian for 'high relief') Sculpture is carved deeply enough as to suggest that the components of the design are almost completely detached from their background support. Mezzo rilievo (Italian for 'middle relief') Sculptural objects are projected in the "half-round", which means that half of their volume projects from the surface. Basso rilievo (Italian for 'low relief', also known as bas-relief) Sculptural figures or objects project less than half of their "true depth" from the background plane.
Rodin's Gates of Hell is a monumental example of high relief sculpture. Hundreds of mingling and intertwining figures project from a flat background. Many of the figures are carved so deeply into the background that they appear to be almost detached from it.
PROCEDURE Using examples, introduce students to relief sculptures and discuss their characteristics. Select one of the following methods, then have students roll out a slab of clay (can be square, rectangular, round, or oval).
Attaching relief to a clay slab: This is a good project for beginners.
Students should choose a subject to depict and think of it in terms of individual shapes. Have students make a sketch of the composition, mapping out the shapes of the object.
Students can make each shape in clay, either by rolling balls or modeling the forms with their hands.
Place the shapes on the clay slab in the desired composition.
After all the shapes are in place, gently join the shapes with the clay slab by pressing and smoothing the edges of the form. Work the shapes by hand and begin giving them definition.
Smooth the edges of the shapes using clay tools making certain that it is sufficiently attached to its base.
Using clay tools, students can now add texture and details so that the relief stands out from the background.
Modeling a relief in clay: This method requires more planning and hand dexterity. It is a good way to explore different levels of relief in one composition.
Using a sculpting tool or a pencil, students can lightly draw the main shapes of their desired subject onto their slab. Remind them not to dig too deep into the clay or it may separate into pieces.
Now using their fingers, thumbs, and tools, students should push back the clay surrounding the subject so that it is in low relief.
Students can now use tools and any other interesting items to create texture and add details.
If the students want to make their reliefs into wall plaques, using a pencil or clay tool, poke a hole ½ " from the top of the slab. Don't make the hole too small as the clay will shrink as it dries. After they are finished they can be fired or air-dried (will not be waterproof if not fired).
** Make sure students keep the clay moist, applying water to cracks with their fingers or using a spray bottle. If students do not finish in one class session be sure to have them cover their sculptures in plastic so that they do not dry out.
Have a "relief hunt" in which students report on relief sculptures they find in everyday life.
Experiment with reliefs using other media such as papier-maché reliefs.