THE BIG WON
How to Join
|Welcome to the Innovative Wire
movement! Innovative wire
sculptors invent their own new forms of wire sculpture as they explore.
They take pride in being different and creating something totally new.
I learned the process of innovation in 1968, from the late Kenneth G.
Curran. He got me started; I have been my own teacher ever since. Using
Mr. Curran's method, I invented my own innovative form of wire
sculpture. As a pioneer in the field, I raised my innovative wire
sculpture to museum quality standards. In 2004 I founded the worldwide
guild, Wire Sculpture International, and received the prestigious
Victor Jacoby Award for Innovation in Art.
For many years I have taught the basics of Innovative Wire Sculpture
grade school and college students, teachers and professors. In this
lesson plan I will share what I have learned from Kenneth Curran so you
can teach Innovative Wire Sculpture, too.
lesson plan is intended for students in grades 2 - 12.
ART vs WIRE SCULPTURE
|The term "wire art" makes me
Granted, working with wire is
an art. But the term feels dumbed down. Perhaps some teachers don't
think younger students can handle the word "sculpture"? Hogwash! If
you've been calling it "wire art", please respect the medium and start
addressing it by its proper name, "wire sculpture".
To re-educate the neurons as to proper terminology, your students'
first project can be to create the words WIRE SCULPTURE in wire. Assign
each student to create one or more letter of the words WIRE SCULPTURE.
Staple or tape the finished letters onto a backing to form the words.
Post this noble first creation for the students to see as they work on
other wire projects, and they're on their way!
|With apologies to chain art
sell a wide array of fancy
pliers and wires, I must speak heresy: Most of what I've seen for
art supplies appears grossly
over-priced and over-packaged. Be especially suspicious of anything
usually packaged in shockingly small quantity at several times its bulk
TIP: Phone company often donates colorful phone wire for class projects!
|Folks, ALL Wire is Sculpture
Wire! The best
and cheapest wire in the
chain art stores is over in the floral department, sold as florist wire
or paddle wire. Your materials budget will go quite a bit further if
you make your first selections at the hardware store. For just a few
dollars, you can get a voluptuous roll of dark annealed "tie wire" aka
baling wire or bailing wire. It's nice and cheap, but may leave a
smudgy layer of machine oil on the hands. It also comes in a silvery,
galvanized version, much easier to clean up. Don't fret if you can't
find exactly the color of wire you're looking for - wire sculpture
projects can be painted different colors when they're finished.
Ask the hardware guys and gals to show you the rack of wire assortments
in the picture wire section. You'll find more of the dark annealed and
galvanized wire, plus copper, brass, and aluminum. Look around a little
more, and you'll find wire clothesline coated in colored plastic. Craft
supply stores have beading wire in lots of shiny colors. Store-bought
electrical wire is expensive, sold by the foot. By exploring salvage
yards and recycle centers, you stretch your materials buddget and teach
your students the value of recycling.
For cross-over educating, students in grades 5-12 can compare the costs
per foot of different kinds of wire, depending on the manufacturer and
type of packaging. You may also point out that some of the most
expensive "sculpture wire" comes in ridiculously small amounts with
excessive amounts of non-recyclable packaging.
|Wire cutters of a size to fit the
comfortably. That's all, folks!
I used a pair of Sears Craftsman $10.00 wire cutters to make most of
the sculptures on my www.wirelady.com web site. Sure, every year or so
I break a pair... and Sears replaces them for free, earning my sincere
For wire sculpture Tutorials and classes, I set out one or two pairs of
wire cutters per table of students. Cutting wire is not a major part of
the process, and it's always good to encourage sharing.
As for pliers, skip 'em, they're just a crutch. I prefer not to use
pliers at all; they just get in the way. My own two hands are the only
shaping tools for every sculpture in my wirelady
web site. The only use I have for pliers is to grab those wire bits
that are too short to handle with my fingers alone. Your students will
develop their own unique style faster if they don't use any pliers at
all. No fancy store-bought jigs, either - the kids' nimble fingers can
do the shaping, and they will gain a strong sense of pride and
empowerment from seeing what they make without fancy equipment.
One Wire Sculpture Rule Written in Stone - DON'T PUT YOUR EYE OUT!
|Safety glasses are a good idea,
not 100% effective. A long,
loose end of rogue wire can still whip around and through the
ventilation holes in the side of the glasses. This is why I recommend
students work with foot-long,
lengths of wire.
So cut it small, about 12-inch lengths - Or start with pipe cleaners.
THIS IS A SAFETY MEASURE. I worry about the long length of those
store-boughten "twisties" - an impulsive or excited kid whipping on of
those around might accidently put out someone's eye. Especially at the
beginning, students working with wire should be supervised closely to
ensure that they handle it safely and with respect. Any student that
waves a wire about should be gently shown the correct way to control
Once students develop a reliable proximity sense and control of the
wire, you may consider gradually increasing the lengths they work with.
But be careful out there... even after decades working wire, I still
have occasional scary scrapes and pokes with overly excessive lengths
Long-term wire sculptors sometimes experience carpal tunnel
inflammations from repeatedly handling wire in the same motion. If one
of your students gets totally immersed in wire sculpture, be sure they
and their parents are aware of carpal tunnel issues. If your wire
sculpture class lasts longer than an hour, have the kids take breaks to
massage and stretch their hands, wiggle their fingers, or do other hand
exercises to keep their carpals healthy.
|The purpose of this exercise is
introduce students to the feel of
wire, and to show them how many different and innovative things they
can do with a very limited number of strands. Once they have mastered
the three wire exercise, students may work with ever-increasing
quantities of wire.
Before class begins, prepare quantities of 12-inch lengths of soft
wire. Telephone wire is fun, and lends itself well. Working with
different-color strands helps the student see what is going on, and
where each wire leads within a sculpture. Copper and steel wire are
Distribute three strands of wire per student, and one or two wire
cutters per table. Students may wish to swap different color wires back
Enourage students to focus on seeing how many different things they can
do with just three wires. They can doodle around, making little cartoon
figures. Or, if there's something they enjoy looking at, a flower or a
bug, have them look at it very closely and see if they can make
something like it out of the wire.
Often, you can promote creative innovation by asking the student to
decide what their strongest interest is - people? animals? sports cars?
Encourage them to really look at the objects they enjoy, and observe a
few important aspects to try and get down in wire.
A tip for students who want to make animal sculptures: many wildlife
artists subscribe to "Ranger Rick" magazine for its wealth of
high-quality animal images.
If you have an assortment of different kinds of wire, encourage your
students to try the three wire exercise with different types. Copper,
including plastic coated telephone wire, is soft and pliable. This may
make it easier to shape. It may also make it a little harder to hold
together as a structure..
For a real kicker, reward the kids at the end of class with 3 more
wires each, to carry in a pocket. I call these "fidget wires" and tell
the kids that sooner or later, they can blow their parents' minds: just
wait til the next time they're stuck and bored. In a long line, in a
waiting room, on a long drive... as long as they have "fidget wires" to
put together and take back apart, the time will fly - and their parents
will be amazed at their ability to conquer boredom creatively!
CREATIVE PROCESS - WIRE INTO ART
|Some wire Tutorials suggest
students off by making a drawing,
then laying wire on it and pushing it around and shaping til it
conforms to the image. I don't endorse this method of teaching. The
forced conformity takes away from the potential for spontaneous
learning, and the "pencil first" method interferes with the
eye-brain-hand connection and stunts the creative process.
By the same token, your students will be more adventurous and
innovative if you encourage them to work from scratch instead of
copying another wire sculptor's creation. Students that go on to become
professional artists will benefit from being taught early respect for
other artists' copyrights. They are more likely to take pride in
creating a personal style instead of appropriating somebody else's.
When I conduct a wire Tutorial, I distribute 3 of the 12" strands of
phone wire per student, with the simple directive: "mess with it". I do
NOT say, "this is the way to do it", this restricts them from the
get-go. Left to their own innate inventiveness, a class of 25 students
given total creative rein may invent 25 new and different methods of
wire sculpture with just those three wires. The field is that wide
I tell the kids to loop, twist, wrap, or mangle their three wires
around til they like it. After awhile, if they think they can do
better, they take it apart and do something else with the same wire:
recycling as they go! At the end of the session, the class has a
diverse assortment of fantastic looking creations and a true sense of
As students "mess with the wire", their hands will make decisions for
them. Their fingers may connect the wire as they loop, snag, twist,
braid or kink the wires to hold them in place as they work on their
"wire drawings". As they train themselves to draw with wire instead of
ink, their hands will invent new ways to handle wire.
|Students' first wire sculpture
be really flimsy, and they
may think the works look clumsier than they want. You probably felt
that way the first time you tried to draw with a pencil or crayon, too.
Cat". This is my first wire
sculpture. I made it in high school, back in 1968. Can you tell it's a
cat? The head's that jumble at the bottom of the image. And I only gave
it three toes! Lucky my parents saved it for me, I would've thrown it
Lots of artists wish they'd saved those early efforts, so they could
see how far they've come. Have your students set aside their early
works so they have a little "research trail" of their evolution as wire
Tell your students, "If you think you can do better, you have the
potential to become an innovative wire sculptor too!"
|Have older students pay attention
different wires feel in their
hands. Is there a texture, smooth or rough, that they really enjoy? For
instance, steel will have a different feel than copper. Try thin wires,
also thicker wires. Which feel better to hold and to shape?
Encourage your students to follow their intuition, spending more time
with the wire they really like. Don't let them totally reject the wire
they like less, though. Store it for the future. Tell them, instead of
thinking, "that wire doesn't work for me", think, "that wire doesn't
work for me... yet!" Once they have achieved mastery of their "personal
wire", they'll discover that other kinds of wire are much easier to
More advanced students can ponder the structural aspects of wire
sculpture - how many different ways can they attach the wire to itself,
and how strong or weak are the results? What happens when they combine
two or more different thickness or types of wire? Can a kinked wire be
Any time a student is just not satisfied with what they make, it's okay
to start over. With practice, it'll come faster and smoother, their
creations will get more like they intended. But they'll be surprised
how much character even their startup squiggles have! Tell them to hang
on to them, use them as minor ornaments around the house. Give some to
family and friends as special gifts....
FOR WIRE SCULPTURES
|Putting student wire sculptures
bases seems to be some kind
of fad - I think someone's K-12 wire Tutorial website suggests it. I
question the need to complicate matters by mounting wire sculptures on
wooden blocks. Adding a wood base can be interesting, but it also adds
complications and hurdles to the students' spontaneity. Wood bases have
to be sanded, finished, etc. An adult must drill a hole and affix the
wire sculpture to the wood base. Wirework is much more powerfully
rewarding when students can construct the entire project with their own
two hands. The solid bulk of a wood base often interferes visually with
the open airiness of the wire sculpture. I recommend skipping wood
bases whenever possible.
Are bases absolutely essential? There's no written-in-stone that says
so... Unmounted wire projects can be ornaments, jewelry, free-standing
or hanging wire sculpture, mobiles. Anything goes!
If a base is absolutely called for, have the student make one out of
wire. A wire base looks much more in harmony, and is easier to manage
for students who want to start working with wire at home.
For display purposes, sculptures without bases can be attached securely
to pedestals by stapling.
Berrien, one of the world's foremost contemporary wire
sculptors, learned the process of innovation in 1968 from the late
Kenneth G. Curran. In 2004 she founded the worldwide guild, Wire
Sculpture International. She is a recipient of the prestigious Victor
Jacoby Award, a $3,500 fellowship for innovation in art. Berrien
teaches wire sculpture Tutorials to K-12 school children, college
students and art educators throughout the US. Art educators around the
world teach their students to study the works of Elizabeth Berrien
alongside those of Alexander Calder.
(c) 2005 Elizabeth Berrien. The author grants permission to reproduce
this article unchanged and in its entirety provided credit is given to
Elizabeth Berrien with a link to the website www.wirelady.com
Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 362-2771
· email wireladyE@yahoo.com
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