3D UNIT II: Relief

Project IIA

 Signature Relief

Pam Sabbia, Spring 2003 Damian Stamer, Spring 2003


formal: to introduce the studio fundamentals of "bas" relief (low relief) and "haut" relief (high relief) sculpture.

technical: to gain experience in making clay face molds and casting plaster.

conceptual: To show how the way in which we make marks in large measure determines our personal style.

Project Overview Your challenge is to create a plaster relief that reflects your own identity through a vocabulary of marks reflecting your own "signature style".

Project References


Australian aboriginal sand drawings ("song lines"), Oceania wood carving, African mask and sculpture carving, Malaysian wood carving (architectural screens), Malaysian repousse' (vessels with relief in silver), Chinese temple carvings, Indian relief carvings in living stone (Mahabalipuram), Max Ernst, Louise Bourgoise, Ann Hamilton, Fiberglas wolf lovers, Scandanavian sand clock.
Vocabulary bas (low) relief, haut (high) relief, value, contrast, negative volume, positive volume, casting, substitution, additive, subtractive, substitution, "found objects"


8 pounds of water based clay (about 1/3 a bag), plaster of paris, mixing bucket, clay tools including rolling pin, wire, two 16 penny nails. (materials provided)


1. Before coming to class, review the thematic concept of Identity as found on the website. Also read the discussion Relief for Unit II. Review the Project References above.


a) roll out three slabs of clay about 3/4 inch thick. Min. dimension: 6 inches.
b) in the first slab, create an "overall" pattern of repeated marks using UNITY principles from 2D.
c) in the second slab, create a composition with a distinct center of interest employing your own vocabulary of marks.
d) use the third slab to make a wall around your two compositions. Cut strips 1 1/2 - 2 inches wide and attach them to the edges of your slabs to make a low water tight container. These will serve as molds for your plaster relief sculptures.
e) take a length of wire (alum, or steel--8 to 14 gauge) a little longer than your mold is wide. Wrap each of the ends around each of the two nails. This will be your hanger. Set it aside.
f) mix up plaster of paris sufficient to fill your two molds. (fill your bucket with a little less water than would fill your two forms. Slowly sprinkle in plaster. Do not stir until an island forms in the middle that doesn't sink. Mix up completely with your hands or a good spatula. It will seem kind of thin and watery.) Pour into your molds. After about ten minutes, insert your wire hanger in the upper half of the mold. When the plaster has almost set (almost twenty minutes) sign your name and date the work.
g) if the work is delicate, let it set overnight in a plastic bag (so clay won't dry...) If you're bold, peel the clay as soon as the plaster has set. Don't use much force or the plaster will crack.

Final thoughts:

Your final plaster reliefs can be presented as either wall pieces or table-top works. What alternative methods of presentation could you employ? Consider introducing "foreign" elements into your reliefs by embedding objects into your clay mold that would, in turn, become part of your final plaster. How would the use of color change the effect of your reliefs?

Critique Ideas


When you have completed your sculpture, divide into small groups and exchange artworks with another group from the class. Within your group, work together to respond to each sculpture in turn. Consider the following:

1. Describe the techniques for creating "relief sculptures" that your fellow artists used and explain how various problems were addressed ("void-volume reversal," design, function, response to problem, etc.).

2. Point out any personal symbols or marks the artist used to indicate a particular meaning or sense of identity.

3. Discuss ideas the artwork seems to communicate. After some sharing of interpretations, attempt to state the "message" of the design in one sentence. (This artwork is about. . .)

4. Explain how the shapes, symbols, or other elements of the design support its message.



Your notebook should include the following:

1. Evidence of your research (print-outs from magazines, web searches, interviews with artists, etc.).

2. Your design process (drawings, computer-printouts, photos).

3. Supplemental materials (receipts, notes about technique or materials)

4. Final documentation in the form of drawings, computer print-outs, or photographs.

The above project was developed by Dan Collins and James Stewart.

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