Cool Art Projects for Teens

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If your teenage students think they’re too cool for art class, prove them wrong. Fill your lesson plans with cool art projects for teens. Veteran high-school art teacher Lyn Kirksey says her teenage students become the most engrossed when the projects involve sculpture, technology or current cultural trends.

1 Packing Tape Body Sculpture

George Segal gained fame during the Pop Art movement for his life-sized plaster sculptures of average people engaged in everyday activities. He captured his subjects by wrapping them in plaster-dipped gauze strips, but your art students can get a similar effect with clear packing tape.

Share photos of Segal’s sculptures before your students get started, and direct their attention to the body positions and sense of movement in his work. Have the students select a pose. They can probably manage alone if they’re sculpting a single limb. For full-body sculptures, they’ll need to work in pairs, according to Robert Hunger in “Arts & Activities” magazine.

Wrap the subject in cellophane wrap, and then with a layer of sticky-side-up packing tape. Turn the tape sticky side down, and add another five to seven layers. Cut the tape carefully from the body, in a single seam when possible. Align the sculpture at the seams, and tape the seams shut. Make sure your students leave their noses and mouths unobstructed during the process.

2 Body Art

Throughout history, humans have used their bodies as canvases. Different cultures modify and decorate their bodies for religious, social, political and medicinal reasons, according to Keith A. Rosko in “School Arts” magazine. Share examples of body art from various cultures, such as Myanmar neck stretching, African tribal scarification, Native American and Celtic battle paint and Indian Mehndi henna designs.

After a safety discussion involving modern forms of body art, have your students design their own hypothetical tattoo or Mehndi henna designs. For Mehndi designs, give the students blank outlines of hands and forearms. Their designs should symbolize something about themselves -- perhaps a goal, achievement or affiliation.

3 Reductive Abstract Sculptures

Sculptors Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi created abstract works using reductive carving. Many of their pieces feature soft curves and organic, nearly primitive shapes. Using plaster of Paris, your students can carve their own abstract, organic-looking sculptures.

After sharing examples of the style, have your students mix plaster of Paris in recycled milk cartons. When the plaster dries, cut the cartons away. Show them how to use screwdrivers or chisels to carve the plaster. Once complete, they can mount their pieces on wood blocks with dowels. If they wish, let them paint their sculptures. Kirksey suggests matte black, matte white or metallic paint. She says showier colors detract from the shapes.

4 Pop Art Portraits

Pop Artist Andy Warhol created multiple variations of the same basic image for his iconic celebrity portraits. The variations are frequently combined into one piece of art, with the different images arranged in a row or grid. Warhol used photographic silkscreen to duplicate his images, but your students can create their own Pop Art portraits using digital photos and image editing software.

Take digital photos of each student, and let them edit their photos on the computer. Have them desaturate their photos first, to remove the color. Demonstrate how to adjust the contrast and brightness, posterize, and invert the black and white areas, suggests Kirksey. Tell them to create four different versions of their portrait, and print them. Instruct them to paint the four versions with different colors, and to use the paint to emphasize different areas of each portrait. Mount the four portraits in a grid on black poster board once the paint dries.

  • 1 “Arts & Activities” magazine; Stuck on Sculpture; Robert Hunger, May 2005
  • 2 “School Arts” magazine; Body Art: Connecting Past and Future; Keith A. Rosko; February 2005
  • 3 Lyn Kirksey; Swifton Middle School Art Department; Swifton, Arkansas

Leah James has been a full-time freelance writer and editor since 2008. With more than a decade of experience in interior decorating, she frequently writes about home design. She studied English literature at Lyon College.