Sculpture Sessions for Gifted Children 1977









Notes for Sculpture Sessions for Gifted Children

By Elizabeth Fraser Williamson©[1]

Place a child in a situation free from tension, competition, adult-pleasing, right or wrong answers and the chances are he or she will amaze you with the depth, the honesty of his personal musings. These Sculpture Sessions are designed to provide just such a climate – the ambiance of the sculptor’s world, a time for opening doors of perception.

Students experience sculpture on two levels: the physical and the emotional. Hopefully the former will lead into the latter so the art encounter will have some depth.

Circle Time: Sit in circle. Each in turn expresses his/her idea on the question. Feel and look at good pieces of sculpture and sculptural objects or look at photographs of sculptures by Henry Moore, Brancusi, Rodin, Henri Laurens, Jean Arp, Lyn Chadwick, Sorel Ertog, Marino Marini, Elza Mayhew or others.

Ask question such as:  Which do you like? Why? What are the shapes saying? Does it make you want to touch it? What colour would you like it to be? What feeling does it create? When you close your eyes, can you hold the shape with all its parts in your mind? Can you feel in your mind its weight; its height, length and width; its texture?

 Physical:   The students study sculpture from every possible angle including upside down and on the side. Such radical change of position from the “norm” show how different, even better, a sculpture can look. They discover multiple images that stir the imagination and evoke other images.

Students also develop the tactile sense by feeling the sculptures not only for the different textures of concrete, clay or bronze, but because the hand “sees” sculpture far better than the eye. Feeling actual weight is also important.


Quiet Time:

Classes open with a quiet time: moments of stillness with closed eyes. This is an inner awareness exercise that children enjoy. What is noticeable is the change of attitude; they become more receptive to new ways of looking at sculpture. One boy wrote, “After the quiet time, I felt quiet and could think better.”

In the emotional response to sculpture


What does a musician have to have to make music?

“         “         writer  need to write?

“      “            dancer need to create a dance?

“       “           painter need?

“       “           sculptor need?

Direct, Tactile encounter with sculptures. Chance to feel shapes, textures and rhythms through the hands, to re-arrange sculptures to discover new relationships.[2]g. gently turn sculpture onto his side or back, place him with different objects at different levels and under different lights. See how a sculpture changes from indoor setting to outdoor.

Learning that a sculptor must be constantly aware that carving space is as important as carving clay.

Hopefully, some will discover on (their) own, that some shapes, some hollows, evoke the sensation of sound. This will lead into a discussion on sculpture and music, sculpture and poetry, and sculpture and dance, the last two having body rhythms in common.

Working with Clay – Symbiotic Relationship

The student needs the clay, the clay the student; they interact in a dialogue. The relaxed student imprints some feeling into the clay and in responding to the pressure of the students’ hand – the clay suggests something. Unconcerned for a close representational result, the student is free to create, to experiment. He/she finds out what happens when he/she adds, subtracts, or alters a basic shape.

While a representational form can be used for a start, he/she should leap into the world of imagination so his/her work will bear the stamp of self-expression and honesty.

…placed in an unstructured, uncompetitive atmosphere.. (student) and the clay engage in conversation.

…. Draw from a storehouse of images, experiences and impressions.

The Tactile Sense – sense of feel

Enjoy the sensation of pushing moist clay around.

Feel (or imagine feeling) several sculptures.

Handle 2 stones sculpted by water. Which do you like best? Why?

Heart, Hands, Head: It all starts in one’s own heart, flows outward into the hands and into the clay. The head with its cool analytical discernment is allowed in only after the piece has “caught fire and is blazing merrily”.

Example of head to hand: boat building

Example of heart to hand to head: sculptures

Hands are the tools of the heart or feelings.

Clay sculpting

Enjoy, relax, see what the clay suggests. Watch how a shape can grow tall under your hand, how you can flatten it when you bang it on the board, the different effect when you use a tool. Experiment using different parts of your hand. Make a shape you really like – a fun shape.


Throw natural pebbles. See how the stones grouped themselves. Students talk about their feeling and preference for certain stones. Students make                                                                                                                                                                                                                              three dimensional pebble pictures.

Make up dialogue or story as I move two sculptures around

Learn to hold shapes so clearly in your mind that you can form them in the air with your

hands and make others see it too.

Make 2 shapes that are pleasant to the eye, nice to handle and are good friends.

Show that the 2 shapes have had a quarrel.

Join the two shapes and create one shape that feels good to you.

Feeling and Shape

  1. There’s a little thought niggling at the back of your mind – something you should have

done and haven’t. Put that feeling into forms.

  1. Feeling of urgent hunger – baby bird?
  2. Shape an apple. Then an apple with a bite taken out. Lesson in convex, concave

shapes; also in smooth/rough textures.

  1. Wolf howling

Proportion and Contours

Make a bottle person.

Demonstrate proportion. Discuss idea of male/female proportion and contours.

Quiet and feeling the Space Inside    (Use the gong to punctuate changes.)

Roll out rectangle of clay. Make balls, different sizes, cylinders, cones and rectangles. Place them aside. They are material from which you can make something. You can try indenting with your thumb or finger. You can scoop with a tool. You can “draw” freely in the clay making patterns that please you. Then add 3 dimensional shapes. Watch the clay closely. Be aware of what it does when you score it with a knife and then soften the sharp edge with a wet finger. Look at the texture change when you break away a piece of clay that is a bit hard. Explore, examine, create. Be curious about the nature of clay and open to what it can suggest.

When you are ready to begin, after preparing the clay, close your eyes. Let go all tension. Let your breathing become light and slow. Be aware of this slow breathing and let it lead you into the open space within you. After a moment or two of peaceful resting, open your eyes and start working calmly and pleasantly. Do not talk. Remember, an artist is always alone with his or her work.


Sit in circle, close eyes, listen to the quiet for a minute.

Why quiet time? What is the purpose of these lessons? What have you learned so- far? What do you find yourself remembering, thinking about?

Help to understand the creative process, what motivates, moves an artist, where his or her images come from – and in some, perhaps small way, to start feeling the art experience yourself.


Roll out moist rectangle of clay. Carve a semi-abstract sculpture. Carve in time to appropriate music. Teacher and teacher assistant can work in clay too.

Discuss shapes that give the impression of sound. Discuss sound that a particular sculpture suggests.

Architectural Quality in Sculpture: Think of the 2 great curving towers of our city hall, rising against the sky – monumental sculptural shapes. Think of old churches with Gothic arches, doorways and windows. Think of whitewashed adobe Mexican churches – simple, stark, beautiful in desert landscape. Can you remember how the bell tower looked? Recall the Norman towers or castles or fortresses in England – straight, rectangular with narrow slit opening from which to view the landscape for enemies and also to shoot arrows down below. Try making a Norman Tower using putty knife to make smooth, straight, strong planes. Watch your proportions – how much height to how much width.

Choose a piece of jewellery that is sculpturally good. Pass it around to students. Discuss why it is a good sculpture.

Essence of a human form:

How can you recognize a friend from ½ a block away – too far to see his features, colour of hair, eyes, or recognize clothing etc. In sculpture, you can often eliminate features and yet say a lot about the person.

Body proportions, the way a person walks, sits, stands, the pose of the head, the general shape of the head – all show the characteristics of the person.

Notice the different body build of people – no two are the same. Then notice how each person moves differently, because of their body structure. We all develop our own ways of standing, walking. We use our hands differently. We unconsciously express ourselves through our body movements.

Example: Ask two pupils, each in turn to pace back and forth as if waiting – with a sculptural object in their hand. Make a drama scene

“You’re in a doctor’s waiting room. A school friend has been hurt. You are waiting to hear how badly. He/she’s been in there for 20 minutes now.”

Audience: Notes the different ways the two pupils react with their bodies. They are both doing the same things – standing, pacing, sitting, holding the sculptural object.

An artist never stops noting these things and remembers them.

[1] Copyright. Can only be reproduced with permission of the Elizabeth Fraser Williamson Estate for non-commercial teaching purposes and with acknowledgement to the author.

[2] Other  objects can be arranged around sculpture to create relationships