Calder Wire Self Portraits

Download a PDF of the Calder Wire Self Portrait Lesson

Topic/Lesson Title: Wire Self Portrait
Grade: 7th – 9th (Can be adapted for different levels)

New York State Visual Art Standards:

  • Standard 1: Creating, Performing and Participating in the Arts: Students will actively engage in the process that constitute creation and performance in the arts and participate in various roles in the arts.
  • Standard 2:      Knowing and Using Arts Materials and Resources: Students will be knowledgeable about and make use of the materials and resources available for participation in the arts in various roles.
  • Standard 3:      Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art: Students will respond critically to a variety of works in the arts,  connecting the individual work to other works and to other aspects of  human endeavor and thought.


  • Art Production: Students will use a variety of line in wire sculpture to create a self-portrait.
  • Art History: Students will examine wire sculptures created by Alexander Calder and identify similarities of line with their own artwork.

Visual References:
Pictures of wire sculpture by Alexander Calder (self portraits and abstract)

  • Fernand Leger
  • Joan Miro
  • Edgard Varese.

Other Motivational Strategies, References and Materials:
Teacher Sample of wire self portrait


  • National Gallery of Art: Calder Virtual Tour. (Retrieved November 6, 2007).
  • The Calder Foundation. (Retrieved November 6, 2007).
  • Roosevelt Student gallery. (Retrieved November 6, 2006).

Materials and Supplies:

  • Various types of wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire pinchers
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Manila sketching paper
  • Mirrors

Ideas to Emphasize:

  • Show the Alexander Calder reproductions attached in packets handed out to the students named Fernand Leger, Joan Miro, and Edgard Varese.
  • Explain to the students that Calder was an artist that created sculptural forms by bending, twisting and joining wire into a variety of shapes.
  • Describe the artwork as a line drawing that has sprung off of the page as a three dimensional sculpture.

Techniques to Demonstrate:

  • Explain the difference to the students between 2D and 3D images. This lesson will be focusing on the use of line in 3D and manipulating the wire to create the sculpture.
  • Demonstrate how to make a circular form for the face. Loop the large piece of wire into a circular shape and then wind the ends around the circular shape until secure.
  • Stress the importance of making sure the wire is securely attached (If the attachments are not secure, their form will not be stable.)
  • Show students how to bend the circular shape into the shape of their face.
  • Next demonstrate how to create a nose shape by bending and twisting the wire.
  • Demonstrate how to attach all parts after creating the shape.

Topics to Discuss while Working:

  • While the students are working have them think of all the parts of the face and list them on the board. Include the face shape, nose, eyes, eyebrows, lips, teeth, hair etc. Encourage students to add as much as possible to make it represent them. For example, add glasses if you wear glasses, etc.
  • Encourage the students to explore the materials and use their imagination in how they create their shapes. Use a variety of lines like curly, zigzag, coil, spiral etc. Combine several pieces of wire for part of the face rather than just using one piece of wire.

Topics to Discuss when Work is Complete:
• Have the students self-evaluate their artwork and the process of creating as compared to Alexander Calder’s work.

  • Where do they see that their work is similar to his?
  • How are they using the materials like he did?
  • Ask for the students’ responses to these questions as they are working.

Adaptative strategies
If I had a child in my room with Attention Deficit Disorder I would make sure that I know everything about the disorder and about the student because every student is different. Students will ADD have a hard time paying attention and go from one thing to another very quickly. I would make sure that my assistant knows about the students disorder and ask them to be prepared to redirect the student if I am busy with another student. Students with ADD need to be regularly redirected and is a key element in keeping them on task with an assignment. I used the site on Attention Deficit Disorder to base my information:

Pre or Post Lesson Extension:
For a pre lesson students will create a self-portrait line contour drawing using the mirrors. For a post lesson extension if the students get done early they will talk about their self portrait and think about different features that they may have forgotten such as eye brows, ears, etc.

Follow-up Lesson Idea:
Students will create a 3d fish or animal wire sculpture that will hang based on Thomas Hill.

Assessment: I will assess how the students were able to pay attention to directions and demonstrations. I will also assess how well the students were able to use the samples and books I provided for inspiration. Last, I will assess how well the students were able to construct their project and how they paid attention to detail to the main part of the lesson: Calder wire self portraits at the end of the lesson students should be able to talk about Calder wire self portraits and what contour drawings are.

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1 Response » to “Calder Wire Self Portrait Lesson”

  1. abby says:

    I love the project and want to try it with my 5th grade art class. I’m not sure how much wire to buy. How much wire did you give each student (measurement)?


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