Art and Science: Cell Sculptures and Printmaking

These three lesson ideas are related to looking at cells and microbes up close and under microscopes.

Low-Relief Cell Models

Students will observe images of cells and create a three-dimensional model of the image of their choice. Students will construct their model on a cardboard base, but the materials for the actual cell are left open to interpretation.

Vocabulary: low-relief sculpture, cells/microbes, photomicrograph

Research – First, have students look up images of cells/ microbes using these websites:

Students should pick out 4-6 images and make thumbnail sketches of each image and jot down ideas about possible materials that could be used for each part of the cell/microbe. A sample sketch is below, but allow students to sketch out their ideas in the way that works best for them.

Once students have completed their thumbnail sketches, they should pick one sketch that they want to do the most, and then they can make one more sketch of their final idea, colors, and material choices.

Materials:

  • cardboard
  • pipecleaners
  • glue
  • thread/yarn/string
  • fabric
  • toothpicks
  • cotton balls
  • sequins
  • beads
  • glitter
  • pom poms
  • feathers
  • buttons
  • popsicle sticks
  • tissue paper
  • aluminum foil
  • wire
  • clay
  • felt
  • paint

Next, students can begin to assemble their cell models. First, they need to create a circular base out of cardboard for their relief sculpture. Students can paint the base if they would like to (helpful hint – spray water on the back of the cardboard after painting to reduce warping). Next, students can choose whatever materials they want to construct the cell/microbe. Let students experiment with the materials and figure out what works best to create their cell model. Have a table with all the materials laid out so that students can visualize the possibilities for all the materials. Allow ample time for students to construct their models and add paint/ finishing touches.

Cell Models Sculpture

In this variation, students create an in the round sculpture of a cell. This project is similar to the previous project, yet it is not a relief sculpture. Depending on the materials you have on hand, pick one of the projects to best fit what you have. First, have students create a base/cell body using either clay, newspaper/ paper mache, plaster, wires to create an armature, or aluminum foil. Next, students can paint the base, adding designs and surface texture with different materials (glitter, sequins, beads, etc.). To create raised areas of lines, hot glue, elmer’s glue, or fabric paint can be applied to the surface as well. Once the paint is dry, students can attach pipecleaners, toothpicks, pompoms, and other materials to form the areas that come off of the body of the cell. 

Cell Collagraphs

  1. Video – At the beginning of class,  show the students this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKWjAz5WwKA&feature=emb_logo
  2. Picture Guessing Game – Show students close up images/ macro photography and have students guess what the images are. 
  3. Making a sketchbook to record observations – Show students how to fold and create their own sketchbook from one sheet of paper. Use an 18 x 24″ piece of paper if possible, or the largest paper that you have. Here is a video about how to create the sketchbook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ9Jw4HnJpw
  4. Cell Observation Stations
    • Set up 3 stations – one with a microscope, one with cell books, and one with a video of cells under a microscope. Give students about 5 minutes at each station to make observations and make sketches/take notes in their sketchbooks of what they see. Once each group of students has gone to each station, regroup as a class and discuss what the students saw and the drawings they made at each station.
  5. The Project: Students will create their collagraph plate using a variety of materials, such as: glue, found objects, tape, rubber bands, string, foam shapes, felt/fabric. First, students glue the materials onto their cardboard plate in a design inspired by their observations of cells. While the plates are drying, students can prepare their paper for printing. Students can cut out the papers to the right size, write their names on the back of each, and apply a wash of watercolor to each paper. If there is still extra time, students can decorate the cover of their observation sketchbook.
  6. The next class, once the plate is dried, students can begin the printmaking process. Before students begin the process, do a demonstration of how to make prints. Then, at one table (where no students are sitting), set up brayers and plates of ink. Set up an assembly line process where students ink up their plates, then print the plates, and then place their print on the drying rack. After students make a print, have them label the print with their name, the number of the print, and the date. 
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