Sunday, December 8, 2013

NYSATA part 2 - Sheetrock Carving!!

So, a while back I posted part 1 of my NYSATA conference adventures, and told you about teaching a workshop in tooling foil relief, and I'm back to share part 2 of my conference experience today.  There is still a part 3, and maybe even a part 4 to come! 
'Octopus in a Box' relief carving in Sheetrock
Besides the Tooling Foil, I taught two other workshops at the conference.  One of these was a 'Friday After Dark' workshop, which are intended as extended hands-on workshops, for a fee, after dinner on Friday night (8:30-11pm).   Usually people are looking for a unique experience at this time, and less concerned about classroom relevance.  Also, at this time of night they want freedom, flexibility, and limited lecture, so I planned accordingly.  The topic of my Friday After Dark workshop was Relief Carving in Sheetrock.  (I've previously posted about the work my 6th graders have done with this inexpensive and versatile material, and blogged about the Egyptian cartouche project we've done with this material in several posts over the years.  Here's a link to one of them.)
'Power' relief carving in Sheetrock

Students learned, first of all, when selecting Sheetrock, you'll want to check for fiberglass fibers that look like millions of tiny little pieces of hair sticking out of the cut edges of the Sheetrock.  You do NOT want to use any Sheetrock that has these fibers - it can be itchy and even painful.  Luckily, it is easy to spot once you know what you are looking for, so I made sure to provide material that did not have these fibers.  I pre-cut the Sheetrock into various rectangular and square sizes.  Each Friday After Dark student was able to carve one piece and take two more home with them for continued experimentation!  By the way, all photos in this post (including the two above) are from work done by my art educator students during this workshop.
My Friday night students, selecting their Sheetrock.  That's me on the right.
We used small wet sponges, our  thumbs, and a little patience to peel the paper surface from the front of the Sheetrock.  We left the heavier cardboard backing on the other side.  Here are my students, peeling away..

 Then, once peeled, they could pre-draw a design on pencil, or just dive in!  My many suggestions for ideas included geometric design, landscapes, masks/faces, and more.  I figured, in a room full of 20 art teachers there would be no shortage of fabulous ideas! My exemplars (not pictured here) included a couple of African-inspired masks,  a landscape, and several cartouche samples.
 Oh my goodness, everyone is so hard at work!!

We discussed the options of relief carving, versus simple line engraving.  We also discussed the various options for paint, including watercolor, tempera, acrylic (including metallics) and ink, and how (and why) they could be used both before carving and after; and we discussed how color could be layered to achieve a rich patina; and we discussed how to use black either first or last, and how to rub on a final coat of color or black so that grooves could be filled with black to highlight texture.  Everyone had fun experimenting!  Here's a sampling of what my participants did (work-in-progress).
This design was based on quilt squares.
the beginnings of the octopus-in-a-box
Unfortunately I never got a later photo of this sweet elephant :(
or of this cool abstraction...
A friend stopped in to visit.  She was attending a face-painting Friday-After-Dark workshop.
This person was experimenting with water-soluble oil-pastels.  Interesting!
A final coating of Mod Podge will seal this watercolor treatment and give it a beautiful sheen.
The final (unfinished) example above was being done by a pre-service college student who had been assigned to my room as an assistant.  I really like where she is going with this simple rhythm and texture.

All-in-all, it was a successful workshop, and a fun end to a great day.  Please let me know if you have any questions about Sheetrock carving.  Don't be afraid to give it a try!


  1. Very cool, Phyl! Do you use the same kind of carving tools you would use for linoleum blocks??

    1. Hi Christie, no, I didn't use lino tools, though I suppose you could. But they'd get messy. I used inexpensive carving tools, the type I'd use if I was carving into plaster, especially U & V gouges and also some with blades. I suppose they are basically the same as lino tools but a little sturdier, since the blades are firmly attached and can't be changed. And we also some ceramic style loop tools, though the cheap ones often don't stand up well to the carving, and just some pointed wooded sticks.

      Let me know if you want to know specifics of the tools. I ordered them, I think from either Nasco or School Specialty/Sax, and was pretty happy with them for the price I paid.

  2. Those are really cool! Where do you buy the sheet rock from? Does it have a lot of dust?

    1. Marcia, I bought the Sheetrock for this workshop from Lowe's. It is very inexpensive and easy to cut to size. But I absolutely NEVER bought any when I did the projects with kids. I would put out an 'all staff' email, and people who had done building projects in their homes brought me their leftover scraps. One high school math teacher supplied me with mountains of it! Then I would check it all and discard the pieces with the nasty fibers, and still have plenty to use.

      As for dust - well, yes, it can be potentially dusty. However, we always moistened the areas where we were working (I provided little bitty sponges). Moistening it slightly makes it easier to carve, and minimizes any dust. It's very similar to carving into plaster of Paris.

  3. What grade levels could this be done with?!

    1. Mrs. C, I did it with 6th graders, and would do it with older kids, but not younger. Carving tools can be sharp, and the peeling process (before you start carving) requires some patience. It's very similar to carving in plaster.

  4. Hello! I love your blog! I am trying to prep the sheet rock carving project for my older kids, but I'm running into some problems that I am hoping you are able to help me with.:) I already bought the sheet rock, and cut it to size for one class. However, I have had some parents help me peel off the paper to save time, but 3 of the boards have cracked in that process (and we are only half way done). Did you have that same trouble? Am I doing something wrong? Is there a way to repair it once is has cracked? (not sure if there is a special glue that would work.) Also, did you ever have kids crack it during the carving process. I'm very excited about the project and don't want to throw in the towel yet before I have really started. So, I thought I would ask you in hope for some wisdom!! Thanks so much in advance for taking the time to answer all my questions. I can give you my e-mail if that would be easier to communicate. (