Description of the Unit –
Students will learn about the life and work of artist Stephen Wiltshire. Using his incredibly detailed drawings of buildings and cityscapes, students will create a mini architectural drawing that they will then transfer onto foil.
Activity statement –
Stephen Wiltshire, a London-based contemporary artist with autism, is known as one of only 100 of the world’s autistic savants. His amazing gift is to be able to look at any cityscape or collection of buildings for a few minutes, and then draw from memory, in exact detail, what he saw. Many years ago, I first watched the BBC documentary on Stephen Wiltshire and was just blown away—not only by the phenomenal talent Wiltshire has for memorizing and then recreating cityscapes, but for his soft-spoken introspection and deep joy at practicing his art. Every year he becomes one of the favorites among the artists my students’ study.
While watching the Wiltshire documentary I ask that students pay particular attention to the way he draws: he draws a line as a series of soft strokes; he does not wholly commit to a shape until he has lightly sketched out other shapes around it; Wiltshire builds upon the marks. I replay some of these scenes so they can understand the organic, forgiving nature of this approach, so that when it is their turn to draw a building (in their case from a photograph), they can attempt this approach of what I call soft-sketch drawing to give them more breathing room while working to get correct perspective, angles and dimension.
The next part of the working project involves foil repousse, which I added after viewing art teacher Mr. Lundgren’s excellent videos on YouTube some years ago: https://www.youtube.com/user/mrlundgren1. He demonstrates ways in which to take an architectural drawing and trace it onto foil, and then tool on either side of the foil for a relief and intaglio effect. Sixth grade is a perfect year for playing with diverse media, and foil repousse was no exception. It gave us the opportunity to explore relief sculpture, observing relief sculptures throughout history, and to talk about the three types of relief: bas-relief, high-relief and intaglio (sunken) relief.
Goals – Understand:
- A “soft-sketch” approach to drawing
- The use of line and pattern in architectural drawings
- Positioning positive and negative space within an architectural composition
- Who Stephen Wiltshire is and why his work is so important
- The meaning of relief, bas-relief, high-relief and intaglio (sunken) relief
Be able to:
- Complete one foil repousse piece of an architectural drawing
- Render line and texture in foil repousse
Resources and materials –
- Access to documentary of Stephen Wiltshire
- Photographs and/or illustrations of real or imaginary cityscapes, and buildings
- Examples of relief sculpture
- Bristol paper cut into 6”x6” squares
- Foil cut into 6”x6” squares
- Foil repousse tools
- Squares of felt to place under the foil while tooling
- Colored sharpies for those who want to color parts of the foil in
- What kinds of challenges did Wiltshire experience as a child?
- What helped Wiltshire face these challenges?
- What do you call the particular gift he has, and how would you describe it?
- What do you notice about the way he moves his pencil (or pen) across the page? How do you think that might help the drawing process?
- Can you define the three different types of relief?
- What are examples of patterns in architecture?
- What are examples of texture in architecture? How would you represent that in a drawing? How would you represent that in foil embossing?
- Try this experiment: Look at the following architectural drawing for one minute. Now put it away. Try to reproduce what you saw in a quick sketch.
Evaluation – Did students:
- Use correct terms and understanding to discuss the life and experiences of Stephen Wiltshire?
- Be able to use in correct context the terms: relief, bas-relief, high-relief and intaglio (sunken) relief?
- Verbally reflect on ways to create pattern and texture in foil repousse (embossing)?
- Did students use texture to enhance the embossing in interesting ways?
- Student questions
- Group discussions
- Oral responses to essential questions
- Initial architectural sketch
- One finished foil repousse
- Elaboration and risk-taking