Welcome! Hopefully you've found this post because you're interested in learning a few different techniques on artmaking.
The first technique I'd like to share is actually part of a project I did for a History of Art Education class at the University of Cincinnati. The project was a research based art project and every student selected a text to pull their artwork from. I chose the book Emphasis: Art by Frank Wachowiak. The text is a guide for art educators on how to have a qualitative art program and offers many tools and processes that art educators can use for an elementary program. The reason that I chose to do this particular project, a hand carved plaster block, is because it is actually mentioned in the text. Carving can be typically looked over in the elementary school, not only because of difficulties with tools and thinking spatially, but also because of time constraints. This project took me about 3.5 hours to complete, but I have experience with carving, so if children were to do this project, it would have to span over several classes. However, I believe that sometimes challenging processes can be some of the more rewarding experiences children can have in a classroom. So! Let's get started.
Here are all of the supplies that I will be using for this project - a plaster block, a variety of tools to carve and shave the plaster with, some watercolors to add a bit of color at the end, and a matt spray fixative to protect the final project.
First, to make the block, you will need to mix water and dry plaster in a separate bowl and a mold to pour the wet plaster in to - I used an orange juice carton that had been rinsed out and the top cut off. (If you use a container that is not waxed cardboard, like a milk carton, you will need to coat the inside with a mold release. It comes in spray cans or you can use Vaseline.) To mix the plaster, fill your mold about 3/4 the way full of water and then pour it into your mixing bowl. Slowly add dry plaster to the water and stir constantly with one hand. (One hand to scoop and pour in plaster, one hand in your bowl mixing to prevent clumping.) You will continue to add plaster to the water until it has the consistency of pancake batter. The mixture will coat your hand and very slowly run off of your fingers. Once you get to the desired consistency, pour the mixture into your carton and let it set overnight. (The plaster will crumble if it isn't fully dry and can get very messy.)
The next step to complete is to sketch out what it is that you want to carve. The more simple the form, the easier it will be to carve. Since this is going to be a 3D object, you should sketch more than one view of what you want to carve so that you don't accidentally carve off too much.
So you can see on the side the form that I wanted to make, but then I actually traced the block onto my sketch paper so I could get a general idea of how tall and wide it could be. Once you complete the sketch on paper, you sketch out your figure on the actual block. This is going to serve as a guideline for when you start shaving the block down into its general shape.
The object I chose to carve was circular in shape, so I started by shaving down all of the edges with a combination of a chisel and a large loop tool. I'd chisel off the corners and then shave down the edges. (Look at all those shavings!) I got as close to my sketch as I felt comfortable with before starting on the next step, which was to actually start forming the head and general shape of the body.
To get to this point, what I did was use a curved chisel to gouge out the actual sketch. I followed the shape of the head and ears, arms, feet, and tail (not shown) and then continued chiseling and shaving away (with both the large loop tool and also a smaller one for between the ears and the stomach) at the parts outside of the sketch, slowly lowering the shoulders and back (see below) to unearth the head and ears and shaving away at the stomach to make the feet pop out more.
Here's a top view, so you can see the ears better.
Continue chiseling and shaving to get the body towards more of where you want it to be.
You can see here that the head is more pronounced and the ears are actually fully visible now. Everything is starting to get more and more rounded and the features are becoming more prominent.
Continue shaving until you are happy with the form and everything seems level and even.
Once everything is how you want it to be, feel free to add any features. I wanted to give my rabbit a face, so using a small curved chisel, I lightly carved out the eyes and then carved a V for the nose. To get the nose to stick out more on it's own, I lightly shaved away underneath the V to give the nose more prominence.
Horray! The carving is now done and it's time to add a little color. I decided to use watercolors because I wanted them to be absorbed into the plaster to create only a hint of color. I personally really enjoy the bright white of plaster, but I just wanted to accentuate some of the relief aspects of the form and make them pop out a bit. If you want to paint the whole form, you can use just about any type of paint, but I'd recommend either watercolor or acrylic for faster drying times.
For the color, since I didn't want anything too bright, I went with a really watery yellow ochre. I used a small brush to apply it to all of the crevices. Don't worry about it being applied too thickly, because you can always wipe, sand, or brush off what you don't want on there without hurting your carving. Watercolors dry very fast on plaster, so mistakes can be easily corrected with a light sanding.
What I did to remove the excess paint was lightly sand the larger areas and then I took a stiff bristle brush to lightly scrub the paint off so only a little bit was left. This is where you can get really creative with texture. If you want, you can paint the whole surface and then lightly sand away parts, you can use a needle and draw into the paint, and you can carve parts away to expose more of the plaster. Some really light washes of paint can also create interesting textures of their own, as the plaster absorbs watercolors. Feel free to experiment and have fun with the color!
And voila! The carving is finished! If you would like to see the finished project in person, it is located in the display case just inside of the DAAP library on the 5th floor of the Aronoff building at the University of Cincinnati. I hope you enjoyed and/or learned the demonstration!