Shadow Fun

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Shadows, Recycling

Possible Art Concepts: Art History –Lotte Reineger,  Kumi Yamashita, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Vincent Bal

Elements of Art – Line (contour Line), Shape, Form Media – Collage, Paper Sculpture

Do you teach a shadow unit? If so, do I have some ideas for you.

Last week I visited “Black-out Silhouettes: Then and Now” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. You can find an informative video about this show here. Now, this is not the first time I’ve talked about silhouettes. I blogged about Lotte Reineger, who made the first feature length animated film (and all with silhouettes). The post can be found here.  The black-out show has many examples of silhouettes from the past. Silhouettes became popular in the 1800s as a more affordable alternative than oil painted portraits. A silhouette is a contour outline of a person’s profile which is cut from black paper and glued onto another piece of paper (Glueing one paper onto another is also known as a collage.).


With the invention of the Physiognotrace machine, shown above, silhouettes became even more accessible and popular. 

The thing that most excited me about this show was one of the contemporary artists working with silhouettes and shadows,  Kumi Yamashita.


 As seen above, she will arrange everyday objects, (ie – blocks and 3D letters or numbers) and shine a light across them to form a shadow of a portrait. Yamashita will also manipulate the edge of what looks like a sheet of paper (is actually resin) to form a shadow portrait. Look here to see some close up examples.

After seeing Kumi’s work, I was reminded of a pair of recycling artists, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, who use rubbish or trash to create silhouettes. Most of their work is inappropriate for students to see, but I did find two you could show in your classroom. “Real life is Rubbish”  can be found here. And, “Sunset Over Manhattan” can be found here.

While researching projects to go along with this post, I ran across a blogger named “petit loulou” who already did all the work for me. You can find her wonderful post here. I love how she shows several shadow art ideas and found even more contemporary shadow artists. Tracing cast shadows can be good practice for eye hand coordination. Drawing shadows of everyday objects, figuring out what they look like and drawing in the details, like Vincent Bal does, would allow your students to show their creative side. Intermediate students could try their hand at arranging objects, ala Yamashita, to form some monster silhouettes. For a recycling unit, try arranging some recycling objects, like Noble and Webster.

Kumi also did an exclamation point whose shadow became a question mark . This reminded me of a recent post by Cassie Stephens on paper strip sculptures.  The “Question Mark” sculpture was basically made up of strips. I was thinking, what kind of shadows could students produce with paper strip sculptures?

Hopefully, this post has provided you with some new ways of approaching a shadow unit. Has it sparked even more ideas for you? I’d love to hear if they did. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!