Art Lesson: Embossed Metal Mirrors

Each year in art class, my third grade students tackle an embossed metal art project. This year, I changed up our usual square tile tooling designs for a larger, more advanced relief sculpture lesson: embossed metal mirrors.

Once the mirrors were displayed in our school hallway, the number of positive reactions was overwhelming. Parents, faculty and the administration were all stunned that the embossed metal mirrors were created by elementary students, commenting on how professional and advanced the finished products turned out. Here’s how to make your own.

Required art materials:

– 9″x12″ medium-gauge metal fooling foil
– pencils
– black shoe polish
– paper towels
– steel wool
– thick cardboard cut into 8″x11″ pieces
– inexpensive mirrors
– tacky glue
– craft gemstones
– picture hanging hardware

Art lesson procedure:

1. Host class discussion, introducing the students to metal tooling and the terms relief sculpture, repousse, and embossing. Show images of embossed metalworks, relating to any culture or time period desired.

2. Demonstrate how to work with metal tooling foil, allowing students to practice carving lines with dull pencils on scrap pieces. Discuss patterns, and have students practice embossing patterns on their scraps.

3. Each student will place a mirror on their foil, centering it or placing as desired, then trace around the mirror with their pencil. After removing the foil, the students may write “drawing side” – in small letters – on the very edge of their foil, so they know which side of the foil they will be carving into.

4. With cardboard under their metal, the students will break up their surface into different spaces with patterns, such as stripes (lines), checkerboards, diamonds or dots. The students will then fill these spaces by embossing different patterns.

5. When their designs are finished, then students must then draw over all their lines a second time with their pencils, carefully indenting the metal even further to ensure their embossed lines are deep enough.

6. The cardboard will then be centered, and placed on top of the “drawing side” of the foil. Demonstrate how to smoothly fold one edge of foil over the lip of the cardboard to the back, then repeat on the three other sides, until the cardboard is securely held in place by the metal.

7. Turning the board over, the students then apply black shoe polish liberally into all the low spots of their embossed metal design. Next, they use paper towels to wipe off the excess from the top. After a few minutes of drying time, steel wool may then be used to remove extra polish and shine the high relief areas. This faux technique enhances the embossed metal artwork by giving it the appearance of being old and weathered.

8. Lastly, students attach the mirrors into their designated spaces with tacky glue, and add gemstones if desired (these make the mirrors appear to be extravagant, medieval and treasure-like, which the elementary students adore). Before display, be sure to adhere picture-hanging hardware to the backs of each artwork.

Throughout this art lesson, my students were engaged, motivated and on the edge of their seats; they couldn’t wait to see how their embossed metal mirrors would turn out. Once finished, be prepared for oohs and ahhs, special lesson requests from other students, and a realization you’ll never go back to those same, boring, square tiles ever again.

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