Character Totem

Essential Question(s):

1. What is the difference between 2D and 3D art processes?

2. What is assemblage + paper mache?

3. How do I use recycled materials to build + sculpt a 3D form?

4. How is color theory used in the real world + how do artists use it?

5. What is acrylic paint + how do I mix colors?

Mastery Objective(s): The student will…

1. use the sculpture technique + art processes: assemblage, paper mache, + acrylic painting to create a character totem based on an emotion and/or character trait. 



Step No.1:


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Step No.2:

Complete 4 PRELIMINARY SKETCHES + choose the BEST to finalize!

Start with the written brainstorming 1st! Then sketch a visual representation of what you wrote down. Include: eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth/teeth, chin + ears. Think about facial structure like the forehead + cheeks that are going to push the idea of your emotion or trait. Also, don’t forget items like a mustache, glasses, eyelashes, or even a monocle. Then add patterns that reinforce the trait…on every side, even the face, except the bottom of the cube. Jot down some colors too, however, don’t waste time adding color to the 4 preliminary sketches. Then finally, choose the best one – the one you want to create a sculpture out of. This is a long process, so you need to like it, if not LOVE IT!

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Step No.3:


Complete 1 FINAL SKETCH (front + back) with COLOR!

1. Use color pencils to show how you intend to PAINT your 3D sculpture – use the information below to guide your process:

  • You must have a color scheme
  • You must show shades, tints, tones and hues of the chosen color scheme
  • Use COLOR to show which 3D facial features are being EMPHASIZED (focal point)
  • Use COLOR to make 3D features pop out and contrast PATTERNS

Draw the front, back, 2 sides, and the top on the next two sheets (*hint: print or copy 2 of the last page). Focus on placement of the facial features, patterns, and color. Think about color wisely…you are not going to use colors straight out of the paint tube. Choose a color scheme and go from there. Think about dull vs. bright + dark vs. light. Just because your color scheme has only 3 colors doesn’t mean you can’t explore the tints, shades, intensities + saturations of those 3 colors to produce an unlimited amount of colors.

CLASS of 2021 Student Samples

Step No.4:


Build a cube from cereal box cardboard or foam board. (The 6 sides will be pre-cut on the paper cutter ranging from 8 to 11 inches. I will determine which size you will be given depending on your design…complex and detailed/small facial features = smaller size vs. more negative space and large designs/large facial features = larger size.

Step No.5:

Begin ADD-ONS!

Find and/or reinvent recycled materials to create the parts on the face. BE SURE that you make the facial feature 3D – meaning that they need to stick out and create form! You can also cut into the box to inset facial features. For example, instead of just sticking the mouth on the face, maybe it goes into the face to make depth and sticks out to bring more attention to that area on the face?!

1. Begin finding and building 3D facial features. Remember these features must be 3D:

  • EYES
  • NOSE
  • EARS

Here are some tips for building and sculpting the 3D features:

Cardboard is your friend:)




This website has some great tips for working with cardboard! 

Step No.6:

PAPER MACHE your sculpture!

The entire sculpture  with 3 layers! Leave no holes or open areas. This means you have to cover all of the add-ons. Tips: Be sure each strip of newspaper is covered in paper mache really well and you wipe excess off. Lay paper mache in a ‘weaving’ style, where you criss-cross each piece you add. Do not add all 3 layers at a time in one spot – that side of your box will get heavy and cave in!

Things to remember about papier mache in our classroom:

1. Papier mache CANNOT be poured down the sink – IT WILL CLOG OUR DRAIN!

2. Any papier mache waste has to be wiped out of the container and off of your hands with paper towels before being washed + rinsed.

3. The tables and work area must be covered with newspaper!

Step No.7:

BASE COAT with gesso!

Use large brush to paint the entire sculpture with gesso. If you have a small area that you cannot get to with the large brush, you can use a smaller brush. When painting with gesso for the base coat : paint a thin layer that covers every area on the sculpture and allow it to completely dry…usually that takes a day or so to dry.

***If you choose to ‘glop’ on the gesso – 1. you are wasting an expense art material. 2. It is going to take much longer to dry. 3. When it dries, it may chip and crack where it was ‘glopped’ on thick.

Step No.8:

SKETCH a LAYOUT of your DESIGN on your sculpture!

Refer to your final sketches and with an Ebony pencil (the lead is soft and will not dig into the sculpture) or vine charcoal sketch out your patterns.

Step No.9:

Begin painting!


  1. Construction must be crafted well. (Paper mache completely covers the bottom layer, add-ons, etc. of the sculpture and additions are sturdy.)
  2. Sculpture must have a color scheme that illustrates the emotion/character you chose.
  3. Patterns must be on all sides, except the bottom. (The bottom should have one color painted with your name, title + date.)
  4. Sculpture must have facial features: eyebrows, eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth/teeth, chin + ears.
  5. Facial features must be 3-dimensional and create form on the front and sides of the sculpture; these items may not just be painted on.
  6. Paint must be properly layered with excellent craftsmanship.
  7. Paint must demonstrate your knowledge of color theory; colors must be mixed from primary colors with ranges of value and intensity. (Do not use colors straight from the bottle!)

RUBRIC: How will you be graded? Rubric will be attached to assignment in Canvas.