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Edible Art: A Lesson on Tradition, Identity, and Impermanence

I couldn’t help but smile when I stumbled upon the glistening candy art of Shinri Tezuka in a Christopher Jobson’s article, "New Edible ‘Amezaiku’ Animal Lollipop Designs by Shinri Tezuka" (2017). One of Tezuka’s pieces, a lemon-yellow fish made of hot sugar, floated gracefully from the tip of a lollipop stick. Its fins became translucent toward their delicate tips, and its head curved downward in a fragile and fleeting pose. Tezuka’s playful lollipop animal sculptures are remarkably crafted and beautifully ephemeral. He uses a traditional Japanese craft called amezaiku to create his glass-like creatures. Creating artwork that represents living things with materials meant to be consumed provokes contemplation of the transitory nature of life itself.

Other artists have tackled the theme of impermanence, including Andy Goldsworthy who is well known for his land artworks that are installed in natural and urban environments and erode and dissipate with time. Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of creating meticulously composed sand art, only to be swept into a jar and returned to nature once completed. Artists explore ephemeral subjects in dynamic and nuanced ways.

By showing students the whimsical candy art of Shinri Tezuka and prompting them to make their own edible art, students can playfully explore the idea of impermanence. Creating something that will inevitably be consumed or destroyed teaches a simple lesson on the transitory nature of material things. This topic could easily be expanded into an entire unit, but here is a lesson that introduces students to Tezuka’s candy art, the technique of amezaiku, and the concept of transience.

Background

Shinri Tezuka is a Tokyo-based candy artisan. He uses the traditional Japanese craft of amezaiku to create sculptures with hot sugar. Artists model sculptures by hand, use tools including tweezers and scissors, and paint sculptures with edible dyes. Amezaiku was brought to Japan from China and was used to create offerings at temples during the mid-Edo period between 1603-1867 (Kelly Wetherille, "Candy Made with Craftsmanship," 2014). Tezuka being among a small group of artisans keeping the tradition alive.

Tezuka’s body of work includes a delightful range of lively candy creatures including hedgehogs, panda bears, turtles, lions, octopi, and pigs. Assemble a range of examples to present to your students, showcasing a variety of animals to provoke imaginative and varied responses.

Materials

Select materials depending on your students’ ages and your preferences. In the interest of simplicity, I narrowed my materials down to a few simple items.

Lollipops (for base)

Starbursts, or similar soft candies (for sculpting)

Toothpicks and plastic knives (optional tools)

Note: If candy sculpting does not appeal to you, you could substitute with a craft stick and air-dry clay.

Process

Artmaking Prompt: Use edible materials to sculpt an animal lollipop that represents you.

Students will create sculptures using a lollipop as an armature or base. Chewy candy can be broken down into a soft moldable texture by hand rolling. Simple techniques like coiling, attaching, modeling, and marking with toothpicks can be used to transform candy into animal sculptures.

After showing students a variety of Tezuka’s animal sculptures, ask them “If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?” and allow them to discuss this in small groups. Explain that art can be used to represent aspects of the artist’s identity and that they will create their very own animal lollipops to represents who they are. Model this process by showing your exemplar, demonstrating how you used the materials, and explaining how your animal reflects your personality.

Students can spend their work period freely exploring the materials and experimenting with sculpting methods to create their sculptures. Engage students by asking them questions about their inspiration for their sculptures and their methods for creating them. Encourage novel responses, idea sharing, and innovative and surprising uses of the candy materials.

Conclude the lesson by having students share their animal lollipops with the whole class or in small groups. Focus the discussion around how the sculptures represent their individual identities. This would be a great opportunity to take some pictures of the finished animal lollipops. At the end of the discussion, explain to students that some artists make work that is not meant to last forever; their work is impermanent. Students can consider this as they consume their animal sculptures and watch their handmade creatures vanish before their eyes.

 

Written by Danielle Dravenstadt

Danielle is an artist and art educator in Alexandria, VA. She specializes in student-centered learning, arts integration, and contemporary best practices.