How to Make Sculpture Art by Casting Shells

This simple STEAM activity is perfect for a rainy day after the beach.
May 20, 2019



How to Make Sculpture Art by Casting Shells

May 20, 2019

Your young artist will love exploring a classic sculpting technique by imprinting shells in modeling dough and casting them using hot glue.

This art-science project encourages kids to look more closely at shells, and it gets kids thinking about material sciences as they observe how hot melted glue solidifies into a hard sculpture.

What You’ll Need

  • Glue gun
  • Glue sticks (glitter glue sticks, if you have them)
  • Clay or modeling dough
  • Shells
  • Other objects for making small imprints in dough (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Toothpick (optional)

Safety Tips and Hints  

Glue guns and hot glue can cause burns. Adult supervision should be used when filling imprints with hot glue. Always keep hot glue and glue guns away from small children, and remember to unplug them when you've finished filling the imprints.

An adult should cut off excess glue, once the shell is cast and hardened.

What to Do

Step 1: Let your child flatten a ball of modeling dough to make it slightly thicker than the shell that she wants to use for casting. 

Step 2: Ask him to press the shell or another small object into the clay or modeling dough to make an imprint.

Step 3: Help your child fill the impression she made with hot glue. Try to get the glue into every nook and cranny. A toothpick may be helpful to fill gaps.

Step 4: Allow the glue to cool to room temperature.

Step 5: Let your your young sculptor remove the glue casting from the clay or play dough and clean it off. Sometimes, it looks nice to leave some playdough in the cracks to add color and dimension.

Step 6: Help your child clean up the shell sculpture by using scissors to cut off any extra glue.


Step 7: Your child can leave the shell sculpture as it is, or paint it.

Creative Enrichment

  1. Go online to look up information about shells and the creatures that live in them. Can you identify the shell you cast?
  2. Find other objects to cast in glue.

The STEAM Behind the Fun

Shells are built-in armor for legions of creatures that live in the sea. Many of the shells you’ll find near fresh water and salt water belong to animals called mollusks, which include both clams and snails.

In this project, kids cast shells using modeling dough and hot glue. The word "casting" is both a noun and a verb. The process of casting involves pouring a liquid material into a hollow form and allowing it to harden. Once it’s solidified, the three-dimensional hardened sculpture, also known as a casting, is removed from the form. This process is used to mold metal, plaster, concrete, and other materials into complicated forms.

Bronze is an alloy, or mixture of metals, that’s made mostly of copper, with some tin or other metals added to make it stronger. Sculptures have been cast in bronze for thousands of years, and bronze is still one of the most popular materials used by sculptors. It can be cast in hollow forms imprinted in sand, or in molds made using wax or latex. Some of the most intricate ancient bronzes hail from Nigeria, and one of the oldest bronze statues, called “Dancing Girl,” was discovered in modern day Pakistan. 


This project and more like it are featured in Liz’s new book STEAM Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Hands-On Projects Using Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (Quarry Books, 2018).

© Quarry Books, 2018/ STEAM Lab for Kids; Photo credit: © Quarry Books

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