Making 3D Art from Urethane Foam

Kevin Langmaack is an art instructor at Central Valley Christian School.  He teaches a 3D foam carving art class to high school students.  They learn about creating realistic objects through carving high-density urethane foam.  Langmaack talks about the concepts behind the class and why he loves using Precision Board HDU in his popular foam carving class.

urethane foam

“I’m the only art teacher at the school and so it was up to me to create a program,” says Kevin Langmaack.  He created a 3d art class that is taken by mostly sophomores and juniors.

He says, “in that class half of it is clay and pottery wheel and the other half is other sculpture techniques.”

Kevin used soapstone and alabaster in college, but thought it would be too much for this class.  He had tried a few things on the market and finally landed on HDU.  He says it’s the same skills and techniques that famous artists use to carve marble, but it’s a little more accessible to teens.

“Students have one project in 3d art class. Artifact carving is what I call it.”  Langmaack continues, “the assignment is working through the idea of Trompe L’eoil…artists that make things that look like something else.”  He will give them a small piece or scrap of Precision Board HDU to play with for a few days to get used to using the material.  It helps give them an idea of how fast you can take pieces off and how the material responds.

According to Kevin, artists used to take marble and carve life-like people. Later on, they used marble to carve every day objects.  He points to artist Jud Nelson, known for super realistic carving of every day objects like garbage bags or cereal or bread, using marble and polystyrene as his materials of choice.  Kevin tells his students, “now it’s your turn. I want you to carve an item that looks like the real thing and trick people.”  He adds, “if you’re not sure what to carve, then do an office product…stapler, scissors. Or maybe use food…hamburger, fries.  Something you might find in your locker. It’s a different theme each year.”

With this project, Langmaack says it’s the idea of reduction instead of addition.  “What do you need to take away so that the object you want is there? Removing the unnecessary stuff to reveal the object.”  He continues, “if you’re going to carve a strawberry with leaves, what am I going to take out? Visualize what needs to happen.”

Kevin will have his students sketch their idea out and then even draw the object right onto three sides of the urethane foam.

Being a small school and lacking a CNC machine, he has his students use hand-carving tools.  “They use rasps for most of the work. Hand saws for larger areas. Exacto knives for detail work and then sandpaper to smooth the edges.”

Langmaack mostly has his students use acrylic paint, but sometimes they need their project to look shiny, so then they will spray it with gloss.

One of the lessons Kevin is trying to teach with this class is the idea of subtracting rather than adding.  “Clay is different in that you’re being additive…adding to it to make something. The paradigm shift is the idea of subtracting rather than adding.  Some kids pick it up right away and some take a bit longer to understand how to take things away.”  He continues, “it’s fun because all the other projects you draw a plan and then build until you get there and then you see it when it’s done. I have them bring the real object with them so they can see how the final product looks. With this you can’t change your mind because you’re removing urethane foam to get to your final shape. You can’t just add more material and change your idea.”

Before students pick out an object, Langmaack tells them that something organic is a lot easier than something man-made. Something perfectly round, like a perfume bottle, is very hard to make perfect. Something like a cupcake doesn’t have to be perfectly round.


This is the 7th year that Kevin has been using Precision Board HDU. “I’m very thankful that the product exists. There are some other options on the market and other ways to teach the same concept, but I really enjoy having access to this product.”

Langmaack adds, “many kids want to take the class specifically because they are excited to work with the material and have seen other projects in the past.”

We can’t wait to see what this year’s theme will be and even more excited to see what wonderful creations the kids make from Precision Board high-density urethane foam!

urethane foam

Kevin Langmaack has been an art teacher in Minnesota and California for 20 years and has recently achieved his National Board Certification. Besides teaching, Kevin is a husband and a father and an artist.  Kevin is an instructor in the Visual Arts Department at Central Valley Christian School.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board HDU, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane sign material that is particularly effective for making professional-looking indoor and outdoor dimensional signs.  It is a closed-cell rigid substrate that does not rot, warp or crack.  You can request free samplesget a quote or sign up for periodic newsletters packed with helpful information.

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