Fine Art for Kids: Balancing with Calder

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The other day the tot got in my craft drawer and found some wire. Before I knew it she was all wrapped up – and giggling like crazy! Instead of getting upset or frustrated with her fun exploration, I figured it would be a great opportunity for creating something awesome! An Alexander Calder balanced mobile!

What’s great about Calder is he made these small and uber-large sculptures that moved (yes, a mobile) that were kinetic. This means the environment interacted with his creations, helping them to move and float. I love Calder’s mobiles and actually had the chance to see some up-close and personal in a vault located in a museum I used to work for. And, let me tell you, that was all kinds of awesomeness.

So, Calder has a special place in my heart, and I wanted to share his cool art with my daughter. After I un-wire-wrapped her, we took a look at his mobiles and she loved pointing out the colors she found. Then, we got to work!

All you need to do this art activity with your child are two different gauges of craft wire (I used 28 and 20), scraps of paper, and some patience! You and your child can take another look at Calder’s work and how he used shapes and line to create exciting, balanced, kinetic creations.

Craft wire is a fun, but feisty, thing. It can be sharp when cut, so this project is geared for the older set, let’s say 3rd grade and up. You could do the project with younger kids using string and sticks, and it would still be cool!

Invite your child to cut a length of the heavier gauge wire to use for the base for the mobile. Now she can search for interesting bits of paper to use for her cut-out shapes. I had some pieces of patterned paper that worked wonderfully. Encourage her to cut organic shapes, which means flowing un-edged shapes, to use for her mobile.

Now she can use a hole punch to make holes in each of her shape and then string with the lighter gauged craft wire. Sometimes working with the lighter gauge craft wire can get a bit finicky. It’s thin and has a mind of its own, but encourage your child to keep at it finding where to twist the hanging shapes on the base wire to create a balanced mobile. My wee tot helped by threading the wire through the holes!

If your child is feeling up for the challenge, she can even suspend an additional length of the heavier gauge craft wire along with more shapes hanging from it!

Help your child find the perfect place to hang her finished Calder inspired mobile where it can move and be admired!

*What I learned while doing this project? I’m not as patient as I used to be with craft wire, probably because I had a wee tot that really wanted to use it, too (MINE!), and taking a good picture of a mobile is really hard!


Recycled styrofoam art

With Earth Day around the corner, finding ways to re-use or recycle is at the top of my to-do list. The other night, while making dinner, that flat styrofoam meat tray reminded me of an educational and enjoyable art activity I used to do with students. I decided to save that ugly yellow meat tray and turn it into something lovely instead!

Before heading down the art-with-used-meat-tray activity path, it’s essential to clean the styrofoam. I use lots and lots of dish soap to wash trays, and dry them overnight before using. This ensures no icky-sick potential.

Cut the sides off the meat tray along with cutting it to a size you want to work with. Then, you can use a pencil to draw a design onto the tray. Don’t go crazy or anything – you aren’t trying to press through the tray, just make an indentation. If you want to make a detailed design, you can print out or draw a design on a sheet of paper and then tape it over the styrofoam – just trace over the design.

When finished with your drawing, paint over the tray with tempera, acrylic, or watercolor paint. Press the tray onto a piece of paper and check out the cool print you made! You can re-use the stamp by washing it with water and then stamp and stamp away!

The great thing about this project is that pretty much anyone can do it – even little kids. The design might be a ton of crazy lines, but kiddies will be proud of the finished product. Adults can get in on the action, too. And, you might find yourself getting quite caught up in creating unique designs. I enjoyed playing around with making these styrofoam stamps while my daughter was napping.