Jun 12, 2011

Open ended sculpture fun with glue and sticks

This project started off before Maker Faire, I think back at the end of April. We went to the Exploratorium in San Francisco (the kid's favourite museum and probably mine too). They had just brought in an amazing matchstick sculpture by a guy called Scott Weaver (I didn't realise until just now when I went looking for something to link to for him that he started doing this at the age of eight, and says he started off building abstract pieces of about 2 to 4ft tall! So cool!). His sculpture was hunormous and had taken him over 30 years to construct. I snapped some photographs of it so that you can see it's awesomeness, plus a video clip of it in action, because it's not just a static sculpture featuring landmarks throughout the bay and the city of SF. It's contructed with many different paths inside it, twisting and winding through that you can drop ping pong balls into and watch them roll their way around the bay's sights, hence the sculpture's name "Rolling through the bay".

Here's the video I took of it in action:

My girls, who are now five and six years old, were blown away by this sculpture and it's complexity and the fact that it was made out of so many simple little sticks just glued together. My older daughter in particular usually has the following first response to things of this magnitude: "Can we make that?", and these days I'm pretty used to finding ways to facilitate a project for them that's at least similarly themed. I have to be quick off the mark with these things though, because it only takes a couple of days max for the kids to move on to another "grand scheme". Luckily in my stash of random thrift store and recycling finds I had a massive bag of wooden coffee stirrers and another massive bag of lolly pop sticks that I'd scored for a buck each at the local charity shop. These were ideal for allowing the kids to build big and fast. I had a feeling that toothpicks or matchsticks would have been a bit too small to inspire the youngest among us, especially given that it was the scale of the structure that they were most keen to emulate. As always with the kids I opted to use the low temp hot glue guns, because they give immediate results.

The day after we'd been to the exploratorium we had some friends over and I was glad that I'd taken the video and pictures of Scott Weaver's creation, because we were able to enthuse my daughter's friends with the project plans too. So, once they were all on board and were chattering about ideas of what to make, I gave them a big bit of plywood from the garage and a box of sharpie markers to draw on it with, while I pulled out the glue guns and glue sticks and extension cords and wooden sticks and set them up around the table for them. This is what they started off with that morning...

This is what we had by the time the kids went home that day...

It was interesting to see the different approaches that the different kids took. I deliberately gave them one big bit of plywood to work on because although they started off in different corners of the board, working in groups of two or three or sometimes alone, eventually the separate elements would come together into a collaborative piece and would grow quickly. My younger daughter and her friend started with an organic approach of gluing sticks to the board and to each other's sticks without much of a plan as to where it was going, but their imaginations quickly took over and they were chattering about the "magical ancient swimming pool" they were building. Other kids like my older daughter and her friend were planning ideas on paper before they picked up the glue guns and other kids were making objects off the board and then attaching them to the sculpture afterwards. All different approaches and all resulting in equally interesting creations.

The kids did start to create a track for ping pong balls to run along, but that aspect of the sculpture was clearly very secondary to the freeform building going on.

I think you can already guess that this project has no end goal. It's lived in our home for over a month now and changes daily. For a couple of weeks it was sat in the livingroom being used as an ever changing imaginary playscape for various toys. It's had my yarn remnants draped over it like a crumbling ruined city deep in the jungle...

It's been painted all sorts of colours and had flags added. Actually the kids are painting more of it as I type this.

It's even got a Lowes Build and Grow wooden trebuchet added to defend it. I think it's become a sort of building in their minds.

They have added a door to one part of it that is made from a baby wipe packet closure, which works really well and I have a load more of them that they can add too because friends have been saving them for me to use in a different way, but we have plenty to use for this too.

The kids quickly found out that if they didn't like something where it was then they just had to touch the hot tip of the gun to the glue to soften it and pull off the sticks to go elsewhere. The combination of hot glue and porus wooden sticks made a beutifully sturdy, yet lightweight structure, so I can move it between rooms for them really easily. It's likely to be worked on or played with gradually over the summer. Both my girls say that it's supposed to reach the ceiling, so they have their work cut out if that's what the really want. I'm interested to see where this ends up by the time school starts up again. We're sure to have a bunch of kids around here this summer, so there will be plenty of varied brainpower to contribute!

I think we have enough in the way of wooden sticks to get this thing to about 4 feet tall. I'll keep my eyes open for more coffee stirrers and popsicle sticks at the thrift stores though, just in case they want to keep going with it. I remember one of the most frustrating parts of epic building projects as a kid being running out of materials when you wanted to keep going. I like how this is turning out to be a slow paced project, because it gets played with more often than it gets modified and as the kid's imaginations work on it through play, the new ideas to continue building are born.

In other news, this third little girl is still inutero, with less than a week until her due date now. We were really expecting her before now because of the extra amniotic fluid I'm carrying (my bump is mahoooosive!), but I guess she's very comfortable, even if I'm not ;) It's buffet night at the local Indian place this evening though, so maybe that will help to serve a fetal eviction notice and I'll have a cute newborn photo of the latest filth wizardlett to share with you before too long.


  1. You are completely amazing. I don't have children but am a very grown up child myself and love crafting/playing.I have been trawling through all your past blogs for ages, VERY inspiring, and I've finally started my own blog which I'm loving to bits! Thank you so much for all the stuff you put out there.

  2. Great project! And best of luck with your newest addition. Thinking of you!

  3. hang on in there!

    I love this idea, and think we will do our own take....I'm inspired to collect together all the odds and ends of wood we have and let loose with the glue guns.

    Another excellent idea!

  4. Wonderful! isn't it amazing to see the power of inspiration from "real" art. Obviously this is real art too ;-) Can't wait to see a picture of it touching the ceiling and to see that newborn bubba! Good luck

  5. This is such a great project! The creativity is endless!

  6. I love the way you let projects get huge like this!!!

    Here's hoping you have filthwizardlett keeping the entire household up at night (instead of just you) very soon! =)

  7. Awesome, we are regular matchstick/popstick/hot glue gun creators. We have made playground equipment, cities, and a large tower .. it is a great 'work in progress' to have in the school holidays.

  8. Wow! I will have to show your photos to my kiddos for sure. I'm sure that they will be inspired by the artist and by your children!!

    Thank you for sharing!

  9. Incredible! Good work- please say that to the kids

  10. Super !
    I love it.
    And to the kids: Good work!

  11. What an amazing structure! So cool, I am sure my kids would love this (I need to work on some glue gun training first, though. How old did you first introduce that?). Also, good labor vibes your way! How exciting!

  12. AHH! I love it! And I'm so excited for you... can't wait to hear the good news!

  13. what fun and beautiful idea,
    thanks for inspiring me!!!

    a big hello from Spain,

  14. Wow! This is seriously phenomenal! Its is the perfect craft for children-creative, free-flowing and I am sure so empowering for them to do-and fun! Thanks for sharing! I think I am going to do this with my 4 year old! he will have a blast!

  15. That's not a trebuchet. It's a catapult. Just felt it needed clarification. Although if you do put in a trebuchet it will add +10 pts in awesomeness - just saying.


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