These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch
Make

Make: Calder-Inspired Cardboard Spring Sculptures

Back when I used to live in Chicago, life didn’t get sweeter than chilling outside in a downtown plaza on a spring day, just people-watching and enjoying the fresh air. For those who have never been: Chicago is absolutely brimming over with AMAZING public art! Every square is home to sculpture, and throughout the seasons (but especially in spring) city breezes sprinkle a confetti of petals and leaves that swirl the air around them. Like a little impromptu party for beautiful art! This spring, I thought I’d try to replicate the feeling with our own Calder-inspired spring sculptures.

These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

Alexander Calder’s Flamingo  was one of my favorites to visit – designed to be a celebration of the whimsy and wild nature of the animal kingdom. If you’ve never seen one of Calder’s large-scale sculptures, you’d probably recognize his smaller works of art. You can see the influence of his abstract moving mobiles everywhere!

These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

These bunny and chick sculptures are a kid-friendly take on Calder’s constructivist style – sculptures made from smaller pieces and joined together. The main bodies are a geometric, strong, stable nod to Flamingo. And the spring-ish mobiles capture his love of kinetic art – giving the sense of spring petals and leaves dancing through the air.

3-D forms take a little extra patience, so I’ve included a few modifications to make this a project kids of ALL ages can enjoy.  A build-your-own bunny activity or 2-D collage is a great way to introduce younger kids this style – and for kids just experimenting with 3-D forms, the chick is a lot less complicated than the bunny. You can even simplify the mobile. More than anything, this is an invitation to experiment with a new way of seeing familiar forms.

To make your own Calder-inspired spring sculptures you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • Cardboard (White cardboard is easiest to paint! We used 2 large squares roughly about 12″ x 12″)
  • A Utility Knife or Scissors (I have these for cutting cardboard and they’ve saved my hands!)
  • Acrylic or tempera paint + foam brushes (we used taupe and yellow)
  • A Hot Glue Gun
  • Wire (we used 20-Guage – it holds it’s shape well, but is very easy to bend)
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Cardstock or Construction Paper in a variety of colors
  • White Thread, fishing line or similar

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

DIY Alexander Calder-Inspired Spring Sculpture Instructions:

  1. Trace our templates (or create your own from simple shapes) on to cardboard, and cut out and paint

    Download, print, cut out and trace our templates on to cardboard, or draw your own set of shapes. Chicks are easy to make with 2 basic circles. I painted our cardboard first, but you can do that after cutting out if you prefer. You’ll also want to cut out a base for your sculpture – it can be a simple circle or square, but I used the bunny body shape from our template for ours.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

  2. Lay your pieces out flat to get a sense of how you’d like your sculpture to look

    Once you have your painted pieces, lay them out flat and start planning how you’d like your sculpture to look.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

    Modification for younger kids: Instead of creating a standing sculpture, these can be presented as “build-your-own-bunny” activity. They can simply play with the pieces to create their bunny/chick, or create a collage – decorating with small flower shapes, feathers, pom poms – anything you like! 

  3. Play around with your 3D sculpture composition

    This is where a second set of hands really starts to come in handy! Try stacking your shapes – rotating the angles or way the shapes are facing to create interesting forms.

  4. Cut slots in your cardboard pieces so you can stack and join them

    Once you have an idea of how you’d like your bunny/chick shapes to stack, start cutting “slots” where they’re needed and hot gluing the pieces together. As an example, I’ve included the cuts we made for ours. You don’t have to be too careful or exact with the cuts – luckily, the hot glue will fix just about any cut that’s too big or slot that doesn’t fit exactly.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

  5. Hot glue your sculpture to a cardboard base

    We glued all of our pieces together first, and then glued the entire sculpture to the base, but you may decide it’s easier to glue the first shape to the base at the beginning and build from there – experiment with what works best for you!

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

    With your main sculpture completed, step back and take a look. It’s amazingly fun to walk around it, noticing how different your bunny or chick looks from each side! Now it’s time to add the extra spring to our spring sculptures with mobiles…!

  6. Cut out small spring shapes (or use our templates) to add a mobile

    Cut out some small spring shapes for your mobile. You can use our templates, or draw/free cut your own! Flowers, leaves, eggs and feathers are classic springtime shapes that are simple to cut.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

    Alternative: Our spring has barely started here, so we were low on real flowers & leaves, but a lovely alternative would be to use natural materials – cut flowers, green foliage, sticks, pinecones, etc. – instead of construction paper shapes. 

  7. Gently shape pieces of craft wire with needle nose pliers

    Use needle nose pliers to cut and shape 2 pieces of wire for the mobile. With your pliers, grab the end of Wire A and gently roll into a small circle around the nose. Do this with Wire B as well.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

  8. Thread your wires to create the wire base for your mobile

    Now insert the straight end of wire B through the circle of Wire A. Once through, roll up the other end of wire B – now you have your basic mobile structure.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

  9. Tie on your colorful spring shapes

    Now it’s time to add our spring shapes. You can use a small hole punch or needle to create holes you can thread with cotton thread or fishing line (that’s what we did). If you’d like a faster method, you can also just cut lengths of thread and tape your shapes to it.

    These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

  10. Hot glue your mobile to your sculpture

    Hot glue your mobile to your base sculpture – anywhere you prefer! The specific gauge of wire we used was extremely easy to bend and re-shape once we had it attached.

As a very last step, you may decide you want to add a dot of hot glue to the joint of your mobile, holding it in place. I love how ours swings around, but if you’re having trouble getting it to stay balanced, a small dot of hot glue does the trick. There’s still so much movement.

Congratulations – now you have your own mini monument –  a gorgeously avant-garde celebration of spring! 

These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

Flamingo‘s debut was celebrated with a fantastical circus-style parade (oh how I wish that was still done for public art)! Fittingly, our own spring sculptures are taking part in their own sort of Easter parade. Along with a few of our most creative friends, we are presenting spring projects – coming two-by-two – throughout the first two weeks of April! You can visit all the beautiful spring art, craft inspiration & tutorials here.

These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch

If you’re loving this recycled spring art project, you should visit our folk art bunnies next – or stop by our duckling pond for a simple egg carton floating duckling DIY (oh the cuteness)!


*A note about Amazon affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

These fun cardboard spring sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder encourage kids to play with shape and form. They're a great recycled art project and STEAM activity! | via barley & birch
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About Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help families discover their creative potential and be inspired to make the world a better place through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. When not playing with ideas, designs and projects for barley & birch, Amanda enjoys working as a modern art curator and managing her own small design business.

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