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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 springtime) city breezes sprinkle a confetti of petals and leaves that swirl in 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 Alexander Calder-inspired spring sculptures.
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! By age 11, Calder was already showing skill in sculpture, and it’s worth a hop over to the Calder Foundation for photos of the dog and kinetic duck he made for his parents as gifts (as well as a fantastic introduction to Calder’s work!).
These bunny and chick sculptures are a kid-friendly take on Calder’s Constructivist style – sculptures constructed from smaller pieces that are joined together, rather than being molded or sculpted from an existing form. The main bodies are a geometric, strong, stable nod to Flamingo. And the spring-ish mobiles capture his love of kinetic art and invoke the spirit of his lighter and gentler mobile sculptures – 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 to 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 cardboard spring sculptures you’ll need:
Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*
- 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 (I like this low-temp kind for kids)
- Wire (we used this 20-Guage craft wire – it holds its 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
- Our Calder-inspired bunny and chick free printable templates
- A glue stick or tape
- A small hole punch or needle
- Feathers, pom poms or other supplies to add some flair to your finished sculptures or mobiles
DIY Alexander Calder-Inspired Cardboard Spring Sculpture Instructions:
- Trace our templates (or create your own from simple shapes) onto cardboard, and cut out and paint
Download, print, cut out and trace our templates onto 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.
- 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.
Modification for younger kids: Instead of creating a standing sculpture, these can be presented as a “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!
- 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.
- 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.
Note: You’ll notice our bunny’s features look slightly out of proportion – this is because as the sculpture pieces are twisted and the perspective changes, they give the illusion of being larger or smaller. A wonderful mini-lesson in spatial relationships!
- 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!
With your main sculpture completed, step back and take a look. It’s amazingly fun to walk around the piece, noticing how different your bunny or chick looks from each side! Now it’s time to add the extra touches of spring to our spring sculptures with Calder-esque mobiles…
- 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.
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.
- Gently bend 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 it into a small circle around the nose. Do this with Wire B as well.
- Thread your wires together 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.
- 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 attach your spring shapes with clear tape.
- 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!
Flamingo‘s debut in Chicago 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 – follow the #hop_fest tag on Instagram for all the spring fun!
I live in the Twin Cities now and feel SO lucky to have TWO Calders to visit at The Walker Art Center – The Spinner and Octopus. If our little bunny and chick have put you in the mood to go Calder-spotting, The Calder Foundation has provided a wonderful world sculpture map you can use to find his art in both permanent locations and upcoming exhibitions.
If you’re loving this recycled spring art project, you should visit our folk art bunnies next, or give your sculptures a home in a cardboard foldout secret garden. Little ones will enjoy stopping by our duckling pond for a simple egg carton floating duckling DIY (oh the cuteness)!
*A note about 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 Blick Art Materials, Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. 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!