Make: Kinetic Paper Shape Art

Today I was looking through an old folder of reference artwork and came across a whole file filled to the brim with the art of Sophie Taeuber-Arp. I first found her work while studying art in college, and she has remained a favorite I often revisit. While scrolling through the folder, I had to do a double-take, sure that I had seen some of the shapes in one of the pictures move – a lightbulb moment!

The idea of combining those delicious geometric compositions with some interactivity felt too fun to pass up, so I dumped out the paper scraps and went to town experimenting with different ways to turn the fantastic movement I saw in her work, into ACTUAL motion.

An animation of our paper shape art in motion

This little paper project is replete with good questions to consider…

  • What kinds of movements do you want to create?
  • Would you like your elements to spin, tilt, flip, extend…?
  • How would you create an element that can get longer or shorter?
  • What happens when you change where shapes are connected by the metal brad?

I find so much joy in being able to move all the elements and change the composition to experiment with variations. And it’s always such a fun surprise to be encouraged to touch and play with art, isn’t it? Although these definitely produce a frame-worthy result, the real treasure here is the way it helps demonstrate movement in art through the exploration of physical motion.

Movement, balance, rhythm, variety, emphasis – these kinetic pieces touch on so many of the principles of art and design. Once your kids have played with the concept, explored different kinds of movements, and found materials + solutions to create motion, these basic lessons can be applied to so many other projects!

For another project that explores basic shapes with different mediums, visit our scrap wood process art sculpture project. Incorporate this motion lesson into our Memphis-style paper sculptures. Or recycle some cardboard into a DIY shape puzzle for toddlers and kinders.

To make your own kinetic paper shape art you’ll need:


  • Cardstock or construction paper in a variety of colors
  • Scissors
  • Metal brads
  • A Hole punch or toothpicks (an easy way for younger kids to punch holes through their paper without using scissors)


  • A Glue stick

DIY Kinetic Paper Shape Art Instructions:

  1. Gather large paper squares and cut scrap paper shapes

    You can use a large square of cardstock or construction paper in one color for the background, or create a two-toned paper by adding a large strip of a second color to a square.
    Lay out large squares of construction paper and colorful small paper scraps cut to geometric shapes. | barley & birch
    Gather some scrap paper and cut out some simple paper shapes. We used triangles, squares, circles, and rectangles in a variety of colors and sizes.

    Note: I prefer to use cardstock for this particular type of project because it’s a bit heavier and holds up to little hands pushing, pulling and moving it around well.

  2. Create movement!

    Use a hole punch and small metal brads to join shapes together and create moving pieces. You can attach shapes directly to your background with metal brads or make moving elements that combine 2 or 3 shapes.

    Use a hole punch and brad to join shapes into simple moving pieces. | via barley & birch

    Begin creating a composition on your paper. You can use a glue stick to make some elements stationary, or you can affix them all to your paper background with a brad so everything can spin or swing!

    Tip: instead of using a scissor end or trying to get a hole punch through your larger sheet of paper, kids can use a toothpick to pierce the paper and make a small hole for the brad.

One of the fun discoveries we made while making our own moving tiles was that the brads allowed us to swap out shapes easily. If there was a shape we decided we didn’t like, we could just take it off and try something else!

When trying this project for the first time (especially with younger kids) less is more. Don’t feel like you have to have piles of scrap shapes, endless colors, or lots of moving parts. The fun is really all in letting kids discover how this works, and maybe instead of finishing a “final” composition, they’ll be more excited to apply the principle to something else they made. That’s a win!

An animation of our kinetic paper shape art in motion

We wanted to let our colorful moving shapes be the stars of our compositions so we kept it simple and didn’t add very many extra details. If you’d like to take this concept in a different direction, visit our kinetic paper playground art. It’s an invitation to study motion on the playground that takes the foundations of this project one step further with an introduction to simple machines!

Learning more about Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Sophie Taeuber-Arp wasn’t JUST a master of shapes…the multi-talented innovator was a painter, sculptor, dancer, teacher, writer, and designer. Her work often challenged beliefs about where the line between fine art and craft could be drawn, as seen in her tapestries, gorgeous Dada marionettes, wood “portrait” sculptures, collages, and reliefs.

In 1926 she was commissioned to design a German tearoom, covering the walls and floors in a vibrant, lively tile of geometric squares. This grand grid of blocks would have a huge influence on her work, and energetic geometric shapes would dominate so many of her later avant-garde compositions. In 1940, she fled German-occupied Paris and died tragically early only a few years later, but her impact on the art world still reverberates today. If you enjoyed this project, you’ll find SO MUCH to love about Sophie Taeuber-Arp and her work.

Our kinetic shape art laying out with paper scraps and metal brads

For more foundational paper play, be sure to check out our simple paper grids for color exploration, scrap paper quick compositions, or our deconstructed rainbows – a b&b classic inspired by artist Frank Stella.

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.


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