Monday, October 29, 2012

Chihuly Melted Sculptures

Hurricane Sandy provided me with enough gusto (and time!) to unearth this project from my computer archives. I did this project with a 4th grade group LAST SPRING and never got to post about it. I thought the bright colors would be a nice contrast to one dreary, spooky half-day of school.

To kick this lesson off, we watched this great clip that shows detailed footage of Dale Chihuly's creative process. CBS News correspondent, Erica Hill,  gets to fulfill her life dream of blowing some glass with the glass master himself. As they watched, I asked the 4th graders to take note of just how many artists work together to make one piece of glass. Dale leads and gives direction, but there are individual artists in charge of each step of melting, twirling, twisting, cracking, and cooling. They seemed to get a kick out of the amount of effort and teamwork that goes into each piece.

I purchased a boatload of Shrinky-Dink transparent sheets from my local JoAnn's Fabric. They cost about $6.00 for a pack of 12. I cut each sheet into two sections and on day one, after we watched the video, the students worked with permanent marker to draw a unique design on the plastic surface. They also were in charge of cutting a unique edge around the perimeter of their plastic piece. I told them to be bold with their cuts and be open to what the heat will do to their project. This is what their projects looked like at the end of class.

Between class one and two, I took the student projects home and got to melting! I used recycled Diet Dr. Pepper cans as a molding form and heated my oven up to a low temp of about 275 degrees. The aluminum can created a place for the plastic to "slump" and droop once it was heated enough. This is what my plastic set-up looked like. I admit, it was pretty precarious and the potential to over melt a project was high.

And after about seven seconds in the oven, they looked like this!
It is really important not to leave the plastic in the oven for more than ten seconds. If you do, THE PLASTIC WILL DO ITS JOB AND SHRINK SO MUCH YOU NEED A MAGNIFYING GLASS TO FIND IT! (Ok, not really that small, but it will be so miniature the designs will be to small to appreciate.)

When the kids got their melted shrunken plastic back they were very intrigued with how the heat transformed their work. They designed a background square and we used brass brads to connect the plastic to the background so the work could be shown on a bulletin board. Here are the finished pieces in all of their 3-D glory!


  1. Brilliant take on Chihuly, I love the way you've mounted them! I am 'borrowing' this one to do early next year :)Elizabeth

  2. Wow, these are really fantastic. Couple of do you know whose is whose, did they write their name on it (wouldn't it shrink too??) Second, do you think you would have to use shrinky-dinks...I mean, the more I think about it, I wonder what a transparency would do in an oven...Just thinking to myself here. :)

    1. Hey Jen, I had the students start their design with one special shape in the very center that contained heir initials. The projects shrink to about 60% their original size so the initials were still easy to see. transparencies would work if you could use an outdoor ventilated heat source, but They might emit some unwanted or even harmful fumes. The shrinkydinks shrink without letting off any toxic fumes. Somehow they melt without melting. Apparently they were popular in the 70's! Such technology!

  3. These are awesome! I actually just did almost the same project with my 2nd grade! I had them design a large organic shape on one piece and then on a second piece, draw 5-6 strips and a smaller organic shape. They decorated them and cut them out, and then for almost three class periods, I worked with one student at a time to melt their pieces with a heat gun and glue them all together with the glue gun. I was so worried about taking everything home to do...I wasn't sure I could manage to transport everything without mixing it up. I LOVE how you did these! Your students did a much better job coloring them in...mine wanted to do thin stripes and some left a lot of empty space. Much simpler the way you did it...I really like how you had them color a base on paper. A great way to incorporate 2-D vs. 3-D art!

    I love for you to check out my blog! You can see our projects there!