When we work with our students to teach them how to do string art, we often play with scale. Today I’m going to share two ways we have done string art projects with kids: at a GIANT scale and at a mini scale. But no matter which scale you use this is the perfect STEAM activity combining art and geometry with an important maker skill: Hammering.
String art projects give us the chance to do something we love: Showing kids how to safely use real tools and giving them raw materials to work with. It not only fosters independence (a hammer and real nails), it also hones fine motor skills (pincer grip, tying knots), hand/eye coordination (hammer meets nail), and attentiveness (hammer does not meet finger!)
Though this is a process-based project, it’s by far one of my favorite “end” results!
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How to Do String Art
String Art Method #1: Go BIG!
At our summer camp, Camp STEAM LA we LOVE to go big. In fact, we are the champions of it. An aqueduct? Check. Glow in the dark sand pendulum? Life-sized geoboards and PLINKO? Yes, yes, and yes. Case in point: this summer’s giant rainbow string art. This was one of our Camp STEAM collaborative projects that every camper (and teacher) found themselves working on at some point during the course of the week.
- Large piece of plywood (at least 4×4) Tip: Home Depot carries half sheets of pre-cut plywood. Do plan ahead to make sure you can fit the sheet in your car!
- Small Hammers I have a few sets of these Stubby Tools
- Nails of various sizes (Common nails work best. Since most plywood is about ½” thick, you probably want to look for 3d & 4d sized nails)
- String or yarn in different colors. This is my favorite string.
- Liquid watercolor paint
- Paint brushes– toothbrushes for splatter painting
- Pavers, bricks, or books to elevate plywood off work surface
SAFTEY NOTE: Please read our Hammer Safety Section below before working with kids on this project!
- Step One Prep your string art workspace. Cover the area around the plywood with a tarp or disposable tablecloths if you plan on painting. The plywood should be set on flat surface. We placed a concrete paver underneath each corner to elevate the plywood off the work surface so that no one hammered a nail into the table (a stack of books would work, too).
- Step Two Start hammering. We didn’t have a particular pattern in mind, and really tried to cover the board with nails placed in various distances from each other. Alternatively you can sketch out a grid in advance and nail into specific points.
- Step Three Cut your string. It doesn’t have to be set lengths but don’t make it too long or it will get tangled. Taking one end of the string, tie a knot around a nail – this is your anchor point for this particular string. Pull the long end of the string to another nail and wrap it underneath the nailhead – it can be as close to the anchor point as you want it to be, but keep in mind that you’ll want to wrap this string around the nail head to secure in place. Tie the other end of the same string to the nail you ended on.
- Step Four Repeat this process (tie – stretch – wrap – stretch – wrap – tie) as many times as it takes, with as many colors as you’d like. The strings can be woven under or over one another, as well as stretched to reach opposite points.
- Step Five (optional) Splatter paint the wood! Fill bowls with watercolor paint – we used red yellow, green, and blue. Dip your brushes in the paint and find your inner Jackson Pollack.
- Try this project with rubber bands or hair bands and use it like a geoboard.
- Sketch a shape on the plywood first and hammer in the nails to match the shape.
String Art Method #2: Mini
- Wood Slices
- Small Hammers
- Finish Nails- wood slices are fairly delicate so smaller nails work best. Big nails can cause the wood to split and crack.
- Paint brushes
IMPORTANT: Place a piece scrap wood underneath the wood slices to protect the work surface below. TRUST ME ON THSI!
- Step One Place your wood slice/scrap wood on a stable surface. Start nailing!
- Step Two When you are done nailing, cut a length of string and tie it to one of the nails. Begin wrapping the string around other nails to make a design. Be sure to wrap each nail head at least once to secure the design in place.
- Step Three Tie off the end and trim as necessary,
- Paint the wood slice first using tempera cakes. Then add nails and string.
- Use white string/yarn and paint the string after you create pattern
- Splatter paint both the string and wood at the end of the process.
Here is some our our student’s work:
Let’s Talk STEAM
To understand how to use a hammer, let’s learn the engineering behind how a hammer works:
- Lever A simple machine consisting of a rod positioned on a pivot point called a fulcrum. When a force is applied to the lever it pivots on the fulcrum and performs work.
- Fulcrum The point at which a lever pivots
- Effort The force applied to the lever
- Load The weight being moved by the lever
Effort is reduced or increased depending on its position relative to the fulcrum.
There are three classes of levers. Hammers are a third class lever in which the effort is located between the load and fulcrum. The farther the load is from the fulcrum, the effort will be amplified. Therefore if you hold the hammer close to the head you will get less power nailing than if you hold the hammer at the base of the handle.
Learning how to do string art is a tactile way to teach kids about geometry. String art demonstrates the main concepts of geometry: planes, points, lines, and grids.
- Plane A flat surface
- Point A position on a plane surface.
- Line The long mark made by connecting two points.
- Grid A set of horizontal and vertical perpendicular lines makes up a grid.
How does this apply to string art? The wood is the plane, the nails act as points, and the string becomes lines. If you decide to add the nails in a geometric pattern you may want to create a grid of nails on your wood surface.
Maker Spotlight>> At the end of the 19th century Mary Everest Boole, a mathematics educator in England, discovered that curves could be formed by connecting a series of points with straight lines. She went on to be the first person to use curve stitching (or “string geometry”) to teach the concepts of angles and space to children. If you’d like to see how you can use string art to discuss curves and geometric shapes hop over here.
String art is defined as art made with colored thread strung between points to create geometric patterns.
As noted above, Mary Everest Boole used it to teach math to kids, in fact she created sewing cards for this purpose. In the 1960’s string art became popular after artist John Eichinger began creating what he called “string mandalas.” A hobby company began mass producing craft kits based on the work of Eichinger and string art found its way into pop culture.
Today many artists are using string art in 3 dimensional installation art. To see some incredible examples of string art at a large scale go here.
Our students’ work making mini string art was reminiscent of mandalas since the wood slices are round.
How to (safely) use a hammer:
It’s common to want to hold the hammer near the top, or closer to the head. INSTEAD, hold the hammer near the end to get the most power out of the lever.
- Place Using your best pincer grip, hold a nail between your thumb and index finger. Like the hammer, you’ll want to grip the nail closest to where it meets the wood.
- Tap Begin hammering by gently tapping 2-3 times until the nail feels steady in the wood.
- Add Force Remove your fingers from the nail, take a peek around you to make sure no one is within swinging distance, and then hit the nail head into the wood using a stronger force.
Always make sure you look around you before you begin hammering, and once you start, always watch where your fingers are. Kids and adults usually learn this the hard way!
What is a “Maker Skill?” Maker skills are the hands-on techniques – or skills – that are essential to creating, building, designing, and DIYing. Not only are they important in trade and craft, they are also fundamental in the development of fine motor skills.
Maker Skills Mastered in this Project:
√ Knot tying
Every time we bring out the hammers our students get veryexcited! I truly believe it’s important to introduce children to real tools and allow them the opportunity to learn how to safely use them. Learning how to do string art gives them this chance and the results of this wonderful process are always lovely to display no matter what scale you choose!
If you’d like to use string art to get further into teaching kids about geometry hop over here to learn how to use string art to cover geometric shapes:
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