Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Craft Stick Collage

I'd been hoping that my son's elementary school would do a full-school art project, and this year my dreams came true. The art teachers decided to do a project using craft sticks. Every child would paint a craft stick, and these sticks would then be put together into an art piece and hung. Sounds easy, huh? Well, it wasn't as easy as we thought, but the result looks great. This post is so that other schools/parents can learn from our trial and error!!

Painting the sticks

The art teachers used craft sticks (aka tongue depressors) for this activity.

The teachers cleverly taped the sticks to paper, so that the kids had a personal work surface that prevented the sticks from sliding, prevented mess, and made the sticks easy to dry on the racks. Each child painted their stick using craft swab(s) -- like a one-ended q-tip with a longer wooden handle.

They used acrylic paint -- specifically Chromacryl --  and the
teachers gave them some tips on color theory, pattern, and texture beforehand. (Mixing of 'muddy' colors was discouraged, but inevitable especially in the younger grades.) Words and images were not allowed as subject matter, to make the sticks more uniform and prevent potential content issues.


Two art teachers and 3 moms gathered to talk about the logistics of assembling the sticks together into a coherent piece of artwork:
  • How many sticks would we have?
  • Should we try to do one big panel of sticks, or several?
  • What should we attach the sticks to ... canvas? wood? foamcore?  The base needed to be strong, but not so heavy that a bunch of moms couldn't handle it. But not so fragile that it could break or bend.
  • Should the colors be randomly arranged, or in color families?
  • Where could we hang the final artwork?
  • How could we protect the sticks from damage?
  • How to hang the artwork on the wall?

Math and Mockups

We needed to 'sell' the idea to school administration, and also to plan our approach. So we started work on 2 pieces: a concept panel and a virtual mockup of the final product.

We decided as a group that plywood might be the way to go as our foundation, so one mom got a small piece of it, made some sample sticks with her kids, and created a proof-of-concept panel.

We then took photos of the proposed space - a bland stairwell - and mocked up what it would look like using pixlr.

Here's the math in a nutshell:
  • 949 sticks painted by students, plus we wanted to add a few 'label' sticks
  • We decided on 4 panels of sticks, so we could divide up the assembly work and also keep the weight of each piece lower
  • To get a number divisible by 4, we rounded up to 960 sticks, which mean 240 sticks per panel. (We filled in with some teacher-made sticks to get those last few.)
  • 8 sticks made a 6" square, so 960 sticks created 120 squares of 8 sticks each, which could be arranged to fill a 30"x 36" panel. Adding a 1" border to the panels made the final size 32" x 38" 

Panel Purchase and Assembly

This was the most time-consuming part.

The Panels

Plywood comes in 2'x4' and 4'x8' panels, so we had to get the bigger size and get it cut to the sizes we needed.  We used 1/4" thickness plywood to keep down the weight.
[It took a long, long time to get help at Home Depot to cut the plywood panels. Plan HOURS for this. If the math works out, it would be ideal to be able to use one of their 'precut' panels of 2'x4', but that size just didn't work for our space and our concept]

The wood panels looked a little rough, so we sanded the edges and then painted them a blue acrylic color, which would look nice on the cement walls. (TIP: put weights on the panels after painting them to prevent warping.)

The sticks

First, lay out the sticks.

My son and a neighbor's daughter did this for my panel. Their 'job' was to make sure that the colors and patterns were randomly distributed. We didn't want one square of all rainbow sticks and one of all greenish-brown sticks.

Then, it was time to glue the sticks on with wood glue.

This process took several days because it was key to line up the sticks properly and then weight them to prevent warping.

I had great success binder-clipping 2 yard sticks to the panel to use as guides in lining up the first squares.

Then I worked on one 8-stick square at a time.

I put the glue on the board, first, but I know that one of the other moms put the glue on the sticks.

Either way, it was critical to make sure that the sticks were lined up and not overlapping.

Then I used a plastic clipboard and weight to weigh down each square. I used plastic so that if a little glue got on it, it was easy to pry it off.

I let each square dry for at least an hour before going to the next square. We worked from top left to bottom right, like a puzzle.

The varnish

We used Mod Podge to create a varnish-like coat. We really poured it on; the goal was to fill up all those holes between the sticks, so they'd be more secure and dust-resistant.

Hanging the Panels

Each panel, with sticks/glue/mod-podge, ended up weighing about 9 lbs. Being below 10 lbs allowed us to use industrial strength Velcro as a hanging option.

The hanging took longer than we thought.
Originally we thought we could easily do this in an hour, but it took 3 of us over 2 hours to measure the wall, mark the wall, double-check the marks, peel Velcro, and stick the panels.

End Result: A Masterpiece of Sticks

We are super proud of how this turned out! Total cost of supplies to make the panels, not including paint/sticks/brushes (which were part of the school's art budget): about $120

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