Large Scale Air Sculptures – A Lesson On Space In Art

Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp

I am amazed everyday by my young art students.  They seem to have no limitations of space in their drawings.  They just draw.  The stories they tell about their creations are often comical and sometimes astronomical.  What worries me, though, is that as they get older they will lose that sense of wonderment, as we all do.  It is inevitable that they will start to “bring it all in” and try to make everything look “real”.  They will get frustrated when it doesn’t look exactly like they want it to look.  So, technically my job will be to teach them how to make it look “real” with shading and other techniques that artists use.  I am prepared for that and feel quite capable.  But, I don’t want them to put everything in a box and only see “right and wrong”.  I don’t want them to get discouraged with art and give up.  I want them to see the BIG picture, know that art is what THEY make it.

Space can often become a problem to be solved in art.  Sculptors have to think about the space around their sculptures as well as the actual forms.  A painter thinks about space on a two-dimensional surface… etc.  There is a lot of space in art, negative space, positive space…space, space, space.  We needed to explore space on a large scale to make an impact.  Because it is oh SO important.

As a lesson on space in art, I took my art students outside to explore space in relation to their whole bodies.

The day started out with me filling large zip-lock bags with air using a blowdryer.  I passed around these air bubbles so the students could examine the space the bubbles occupied and the area around them.  (Which actually means they popped and tossed lots of bubbles.)  Something cool that happened was when a child asked for a straw, and used it to blow his once-emptied bag back up.  I liked that.

Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp
Air Bubbles

Next we taped a section of extra light .5 mil painter’s tarp around a leaf blower using heavy duty clear packing tape and created an air whip. You have to tack the two ends of the tarp together with clear Scotch tape, then run the 2” shipping tape along the seam to create the tunnel, leaving an opening at the end where the air escapes. The air sculpture that we created was exciting, but loud.  It shot straight up into the air!  Some of the kids did not like the noise, but everyone thought it was cool.  It was fun when they discovered that if they closed up the end, the air got trapped and the tube bubbled even more.

That is when I got out the HUGE plastic bubble cushion that I had prepared earlier that morning and we took it outside.  We stretched it out, added some confetti, and blew it up with a leaf blower.  The kids were amazed by the size of it!  Going BIG always creates a BIG impact with kids.  (DIY instructions below.)  Then we just played with the space.  The kids played under it kicking the confetti around and laughing.  Then I asked them if they wanted to get inside of it.  This is when they really freaked out!  The excitement was as big as our bubble that we had made.  I explained to them that we could not get inside of it and close it up because we need air to breathe, but we could open one end and explore it.  We attached a 20” box fan to it (a slightly larger box fan would have been better, but that is what I had.) and then cut along the opposite end of our bubble.  Good thing I had my assistant Sarah there, as well as all the help from the kids.  There were a few times when our bubble almost floated away, but we were a good team and we maintained control!  Oh, and once in the air tunnel…  we had created a magical world.  It felt so clean and airy — pun intended — with the sounds of laughter, excitement and wind!  I found that using the leaf blower helped at times through the opening to ensure it was fully filled with air, while Sarah managed the fan.  Since I had promised the kids a water day and tricked them with an air day, we filled up those bunches of Color Burst water balloons and had a water balloon fight inside of the air tunnel.  This was amazing for the kids, but even more amazing for me, since the cleanup was so easy.  At the end of the day I just rolled up all of the plastic filled with confetti, water, and water balloon debris and recycled it.  

Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp

Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp
We did it!
Air Tunnel, Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp
Air Tunnel
Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp
Pure excitement!

OK, let’s talk about safety.  I am sure everyone wants to know about that, especially when we’re working with preciously amazing children.  It is safe.  Even if the fan were to fail, enough of the air would remain in the tunnel to allow time to exit.  The polyethylene tarp would not cling to you like a trash bag would.  It is heavy enough not to cling to a person, but thin enough that a child can poke their finger through it ( which one did).  (Don’t worry if this happens.  You can just patch it up with the packing tape.)  Obviously, there should always be grownups present with watchful eyes during large projects with polyethylene tarps, and the plastic box fan should always have a protective screen on it.  

When we are conducting  projects like the ones we had fun with here, they can lead to discussions about more contemporary forms of art like air art, transient art, atmospheric art, environmental art, as well as art installations.  These are concepts that young children most likely haven’t been introduced to yet.  I like the idea of art as an experience.  When working with my Wee Warhols, it is more about the process than the product — or “air sculpture” in this case — that we roll up and throw away in the end.  The point is, get away from the thought that a canvas and paint are the main supplies that an artist needs to create.  Art is everywhere, even in the air, and air is free.  Go back to your childhood and see the world as a child does, full of wonderment and exploration.  Use sand, twigs, the sky…  Don’t put yourself in a box and say that your art is not good.  You don’t need to paint a landscape to be an artist (although they are quite fun and beautiful) — become part of it!

Wee Warhols, air art, Figment Creative, environmental sculpture, Austin, Summer camp
Water/Confetti “fight” (ALL CONTAINED!)

What you will need:

  • 12′ x 50′ 1.5 mil Polyethylene Painter’s Tarp from local hardware store  (If you want to be able to climb on the bubble you will need a much heavier gauge.)
  • Clear Scotch Tape
  • 2-inch clear adhesive plastic tape with dispenser for ease
  • a leaf blower
  • Confetti if you like
  • (a 22″ plastic box fan, if you plan to make it into a wind tunnel later)

How to prepare the air cushion:

  1. Scour yard or place of set up for sticks and rocks.  (Anything that can pop your bubble.)  Set aside what you collect for your next nature project.
  2. Unroll the tarp fully.  
  3. Fold the tarp in half, so that you have a 12′ x 25′ rectangle.
  4. Fold over the open edges about one inch to create a seam.  Start at one end and work your way down, fastening it every few inches with clear Scotch tape, so that it will be manageable.  Once one long side is prepped in place, run the 2″ clear packing tape along the entire length to secure it firmly.  Then do the same to the opposite side.
  5. Use same method to secure the last opening, but leave a space to insert the leaf blower when you are ready to inflate the air cushion
  6. Run your fingers firmly down the tape to make sure it is smooth and secure.
  7. Fold up the air cushion and set it aside till you are ready to inflate it.  (There was a moment when I was doing my prep that my cat ran by and I almost had a heart attack, but I ran him off.)

Filling the Balloon:

  1. Lay the plastic rectangle down flat.
  2. Add confetti if desired.
  3. Insert your leaf blower.
  4. Make sure to close up all openings with tape so no air can be released.
  5. Start the leaf blower and begin inflating the balloon.
  6. Once you are satisfied with the amount of air in your balloon, remove the leaf blower close up the opening securely with the packing tape.

The prep process for this is a bit time consuming, but the inflation does not take very long once you are ready.  If any tears happen, just cover them up with the same packing tape.  Have fun!

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STEAM KIDS, book release, Wee Warhols, Austin, STEAM education, STEM, early learning