A Journey through Forces and Motion: an account of my residency with Montalvo Arts Center

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Ball Painting

Working at Village with the enthusiastic 2nd grade students, with two extra-dedicated teachers – Elizabeth Shepherd and Chris Woods – and with a great team of parents who helped during each session was wonderful!

STEM to STEAM is a fantastic approach to learning and thinking and as an artist I am thrilled to be part of this much needed initiative. Charlee Wagner (Education Programs Manager at Montalvo Arts Center) and David Wilce worked their magic to make this Arts Integration project at Village a great experience for everyone involved.

I was raised in a family of scientists (researchers and teachers) and I always loved science. For me it makes total sense to integrate the arts in the learning of each aspect of the curriculum at school, and science is my subject of choice. My dad (a geologist) knew how to appreciate a beautiful landscape but I was fascinated by the way he could “read” a landscape: he could tell me the way it looked million years ago and the transformations at play in the present time. My mom (a biologist) always gave me and my sister many interesting details about plants and animals encountered during our numerous hikes.

Art integration into Forces and Motion was an opportunity for me to work with the students on a variety of exercises, from 2D to 3D, all involving different forces: push, pull, gravity, friction – and sometimes all of them at the same time. The exciting thing about some of the exercises, is that they reveal the forces: the kids can “see” them in action before their eyes during the process, for example creating patterns with the paint or the ink.

None of the exercises were made with traditional tools. For blow-painting the students used straws and pipettes. For ball-painting they used plastic balls and marbles.  For pendulum-painting they used plastic bottles filled with paint suspended from a tripod. And for gravity-painting they did not use any tool except gravity itself.

For the 3D exercises – the mobile and the automaton – the students used all sorts of materials including bamboo skewers, foamies, cardboard, Tweesties and fabric.

The students had an opportunity to work in teams when they did the ball-painting and the pendulum-painting.  One student made the painting while one student documented the process with an iPad, and then they traded places. Documenting the process was an excellent way to see the forces at play during an exercise.

We watched short videos (Holton Rower, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, the Automata museum in Glasgow) related to the exercises we were going to work on at the beginning of the sessions.  We took time for some positive discussions about what was made by the class — a time to watch, think, reflect and give feedback to the group.  During each session there was time for experimentation.

One defining moment was when I asked the students to “undo” their mobile and try another solution for the balance of the elements, like an artist may do when going back to the studio after working on a piece for a short time. The idea to work again on something they thought was pretty much done was tough for the majority of them. But at the end of the session, when asked, most of the students said that, although it was a hard thing to do, they preferred the second version of their mobile.

The ten sessions went fast! Through these exercises I hope the students were able to understand that forces in motion are everywhere, how to recognize them and how they can play a major role in the process of making art.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 1: Blow Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center

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Session 1 – Blow Painting
Watercolor ink on paper

: push force, pipette
art: primary colors, abstract, representational

Science Curriculum
The way to change how something is moving is by giving it a push or a pull. The size of the change is related to the strength, or the amount of force, of the push or pull.

material: all media paper, watercolor inks (primary colors), straw, cups and pipettes, paper plates.

How it works
1. I give a short demo.

2. The students used the “push” force to make the watercolor ink move on the paper. We used the primary colors, and the students got all the color combinations in between. There are several ways to make the ink move on the paper. The position of the body is important – we can blow parallel to the paper or on top of it and the force is not the same. When we blow parallel to the paper the ink make a path and can go far, depending on the intensity of the blow. When we blow above the paper, the force hit the paper: we get fine lines going in multiple directions. We can blow with or without a straw and the results are different too.

3. Group discussion. Looking at all the pieces on the floor, the students talk about the artistic aspects and the scientific aspects of the exercise.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 2: Gravity Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center

Session 2 – Gravity Painting
Tempera paint on paper

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–gravity force, friction
art – primary colors, secondary colors, abstract, process

Science Curriculum
Gravity is a pulling force. Motion is the act of moving.

material: cardstock paper, tempera paint (primary colors and secondary colors)
video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6egUsZvWu4 about gravity work by new York artist Holton Rower.

How it works

1. We watch a short video (3mn) of New York artist Holton Rower, who works with gravity.

2. I give a short demo about the process we are going to use, which implies no use of tool, just the force of gravity.

3. The students experiment with the process.

4. Group discussion at the end of the session: we talk about abstract art and how it is open to interpretation. We talk about what we were seeing in the paintings. The students share their experiments/thoughts about gravity and paint, we comment the different results in front of us. We talk about the factors which matters when there is friction: in this case fluidity of the paint and smoothness of the paper.

5. After the art class the students write a few words about their experience.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 3: Ball Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center

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Session 3 – Ball Painting
medium: Tempera paint on paper, plastic balls and marbles

–motion, friction, documenting
art – action painting, abstract, process, documenting

Science Curriculum
Objects in motion. Force changes the way an object moves.

material: all media paper 15″x11″, tempera paint (primary colors and secondary colors), cardboard box the same size as the paper (one for two students), plastic balls (bouncing type), large marbles.
video: Jackson Pollock at work http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/videos/249

How it works

1. We watch a very short video showing Jackson Pollock at work.
– One of our art words is action painting. Pollock broke the rules of painting by painting without the brush touching the canvas.
– Another art word is process. Pollock’s process includes a lot of “paint in motion”, splashed and dripped by the energy of his gesture. Pollock definitely used forces in motion in his process. Using the same process over and over, he made many pieces with a different result each time.
Documenting the process: when we see an art piece, most of the time we do not understand how it was made. Seeing the artist at work is invaluable to understand the process and it is extremely recent in history.  So that’s why today we have teams of two students, one making a painting, the other one documenting (videotaping) with an iPad. We talk about how to videotape, trying to stay still while things move in the frame.
2. I give a short demo
What are the material we are using today? (They are on the table: cardboard box, all media paper, plastic balls and big marbles, paint). They are the material necessary for our process. There are primary and secondary colors to work with. The students are free to use as many colors as they want but I tell them that interesting results can be achieve by only using 2. They have to try and see for themselves. I show them how to pour the paint on the paper (to try to avoid large unmanageable pools of paint in the middle of the paper!). I make 2 balls roll in the paint and on the paper. The balls start tracing their trajectories. The motion of the balls changes when I change the way I move the box. I asked them to think about the fact that they would have to stop at a certain point, their piece would be finished. How do you know that? How not to work too much a piece?

3. The students work on their piece, taking turns.
It is interesting to see that for a lot of students, documenting the process was only about what was going on inside the box and not necessarily about the movements of the person making the piece.

4. End of the session discussion (science aspect/art aspect of the project and special words).

5. After art class art class the students write a few words about their experience.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 4: Pendulum Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center – in Campbell, CA.
Village Elementary, Spring 2014.
Lynhaven Elementary, Spring 2014
Sherman Oaks Elementary, Fall 2014.

Forces: Push/pull, gravity and friction

For this exercise it is great to have quite a lot of space (to make the art and for it to dry).

material: 3 tripods, plastic bottles with Elmer glue caps, diluted student tempera paint, large sheets of black and white paper (sulfite paper is fine). One color per tripod/station. Use colors that can go either on black or on white paper. I use primary colors and white. One sheet of cardboard per tripod/station the size of the black/white paper (or a little bit bigger), to transport the painting once it is done.

To protect the floor: a large plastic sheet when making the paintings, and lots of butcher paper to protect the floor while the paintings are drying.

iPads to document the process

WARNING: very long drying time – about half a day – you will need a lot of spaces, the sheets are large, there is one per student. You will need a lot of space for the tripods. The process is easy but can be messy if a quick cleanup is not done after each painting.

Only use one color per painting. Two would be complicated.


Prepare the plastic water bottles
You will need at least one per color. You will need more bottles than the ones you are using, in case something happens.

Glue gun and duct tape an Elmer glue cap on the water bottle

Cut the bottom of the bottle, duct tape it to make it strong, make 3 holes on the side and attach a string through the 3 holes. Attach them together and attach a paper clip.


Prepare the tripods – 1 tripod for 7 students is OK
A string has to hang from the center of the tripod. Attach that string to the paperclip attached to the water bottle. The nose of the bottle should be between 1 and 2 inches from the paper (the paper is on a piece of cardboard).

Prepare the tempera paint
Filter the tempera paint through a thin sifter, to avoid clogging the Elmer glue cap when the paint will go through.
Add 50% tempera paint and 50% water. You will need a lot of paint. Prepare 32 OZ for each color for each class.

Prepare the room
Make lots of room. Place the plastic sheet on the floor, and the 3 tripods far enough from each other. The students need space to walk around them.
Prepare a bucket filled with water and several clean sponges that you place in the center of the plastic sheet. The students will have to do some clean –up AFTER EACH PAINTING is done.

Attach the bottles on the tripods. BE SURE that the Elmer caps are closed.
THEN fill the bottle half with diluted tempera.
Prepare a small empty container on the side for the dripping.
Be sure to have lots of dry rags handy.

How it works with the students

If you can set up 3 stations, you will approximately have 7 students per station. The students take turn. One is making the art, another one or more is documenting. The other ones can help and/or watch.
The organization is a little bit tricky but it is definitely feasible.

– The course of the bottle can be changed.
– There should be NO clean up while the art is being made – it can damage the art!

1. – One student puts a sheet of paper on the floor, underneath the tripod, on a piece of cardboard, as big as the paper. One student at a time does his/her pendulum painting, while the other students are watching or documenting with an iPad, making short videos.
2. The student takes the bottles towards her/him and keeps it above the small plastic container to avoid any spilling on the paper.
3. THEN he/she opens the cap, the paint start dripping in the container.
4. The student can let the bottle go and see what happens. The bottle starts making a geometric pattern on the paper.
5. When it is about to stop, the students have to grab swiftly the bottle, take it out of the surface of the paper and close the cap above the small plastic container.
6. The student take the paper AND the cardboard and go to the place in the room covered with newspapers for the painting to dry (it will take half a day).
7. Then it is clean up time before doing another painting. Clean up the spill on the plastic and on the cardboard piece with dry rags. Provide as many dry rags as needed.
8. The station is ready for another painting.

TIP: The bottles hanging underneath the tripods should be always half full. You need to have quit a lot of paint in the bottle for the weight to be big enough and gravity to work.

9. The whole class take some time for a group discussion looking at all  the paintings on the floor. Describe what happened when making the exercise. What are the forces, why? Can you find two paintings which look the same? Why?

10. Cleanup.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 5 & 6: A Mobile (with soft wire)

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center
A Mobile inspired by the work of Alexander Calder, American sculptor, inventor of the mobile.

Brief Description
This project engage students in the process of making a balanced kinetic sculpture.

The way to change how something is moving is by giving it a push or a pull. The size of the change is related to the strength, or the amount of force, of the push or pull.

Science – Force: gravity, push, friction, motion
Art – Calder, mobile, kinetic sculpture

How long you will need: 2 hours including setup and cleanup.
Where to do it: any space.
How to group the students: individually.
What to know – tips and precautions: remind students to be careful with the wires as they can poke.
– cut the sharp tips of the bamboo skewers with a clipper.
– Prepare a 9″ piece of wire for each student (Panacea Wire Stem 18″ 20Ga Bright pack of 30pc). Cut the 18″ piece in two, create 4 loops with nose pliers, do not put any loop right in the center (the balance will be more interesting to find for the student). The student will attach the cotton string piece either in loop #2 or #3.

– Cut the colored and the black cardstock in 2 – make half letter size pieces and organize the colors on a separate table so that the students will be able to pick the pieces they need as they work on their mobile.
– cut 10″ pieces of cotton string
Put on the tables for each students: one bamboo skewer, one twisteez (soft wire), one 10″ cotton string, one piece of black cardstock, one brown bag, one piece of duct tape, one piece of metal wire ready to hang.

Keep more of everything on the side if students need more material.

Materials per students: a brown lunch bag, 2 , colored cardstock, a piece of string, a bamboo skewer (Safeway), a metal wire
Tools: scissors, glue sticks, liquid Elmer glue, hole punchers, duct tape, sharpies.


1. Short video about Calder’s work in which we see the mobiles in action.

2. Ask all the students to come close to you. Give a short demo on how to tape the bamboo skewer on the table, how to tie the string to the skewer and how to attach the metal piece to the string.

Explain how to make the mobile, showing the difference between a Calder’s mobile (you can draw on the white board or show a slide) – which “branches out” and a crib mobile which hangs straight down. Branching out is more difficult that just hang elements. That’s the challenge. The pieces of Tweesties will have different lengths, and the balance will be found through different tries with the shapes (the more you add paper, the heavier it gets).

Put the chairs away from the tables – the students will need space.
3. Building the mobile

First, the students write their name on the lunch bags. Ask the students to tape the bamboo skewer on the edge of their table. Then they attach the string to the bamboo skewer. Now they have their base to work on their mobile. They can work their wires and their shapes.

At the end of the session, each student put all the elements he used in the brown bag except for the pieces of duct tape that the teacher will collect to use during the next session.

4. Cleanup

Session 6
1. Continuing and finishing the mobile.
2. Cleanup
3. Discussion – Each student talk about the difficulties he/she encounter to find the balance, and how he/she found different solutions to overcome them.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 7, 8 and 9: Cardboard Automata

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center
The Cardboard Automata activity was created by the Exploratorium and was inspired by Cabaret Mechanical Theatre.

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A wheel and axle is a simple machine made up of two circular objects of different size. The axle (a small wheel) is attached to the center of a larger wheel. All wheels need an axle. The wheel and axle must move together to be a simple machine. Tools and machines are used to apply pushes and pulls (forces) to make things move.

Science – Force: gravity, push, friction, wheel and axle
Art – automaton

Activity (level of messiness: moderate)
1. Short video about an automata exhibition “Mechanics Alive!” in Glasgow.

2. Step by step montage of a simple automaton.

Cardboard box frame 6”x6”x3”, low temp glue gun, straws, foamies (5mm), skewer sticks, paper, cardboard paper.

Session 8
Continuing Automaton

Session 9
Finishing the automaton
Group discussion about all the projects. Positive critique.