Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Postcard Mobile Tutorial

For those of you who've requested a tutorial for the postcard mobile or expressed interested in making something similar yourselves, hopefully this little guide will help.

What you need:

- multiple postcards (I used 54, but you can work with any number, really)
- scissors- strong glue (I used tacky glue. Hot glue should work super well.)
- medium-heavy copper craft wire or steel binding wire (I used 18 gauge steel wire)
- wire coat hanger (alternately you could use a piece of steel music wire)
- push pin or very tiny hole punch
- pencil or pen
- wire cutters
- needle-nose pliers

The first step is to gather a bunch of similarly-sized postcards (I imagine you could also use photos, greeting cards or any other colorful, standard-sized paper media as well). How many postcards should you use? Totally up to you.

I used 54 in my mobile, partly because our project assignment was to make 50 sculptures, partly because I wanted my mobile to be pretty big. I ended up making 6 columns with 9 "flowers" in each; the finished mobile is about as tall as I am (5ft 6in).

The next step is to cut out the flower/butterfly shapes. I did all of mine freehand, because I like the slightly irregular look, but you could easily use a template and cut all of your shapes out exactly the same. You will be making 8 petals: 4 long ones and 4 baby ones. You will also have two center circles: one for the front, and one slightly smaller for the back.

Here's how you'll do the cuts. The black lines are for the big petals, the blue lines are for the small petals, and the pink circles are for the centers. Sorry this is wonky. :)

To do the cuts, start by finding the center point of the postcard. It doesn't have to be exact. To make the large petals, you want to cut in towards the center from a spot about 1/2" on either side of one of the postcard's corners. Basically the postcard's corners will become the ends of your big petals. Taper in as you cut towards the middle of the postcard so that you have nice, sharp points instead of the fat, wobbly ones in my illustration.

The baby petals and the two circles you can cut from your scraps. The small petals don't all have to be the same size. The center circles can be irregular as well. Try to make them about the size of a quarter, or about 1" diameter. One circle will be for the front, one for the back.

Figure out how you want your flower to be arranged - which petals where, etc. Or you can just glue the petals wily-nily and get a surprise at the end.

Now it's time to glue. Pick which circle you want to be on the front, and flip it over so the white part is up. Cover this side with a good layer of glue. Then place the 4 large petals, white-side-up as well, on top of the circle so that the skinny ends of the petals touch each other. You want them to be arranged like the cardinal points on a compass: North, South, East and West.

Next put the baby petals (also flipped over) in the remaining spaces on the circle. You're essentially assembling a compass rose shape. Once you have all the petals placed, cover the white side of the other circle with glue. Press it on top of the first circle and the petal points, like you're making a sandwich. You should see the back side of all your petals (white) and a colorful circle in the middle.

Make sure everything is nicely glued together. You may want to put a weight on top to help all the components stick together. Once the glue is set, flip over your flower and check out the amazing pattern that has formed.

Repeat. :)

Once you've made all of your flowers, it's time to arrange them in a way that's pleasing to you. Decide how many hanging columns you want, and how many flowers will go in each one. I did 6 columns with 9 flowers each, and arranged everything according to a color gradient.

Once you have everything laid out - ideally in a neat column/grid format - it's time to start assembling. Use a thumbtack or tiny hole punch to put a hole near the tip of each of the four large petals. Each flower will be joined to the next from two petals. (If you want your flowers to connect from one point only (i.e. oriented like a plus sign instead of an 'x'), that would work too.)

Now take the copper wire (or steel binding wire) and start coiling it around the pen or pencil (you'll get the best results with a totally smooth pen/pencil, not one that has facets or angles). Make a bunch of coils, and try to get them really tight together. Once you have filled up a couple of inches with coiled wire, wiggle the coiled section off the pen/pencil. Start cutting the coils apart so that you are creating jump rings (you can google any tutorial for making wire jump rings and get a much better explanation, with pictures). The process is really easy, it's just hard to describe.

Make as many jump rings as you need to join your flowers together. Open one ring using your needle-nose pliers, thread it through a petal, and join it to the petal of another flower. Repeat for the other petals. Join all of your flowers together in this manner. The photo below shows how the flowers should be linked.

Once you have all your flowers linked with the wire rings, it's time to create the hoop from which they will hang. I used an old coat hanger, but you could also use steel music wire. The key is to have strong, relatively thick steel wire that will hold its shape. Create a circle that will accommodate the number of flower columns you'll hang. My circle was roughly 1 foot in diameter. Bend the wire to create the circle, making sure to overlap the ends so you can wrap them together with a bit of the same copper/binding wire you used to make the rings.

Connect the rings from the top row of flowers to the hoop you've just created. Voilà! You should now have a complete postcard flower mobile. :) I hung mine from the ceiling using a bit of fishing line attached to the coat hanger hoop.

Sorry this tutorial isn't the best, but it was made after-the-fact and I don't have the original sculpture to take reference photos from. I'm happy to report it now lives in the home of my friend M. who recently had a baby boy and is the best recipient of a mobile I can imagine.

Questions? Feel free to contact me.


Stacie said...

lovely! Shayne is about to go nuts with burnout in school...hope you are faring better!

Jody said...

Awesome art project - and timely - I was unpacking stuff that I have not seen for 6 years and stumbled across a ton of random postcards that we have collected over the years. What a good way to use them.

Hope things are well!