I love this project as it’s a cross between science and art – and it fit in well with the Surrealism projects we had been doing this term. This is a version of automatic art – where the artist is not completely in control of the media used or the final result.
A forewarning – this project DOES involve hot wax, so there are some age groups that it won’t be suitable for. I would recommend it for 6 years and up. They are also a very fragile sculpture, so make sure you have something suitable for your students to carry them home in!
Here’s what you will need:
- About 3-4 tealights worth of wax for each sculpture – you can use old burned out candles, or new ones, or even just plain candle wax (if you can get it.)
- Foil Pie tins (I got 50 for $2 at the dollar shop)
- A deep bucket of icy water (I put 5kg ice into a bucket that was about 50cm deep)
- A jam jar or other glass jar (I used four in a one saucepan to melt the wax faster)
- A saucepan with about 4cm of water in it.
- A stove top.
Here’s how we did it:
Set the jam jars in the saucepan with water, and allow to boil until the wax melts. By setting it up like this (like a double boiler) you wont burn the wax, you reduce fire hazards and you save your saucepan from needing to be thrown out.
We tried candle wax and crayon wax – the crayon wax did not work well, it’s was too soft and didn’t hold the sculpture structure very well.
Once the wax is completely melted, use oven mitts to carry it outside to your bucket of iced water.
Let the child hold the pie dish over the water while an adult pours in wax to about half way full.
Immediately – but gently – plunge the pie dish and melted wax into the water. They might take a few sculptures to get this technique right, but I found if you make them count to five as they plunge the dish in, they get at about the right speed. The wax tries to float, but is solidified so quickly it cannot escape the pie dish and ends up in a spiky “King Triton’s Throne” shape.
When they get to the bottom, get them to hold the dish on the bottom for about 5 seconds to solidify the wax properly, then they can pull their sculpture out and empty off the water.
We tried to make some with less wax, and some with more wax – we found the results were much more striking for the ones with more wax, but that the wax was also more likely to touch the kids hands as it escapes the dish.
This project uses hot wax – I put some plastic gloves on my kids so if the wax did touch their hands underwater it wouldn’t stick to their skin. The icy water is cold enough that it protects them from the heat, but I didn’t want to damage their skin by trying to pick off wax!
Some pie dishes have little holes in the bottom – get the students to put some little bits of sticky tape over their holes first so the wax doesn’t just drip out.