Tag Archives: Kinetic Sculpture

Creating a Calderesque Mobile


The sculptor Alexander Calder said “To most people who look at a mobile, it’s no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry.” Here are some instructions to make your own small version of this spatial poetry.

Before you start, collect as many ideas about existing mobiles as possible. Searching the internet for “Calder mobiles” is a good way to begin. Calder was an important modern artist who made this type of mobile popular. Several modern art museums exhibit some of his mobiles.
To make the mobiles more complex, you can vary the shape and size of the wood pieces, the side to which you attach one arm to the next, the curvature of the wire, and by hanging the mobile or allowing it to stand on its own.

Exercise proper safety precautions when using workshop and power equipment.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire (hardware stores sell 200ft rolls of galvanized wire)
  • Sheet of 1/2″ ply wood for the weights or shapes at the end of the wires
  • Drill and bit (same diameter as the wire)
  • Clamp to hold the wood pieces when drilling
  • Jig saw to cut out the wood pieces.

(I’ve originally posted this ‘how-to’ on wikiHow.)

Step 1: Mobile Weights

Cut out the wood pieces using a jig saw or chop saw. For a first mobile, it is good to start with simple square wood pieces measured 2″ x 3″. Cut out 9 pieces. For advanced mobiles, you can come up with all kinds of varied shapes.

Step 2: Mobile Weights

Clamp one piece at a time to the work bench and drill a 1″ hole into the edge.

Step 3: Mobile Tool

With the needle nose pliers, cut off a 15″ strand of wire and straighten it.

Step 4: Mobile Tool

Make a small U-shaped hook at the end.

Step 5: Mobile Tool

To train yourself in making loops in the wire, and to use as a template for the following wires, make loops in the wire strand every 1″, so that you end up with 12 loops. We’ll call this piece the mobile tool.

Step 6: Start with making the base of our hanging mobile

At the base there are two wood pieces balanced on a strand of wire. With the needle nose pliers, cut off another 15″ strand of wire and straighten it. Mark the wire at 7.5″ and using the pliers, make a loop or eye. Take two wood pieces and slide them onto the wire on opposite sides. Hook the loop into the hook of your mobile tool and make it balance. You can trim the balancing by shortening the wire if necessary.

Step 7: Make the first arm of the mobile.

Cut off a 12″ strand, straighten it, make a U-shaped hook and bend the hook sideways.

Step 8: Tipping Point

mobile 8Use the mobile tool to find the arm’s tipping point, and that’s where you’ll make the loop in the arm. Slide a wood piece on the end of the mobile tool, while you leave the base piece hanging off its hook. Then take the new arm wire and hook it into one of the loops of the tool. Find the loop that allows for best balancing.

Step 9: Hooks and Loops

mobile 9Unhook the arm from the tool and hold it next to the tool to determine where you have to make the loop in this arm. Make the loop, attach a wood piece to the arm and hook the arm into the base wire, then take the tool and hook it into the arm’s loop and check the balance. You can adjust it by shortening the wire, bending it down a bit or even reshaping the arm and placing the loop differently. Changing the weight of the wood piece is possible, too.

Step 10: Multiple Arms

Repeat the process for each arm. You can hook the arms all left-facing or mix the left- and right-facing arms.

Step 11: Finished Mobile

String the loop of the last arm to a hook in the ceiling.

mobile finished