Shadow sculptures explore the creative potential of everyday household objects. I love this activity because it is so simple yet also encourages children to learn about light, transparency, opacity, and dimension through hands-on play.
What you need
- A light source: This could be a flashlight, a lamp, cell phone light, or the sun
- A base: Styrofoam is perfect
- Mesh materials: Like colanders, graters, vegetable bags, and fly swats
- Wire objects: Like soft stem wire and chenille sticks.
- Transparent objects: Like shadow transparencies (download below) and bubble wrap
- Figurines: Toy animals, cars, figures are great for encouraging storytelling through shadow play.
Any unusually shaped object that will make a funky shadow like an indoor plant or kitchen utensils.
Setting up the play space
Place the styrofoam base in front of a flat wall. Set up the light source so it is shining onto the area. Layout a small handful of materials (for example, the soft wire, chenille sticks, and transparencies). Leave the other materials off to the side and introduce them over time in response to children’s interests. Here are some prompts to get children started:
- Can you make a garden, city, or farm out of the shadows?
- How can you change the size of the shadows?
- Why are some materials see-through and others not?
Celebrate the creative process
Shadow sculptures are a process-led art activity that allow children to learn about light, transparency, and opacity through hands-on play with materials. Children may make a final artwork but the real beauty of this activity is in their creative experimentation. To celebrate and give visibility to the creative process, you may like to take short videos or photos of children’s play that you can re-watch together alter on.
Download the shadow transparency printable resource
You can download and print out my 4-page shadow transparency resource HERE. You will need to get some transparency film (like this) to print it on
Tomás Saraceno “A Thermodynamic Imaginary” installation at MAAT, Lisboa, 2018 features some incredible shadows!
Artist Rashad Alakbarov makes some incredible shadow sculptures
The Tinkering Studio have put together some fantastic resources on light and shadow:
Free ebook! Making art with repurposed materials
teamLab’s digital art from the future