Students in Associate Professor of Art Keith Lord’s 3D Design class recently delved into architectural-like design when they tackled the process of turning small objects into 62-inch works of art using nothing but toothpicks and glue.
The premise of the assignment involved using three-inch sandwich toothpicks and structurally strong shapes such as triangles to create steady, well-balanced and much larger models of objects that were originally small enough to fit into eight-inch cubes.
The height of the final products was the only requirement, but students had to draw up project plans and figure out exact calculations to correctly enlarge their objects of choice and to ensure that they would be capable of standing on their own.
“I wanted the final objects to be clearly much larger, so I suggested they choose an object that comes in a very specific size,” Lord said. “The magnification made it kind of funny, surprising and interesting.”
Nancy Dyleuth, a sophomore art major who constructed a Lancôme lipstick tube, said the time element and necessary pre-planning made the project more complex than she expected, while piecing together the actual toothpicks was a piece of cake.
“It was all about planning; drawing out your plans and calculating measurements,” Dyleuth said. “Putting the toothpicks together was the easy part, but it was tedious and frustrating.”
Dyleuth also said the quality of the final results depended on how much time each student invested in his or her project and on his or her penchant for patience.
“You’re dealing with things less than eight inches tall that you have to increase in scale, but keep proportioned,” Dyleuth said in explanation.
“Time was also a factor; you can tell that some people put more time into their projects based on what their objects were.”
Lord’s students had three weeks, or six class sessions, to complete their projects, and results ranged from a complex biplane to a perfume bottle.
Megan Lomeli, a freshman journalism major who designed a Pez dispenser, said she had taken on more than she bargained for when she began her project but was nevertheless satisfied with the final effect.
“It was a little difficult at first because a lot of us underestimated the length of time it was going to take,” Lomeli said. “I think if I had more time it could have been better, but I’m definitely happy with the way it turned out. I’m just glad it’s standing on its own.”
Dyleuth said correct calculations determined whether or not students would sail through their projects or get stuck on certain elements of the width-height ratio. Students were told to measure their original objects, to divide this number by the height requirement and to then use the determined multiplication factor to correctly scale their models.
Lord compared the structural outlines of the projects to the exoskeletons of insects and said the assignment was about combining small elements into a larger whole.
Many students used triangles to create structurally strong models but Taryn Aguilar, a freshman legal studies major who constructed a chess pawn, said she attempted several methods of constructing the top portion of the pawn before landing on the right one.
“I had an original idea for the ball but it didn’t end up working out,” Aguilar said. “I had to try a couple of different things, so it was a process of trial and error.”
The projects were basically built according to three different strategies: some students built small sections at a time and then put them together, some built big sections at a time before putting them together, and some began from the bottom, constructing a base before working their way up.
“The assignment dealt with scale and expansion of scale,” Lord said. “Another element was creating structure with a linear element, which (has been a) very common type of construction since the development of high-strength elements like iron.”
Lord also said the assignment was meant to be challenging; problems were expected and solving them was an intended part of the learning process.
“Often students are a little frustrated building because they’re dealing with the difficulty of building a structure; making it accurate, making it stand and making it straight, but most figure out solutions and are typically pleased with the results,” Lord said.
Dyleuth said there were many standout projects, but she singled out the biplane constructed by Jason Walters as the best. It was obviously well-thought out and was the most intricate to complete, displaying the long hours of hard work it took to perfect realistic details such as a working propeller.
“(Jason) got an A+ and did more work than all of us combined,” Dyleuth said.
Lord also singled out Walters’ project as the most accurate portrayal of the original object.
“It was by far the most ambitious and used the most toothpicks,” Lord said.
Lord also said the miniature dresser designed by sophomore Darren Richards was an excellent display of craftsmanship.
Richards, an athletic training major, said constructing his project, which was seven-feet-high by four-feet-wide once completed, went smoothly because he had plenty of previous experience with designing furniture.
“I believe I used almost 4,000 sandwich toothpicks and many tubes of hot glue,” Richards said. “I didn’t have any frustrations because I have built many pieces of furniture, just this time it had to be made of toothpicks instead of wood.”
Overall, Lord said he was pleased with his students’ efforts.
“Everyone knows how flimsy toothpicks are, so to be able to build something complex from them is an accomplishment,” Lord said.
“Students often report that people are very surprised by the assignment,” Lord added. “People say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ or ‘That’s insane,’ and I think students like accomplishing things others think are impossible.”
Kady Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.