Thirty Days of Making: lotus flower

I’m in Day 2 of a short series today: Thirty Days of Making . Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what i think i learned from the endeavor.

Reason for the project: Student Artwork

Simulating Nevelson
Students simulate Nevelson

A group of students in art class are building decorative patterns out of various layers of shapes at the moment. They’re on display in the lower school hallway in the south building near the art room, and they’re rather pretty. None of them is particularly stand-out, but  I wanted to do a parallel project.  Their work is based on the designs and artwork of an artist, Louise Nevelson.  Her work reminds me a great deal of the kavad of the Sacred Geometer, although I never intended my kavad to be a sculptural thing, more like a series of hinged panels of flat artwork, like a Greek Orthodox Iconostasis in miniature.  Her works are more sculptural and more abstract.   I’d never seen work like hers, or like these students, and I was interested in trying more designs out.  That meant learning to work with wood a little more.

The wise likely know that I have a stick painted black, white, and the twelve colors of a particular rainbow back in my apartment… But it isn’t topped by a particular decoration, a white lotus flower.  So I’ve set these up with some wood glue, and we’ll see if they stay together long enough to be painted.  I have my doubts, though.  It was an interesting Maker project.

Three levels of the lotus

The Object:  The Lotus Flower

The Lotus Flower that I’ve produced consists of three layers of “petals” made of wood.  The wood petals are of three sizes — small, medium, and large.  The largest group of petals is perhaps three or four inches across; the middle ones perhaps two inches, and the smallest layer is about an inch across.

The petals are supposed to be angled in such a way that it looks like a real flower.  This, of course, means that the inner edges of the petal are touching one another, and not very much, rather than simply lying on top of one another (which looks ugly, having tried it once).

This necessitated building molds or support rings for the petal leaves, in order to create the necessary angle for the pieces to lie at the right angle.  Then their blunt ends were in the glue while their pointy bits played out like the petals of the lotus.  Getting the layout even approximately right required quite a bit of complication.  I made a serious mess of the parts as I glued them together.

Moreover, the Lotus I intended to build has a specific and deliberate color scheme — gleaming white on the tops, and painted pale green (like a real lotus, on the bottom.  I don’t have the golden threads rising out of the middle of the Lotus, either.  Alas.  I’m not sure I can get that level of detail. I’m not even sure I can paint it.

My friend Daniel, though, says it’s important to build the whole prototype, so you know what other mistakes you’re likely to make along the way.  So, I’m going to try painting it once the glue dries.

Results: Completed Flower shape

About the right size…

Here it is, the completed flower:  As you can see, it sort of looks lotus-like, but not really.  Mostly, at this point it looks like a bunch of pieces of wood badly glued together and with bits of yellow modeling clay stuck to the outside.  I have to say, I learned a lot from the working.  Next time, I’m going to be using two-part epoxy rather than wood glue; I need something that’s going to set right away, and hold the pieces at the right angles relative to one another.  I may also have to cut or notch the pieces so that they fit together properly.

Reflection on My Learning:

Any man-made object is governed by the same set of constraints: tools, materials and ingenuity.  In my case, I had my fingers, some wood glue, and the pre-cut parts of the lotus, which I bought from Michael’s arts and crafts.  I also had a design that I was working from, which included some useful and relevant photographs.

I learned that I should have sanded the pieces first, due to a few splinters from the plywood; I learned that I should have painted the pieces first, and used a different kind of adhesive.  I learned that notching the pieces or otherwise shaping their glued ends a little might have resulted in a more lotus-like lotus.  I learned that it’s awfully hard to use dead, wooden materials to replicate a living and breathing entity.  I learned that even a symbolic representation of a lotus is an incredibly difficult thing to make.

Reflection on Learning in General:

Having a pattern or a design to work from is not usually enough.  The hands and the mind and the body have to work through the challenges posed by the tools and materials, which are often not cooperative.  To make this object once is to discover a few things — to make it a couple of times is to discover that it likely presents new challenges each and every time it’s built by hand.  It can only be built by hand, if you want to learn something from it, though .  This is not an exercise for the 3D printer.


Three of five stars.  I knew from the outset that this was only a draft.  I knew that I had a use for it which was doubly valuable for home and for school.  I made some discoveries about the adhesives and the materials which will cause me to build this better.  And in reflecting on it, I learned about Louise Nevelson a little, so I broadened my understanding of the world, as well as making a connection back to another time and mindset through my own Kavad.  It’s not a home run, but it’s not an easy fly ball to first base either.

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