Lesson #3: Planning the standing mobile

Part of the unit: Creating a Standing Mobile |


How is a standing mobile different from other sculptures?
Students will be able to:
Compare and contrast a stabile, mobile, and a standing mobile.
Make a planning sketch for a standing mobile.
Students will understand that:
Calder created innovative forms of sculpture.
Designs change when weight and balance issues arise.

12x18 drawing paper, ebony pencils, erasers, student stabiles from the previous lesson


Digital projector, laptop computer with internet access;  National Gallery of Art and Calder Foundation websites or computer printouts of images such as Lobster Trap and Fish TailsUntitled Mobile, Stabile with Mobile Element; Little Spider; Aluminum Leaves, Red Post; Red Petals;  Southern Cross


Display images of Calder's mobiles Lobster Trap and Fish Tails and Untitled

  • How are these sculptures different from the stabiles we saw during our last lesson?
  • What causes these mobiles to move?
  • What materials did Calder use to create his sculpture?
  • What might be some of the challenges Calder needed to surmount when he created these mobiles?
  • Are these titles helpful to the viewer?  Explain.

Project Mobile Maker from www.nga.gov/education/classroom/interactive/mobile.htm. and show what happens to the mobile as different size shapes are added to each section. Students can suggest which shapes to add.  They can see how weight affects the physical balance of a mobile and how the sculpture changes as it moves.  Experiment with clicking on Balance and See It In Motion.

  • What have we learned about mobiles from our experiments? 

Project or display images of Calder's Stabile with Mobile Element, Little Spider, Aluminum  Leaves, Red Post,REd Petals, Southern Cross (found at http://calder.org/work/category/standing mobile)

  • How are these sculptures different from stabiles and mobiles?  How are they similar?

This type of sculpture is called a standing mobile.  We will be adding a simple mobile to our stabiles to create a standing mobile.  Today we will make a sketch of the mobile we want to attach.




Using an ebony pencil, the teacher should sketch a student stabile and draw a simple mobile attached to it.  The stabile should be drawn to approximately the same size.  The mobile should not be overly large since the stabile must be able to support the extra weight.  Explain that this is only a guide, and that changes will have to be made due to the weight of the attached shapes when it is assembled.

Using 12x18 paper, ebony pencils, and erasers, students will sketch their stabiles from one view and add their plan for the attached mobile.  When designing the shapes for the mobile, students wshould refer to the natural object that served as an inspiration.


You've made a planning sketch of your sculpture.

  • What challenges might you encounter when you fabricate your sculpture from wire and board?

Hand out a sheet with this Calder quote:

I used to begin with fairly complete drawings, but now I start by cutting out a lot of shapes...Some I keep because they're pleasing or dynamic. Some are bits I just happen to find. Then I arrange them, like papier collé, on a table, and "paint" them—that is, arrange them, with wires between the pieces if it's to be a mobile, for the overall pattern. Finally I cut some more of them with my shears, calculating for balance this time.

I begin at the small ends, then balance in progression until I think I've found the point of support. This is crucial, as there is only one such point and it must be right if the object is to hang or pivot freely. I usually test out this point with strings to make sure before bending the wires. The size and angle of the shapes and how to use them is a matter of taste and what you have in mind.

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.

Answer the following questions for homework:

  • Underline a few phrases or words and define them. 
  • Highlight sentences or phrases that appeal to you.  Explain why.