Make an Ice Mobile

What kind of art can you create? Does the time of year affect what kind of art projects you make? Do you have a favorite seasonal art project? Making daisy chains in spring, building sand castles in summer, and carving Jack-O-Lanterns in autumn are some of our seasonal favorites. But what kind of art do you make in winter?

Winter art projects usually conjure up images of paper snowflakes, snowmen, snow angels, and snow forts. We love making those when we can (if the weather cooperates), but there’s so much more we can do to create nature art in winter. When the temperatures dip close to 0°F, we here at the Missouri Botanical Garden like to create ice mobiles, frozen discs that showcase nature’s beauty in ice you can hang up outside!

We only do this activity on the coldest of days because they freeze quickly, but you can do this any time the temperatures are going to be below freezing at least overnight. These frozen creations are temporary, but we think their short lifespans makes them all the more special.

Here’s what you’ll need, including some suggestions for natural materials:

  • Leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Dried or fresh flower petals, if available
  • Acorns or other seeds
  • Twine or string cut to 24 inches
  • Shallow containers (we use petri dishes, but a bowl or plastic food container will also work)
  • Tray or baking sheet (for easy carrying)
  • Cold water
  • Scissors, pruners or even pinking shears for trimming plant parts to shape
  • Hole punch (optional)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sub-freezing temperatures overnight, or space in your freezer

First, you’ll need to pick your natural materials. Go outside with your family and/or friends, find something in your yard or on your street that you like! Different textures, plants, even different parts of the same plant can be great additions to your art project.

Next, choose your containers. We like to mix and match a few different sizes of containers for mobiles that have different sized and shaped components.

Now you can layer a few items into each container. Put as many or as few items as you like. Play around with empty space between the items or fill the container to the brim, it’s all up to you! Just a reminder, the more items you have in your container, the longer it will take to freeze, but they’ll still be really pretty when they’re done.

Then place your containers onto the tray, and carefully pour water over the plants into the container until you’ve covered the bottom of the container with about ¼-½ inches of water.

Place the string you chose into the water. Connect different pieces together by putting the same piece of string into multiple containers. This is the point where you can choose what arrangement your mobile pieces will have, and what order the parts will hang.

Now you can move the tray to someplace cold. Once you get the tray in place, if you want now is the time you could break out some food coloring. Put a drop or two in each container you want dyed, and leave it be. What’s going to happen with the dye? Will it be all uniformly spread out throughout the disc? Will there be streaks and swirls through the ice? Who knows? That’s all part of the fun!

We put our trays outside since it was so cold. You can put yours outside or in your freezer. All that matters is that it’s someplace that’s going to be below freezing temperature (32°F) for a long time. When we did it at the Garden recently, it was below zero outside, so it didn’t take long at all for the water to freeze solid. In the early morning, it took as little as 30 minutes for them to freeze solid! If it’s not sub-zero outside or you’re using your freezer, it could take up to several hours to freeze solid, so maybe they need to freeze overnight. Your patience will be rewarded, we promise!

Once the water is frozen solid, you can take the ice out of the container. We recommend taking a bowl of warm water and gently setting your frozen containers into it for just a few seconds to melt a small amount of the ice around the edges. Then you gently lift your ice by the strings until it comes out of the container!

Now you can take your one-of-a-kind creation outside and hang it wherever you like! Ice mobiles are a simple-to-make, fun, wintertime activity that you can do at home, even if temperatures aren’t on the wrong side of zero.

Kyle Dargatz — Interpretation Assistant

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