Tinfoil Insect Trees

Looking at the materials I’d have available to me for the up-cycling project, I decided to use paperclips and tinfoil. After some brainstorming with friends, I landed on insects as the subject-matter; I felt the wiry nature of the paperclips lent themselves well to the construction of limbs. I also felt it best to take an abstract approach to the design of the insects, to leave room for creativity in their appearance.

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I wanted the artifact mostly to serve as a sculpture, so there were no functionality considerations beyond the ability to stand upright and remain intact, which was a concern considering the process would mostly involve layering tinfoil. Having made several pages of sketches, I settled on a roughly horizontal figure, and a circular figure. Then came the task of soldering together paperclips to realize the designs.

The process proved to be quite arduous, since the only soldering station I had available was made for circuits, and I had no one there to assist me. It meant I spent most of the five hours or so figuring out how to hold up the paperclips in a way that I could solder them without pieces falling.

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Once I’d finished the skeleton, I wrapped extra portions of solder around the joints for stability.

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The next stage was the initial layer of tinfoil, during which, I took a liking to the contrast between the thin paperclip skeleton and the thickness of the surrounding tinfoil.

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At this point, I felt a bit creatively stifled, I liked the look of the central portion, but couldn’t really keep it exposed if I wanted to build upward from the middle, which seemed to be my only option, so I made the sacrifice.

Again, this step brought about challenges, involving lots of trial and error in properly adhering the tinfoil to the skeleton. For the majority of the build, I added tinfoil in long strips, as that made it easiest to wrap around securely.

Although, for this step, I needed to use large squares to cover the entirety of the body, so the pieces would keep the legs stable.

From there, I wanted to build upwards, taking inspiration from
Hayao Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle.

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Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle. Studio Ghibli

I particularly liked the ramshackle nature of the structure, how the parts felt somewhat cobbled together, highlighted by how it lurches along in the movie. I felt it would end up being a step away from my initial vision for the bugs, but I wasn’t married to that idea and thought this would be the most logical path forward.

On the topic of deviating from initial concepts, when comparing my perceived design process to my actual design process, I felt the two mirrored each other fairly closely.

Moving from initial concept to my final results usually involves three loops: first the push from my preliminary thoughts towards an idea I can realize, then addressing obstacles, either by perseverance (often creative solutions), or a slight alteration of my concept. In the process of this up-cycling project, I would say I didn’t have much difficulty in defining my initial concept, but over the course of the build, I found myself wanting to push in other directions, either out of practicality, or coming to realize that my first thoughts weren’t as interesting.

Utilizing the same structural principles, I secured vertical skeletons to assist with the initial vertical layering.

As before, the design underwent a number of iterations.

Going along, I settled on a branching tree structure; each of the main four branches had a paperclip spine.

Adding onto the branches had the same general rhythm of first wrapping a slender portion around the ends, then wrapping the middle and further wrapping the base such that the branch wouldn’t fall off due to the added weight.

Around this point, I came to a crossroads, wherein, I decided I wanted to commit fully to the tree aesthetic, and create a more realistic looking sculpture, opposed to the abstract, smooth limbs seen here.

This choice meant I wouldn’t have time to build the other insect, as finalizing the branches would prove to be fairly time consuming.

Past this image, I added a few more thin branches, but the structure was largely complete, leaving me with a large pile of scrap tinfoil, which is ironic given the nature of this project.

Functionally, I’d say my goals were achieved, considering it can stand upright as intended and no limbs are so loose that they’d break off without tampering. In some sense, I only completed half my initial goals, in that, I only made one “insect”, though making two was fairly ambitious and I was aware I might not be able to complete both.

Aesthetically, it’s a bit harder to pin down. Overall I’m satisfied with the look of the final artifact, even if I didn’t have a very specific vision going in. Moving forward, I doubt I’ll add anymore layers or alter it much past where its at right now, though I think I will keep it as a decorative sculpture.

Tinfoil, tree
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13 Comments. Leave new

  • […] Final Report: Tinfoil Insect Trees […]

  • Xavier I really enjoyed your presentation and the use of tinfoil in this project. From the beginning to the end the presentation was enjoyable. I’m also a fan of Miyazaki’s work and I’m impressed with your ability to create similar aesthetics with your tinfoil structure.

  • Ambrogino Depolo
    February 25, 2019 4:53 am

    I really enjoyed your approach to this project from an organic point of view. I find it very difficult to take the idea of upcycling and arriving at an organic design. This design did show through regardless. I remember a comment I posted (I thought it was here) on the day of your presentation but I can’t seem to find it. Basically, I was very excited about this project and your approach from an evolving point of view. It seemed like you had an initial idea but was then able to manipulate the details to fit the materials as you learned how to use them. It would be cool to see what else you could do with foil after the success of this project in my eyes. Good work!

  • Joseph Coulombe
    February 18, 2019 8:55 am

    I like how you let your mind guide you on how you wanted to finish. The finished product looks great, reminds me of a hand reaching to the sky, but shaped into a tree, and made of aluminum.

  • Looking through your evolving photo record, I am reminded of the Stark’s spiritual tree that grows in the title sequence of ‘Game of Thrones’. Well done.

  • Brittany Callin
    February 17, 2019 8:51 pm

    Wow! This looks so good! It really is beautiful! I also love your inspiration, Howl’s Moving Castle. I am wondering though why you didn’t use bigger pieces of foil though? Especially on the bottom layers of foil.

  • Taylor Whittemore
    February 15, 2019 1:06 pm

    I thought that your project was very creative and I liked the aspect of growth that you showed in the making of your project and the idea that you could build upon what was already created as you created it. I also liked that you tied the aesthetics back to the movie that you referenced

  • Xavier, fantastic project! I think it’s an excellent idea to start the upcycling with something you already have in hand. Soldering the paperclips was a great move. The organic tree structure is very impressive, it doesn’t look upcycled which is positive. I like the 180 degree turn from insect into a tree good that you mentioned it as not every design process results in the initial intention.

  • I love the way this turned out! I think your transition from bugs to a tree was beneficial in the end. You were talking about how it’s not very durable, if you were able to make it more durable would you keep it? I think it would look really cool as a decoration/sculpture.

  • I liked your design process and I think it just shows how messy it can be sometimes but if you keep working it will usually turn out in the end. I really like your final piece its aesthetic. It looks like its together but flimsy at the same time which is really interesting. I think you could have possibly incorporated your initial idea of the bugs as tiny little pieces of tinfoil on the tree.

  • I like how you transit from a castle to a tree. Your gut feeling of the aesthetics avoids the shape of villain robots from Incredible and insect shape. Interesting!

  • Your Miazaki reference made me think you might consider looking into the steampunk aesthetic for future projects. I think you did a nice pivoting in your experimental design, and I like the natural look.

  • Ibrahim Alhajji
    February 13, 2019 1:42 pm

    I like the end results. The tree looks very good. Did you think about adding other materials (other than foil).


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