Category Archives: painting

Summer Sunflowers

My husband brought home this beautiful bouquet of sunflowers, and my kids immediately wanted to know when they could paint them. So we did. We had a new package of Liquetex Basic Acrylic paints, so we decided to try them out. I recently bought them for V, because he’s always asking to use the liquid acrylics, and I wanted to get him something better and designed more for painting larger surfaces. But of course, you can set up a flower study with any materials–we drew sunflowers in the fall using dry media.

I wouldn’t recommend these paints for toddlers, but we let G try them out because she’s the third child and she insists upon it. (She’d already painted earlier that morning with liquid watercolors.) She didn’t stay the whole time, though; I sent her upstairs for some one-on-one daddy time after all her paint was gone.

Because our acrylic set came with red, yellow, blue, black, and white, this turned into a great experiential lesson on mixing colors and tints and shades.

I really enjoy mixing paint colors, myself. I think V is moving along the continuum from feeling limited by only having primaries, to feeling completely open. N already loves mixing colors and tells me with just the primaries, he can make whatever he wants. (True!) It helps to have good quality paint, too, that mixes well. We all enjoyed mixing to get the right green for the stems and the orangey gold for the petals.

I really enjoy the energy in both boys’ paintings–instead of trying for each petal individually, they made swirls of color for the flowers. The overall effect is quite close to the vase of sunflowers.

So we are learning the language of a new paint as well as exploring color mixing and practicing translating what we see onto the paper–all because my husband brought me flowers. (I kept the chocolate to myself, though!)

Making Prints While The Sun Shines: T-Shirts

As always, click to embiggen all photos!

Materials: White t-shirts (the kids’ shirts are white undershirts–they’re great for dyeing); liquid acrylics; sponge brushes; leaves or other objects of your choice; sunny (but not windy) day; optional but helpful: a piece of Plexiglas to place inside the shirt, unless you don’t mind the paint seeping through to the back

I read lots of art/craft blogs, because the Internet is filled with great ideas, and often I find ideas on non-kid blogs that I can use with my children. One such ideas is sun-printing on fabric, which I first saw on Mary and Patch. I was surprised to see that it didn’t require any special sun-reactive paint, so I decided we’d give it a try. We actually gave it two tries, and as I go I’ll share what we learned during our first, semi-successful attempt.

First, I wanted something firm under the shirts, so I slipped some Plexiglas into mine and my oldest son’s shirt, a piece of glass into my younger son’s, and the box part of a box frame into my toddler’s. We learned the first time that using cardboard will leave the texture of the cardboard on the shirt, so either put something smooth in there (like a file folder, if you don’t have Plexiglas) or accept that the paint will soak through–which isn’t a bad look either.

Next, spray the shirt with water to dampen it. This photo is from our first try; the second go-round we just moved the entire operation to the deck. I have one of our watercolor painting boards inside the shirt, which is another option.

I watered down our liquid acrylics, but I wasn’t exact about it. Liquid acrylics are the paints that you can find in craft stores in the little bottles, about $1 per bottle (for the big size!). They come in all sorts of colors, they don’t wash out, and we’ve used them successfully for printing and painting on shirts for years. So, squirt some paint into a jar, add some water, mix it up, and cover your shirt. We learned that if you want to mix colors, do it around the edges–if you overlap colors where you try to make the print, the print sort of gets lost.

Paint quickly! Spray some more if you have to, because you don’t want the paint to dry yet. Place your leaves and put the whole thing in the sun.

I sprayed our leaves with a bit more water to hold them in place, and then I thought later that we could have weighted them with small rocks. We learned it’s best to use full leaves. Ferns make really pretty sun paper prints, but they didn’t work so well on the shirts. Our shirts dried in an hour or less.

V’s shirt, which was mostly blue, didn’t show the prints much, so we decided to try overprinting. We could see some prints in the center, so he left those alone and added green around the edges. He followed the same procedure: he sprayed with water, painted, and then lay down the leaves.

It worked! Overprinting was successful:

Once the shirts were dry, I rinsed them out and washed and dried them like I would any laundry, in cold water. I’d do this first wash with something you don’t care about too much (like towels), but when I rinsed, the paint stayed put. From this point on I’ll wash them with the regular laundry with no worries.

N’s shirt came out really well. His was the only shirt from our first try that came out really well, too. His is on the left, and G’s is on the right. You can see her prints in person, but faintly. For some reason, blue paint didn’t make the best prints.

Although mine was blue, and it worked okay. One leaf blew over halfway through, so I’ve got a mutant leaf print on the lower left there!

For our first attempt, we used textile ink–specifically, Speedball screen printing inks, because we plan to print on t-shirts at some point too, so I bought some. It really didn’t work for this project. I’m not sure why I was seduced by the special textile paint when we’ve been using liquid acrylics for painting shirts for years and liquid acrylics don’t require me to heat set the shirt by ironing 3-5 minutes per side times four shirts–that’s a lot of ironing on a hot day!

Luckily, applying the paint with a brush created a sort of tie-dye effect, so even though the sun-printing didn’t work the first time, as V said, “It’s a nice red and blue shirt, anyway.” And N, especially, was interested in what we were figuring out as we went through the process–what colors worked best, what sort of leaves, what to try next. Because we generally approach art in a spirit of discovery, the kids weren’t terribly disappointed that it didn’t work the first time. We simply tried again, refining our process a bit until we got it right!

Peek-a-boo Paintings

Materials: Drawing and/or painting materials of your choice; drawing or watercolor paper, depending; acetate the same size as your paper (we used this); tape; paint for the acetate–this can’t be too watery–we found liquid acrylic and gouache worked well, tempera not so much

The first day of summer vacation dawned grey and misty, giving us the perfect opportunity to get into the studio after breakfast and add one more activity to the Eric Carle birthday celebration. Several folks have created beautiful painted tissue paper collages. We painted tissue paper many months ago, but my boys really didn’t want to cut their creations. We are acquiring a nice pile of textured, painted, and printed papers for collaging with some day, but meanwhile, I knew our Eric Carle-inspired activities would go in another direction. Earlier this week we were inspired by Dragons, Dragons, and today we looked to Mr. Seahorse.

Mr. Seahorse is another of our favorites. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it follows a seahorse as he interacts with other underwater species in which the males help care for the offspring. But what we really like about it is that some of the pages are transparent, so you’ll have a fish that’s hiding, and then you turn the clear page and see him in full.

From Eric Carle's Mr. Seahorse

I was reading it to N earlier this week and I thought, Hey, we could do that! As I explained the idea to the boys, though, I realized it’s a rather complex idea. You need to think about your artwork in layers–what will be underneath? what will be on top? It’s a different way of looking at it, to separate the full idea into parts. But the boys were ready to try.

We knew the top picture, on the acetate, would be painted, but we had to think about how to do the underneath. V wanted to do watercolor resist, but I thought oil pastels would smear against the acetate, so we used good old-fashioned crayons.

V decided to draw fish, and N wanted to draw a monkey–he used some of our story books as a reference.

After we worked with crayons, it was time to add liquid watercolors.

Then we let the bottom layer dry. Next, I placed a sheet of acetate on top of the first picture and used a couple pieces of clear tape to hinge it on whatever side the kids chose. This way, we could paint our covering picture while it was lined up with the bottom image–much easier that way.

Here, V is checking on his work in progress. He chose to use gouache paints on the acetate.

G joined us too, of course. She loves to paint. N, G, and I used liquid acrylic.

So as not to completely overload the post with photos, I put all our finished-piece photos together–click to embiggen. (And even though I didn’t use flash, the ceiling lights are bouncing off the acetate–so sorry, but it was wet outside!) From left to right, we have V’s ocean scene (seaweed for the top layer), N’s forest scene (that’s a big leaf), G’s, um, lots-of-paint, and my big flower.

And now the peek-a-boo: V’s fish, N’s monkey, my bumblebee, and G’s fish.

I completely loved this project, and I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it sooner, except maybe because we haven’t had the acetate in the house all that long. It was so much fun to do, and the results are pretty fun, too.

Check out more Eric Carle-inspired activities at the link below!

(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)

Inspired by Mr. Carle

Kate at An Amazing Child is hosting a week-long celebration of Eric Carle‘s birthday. We are lucky here not just to own and have read many, many of Eric Carle’s books, but we’ve also been to visit his fabulous museum of picture book art several times. I’m not sure what I like best about the museum–that it includes a great Reggio Emilia-inspired studio, that it contains a wonderful bookstore, that it has the best story-time (in its on-site library) that I’ve ever attended, or that it places picture book art in its proper place as a valid art form, not just there to prettify the words but to truly be part of the story. Isn’t it good I don’t have to choose?

(Oh! Look what I just found! The Carle Museum’s art studio blog is finally up! I’d heard in the fall they were planning on starting one and here it is!)

So, back to our Carle-inspired project. If you’ve visited here before, you know my kids range in age from two to nine, our projects are open-ended, and I try to make art alongside them whenever I can. So when we thought about Eric Carle, we thought about one of our very favorite books–and yes, we enjoy the caterpillar book, especially G, but it’s very much a toddler book. Dragons, Dragons, though, is a book for all ages, full of vibrant Eric Carle portraits of mythological animals to go along with a selection of poetry on the same. He also has another, Animals, Animals, which we haven’t read yet, that contains animals you can more easily see. (We don’t like to say that mythological animals aren’t real; just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!)

So our thought was to collage and/or paint an animal–mythological or not–and perhaps (this part was my idea) write a poem or find a poem to go along with it. The boys liked this idea, so I gathered my scraps of colorful paper, glue, paints, paper, and we got to it.

V wanted to paint a hawk, so he found our Peterson Bird Book and looked up hawks. G selected a field guide, too, ending up with the one on rocks and minerals. (It’s a first guide, and I think she feels like the smaller field guides are clearly hers.) N decided to look at the phoenix page in Dragons, Dragons, and I was inspired by the snake that lives under our front step.

G tore up some paper and used her glue stick to stick them to a large sheet of paper, then asked for some paint and picked up this scrap paper that had some holes punched out of it and used it as a stencil to paint a scrap piece of vellum underneath. I was pretty impressed that she had this idea on her own. When she was done with that, she painted another large sheet of paper, telling me the right side was the rock, and the left was the mineral.

N wanted to collage and then paint.

V painted one hawk with liquid acrylics and the second with tempera. He struggled, and I reminded him that he was using a scientific illustration as his guide, and it was going to be challenging to copy that exactly. I also pointed out that my snake did not at all look like a field guide-worthy illustration of a snake! I’m pretty impressed with V’s finished paintings, and he got the field markings in there, too.

V's red-tailed hawks, acrylic on left & tempera on right

My collage & gouache snake

V declined to write a poem. Here’s my snake poem:

The snake
Takes a break
A slash
In the grass
Flash
He disappears
Under the stairs

N decided he needed a whole story to tell about his phoenix, pictured here with the page he referred to in Dragons, Dragons.

His phoenix is holding a treasure chest, saving it from the burning castle that has been attacked by knights–I think. The story is in progress.

And here are G’s finished works, first her rock and mineral painting and second her vellum piece (which got thoroughly soaked–on purpose–with painty water, and I’m surprised it ever dried!) and her bits of collage.

All in all, I think Mr. Carle would be pleased with the various approaches! We have one more Carle-inspired project in mind; if we have time to do it before Saturday (my kids are STILL in school, so we might not) I’ll post it as well.

Thanks, Kate, for inviting us to the celebration!



(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)

Process to Product: Bookmarks for Teacher Gifts

We’re not all about process around here. Sometimes, we need a handmade gift. I do try, though, to include as much chance for open-ended creativity as I can, and I like for the boys to give their teachers something a little personal to go along with the gift card. Many, many people contribute to my children’s day, so we also need an item that we can make many of. For the holidays, we made ornaments, and for the end-of-year gift, I had the idea of making bookmarks.

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, salt, hole punch, stamp (optional), ribbon

I explained my idea to the boys first–they could paint a background on the watercolor paper, sprinkle salt for that neat textured salt effect, and when it was dry, I’d cut the paper into bookmark-sized strips. Then, they could stamp the bookmark with the school logo (I detail how I carved the stamp here), we’d punch the ribbon holes, I’d get them all laminated at Staples, we’d add the ribbon and tra-la, handmade and school-oriented bookmarks.

They both said this was fine. If you’ve read my manifesto, you know I don’t believe in altering someone’s artwork in any way, so I was very clear–we’d have to cut the painting, were they okay with that? It’s meant to be a background sort of painting, not a specific image, but still, it will be cut. Okay? Okay, they both said.

G, of course, joins in on all the projects, so she’s painting with liquid watercolors too. I gave each of the kids a 12×18″ piece of watercolor paper, which is a good thing. (A bit of foreshadowing there!) When the paper is fully painted and still wet, sprinkle some salt. As little or as much as you’d like–anything that doesn’t dissolve will brush off when the painting is dry. G made sure we had no salt leftover from what I’d poured into the dish.

Once the paintings were dry, N became adamantly opposed to cutting his up.

V’s salted painting

Tears were shed. Right away I said we didn’t have to cut his up, but then he decided he didn’t want his brother’s cut up, either. V, on the other hand, was laid-back about the whole thing. I kind of enjoy cutting up things like this, because then each piece becomes its own smaller, unexpected, found composition. Luckily, cutting a 12×18″ piece of paper into 2×6″ bookmarks leaves several left over.

N’s salted painting

Once they were cut, V inked up the stamp I’d carved and stamped each one, and after they were laminated, I gathered all my ribbons and he selected which color would go on which bookmark.

Who can’t use a bookmark? Well done, V. N has decided to draw a picture for his teachers (they’re getting bookmarks too; we have enough), and I respect his refusal to cut up his artwork, even if it was originally made with that purpose in mind. Becoming comfortable with giving your art away is a process in itself.

Seaweed Printing

N wanted to try printing with crabs and seaweed, remember? So we gave it a try before the crabs completely decomposed–as it was, they were pretty stinky! (I’m going to repeat this here: The crabs were dead when we found them, I said we shouldn’t bring them home, but somehow, a few ended up in the bucket.). We were using Irish Moss, which has a definite shape which seemed conducive to printing (versus some of the grassy spready kinds of seaweed). I gathered some copy paper, small squares of watercolor paper, and large, heavy drawing paper, so we had some choices. The kids decided on liquid acrylics, and we began to experiment.

Somewhere under G’s hand is a piece of Irish Moss! I was the only one who had consistent success printing the seaweed. V tried printing the crab, but it really didn’t work (and then it began falling apart, ew!). G enjoyed just painting the crab without printing it, and I tried to print the underside of the carapace, but as I was painting it, a leg fell off. (It’s best to be amused by these occurrences…) V continued to work on printing with the seaweed, but N moved fairly quickly into using a large piece to apply paint to the paper.

The end result was very interesting:

V also decided to make some paintings that way:

I had the most luck with making actual prints:

I chose flatter pieces of Irish Moss and, after placing the painted side on the paper, I covered it with a piece of copy paper and smoothed it quite flat. I think we may have more success with this if we press the seaweed first; Action Pack 4 has simple instructions to make a flower press and I think we’ll bring one to the beach with us and see if it works with damp seaweed.

There’s nothing wrong with experimenting to see what happens, and we’re open to trying things out without being sure of the final result. Using the Irish Moss as a sort of paintbrush was satisfying in itself, and we’ll carry over what we learned if we try to make prints with seaweed again. We’ll keep our eyes open for large, flat pieces, too.

Have you printed with seaweed (or any other challenging items)? What did you learn?

Sponge Roller Painting

Materials: Small sponge roller, large heavy-weight paper, tempera paint

When we printed with scratch foam and then with hot glue plates, G seemed to most enjoy rolling out the ink. So the next time I was at the craft store, I picked up a sponge paint roller just for her. Meanwhile, when she and I went to the art store so I could get some papers for bookbinding, she asked for a sheet of charcoal grey paper. The paper and the roller seemed perfect for each other!

I suggested red, blue, and yellow paint on purpose but without making too big a deal of it. “Let’s use primaries today,” I said, and G replied, “Yay! Primaries!” She likes to dab the roller in each color before rolling it onto the paper. The colors mixed along the edges.

Before too long G began to experiment with the roller, scraping the circular edge into the paint (although she never dabbed it onto the paper to make prints) and touching it–first with a finger, then delightedly squeezing it with her whole hand.

“Paint on my hand,” she observed. I suggested if she wanted to, she could make handprints on the paper.

After each handprint she made the most satisfied sound of approval, so pleased with her work. She stretched out to reach the empty bits of paper.

I think G was satisfied with how she decided to fill her big piece of paper!

***

As the season turns towards summer, we’ve been getting outside as much as we can to explore, search for yard critters, go on special excursions, and enjoy the weather. It seems like it’s been quite a while since just G and I were downstairs to paint–all part of the rhythm of our year, though.

Iris Study

Materials: Flowers in bloom (yay, spring!); clipboards; decent-weight drawing paper (I’ve been really happy with this in the 160gsm weight); media of your choice–we used, amongst us, sketching pencils, colored pencils, chalk pastels, and gouache

These beauties are in bloom right now.

We’ve been watching them get taller and taller, we watched the buds emerge, and yesterday when we went outside, there were a couple of blooms. Today, a riot.

So I cut some of our drawing paper in half so it would fit on a clipboard, and we brought a bunch of art supplies outside. V wanted some sort of paint that was thicker than liquid watercolors but not quite tempera. I’d been thinking the same thing, so I brought out the gouache. According to DickBlick, gouache is an opaque watercolor. I like it quite a bit. But, having never worked with watercolors in a tube before, V needed some instruction (not something he enjoys) and some practice. It’s hard to get the hang of a new material.

I love that picture! Kids outside, making art. G joined in, looking at the flowers and trying out all the materials. N decided to go up the hill to another patch of irises–less crowded if we spread out.

(The cape, by the way, is from his teacher. It’s a multi-age classroom. Last year she made all the kids crowns for their birthdays, and this year, capes. So by the time you’ve gone through both years with her, you have a set. N just received his cape on Friday since his birthday is this weekend, and he’s been wearing it constantly. He has a wonderful teacher!)

N liked the chalk pastels quite a bit.

V worked with the pencil and gouache. He was initially very frustrated with mixing the colors and getting the right amount of water, but he ended up with some beautiful purples.

This is what I managed in fits & starts–under some duress, I might add.

(I was using the back of my car to lay out the finished work so it wouldn’t blow away. Mine is resting on our traveling art box.) I haven’t used gouache in a while either, so I was reacquainting myself with its characteristics.

What’s in bloom where you live? What can you get outside to draw or paint?

Squeeze Bottle Paint

Materials: Squeeze bottles, salt, water, flour (we used rice flour because I have celiac; it worked fine), food coloring, card stock

Not too long ago, G fingerpainted with some Crayola fingerpaint in tubes, but what she seemed to like most about the whole process was squeezing more (and more and more) paint out of the tube. So I figured we needed to do some more squeezing activities. First, I needed some squeeze bottles–I picked up these small travel-sized ones at Joann’s because that’s where I saw some–and then I needed something to put in the bottles. I saw this over at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning, and we were good to go!

We started by mixing 1/2 cup each rice flour, salt, and water in a bowl.

I separated the mixture into two separate bowls so G could add food coloring. Here she decided to mix yellow and red. “Orange!”

We needed to make some more to fill our third bottle, so we mixed our ingredients again, using only half as much. Here are our three bottles of green, orange, and blue paint.

(The green is in a green bottle, which may have affected G’s color choice. But she really wanted a green bottle in the store!)

These bottles don’t have a flat bottom, so I had to put them in something so they were right-side up, so she could go from color to color without having to close them in between. If I were to do this with a group of kids, I’d make an effort to get condiment-style squeeze bottles, but these worked fine for just us. Once the paint was in the bottles (this required a funnel), she began squeezing.

The colors blended really beautifully. G began putting one color onto another color quite deliberately, and this fuzzy mixture thing began to happen.

After a while, she said, “Me mix up with my hand,” sort of checking in if that would be okay. “Absolutely,” I said.

“Handprint.”

Since this is basically a more watery version of salt play dough, I put the leftovers in the fridge for another day. It washed right off her hands, too. This activity was about process, exploration, and being a part of the preparation. Plus, G loves those squeeze bottles.

**

Earlier in the day, G was able to help finish making a set of beanbags for us to play with. Although it was a dismal, rainy day, we had lots to keep us occupied!

Cardboard Box Challenge

PhotobucketRachelle at TinkerLab invited us to join her one-year blog party by participating in her cardboard box challenge. What could my kids do with a cardboard box? I asked the boys if they’d like to participate, and I’m glad they said yes. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person actively pursuing open-ended, process-oriented art with elementary-aged kids, but I haven’t yet been able to find anyone else blogging about it. So I’m happy to be part of this project with older kids. (And because all three of my kids participated, this is a longish post.)

So. We had about a week to do this, which means I had to accomplish the bulk of it last weekend, because school takes up so darn much time. At first, V (age 9) wanted to put all the boxes together and make one great big box that we could walk into, but the boxes we had on hand–three lunchbox-sized boxes and one larger one that had held three bags of cereal (all of which, serendipitously, arrived in the mail last Friday)–weren’t large enough for that plan. We talked about whether we could use a cardboard box to make tall paintings, but figured even with gesso, the cardboard wouldn’t hold up. Plus, I didn’t have any gesso on hand.

Given that my husband was also away this past week and procurement of further supplies on short notice would be difficult, the challenge became this: Pick one of the boxes we have. Given the supplies we have on hand (which is still a generous amount!), what can you do with it? Three kids. Three boxes. Three very different ideas.

The boxes before they got started.

Everybody at work in the studio.

The Toddler

G wanted her box taped shut again, and then she wanted to paint it, over the course of several sessions. She hasn’t done much painting on a 3-D surface or, now that I think of it, on cardboard, so while simply painting the box seems, well, simple, it’s new to her. When all the paint was dry, she asked for the colored masking tape so she could add some. A few hours after I took this photo, she began peeling it off. G’s box is obviously a dynamic piece.

The Nine-Year-Old

V also painted his box, after (sadly, I think) abandoning his idea to make a Super Box. However, first we took his apart so that he could paint it flat. He painted two base coats of blue tempera, followed by designs with liquid acrylics, so this also took place over several sessions, to allow for drying.

When the box is glued back together, it looks completely different; also different than a box that was painted while still a box. It allows for some interesting developments, don’t you think? Plus we all think it looks really cool.

The Almost-Seven-Year-Old

N chose the largest box and began turning it onto a corner, trying to figure out how he could turn a box into a pyramid. He has a couple of the small Pharaoh’s Quest Lego sets, and apparently he wanted a pyramid to go with them. So we talked about the shapes we were working with. A box is made up of squares and rectangles, and a pyramid is made up of triangles. If he wanted to turn his box into a pyramid, we were going to have to do some cutting. (And Mama was going to have to do some algebra, which I’ve included at the very end for anyone who’s interested.) We realized the original box didn’t have enough cardboard for a pyramid as large as he wanted, so we used the original box for the square base and for inspiration, and we used another piece of cardboard–it’s been leaning against the studio wall for months just waiting for a purpose–for the triangles.

Once he had his four triangles and the base square for the floor, which I cut out using a utility knife and straight edge (not a 6yo’s job), he painted both sides brown, then added sponge prints of yellow on the side he’d chosen to face outside (the more corrugated side; we thought the lines might just mimic bricks of sand). So again, the painting took place over several sessions, with drying time in between. Then he described the kind of door he wanted, showed me where it should go, and I cut that out too, just scoring along the hinged side so it opens and shuts. We taped the triangles together on the inside, but left it so the pyramid comes off the base. That way he can set up a scene inside and put the pyramid over it. (Otherwise, you never know what the Lego guys will get up to in there.)

Thanks, Rachelle, for inviting us to participate!

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***

THE MATH

A pyramid is made up of equilateral triangles, that is, triangles in which all three angles are the same (60 degrees, to add up to 180) and all three sides are the same length. N wanted his pyramid about a foot tall. I didn’t do that–I didn’t figure out the full math until the next day, but we didn’t have enough cardboard for such large triangles anyway! His is about 9 1/2 inches tall which, he told me, is plenty big enough for Lego guys. However, I used the 12 inches as a starting point to figure out how big I should make the triangles. If the height of an equilateral triangle is 12 inches, the sides should each be about 14 inches long. Why?

Remember Pythagoras? In a right triangle, that is, one with a right angle (90 degrees), a2 + b2 = c2, with c being the hypotenuse, or side across from the right angle. So I realized if I cut my equilateral triangle in half by drawing a line from the middle of one angle to the center of the opposite side, I’d have a right triangle. The hypotenuse would be twice the length of the shorter side, and if I wanted a height of 12, then I know the value of the third side.

So the Pythagorean equation becomes
122 + x2 = (2x)2
or
144 = 4x2-x2
or
144 = 3x2
or
48 = x2
so x = 6.928, which is close enough to 7 for me. Remember x represents only half a side of the final triangle, so I wanted triangles with 14-inch sides.

(I suppose I could have just gotten a protractor and gone by angles. It probably would have been easier, but far less satisfying than conquering the math.)

The next day, I tried to think through how to start with the height of the finished pyramid and work back to the triangles that form it. The interior height at the apex can be seen as one side of a triangle, with the floor forming the second side and the third side formed by the height of one of the side triangles, leaning in towards the center. (And as you know from above, once you have that measurement, you know how big your triangles are.)

When I did all the math, I reduced it to this:

(desired interior height)2 + x2 = 3x2

So for an interior height of 12 inches, I would have wanted triangles with sides that were roughly 17 inches long and a height of about 14.5 inches. If anyone wants that broken down… let me know. :)