# Pendulum Painting STEAM Project

Have you ever watched how the playground swing makes a big arc through the sky and wondered what forces make that happen? That swing is a classic example of a pendulum! A simple device that has fascinated scientists, artists… and kids… for centuries! Today, we’re going to blend the worlds of art and science in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) activity that lets creativity swing in full force. We are going to be doing a project called Pendulum Painting, where gravity, physics and paints combine to create beautiful art. Ready your paints, prepare for messy learning fun, and let’s swing into action with this thrilling pendulum painting project!

## Pendulum Painting – Physics and Art Project

What you will discover in this article!

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## What is a Pendulum?

Have you ever heard the word PENDULUM? You see pendulums every day of your lives in the school playground. A swing is a simple example of a pendulum.

When you sit on a swing, your body acts as the “bob” when you sit on the little seat. A “bob” is the weight at the end of a pendulum.

When pushed on a swing, you begin to move forward and backwards in a steady rhythm until the friction of the string against the metal rings at the top, which keep it attached to the swing frame, slows the motion of the swing down gradually and you shout out for someone to get you going once again.

A combination of your body weight and gravity causes the swing motion. Gravity pulls the weight of you and the swing down, as well as the two ropes you are holding onto, keeping the swing from falling to the ground.

So, we can say that a pendulum teaches us about gravity and motion. Now that you understand what a pendulum is let’s look at some of its uses.

## Uses of Pendulums

### Telling time

Pendulums have been used in clocks to tell time for many years. I’m sure one of your grandparents had a Grandfather Clock with a shiny pendulum that never stopped swinging from left to right all day. Until the 1900’s, the pendulum was known as the most reliable timekeeping technology.

### Science & Engineering

Pendulums teach us about forces, gravity, and motion. These are three necessary scientific principles. Pendulums are essential tools when they build bridges to see if they can withstand earthquakes, and they help scientists understand the motion of the waves in the sea.

### Making decisions

Some people believe that pendulums can help you make decisions. How is that possible, you ask? Well, here’s how it works.

A pendulum board is a board that has unique markings and words like “yes and no.” A piece of string with a unique pointy gem attached to the bottom of it dangles over the board. When a person asks a question, the pendulum is held over the board and moves to the answer, either “yes or no”.

### Sports

In gymnastics, athletes swing or rotate around a fixed point. It helps them perform specific flips and spins. If you have watch gymnastics, especially on the high bar or rings, you can see pendulum motion in action in spectacular ways.

### Music

Wind chimes are an excellent example of a pendulum that creates different-pitched sounds depending on the length of the strings to which the chimes are attached. A metronome is a type of pendulum that helps musicians keep a beat.

### Toys

There are some cool toys that use pendulums. We have made a couple here at STEAM Powered Family including Newton’s Cradle, Jitter Bugs (one of the cutest projects!), and Spinning Spiders (perfect for Halloween).

### Art and Design

The pendulum can create incredible designs and patterns by filling a container with paint or sand and swinging it over a canvas or a piece of paper to create unique patterns. Which is what we are going to do today!

## The Vocabulary and Science of a Pendulum

A pendulum consists of a weight, known as the bob, which hangs from a fixed point via a string or rod that allows it to swing freely back and forth. This motion continues until external forces like friction or air resistance slow it down and eventually bring it to a stop.

The motion of a pendulum is periodic, this means the bob repeats its back and forth path or swing in a regular time interval. This time interval, or period, remains the same as long as the amplitude of the swing is relatively small. The period is defined as the time it takes for the pendulum to complete one full swing and return to its starting position. Amplitude is the highest angle or distance that the pendulum reaches from its central, hanging-down position before swinging back in the opposite direction.

Interestingly, the period of a simple pendulum is independent of the mass of the bob and the amplitude of the swing. This means that if you lift the bob to a higher starting position or try giving it a push or extra force when you start it won’t affect the period or time it takes to complete a swing. However, it’s important to note that if the swing is very large, the period can increase slightly because the path the bob travels is longer and the acceleration due to gravity is not perfectly constant over different parts of the swing.

The main thing that determines the period of a simple pendulum is the length of the string or rod that the bob is attached to. A longer string results in a longer period, meaning the pendulum swings back and forth more slowly. And a shorter string results in a shorter period, allowing the pendulum to swing back and forth more quickly.

## Classroom Challenge Idea

You could use this scientific knowledge to make changes to your pendulum designs and test how the length of the string affects your results. If you are in a classroom or group setting, why not challenge the kids to work in teams and make slightly different pendulum designs. Then compare the results. This is a great way to apply some scientific investigation into a fun art project.

In this project, we will make a painting pendulum for kids. This is a somewhat messy, but incredibly fun project using simple materials you likely already have at home or school. Let’s get started!

## DIY Pendulum Painting Project STEAM Activity Video

Watch the video tutorial to learn how to do this activity. Below we provide step-by-step directions to compliment the video. If you can’t see the video feed here, it is being blocked by a firewall or adblockers, you can also find it in high res with closed captioning on the STEAM Powered Family YouTube Channel.

## Making a Pendulum Painting

### Materials & Tools

Thin string
Disposable drinking cups
Pencil
6 Paper clips
Ruler
Permanent marker
Scissors
Compass from a math set
4 Rubber bands
6 large washers or 3 objects to use as weights on the cups
Thick wooden skewer or chopstick
Masking or duct tape
Piece of scrap paper (from your printer)
Washable paint in a variety of colors (I used 4)
2 tall stools (or small tables or chairs)
A long metal or wooden rod (or a broom handle)
Lots of old newspapers, plastic or a tarp and old painting clothes!
4 empty plastic drink bottles or containers for mixing paint

## Preparation

Remember that this project can get messy, so if you can, set it up outside or in a space where you don’t mind getting paint everywhere.

Whether you are doing this project at home or school, use plastic, a tarp, or large sheets of scrap paper on the floor or tables you are working on to protect the surface you are working on. You will also want the kids to wear their painting clothes.

I could not do this project outside due to renovations at home, so I had to set it up on my studio table. The taller your pendulum is, the bigger your artwork can be. That made me sad, but it worked incredibly well on my table!

## Directions

### Getting all your cups and paint ready

Get your four cups and your piece of scrap paper in front of you. Place one of the cups upside down onto the paper. Trace around the cup and find and mark the middle of the cup. Make a line with the ruler through the circle.

Turn the page around 45 degrees and find and mark the middle of the circle with the ruler once again.

Using the compass, place the pointed end on the edge of the circle where the line intersects it and make a mark with the pencil side on the left and right sides. Now, the circle has three equal parts.

Place the cup back onto the circle, and with a permanent marker, make a dot on the cup where the markings of the three equal parts are.

Use the wooden skewer to make the three small holes. Do this on all four cups.

Find the middle of each cup and mark it with a permanent marker. My cups had the middle marked already.

Use the point of the wooden skewer to make a hole in the bottom of the cup from the inside. You want a neat hole inside the cup so the paint can flow freely through the hole.

### Prepare the Paint

Grab four empty containers and into each one add one color, then dilute the paint with the same amount of water. So it’s mixed with 1 part paint and 1 part water. Stir it well and make sure that there are no blobs. Blobs will stop the flow of the paint through the tiny hole at the bottom of the cup.

Pro Tip! If needed you can sieve the paint. I used an old pair of stockings to sieve the paint through and remove any blobs. You could also use cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer.

Always test the flow of the paint before you start your artwork. If it is too runny, add more paint. Too thick, add more water. Adjust until you have the perfect consistency.

All our paint and cups are ready!

### Setting up the Pendulum

Set up the place where you will make your amazing artworks, whether at home or school, outside or inside.

It’s time to make our pendulum! Remember, all your pendulums may be different sizes than mine, so measurements will depend on the heights of your chairs, stools, or tables you have chosen for your setup. My stools were 63cm tall, and my rod was 1.50m long.

The longer the rod you use, the larger your artwork will be. But, a smaller setup will work just as well! You could even make mini set ups for students, which would be fun in a classroom.

### Making a stand for the pendulum

Place the two stools/chairs/tables apart and place the long rod across the top of either of the surfaces. Use tape if need to secure the rod. See the diagram below.

### Let’s make our pendulums

I am using my setup measurements, so if you have managed to make you’re the same height as mine, follow on. If yours is taller or shorter, adjust the measurements to work for your setup.

The most important measurement is how far away from your paper the cup is; the rule of thumb here is between 8.5 cm and 10cm.

Get the scrap paper you used to mark the cups earlier, measure, and draw a line measuring 27cm across the page. This measurement is the length of the three strings you need.

Attach the end of the string to one of the paper clips. Ensure that the knot is tight. I knotted it three times.

Place it on the line and cut extra string for the other knot. About 12 cm is enough.

Lightly tie it onto the end of another paper clip.

Place both paper clips onto either side of the line and gently pull the second knot until the string is the same length as the line on the page. Tighten the knot when it is the correct length and re-knot two more times

Make the other two strings you need for your pendulum by repeating all these steps.

Attach all three strings to the cups you made the holes in earlier.

## Making the weights (bobs) for the cups

The weights can be glued or taped to the cups. Or you can make one weight and move it between the cups. I made one weight, removed it, and replaced it on each cup for each color.

Here is how I made my weight:

Take two washers, thread a rubber band through the centre of the washer, and loop the longer end through the shorter end. See the diagram below:

Join all three washers, cut a rubber band open and use it to tie all the washers together in a “circle”.
Students may need the help of an adult or teacher for this.

Stretch the whole weight onto the cup.

You are ready to attach the pendulum to the pole! We are almost ready to make a mess with paint!!!

Cut the string to a length of 27cm, loop it and knot the ends together so it measures 10cm in total—double knot it to be safe.

Slide it onto the pole of your setup.

You can do this straight onto the pole if you have taped it down.

Attach the three paper clips to your cup and onto the string loop. Ensure that they are not twisted or knotted.

Double-check that your cup is at least 8.5 to 10cm above the table. If it isn’t, shorten the loop. It’s easier than having to redo the strings with the paper clips!

We are ready to make our fantastic artwork!

## Making Art with Pendulum Painting

Put your plastic or tarp and the paper or canvas you are using down under the cup.

To ensure that everything is covered, let’s practice how you can use the pendulum.

Pull the bottom of the cup towards you, ensuring all the strings are tight. It is necessary for the motion of the pendulum to be smooth.

You can pull it straight towards you or out to the side and let go, or pull it towards you and push it gently so it goes in a circle.

Play with it to see that the paper is big enough and get used to the different motions.

Are you ready? It’s time for the paint!

Get your paints and the spare cup (to catch the pouring paint from the bottom of the cup!) near to you and pour your first color into your cup. Do not fill the cup to the top! Try using less color the first time around.

Remember to keep your finger on the hole; otherwise, all the paint will pour out from the bottom of the cup!

When you are happy with the pattern of the first color, grab the cup and place it into the spare cup, unhook the paper clips, remove the weight, get your next cup, and repeat the process.

You can use as many colors as you like.

Keep changing the motion of the pendulum for each color. Be creative!

## Inquiry Questions

These are great questions to ask your students while they are doing this project.

What patterns does the pendulum make?
How many different shapes can you see?
What happens when you don’t stop the pendulum from swinging?
Why do the shapes made by the pendulum get smaller?
How do the weights you attached to the cup help the pendulum?
Does the length of the string change the motion of the pendulum?
How does the action and direction you choose for the paint cup change the pattern?

For more pendulum activities, try making a Newton’s Cradle!