Make a Sculpey Mobile, With Fort Makers

The team behind Fort Makers don’t refer to themselves as a design studio but rather an “artist collective,” and there’s a marked difference: They make functional objects, but instead of producing a stream of products with a unified aesthetic, they each work individually under the studio umbrella, experimenting with whatever interests them at any given time. In a way, it’s that same sense of structureless structure that first attracted Noah Spencer to the idea of making mobiles: You can hang pretty much anything from them, as long as you get the balance right. “Any kind of visual language can be carried into the mobile world,” says Spencer, a Paul Loebach and Uhuru Design alum who co-founded Fort Makers in 2008. While he primarily makes models hung with simple wooden shapes, he’s also been toying around lately with more expressive elements made from polymer clay (aka Sculpey), a method he graciously offered to teach Sight Unseen readers in this tutorial.

When he first began designing mobiles three years ago, Spencer had to teach himself. Born and raised in a small neighborhood outside Boulder, Colorado, called Sunshine, he grew up visiting the home and workshop of local artist and antique dealer Chris Voorhees, where a few years back he discovered a wooden fish mobile that Voorhees’s father had made in the ’70s. “That was the initial exploration point for me,” Spencer says. “I basically just copied that one and made it out of applewood.” His first few attempts “collapsed onto the floor,” and a Calder how-to book he purchased turned out to offer little help. But he kept on practicing and improvising until eventually his mobiles — sans fish at that point — were solid enough to become an official staple of the Fort Makers lineup.

The idea to bring Sculpey into the series arose from some of the studio’s collaborative art-making sessions, where they’d been using the colorful clay for jewelry experiments. Spencer would occasionally borrow pieces created during those workshops and turn them into mobiles, though Fort Makers hasn’t made any of those available for sale as of yet. When we asked the group to adapt one of their projects into a how-to story for us — others in their current repertoire including block-printed tea towels for West Elm and products for Martha Stewart and eBay’s forthcoming online shop American Made — Sculpey mobiles seemed like the perfect choice. They’re inexpensive to make, require zero design experience, and (surprisingly) don’t involve any math whatsoever. And since you can hang pretty much anything from them, there’s a wide margin of error. Check out the step-by-step directions in the slideshow at right, and if you do attempt to make your own, be sure to post the results on Instagram and tag us!