Saturday, July 28, 2012

every cap counts-our bottle cap mural

This spring I got on the bandwagon and had my student's make a bottle cap mural. It was a simultaneously awesome and awful experience.  To say I underestimated how much work it would be to make the mural is to put it mildly. However, I am in love with the end results and so are the kids. However, my principal sadly is can skip to the last paragraph to read about that part if you don't want to read the rest :(
This is how we made our mural and some things I wished I had known/thought of beforehand. I put my "take away" points for each step of the mural process in astricks so you can skim the post if you want.

Creating the base for the mural:
** 1/2 plywood is very affordable and home depot will make two cuts for free for you**
***Block in the colors you are going to use in each section with paint***
The base of the mural is a 4x6 foot sheet of plywood cut in half. I projected a simple coloring sheet of Starry Night onto the plywood and had some kids trace it and then go over the lines in sharpie. Then we blocked in the colors we planed to use with some craft paint ( I put dots of paint in each section and then student's who were done early could go work on blocking in the areas) later this made it so much easier for lots of kids to work on the mural and know what went where.

Collecting the caps:
**Start collecting caps early!**
**Go to local coffee shops and ask them to save milk jug lids for you**
By far the hardest part of this project for us was getting the caps into the classroom. Maybe it is because I work with middle school kids, maybe I didn't advertise the project well enough...all I know is the caps did not come pouring in as I had hopped. Eventually I put a collection bucket in the main office, in the lunch room  and in my classroom. I also put announcements in the student morning bulletin and in the parent newsletter. Putting a note in the parent newsletter helped some but not as much as I was expecting. Eventually I got caps 3 ways. 1 for every 5 caps a kid brought to me they got a Swedish gummy fish or sour patch kid. Yes this is food bribery but it worked. 2 several teachers offered extra credit points for caps...every 3 caps equaled 1 point. After midterm grades went home the caps came pouring in.
3. I went to the 3 Starbucks in the neighborhood with large empty cans from the cafeteria and talked the managers into collecting caps from the milk jugs for a week each. I'm hoping one of the Starbucks will let me put up he mural for a few weeks come fall.
AFTER this project was done a student brought me two paper grocery sacks full of caps and the caps just kept coming once families got used to collecting them. So I think a major lesson here is to start collecting the caps a few months before you plan on doing the mural.

Sorting the caps:
** Soak batches of the caps you receive in dish-washing soap or a little bleach water or something so your mural doesn't start to smell of sour milk and other food**
**Have the kids sort out the colors into sub categories...not just "blue" but the different shades of blue**
***look at both sides of the caps for various color options and to create tints and shades***

Attaching the caps:
**pre-lay out the caps where you want them before letting the kids have at it with the glue gun OR have a few student supervisors**
**You are going to use a LOT of glue sticks***
We went the hot glue gun route and I am waiting to see how many caps have fallen off when we get back to school in a few weeks to decided if they need to  be screwed into the board or not. It is possible that I will write a post in three weeks about how I walked into the classroom and the entire thing fell apart and how upset I am. 
Anyway placement of the caps was a big challenge for us. Putting everything together was a lot like putting a puzzle together. I strongly suggest doing any curved or circle or small detail areas first and then systematically filling in from either top down or left to right or something that helps you get a nice fit for all the caps. Having the base color in paint really helped hid areas where we had gaps in the caps.
I really had to keep an eye on where the kids would glue the caps. They would get excited and start gluing in areas that I had not laid out the caps for first. Eventually I trained a few kids to be "supervisors" and one of them had to be present to oversee the gluing of the caps if I was not available. This was a great job for those chronic early finishers. A few kids started layering smaller caps inside of larger caps and I think it added a really neat look to the mural.

Hanging the mural:
**make sure you have a dedicated place to hang the mural**
I have yet to hang the mural. When it was all done I was thrilled with the results, so where all the staff members who saw it and so were the kids AND the 30 families that stopped by to see it at spring portfolio night, that is the most parents to ever take interest in my program. Want to know the ONE person not excited about the end results? My principal! Yes my principal who was on board for the entire project till the very when when she looked at it and decided she didn't know what "message" it would send to hang it in the hall because it looks a little (and I'm quoting her) "junky."  I am dumbfounded. I think it looks great and sends a message that the school supports art and recycling and creativity and collaborative activities.
Let's look a the mural again....
Ok junkie is not what comes to mind when I see that. I really hope she changes her mind come fall and let's me put it up in the halls. I was really hoping to put it in the library or near the office where lots of student's can see the mural. But for now I only have permission to have it hung up in my room. Even the custodian thinks it's a shame that it has to live in my room. My hope is to find  a store or coffee shop in our neighborhood that wants to display it for a few weeks and help show the principal that people will think it is awesome...not junkie.

So will we do it again? Yes we will. We still have a lot of caps left over from this one and I'm feeling more confident about the process. I think I want to make 2 a school year till we have a whole Gallery! For the next one I am thinking something by Matisse. Even if I have to store them all in my room till this principal retires I think the community art experience is worth it.


  1. What a lot of work! I think it looks really cool!

  2. Wow- is it bad that I want to punch your principal ;)
    She obviously has no idea about Art. If I were you (I'd be seething) I'd do what you said- approach a local coffee shop, public library, community rec centre; basically find a place that would be happy and proud to display it. Then try and get a local newspaper article written about it- it would be great advertising for your art department and you could pin up the article in the staff room! Take that principal!
    I'm so lucky my principal is so supportive of anything art related and she'd hang your mural up in our school in a heartbeat- it's beautiful.

  3. It's beautiful. I am sorry to hear that your principal won't let you hang it.

  4. Your mural is gorgeous! Your principal must be nuts if she doesn't see the amazing collaborative results that are so evident in the mural! In this day and age of " re-use and recycle" your mural personifies teamwork and how to make good use of discarded materials. It is well constructed, colorful, friendly, appropriate for elementary school kids and inclusive of all students...OMG, she must be a tough one!
    Keep doing wonderful projects like this: please know that your mural is beautiful and your principal is out of touch with reality.
    Jana in RI from

  5. That's so awesome! I love the Starry Night! Really too bad that your principal doesn't like it! I plan on trying to do a bottle cap mural this year with my kids as well and was actually thinking about attempting Starry Night...I've been drilling it into the summer program kids I work with to bring them in for me and plan on sending home a newsletter from the art room in the first week of school to ask for them. I really love your step by step tips! I will definitely be pinning this to reference later! Thanks!

  6. "Junky"?!? I put our finished bottle cap panels up in the library, which is where we have our staff meetings. My principal said in front of our whole staff that he wasn't sure what exactly I had planned when I asked people to save caps but that he was so excited to see the artwork and recognized the lesson the students learned about recycling. I'm sorry that your principal doesn't get it. I hope you are able to find a public place to display the work.

  7. I started saving bottle caps last year for a mural. At the rate I've been going, it will take a few years! The worst part about your principal is that she was on board at the beginning. Ugh. I'm glad to hear that you still think it was worth it, though. Our last school was largely painted with murals, but not by the students, rather a professional artist. I have been a little intimidated with thinking about painting our "new" old school because of the comparison.

  8. I think it came out beautiful! The tints and tones of all the colors are awesome. Your principal is a big downer to say to it is junky after all the children the work the children put into it.

  9. I would just come in during the weekend, hang it anyway, then pretend to have no idea how it got there!

  10. It looks great and anyone can tell that it took a lot of work, persistence, and patience! I'm appalled that your principal called it junky. Definitely try talking to her again about it. Sometimes principals like to posture to make them feel validated. Luckily, my principal lets me do whatever! Great job.

  11. It's beautiful! I would contact the paper or even the television news and hold an auction for businesses to have the pleasure of owning it if you can't get permission to hang it at school. Then take the publicity and funds to buy materials for more murals!

  12. i am dumbfounded that your principal would ever call student work-- wait a sec-- a collaborative community piece "junky." it's awesome. your principal is the one that sounds junky!

  13. Thank you for all your really kind and supportive comments on our mural and the encouragement to get it hung in the community. As annoyed with my principal as I am for this situation I also feel I have to defend her by saying that she has been 100% supportive of everything else I have done in my art program. I guess that is why I was so surprised when she wasn't excited about this. A friend suggested that when we have our first all staff back to work meeting in two weeks that I have the mural there in the library and create a situation where basically she has to say in front of everyone that she will let me put it up to figure out how to do that is a sneaky and non getting myself in trouble way....

  14. I did a bottle cap mural as well... and my principal, teachers, and super were 100% behind... the parents could not wait to see the end results... I too had the same problem with students putting the caps in random places... It was my custodians who were not at all supportive... they were worried about dust collecting inside the caps... and the word "trashy" was used... since completing it, they really like it... still not too sure they are in favor of hanging it... the Super said go for it... even with this new "quality air" law we have going here!!! Mine is going in the library! This year I am going to do the 4 seasons...
    Best of luck with displaying yours... do you have city library that would like it installed... that was where I was going next!!!
    Christy K-3 Art

  15. wow. that is rather shocking that your principal does not like your mural. it rocks!!!! i sure hope you are allowed to display it in the building for all to see!

  16. I stumbled across this post and was inspired! When our art teacher asked for bottle caps I immediately contacted her and asked if she was planning to make a mural. She is and I am heading up bottle cap collection. May I use your main mural photo in my efforts? I am so excited for our kids to be able to participate in something so great!

  17. I am fortunate to have a principal who was once the art teacher, so I almost never ask permission for everything. My kids made a bottle cap mosaic last spring:
    I'd love for you to join me there!

  18. WOW! Your Principal is SO short-sighted if she can't the merit in such an awesome project!
    Be proud to have it in your room as a reminder of what a wonderful educator you are!

  19. first of all, your principal sucks. (period)
    second of all, i am going to be doing the bottle cap mural project in the spring with my students-- i am also a middle school art teacher-- and, this blog has been more helpful than anything else i've read as i am preparing for the project. thanks for the tips!
    by the way, your mural is awesome. definitely do more and post some pics!

  20. Love the mural! Keep up the creativity!

  21. It's gorgeous! Your Principal is an idiot. Now, were the caps all on the floor or did the hot glue hold???

  22. Gorgeous! so not junky! Thanks for this great post! I am going to pin it so I can come back to it later. My kindergarten art students made a painting using bottle caps of various sizes. I have had more caps donated than I can use. I couldn't throw the extras away because I knew there would be something I could use them for. Looks like I just found it!!!

  23. Beautiful! I am attempting a bottle cap mural with my art club, and I appreciate the information you have on the process. I am so sorry your principal said it looks "junky." Just remember nit everyone has an appreciation for the arts. You gave your kids a GREAT experience.

  24. I am floored! This is one of the most amazing projects I have ever seen done with children! THANK YOU for sharing it in all its detail! I teach after school enrichment art to elementary students and hope to do something like this with one of my classes. I will start collecting caps now for the fall! Thank you so much for sharing your process. We have done Starry Night in colored pencil, water colors, and acrylics and I will add bottle caps to the line up! We also do the same with O'Keefe Poppies. That would be amazing too. Your Principal has NO art appreciation!

  25. Looks great. You dont have a very forward thinking Principal...recycling is all the rage, as is found object art....

  26. Thanks for your advice. Wondering how your mural has held up a couple years out? We have the caps and are ready to go. . . Just wondering about what adhesive to use and whether I should screw caps in?

    Many many thanks

  27. Did you paint your bottle caps when you ran out of colors? If so, what paint did you use to paint them and did you use primer before? BEAUTIFUL MURAL!