Tuesday, November 8, 2011

There's a RIGHT way to make a snowflake

Snowflake Bentley (written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin illustrated by Mary Azarian) won the Caldecott medal in 1999.  I read it back then and I fell in love with snowflakes... or maybe reading it just rekindled my love of snowflakes, or maybe just made it more passionate.  Either way- I need to get to the book. 

Wilson 'Snowflake' Bentley grew up and lived in Vermont in the late 1800's.  He was a farmer but his true love was snow, more specifically snowflakes or snow crystals.  He was the first person to actually photograph snow crystals.  He dedicated his life to the study of these amazing, intricate, 'master's of design'.  This book chronicles the story of this amazing man's life with the use of incredible woodcut illustrations which are hand tinted with watercolors.  Not only does this book tell a wonderful story but each page is complimented with additional information in side bars, telling more detail and even quotes from the Snowflake Man.  I really love this book.

Before reading Snowflake Bentley I knew a few facts about snowflakes.  When I was a kid my mama taught me how to make snowflakes the 'right' way.  You see snowflakes in nature NEVER have 4 points or 8 points, typically they form with 6 points, (occasionally 3, 12,or 18) it comes down to science.  The crystals follow the laws of science and can only form according to the design in which snow crystals are formed.  After reading Snowflake Bentley I got a little obsessed... I just had to know more!  I bought Wilson Bentley's books (which I highly recommend; Snow Crystals by W A Bentley and Snowflakes in Photograph by W A Bentley.   There's also a wonderful Biography The Snowflake Man by Duncan C. Blanchard) I read/poured over these books cover to cover.  The photographs Bentley took are beautiful works of art.  Through my study I learned that not only do people error in the number of points they make when cutting out snowflakes but whenever a person cuts out the center they've turned their snowflake into a doily.  Snowflakes don't  have holes in the middle, it's because they grow from the center- they need that stability.  What's really incredible to me, is that with all of the rules snowflakes follow during their creation from water vapor into crystals, is that no two are ever exactly the same.  Every flake that has ever drifted from a cloud is unique.

Now for a 'proper' snowflake cutting tutorial:

1- Cut your paper square, I use tracing paper because it's easier for kids (and adults) to cut through the multiple layers.

2- Fold your square in half to form a triangle.

3- Fold your triangle in half to form a smaller triangle.

4- (here's the tricky part) In order to create a six pointed design you need to fold the triangle into thirds.  Fold over once to 1/3 of the triangle.

5- Last fold takes the paper over the 4th fold to the edge.

Be sure to make sharp, defined folds. 

For well defined points on your crystal cut on an angle removing both points on your folded paper.  For young children it can be helpful to draw a line to follow when cutting.

Here are several examples of edges I cut for this demo.

My children and I then cut notches out of both edges of the folded paper, again it can be helpful to draw (or have them draw) cutting guidelines.  (Remember don't cut off the point if you want it to represent a true snow crystal)

Now for the fun part!  It's always to exciting to see what designs come out as you unfold your art.

Here they are!  Six true to life 'artistic representations' of snowflakes.  I did iron them after we unfolded to get crisp flat flakes which can now be easily hung on display in our dining room window.

Cutting out snowflakes can be such a fun winter tradition!  Why not include some science and math when you are doing your art?  Instead of folding the typical 4 pointed snowflake go a little bit further.  Kids will love learning and discovering with you.

Happy Snow- Robyn

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