Everyone has seen shapes in clouds, and now you can take your imagination to the next level by sketching new designs directly on top of whatever you see in the sky.
Using a clear acrylic sheet as a canvas, anything you want can be sketched using dry erase markers. The acrylic canvas is held above your head using a bendable arm and attached to a base that also acts as a pillow. To keep the dry erase markers handy I made a small holder directly in the acrylic to hold them all. When you're ready for a clean canvas just wipe the acrylic clean with any soft cloth and start anew!
I made this prototype to help explore the idea of expressing imagination, and sharing your ideas with other people since some of the more obscure shapes seen in clouds are difficult to describe.
Step 1: Supplies
Really, any type of movable arm would work, and I needed to modify the one I got a little in order for it to work right.
Step 2: Breaking Down Articulating Arm
The bendy arm I used had clips on either end that were different, one had a very strong spring action and the other had a more delicate grip.
The clips on either end were held on with a large nut that released the clips when unscrewed. I removed all parts of the bendy arm so I could get an idea of what I was working with.
Step 3: Modify One End of Arm
I wanted the arm to stick straight out from the wooden base I would make later. The plastic housing for the bulbous end was made at an angle, so I had to modify the plastic so the housing would be perpendicular to the wood base.
I used a marker to indicate where I needed to make a cut with the rotary tool to level out the bottom of the plastic housing.
The plastic was carefully cut away to make a flat bottom.
A random orbital sander was used to smooth out the cut and remove a small amount of the diameter of the entire housing to make it about 1" in diameter, which would then match the 1" opening I would drill into the base later.
Step 4: Wood Base
To hold the bendy arm and provide a spot for a pillow I made a sturdy wood base from plywood scraps. The bulbed end of the bendy arm will be trapped inside the wood securing it in place.
I cut two sections of 6" x 12" from ½" plywood. Then cut a 1½" x 12" strip which would be the shoulder of the wood base that would hold the arm.
The center of the thin strip was found by drawing a diagonal line from the corner to its opposing side, where they intersect is the middle.
A ½" drill bit was used to drill an opening through this spot. This is where the bendy arm will extend from.
To capture the bulbous end of the bendy arm a 1" opening was drilled into one piece of the plywood for the base. This opening will line up with the ½" opening on the thin strip when the wood is laminated together.
I used a router to round over the edges of the shoulder piece and make it nicer to the touch.
Step 5: Laminate Wood Sections
The scrap plywood I used had a thin varnish on it, so I scraped it off on the areas that would be glued together.
The bendy arm was fed through the 1" opening in the wood base and then through small ½" opening of the shoulder piece. The should piece of wood was glued to the wood base piece, aligning the openings for the bendy arm, and then clamped in place.
With the bulbous end of the bendy arm seated in the wood base, the second wood base was glued and laminated to conceal and secure the bendy arm bottom.
The entire glue up was clamped and left for the glue to completely dry overnight.
Step 6: Modify Clip
The clip that attached to one end of the bendy arm was almost perfect for holding on to the sheet of clear acrylic. Instead of a pinching action for this clip, it was modified to be mechanically fastened to the acrylic with machine nuts.
I started by disassembling the clip and separating the clip halves.
Once the clip was apart I marked three spots on the clip side that would attach to the bendy arm, and drilled ¼" openings at the marked locations.
Since this clip half will no longer be needing the other side to hold anything I removed the pivot arms with a rotary tool.
After cutting the edges were deburred and any exposed metal was painted white to match the clip.
Step 7: Cut Acrylic
The clear acrylic canvas can be any dimension you like.
Acrylic can be easily modified with basic power tools and cut to size with circular saw or table saw. The openings to hold the dry erase markers, and the smaller openings for the machine nuts can also be drilled. I have access to a laser cutter, so was able to do all these operations at once.
Leaving the protective wrapping on the acrylic prevents any accidental scratches while it's being fabricated. I also included some text banding on my canvas, just for fun.
If you have access to a laser and want to use the same file you can download it below.
Step 8: Attach Acrylic
The modified clip half was reattached to the bendy arm and secured with the original nut.
The protective wrap was partially removed around the acrylic canvas openings to allow for attachment to the bendy arm clip. The openings were lined up and machine bolts were inserted and secured with nuts.
I left the foam pad on the clip half to cushion some of the compression from the nuts when they are torqued tight. It's important not to over-tighten otherwise the acrylic can crack.
Once the acrylic canvas is secured the protective wrapping can be peeled off both sides.
Step 9: Find Your Spot
This clear canvas can work only almost any day, but the best is when there's mostly blue sky with clearly defined clouds.
I like finding big hills to lie back on that give be a great view of the sky unobstructed.
Step 10: Sketch Your Heart Out!
The sky sketcher was placed on the ground and the dry erase markers were loaded into the holder in the side of the acrylic.
Find a comfy spot of the grass and lie down, placing your head on the base. To make things more comfortable I used a small pillow to rest my head on instead of directly on the wood base.
From this session we saw clouds that looked like a taxi cab, numbers, and a dragon - filling in small details to the cloud shapes to help define our imaginary ideas.
When we were all done for the day the sky sketcher can be easily collapsed and fit into the trunk of the car, ready for the next outing.
Happy sketching! :)