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Tangram Christmas Art: How It's Made

(Jump to the Nativity Display by clicking here, or to the 12 Days Display by clicking here.)

Below are images of a rough layout of two Christmas-themed art displays. The one includes images from the Nativity. The other includes images for each of the 12 Days of Christmas, or in this case, the 12 Tangrams of Christmas.

Tangram Nativity Display Tangram 12 Days Display

Museum Art

Here are some shots of the Christmas art on display at the museum. Notice that the 3 Wise Men are wearing purple, the color of royalty. You can see the curly, glass trophy I was awarded as the "Director's Award" next to me in the photo of the 12 Days display. The center piece that is surrounded by the 12 Days of Christmas tangrams is a sampling of the 7 tans. The sign with it explains that all of the tangrams are made using all of the 7 tans and using each only once.

Tangram-Christmas-Display-Nativity Tangram-Christmas-Display-Close-up Tangram-Christmas-Display-with-Trophy Tangram-Christmas-Display-12-Days

How They Were Made

This page includes photos and videos of how the Christmas tangram art was made. At the bottom, there's a video on how to cut out your own tangrams from foam.

Cutting Out the Plaques

The plaques on which the tangrams were mounted were cut out of walnut in my father-in-law, Bill's, most excellent woodshop in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. They were then transported by car to Utah where the tangram puzzle-art was applied.
Tools for tangrams Making Tangram Plaques: Laying out for Sanding Making Tangram Plaques: Prepping the Length Making Tangram Plaques: Closeup on Rough Layout
1) Miscellaneous Tools
2) Laid out for Sanding
3) Prepping the Lengths
4) Closeup on Rough Layout
Making Tangram Plaques: Marking Measurements Making Tangram Plaques: Tagged for Cutting Making Tangram Plaques: Cutting the lengths Making Tangram Plaques: Cut Plaques
5) Marking Measurements
6) Tagged for Cutting
7) Cutting the Lengths
8) Cut Plaque Lengths
Making Tangram Plaques: Trimming the Widths Making Tangram Plaques: Routing the Edges Making Tangram Plaques: A Routed Plaque Making Tangram Plaques: Cutting Keyholes
9) Trimming the Widths
10)Routing the Edges
11) A Routed Plaque
12) Cutting Keyholes
Making Tangram Plaques: A Cut Keyhole for Hanging Making Tangram Plaques: Labeling the Backs Making Tangram Plaques: Laid Out for Varnish Making Tangram Plaques: Varnished
13) A Cut Keyhole for Hanging
14) Labeling the Backs
15) Laid Out for Varnishing
16) Varnished


Applying the Tangrams

The rubber cement that was used to glue the tangram pieces to the plaques was tricky. Wait too long, and it would dry and not stick. Use too much glue and it would ooze out from under the pieces, and would later need to be carefully trimmed off after drying. Each time one of the 7 pieces that made up each image was glued down, it would need to have pressure applied to it, or it would start to curl while working on the next of the 7 pieces.

See a video on how to make tangram art: How to Make Tangram Art. The following photos are screenshots from the video.

Making Tangram Plaques: Laying out the Plaque Making Tangram Plaques: Selecting a Tangram Piece Making Tangram Plaques: Applying Glue Making Tangram Plaques: Spreading Glue
1) Laying out the Plaque
2) Selecting a Tangram Piece
3) Applying Glue
4) Spreading Glue
Making Tangram Plaques: Placing the Tangram Piece Making Tangram Plaques: Pushing Down the Edges Making Tangram Plaques: Pressing Down to Avoid Curling Making Tangram Plaques: Leveling Out the Pressure
5) Placing the Tangram Piece
6) Pushing Down the Edges
7) Pressing Down to Avoid Curling
8) Leveling Out the Pressure
Making Tangram Plaques: Revealing the Tangram Making Tangram Plaques: The Finished Artwork
9) Revealing the Tangram
10) The Finished Artwork

(Baby Jesus in the Manger)



Fixing Tangram Plaques

Even in the best of circumstances, the pieces could slide under the pressure that was applied to keep the 7 pieces flat and the tangram would become distorted, or have unsightly gaps between the pieces. As a result, several of completed images would need to be dismantled and redone. Removing the glued pieces from the plaques, without damaging the plaques, was tricky business. Even when great care was taken, some plaques had to be sanded down and revarnished due to scratches that occurred while scraping off the glued tangram foam pieces. Some of the tangram images were made and remade 3 or 4 times before they were acceptable. The following is a step-by-step on removing tangram pieces that needed to be redone.

See a video on how to dismantle tangram art: How to Dismantle Tangram Art. The following photos are screenshots from the video.

Making Tangram Plaques: Cutting a Corner with Flat Razor Making Tangram Plaques: Peeling Up the Piece Making Tangram Plaques: A Pulled Up Piece Making Tangram Plaques: Cutting Up the Next Piece
1) Cutting a Corner with Flat Razor
2) Peeling Up the Piece
3) A Pulled Up Piece
4) Cutting Up the Next Piece
Making Tangram Plaques: Scraping Up Residue Making Tangram Plaques: Peeling Up Residue Making Tangram Plaques: Working on the Next Piece Making Tangram Plaques: Peeling Up Manually
5) Scraping Up Residue
6) Peeling Up Residue
7) Working on the Next Piece
8) Peeling Up Manually


Cutting Out Tangrams From Foam

The foam used in the tangram art described on this page, and in the Tangram Fury games, is 1/4" thick foam. Similar foam is sold in craft stores and used for door-hanger projects. As long as the foam is 5 inches by 5 inches in size, it can be used to cut out foam tangrams as shown in the video below. If it isn't this wide, each tangram piece can be cut out separately in a much more complicated way, that is not shown in this video because it is a random process dependent on the size of the foam being used.

See a video on how to cut out a foam tangram: How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram.

Screenshots from that video, and scant instructions are below. The video gives much more detail for the process. Good luck, and have fun tangramming!

How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Equipment Needed How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Line Up the Foam How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut 1st from Bottom Up How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Then Cut from Top Down
1) Equipment Needed
2) Line up the foam
3) Cut 1st from bottom up, to the middle
4) Then, cut from top down, to finish
How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Foam is Stretchy How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut & turn until you have a square How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Place square with 1 corner up How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut the square in half
5) Foam is stretchy, cutting from both ends keeps it tight
6) Cut & turn until you have a square
7) Place square with 1 corner up
8) Cut the square in half
How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: This leaves 2 triangles How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Line up 1 triangle How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut it in half How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: These are the tangram's 2 large triangles
9) This leaves 2 triangles
10) Line up one of these triangles
11) Cut it in half
12) This makes the finished version of the tangram's two large triangles
How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Take the big triangle How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Measure halfway into it How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut it in half How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: This leaves a trapazoid
13) Take the other big triangle
14) Measure halfway into it
15) Cut it in half
16) This makes a trapazoid to cut more, and the finished medium triangle
How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut off a triangle from the tip How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Use that to measure the square How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Cut off the square How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Use the triangle to measure
17) Cut off a triangle from the tip
18) Use that to measure the square
19) Cut off the square
20) Use the triangle to measure the last triangle
How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Line up the parallelogram How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: Slice off the triangle How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: You now have the 7 pieces How to Cut Out a Foam Tangram: You have your tangram
21) Turn it & line up the parallelogram
22) Slice off the triangle from the parallelogram
23) You now have the 7 pieces of a tangram, called "tans".
24) You can use your tans to make 1000's of cool shapes!