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Spirographs: A great art activity for kids and adults

Updated on September 17, 2012

What's the most amazing work of art you've ever created with a pen and paper? For me, it's a spirograph.

I used to make these when I was a little girl. My brother and I would spend hours with our spirograph kit and make doodles, each one different and special. You could use different colors of pen and paper. We weren't creative enough to think about it when we were kids, but they could make great stationery, art backgrounds, and other items.

I remembered about spirographs when I tried to look for nimbus vector shapes on the Internet, and search results pointed back to these, the old-school version of what can now be made in Adobe Illustrator or other image editing and creating tools.

To be math-y, spirographs comprise of curves curve formed by a rotating circle inside or outside of another circle. A pen is placed at some point on the rotating circle, and when it follows the path of the other circle, it makes for an admirable pattern. The parametric equations for the curves are:

  • x(t)=(R+r)cos(t) + p*cos((R+r)t/r), and
  • y(t)=(R+r)sin(t) + p*sin((R+r)t/r)

Toymakers have realized this and have created toys to allow anyone to create spirographs on their own. To use a spirograph kit, all you have to do is take one of the round or triangular-shaped plastic pieces and put it against one of the larger pieces, like the nail file-shaped one or the one that looks like a boomerang. You would put the pen tip through one of the holes in the small pieces, press the small piece against the large pieces, then move the small piece around so the pen tip stays through the hole, thus creating a beautiful design while moving around the large piece. The small piece rotates around the large piece while spinning itself; it's a great idea.

Now people can do it on the computer... but it's much more fun to do it this way. The only time it gets frustrating is if the pen loses the hole or if your hand slips and the small piece comes away from the larger piece at some point.

I would encourage any parent to give their kids this toy, if the children are old enough. The pieces aren't really sharp; the little nodes on the sides of the pieces that fit into each other aren't that sharp, but they can break and the edges can be dangerous.

LEGO Spirograph

Giant Spirograph


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    • nightcats profile image

      June Campbell 9 years ago from North Vancouver

      Spirigraphs make great embellishments for hand made greeting cards or scrapbook pages also.

    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 9 years ago from California

      A spirograph was definitely a toy from my generation. I remember getting my tonsils out and my parents bringing me a spirograph to pass the recuperation time away. (this was way before Videos, or as we now have DVD's! lol) I spent hours creating cool things with it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! lol

    • jacobworld profile image

      Jakub Wawrzyniak 9 years ago from Ireland

      nice one

    • Pam Pounds profile image

      Pam Pounds 9 years ago from So Cal Girl in the Midwest!

      I had a spirograph when I was a kid (a long time ago)...I always wondered what the mathematical equations for those circles were!!! ;) Thanks for bringing back a memory!!