Tin Art at Lighthouse


Our second light-themed project at Lighthouse Community Charter School was to create illuminated, perforated and scored pieces of tin art. Hojalata, tin artwork, is the Mexican folk art practice of manipulating soft tin sheets by bending, perforating, and painting. Tin art supports tinkering practices that students have been developing over the past two semesters, such as soldering, iterating on initial designs, and using task-specific tools.

One reason why we are very excited about tin art is because the artistic practice of manipulating tin is found all over the world. Tin art has been found in Europe, the southwestern United States, and throughout Central and South America. Many of the students at Lighthouse have connections to Central and South America and the practice of tin art is very strong in these countries. We also like that tin is an easy to manipulate and inexpensive material that can be shaped into complex and beautiful pieces.

Tin art has deep ties to tinkering (a person who made and repaired things made from metal was often called a tinker or tinsmith), and we believe the activity embodies tinkering because of its multiple entry points, the ability to manipulate the material in many different ways (emboss, deboss, add color or repetition), and the ability to incorporate circuit making by illuminating a tin piece from behind or within. Rosie, the head Lighthouse teacher in the Tinkering Club, also brought in her tin ornament collection from Oaxaca, Mexico. She told the students about her collection and was able to share something personally meaningful with the students.

We supplied two different types of tin for students to use: spray-painted soda cans to create luminarias, or illuminated tin art, as well as square, flat sheets of tin. Marceline created a luminaria, but instead of using a soda can, she painted tin sheets black and curved the metal around a LED tap light. She perforated a hand-drawn design into the tin using a pushpin by first sketching her character on paper before transferring.




Marla’s luminaria featured delicate punched flowers scaling the sides of the soda can. She added a single blossom on top of her luminaria because she wanted some light to shine upward like a lamp with a lampshade. The effect was the light from a single flower projected onto the ceiling of the classroom. In her artist statement, she explained that Japanese kimonos and cherry blossoms inspired her tin art design.



Some students also constructed their own lights for their luminarias. Students used prior knowledge of constructing paper circuits from copper tape, LEDs, and coin cell batteries to customize their tin art. Stephanie illuminated a starry luminaria with a color changing LED by constructing and soldering the circuit onto a base that could be housed underneath her piece.




Some students focused on color and texture in their tin art, like these two examples below, and used Sharpie markers to create striking, vibrant pieces.


After students finished their tin art, we encouraged them to write a title card to go alongside their artwork on the Tinkering Club bulletin board. On the card, students included their name, title, media, and an artist’s statement.

Would you mind sharing what kind of spray paint you used on the pop cans? Many thanks.

Hi Morgan,

We used matte black spray paint from Amazon. Let us know if you try this activity out!



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