DIY : Rock Stacks (Cairns)

The act of balancing rocks may seem totally pointless, but it can be fun, challenging, and even meditative process. Rock stacks, also known as cairns, can serve practical, recreational, and spiritual purposes. Hikers may mark trails with cairns to find their way home; adventurers may stack stones to take a break from their activity; nature lovers and zen seekers may find refuge in the process of physically balancing stones. No matter the function of rock stacks, they are all consistently made only of rocks, without the use of glue or mud. As artist Michael Grab demonstrates in the video below, gravity is the glue.

Get Started!

Al you need is a stable surface, steady hands, a variety of rocks, and lots of patience!

Scout your location. I love stacking cairns in dry creek beds, where an abundance of rocks, stones, pebbles can be found. You don’t need to trek out into wilderness to stack rocks, however. Explore your backyard, the neighborhood park, or even a gravel pit by your school or work.

Collect rocks. You could choose a diverse range of stones that embody many shapes, sizes, and textures, or you could decide to select rocks that are all smooth and round, or chunky and textured. The types of rocks available will depend heavily on your location.

Begin stacking! It’s easiest to start with a large, stable foundation. Choose a wide rock with a flat top that will give you lots of room to build onto, and also provide a steady center of gravity. Keep in mind that as you add each rock, pressure is added to the rocks beneath it, which may shift their center of gravity.

Work slowly. Instead of simply stacking rocks haphazardly, carefully and thoughtfully place each one. Gradually let the weight of a rock rest on the stack, testing the stability. If a rock is unstable, try placing it in a different orientation. Think about the game Jenga, except you are adding pieces rather than removing them.

Get creative! Experiment with rocks of unusual shapes and sizes. Try balancing larger rocks on top of smaller ones. Try turning stones on their different sides. Construct a rock stack city with your friends. Compete to see who can build the tallest stack or more ‘precarious’ stack. Collaborate to decorate your rock stack with leaves, twigs, flowers, grass, or even water droplets. Build a rock stack in all your favorite parks.

Photograph your rock stacks and post them in the comments below!


Get Inspired!


Watch Michael Grab’s bold balancing act in the middle of a rushing creek:



Featured Artist : Andy Goldsworthy

Engaging in outdoor art-making since the 1970s, Andy Goldsworthy is the most well-known environmental artist of our time. Decades of practice have nurtured a humble and sensitive attention to form, light, color, condition, and temporality. His works range from delicate and transitory arrangements to massive, sturdy installations. Like many land artists, he uses only natural materials found at the site of construction, foregoing the use of glue, rope, or other manmade tools with the intent to gain an understanding of the natural material’s intrinsic qualities. Through the manipulation of leaves, sticks, stones, dirt, feathers, and even icicles, Goldsworthy dazzles us with stunning beauty and demands an appreciation of nature’s own creations.

Most notable, perhaps is the inherent temporal nature of his installations. Goldsworthy taps into nature’s uncertainty, and this tension is present in his works. Much like Money and the impressionist, Goldsworthy pays close attention to the way sunlight falls on objects or the way wind may animate leaves. “I have become aware of how nature is in a state of change and how that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather… My sculpture can last for days or a few seconds – what is important for me is the experience of making. I leave all my work outside and often return to watch it decay” (Andy Goldsworthy Digital Catalogue: Selected Extracts).

Goldsworthy’s use of photography is an important aspect of his practice. Beginning strictly as a documentary practice, his photography evolved into a means of capturing, archiving, and sharing his temporal pieces. “It is well known that every ephemeral work that Goldsworthy has made is invariably photographed, always immediately following the making, and often in revisiting the work. He has described the process of photography as one that is ‘routine’ and ‘demanding.’ Certainly in terms of the setting up, timing, viewing, and awareness that it requires of Goldsworthy, the photographing process constitutes a performative corollary to the making of the sculpture” (Andy Goldsworthy : Digital Catalogue). Goldsworthy takes all the photographs himself, using three separate cameras, and regular lenses with no filters. He prefers maximum depth of field and brackets his exposures to produce the greatest range of quality and ensure the influences of the constantly fluctuating environment are not overlooked. “If the work is one that is ‘activated’ by a particular type of lighting, or by the flow of water or incoming tide for instance, or is ‘time-based’, then Goldsworthy will take multiple successive shots, usually framed from the same vantage point” (Andy Goldsworthy Digital Catalogue : Photography). Goldsworthy utilizes the photographic evidence of his work as a means of reflection, to reassess the piece and inform future projects.

Since much of Goldsworthy’s sculptures and installations are created in private or remote areas, and begin to fade away the before they are even complete, the photographic renderings of his work are often the only manifestation of his genius that the public is blessed to experience. Through exhibitions or published images, Goldsworthy mediates the accessibility to his work by which pieces are chosen to be printed and the manner in which the piece is photographed and ultimately viewed. I personally consider these photographs as incredible gifts; the probability that I will ever be present in the moment of a Goldsworthy creation is rare, so their photographic likeness fixed in time is a blessing.

The Andy Goldsworthy Digital Catalogue is an extensive archive of his work. This incredible resources is a collaborative effort between Andy Goldsworthy, The Crichton Foundation, and the University of Glasgow’s Crichton Campus and Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII). Documenting over 2700 of Goldsworthy’s scultpures during a ten year period (1976-1986), the result is unprecedented access to his portfolio and sketchbook diaries, as well as several interviews and reflections on specific pieces.  Users may search works by date, form, material, and place, and view quality images of the installations, which only existed for a brief moment in time.

To learn more about Andy Goldsworthy and his incredible work, check out Rivers and Tides, a moving documentary that paints a portrait of the artist and his work. The first movie allowed to be made of his process, Director Thomas Riedelsheimer takes us on a journey through four countries, across four seasons, and reveals the unpredictability of Goldsworthy’s elusive process.



Works by Goldsworthy: 

Feathers plucked from dead heron, cut with sharp stone, stripped down one side // About three-and-a-half feet overall length // Made over three calm days, cold mornings, frost // smell from heron becoming pungent as each day warmed up // Swindale Beck Wood, Cumbria // 24- 26 February 1982

Partly stripped sycamore twigs // Ilkley, Yorkshire // April 1978

Stacked icicles, about 8 inches in length // Morecambe Bay, Lancashire // February 1978

Sycamore leaves, stitched together with stalks, hung from a tree // Glasgow, Lanarkshire // 1 November 1986

Featured Artist : Sylvain Meyer

Finding solace in forests, rivers, and streams, artist Sylvain Meyer transforms materials from the earth into magnificent pieces of art. Taking cue from the land art movement of the 1970s, Meyer calls attention to natural beauty with careful arrangement of the elements, usually on a grand scale. He sources materials directly from the installation site, so as to remain in harmony with delicate ecosystems already established. This giant spider is a carefully placed collection of boulders and branches adorned with moss. Other works are composed of gathered leaves, twigs, or rock matter. His work feels both contemplative and playful at once.  As with many land/nature/eco artists, Meyer celebrates the temporal limitations in the existence of his work. Although his formations are immortalized in stunning photographs, the few who experience the pieces in the flesh are lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Discover more amazing pieces by Sylvain Meyer in his Flickr feed.