Chihuly-Inspired Cups Project

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Chihuly Cups Project •

Welcome, Pinterest people! I’ve had so many questions regarding my Chihuly cup project. I made these with cups I bought at our local grocery store, and since then have had trouble finding. Boo. I used the cups with the little #6 on the bottom inside the recycle symbol. I can’t seem to find them at grocery stores or Target, but have found some at dollar stores.

I’ve also not tried this project using cups with any other numbers on the bottom. If you try it with different cups, will you let me know your results? I’m curious, and I’m sure other people would be, too…

Now, onto the Chihuly melted cups project:

When I was studying ceramics in college, I would sometimes wander upstairs a level and visit the glass department. I had a couple of friends who majored in glass and I would watch, fascinated, while they pulled globs of hot glass, on long pipes, out of the furnace (the glory hole) and turned them around while blowing through the pipes, to let gravity and breath help form their vessels.

I didn’t realize until years later that Dale Chihuly had set up the glass program at RISD and taught there for over a decade. Even if you can’t place his name, I’m sure you’ve seen photos of some of his most famous pieces- colorful, undulating vessels that look like beautiful sea creatures.

Dale Chihuly glass vessel


Dale Chihuly glass art

 photos: Design Rulz

Most projects based on famous artists are great in that they give kids a little insight into an artist’s style. This project is not only fun to make, the results are uncanny in their ability to emulate blown glass vessels. Heat and gravity work on plastic cups much like they are used in glasswork.


  • Clear plastic Solo cups, tall and/or short – I used cups with the recycle number 6 on the bottom. I haven’t tested other cups!
  • Sharpies – fine point  (not the thin, ultra fine points!)


Color stripes of varying thicknesses around the outsides of the cups. We had fun picking out our color combinations. For a couple of the tall cups, we ended up coloring the inside bottoms of the cups, because they are so visible after melting.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cups, right side up, on foil-lined baking pan in the oven and watch them. They will slump in about 1-2 minutes and then they just stop on their own. Remove them from the oven and let them cool completely.

Chihuly Cups Art Project •

We tried out the shorter cups as well, and they ended up melting down nearly-but-not-quite flat. Still really cool, but you can’t use them as mini bowls like you can the larger cups.

Chihuly Cups Art Project •

It’s uncanny how much these things look like glass, and it’s really hard to stop making them- there’s something about the unpredictability of how they slump and the instant gratification when you watch them transform. We’ll definitely be making these again.

Edited: Here’s the email I got back from Solo re: the safety of melting cups:

Thank you for your interest in SOLO Cup Company products.  Our clear plastic cups are not  designed and intended for use at a 350 degree temperature. Therefore, we have not tested the product at that temperature and would not have data available.

So… not much info. here, but as with any project, use your best judgment and skip it if you are worried about its safety!

Like this project? Check out my Easy Zentangle drawing project, Crayon Transfer Technique, and bubble printing geometry project.

These are the Sharpies we buy. Look at all those colors, drool.

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  1. says

    I just love this idea! There’s a beautiful permanent installation of his in a nearby town. I’d love to take the kids there and then do this project. Thanks!

  2. says

    Hi JeanetteLOVE these! I agree – I have seen (and taught) and bunch of Chihuly projects that didn’t related to his process. Definitely want to try. Thanks for posting!

  3. says

    I did this once. I was trying to come up with interesting tree ornament ideas and if you let me go a bit too long they get really flat. What do you do with them?

    • says

      We’re just using the taller cups as little bowls- the shorter cups, that almost flattened out, are just sitting around on a table. Every once in a while someone will play with them or stack them. I can’t bring myself to throw them out… :)

    • missourimom says

      You could drill small holes in them and attach clear fishing line and make sun catcher mobile to hang from a window or deck.

  4. Elena says

    We used to do this a lot while camping. We would put Solo cups on long sticks and hold them over the fire til they melted to unique shapes, then press the shapes together while they were still hot and soft to make big sculptures of all different colors.

    • says

      Great to hear! It would be fun to do a real glass project with kids somehow- I wonder if there is a modified sort of glassblowing project kids could do. Hmmmmm….

      • Angelia says

        Not sure about a glassblowing project. My 11 year old has done 2 glassblowing workshops. He had so much fun. Check to see if there are any workshops around you that will work with kids. I am sure you already have.

    • says

      Hi Michelle- Thanks for stopping by! They are simple, which makes the project that much more fun when you get cool results. I’d love to see your cups if you make some.

  5. Teagan says

    These are great! I would like to try them with my students but so far my practice attempts have not turned out. One kind of plastic cup barely melted at all and the other one melted into a completely flat disc. I can’t find clear Solo cups where I live – only colored ones. Could you tell me what kind of plastic (the # that is on the recycling sign on the bottom) and what size of cup you used? Thanks!

  6. says

    These are absolutely stunning!!!! I love this project! Thanks for sharing at For the Kids Fridays! I am featuring this project at this week’s link party over at SunScholars!

    • says

      You know, Pat, that’s an excellent question, and one I don’t have an answer to. I tried a few Google searches, but only came up with lots of those sites where people give their opinions- no facts. I have an email into the Solo company, but not sure if I’ll hear back or not. If I do, I’ll be sure to reply to you again and update my post. My personal opinion is that they are in the oven for such a short amount of time that I am not too worried about any ill effects of plastic fumes. I would imagine that if you did this on a consistent basis, you may have problems. I’m really not sure though, so I hope Solo gets back to me. Thanks for bringing this up!

  7. Michele says

    I love this! As a designer I love setting unusual and dramatic tables for parties and dinners. I’m going to have my grandsons make several of these and put battery operated tea lights inside. Then use them as the centerpiece for our next family get-together. They will be so proud!

  8. Kathy says

    I used the 9 oz size the kids drew all over the sides on the bottom they put to Aunt May from John put the date on them on the inside edge, melted them upside down in the toaster oven they turned white and very flat used a hole punch after they cooled and used them for XMas gift tags or tree decorations .what you drew on the inside was on the backs

  9. Rose Tomlinson says

    these are really cool. I’m thinking I might string them and hand them outside. or may be string lights through them. May be even a wind chime.

  10. says

    What a great idea! They do look like Chihuly sculptures. I went to a Chihuly show here in Pittsburgh at Phipps Conservatory a few years ago and his work is absolutely amazing. He also made a huge hanging piece that now hangs in the 2 floor lobby suspended from the ceiling. Its gorgeous!! I will definitely be trying this to make some of my own creations. Thanks for sharing :)

  11. says

    Love them! My kids love colourful things to do and, with us as parents, are all too aware of Mr Chihuly (I’m sure most inhabitants of the deepest Amazon rainforest have hear of this glass artist too!)

    • says

      Woah! Your glass pieces are completely gorgeous- I’m amazed. I hope your kids will enjoy this project- but maybe they’ve already been able to play with blowing glass?

  12. sara says

    Just happened to come across this when looking to make a chihuli inspired baby mobile.
    after you bake it, does the plastic get harder than it was in its original form? or is it still flexible plastic? really hoping that it hardens up.
    i have thought about using shrinky dink paper and pulling it out when it curls, because that becomes hard as rock plastic, but i like the more 3D look of these more.


    • says

      They do become rigid! The plastic shrinks in, so it becomes thicker and hard. You’re in luck… I’d love to see your finished mobile if you feel like posting it on my Facebook page- good luck!

  13. Christina says

    Has anyone tried drilling holes in the bottom and slipping them over the small bulbs of a strand of Christmas lights? I think I will try this for our outdoor lighting (instead of Chinese lanterns)!

  14. says

    Do you happen to know what # plastic the solo cups are? I have just been trying to melt my cups flat so the ones you used sound perfect! Thanks!

  15. Winnie says

    Can you use a gas stove as well? Or does it only need to be electric? We tried it in a toaster oven outside and there was a bit of a smell but it wasn’t too bad.

    • says

      Hi Winnie- I used a gas oven. I had heard you can only do it in electric, but it worked beautifully in our gas oven. Toaster oven is such a good idea if you want to get outside to be extra safe! How did the cups turn out?

  16. Mellisa says

    I have been wanting to try this in my son’s class. Yes, at our low budget public schools parent volunteers teach art… Anyway i am trying to find a safe way but I might just have to bring the cups home for melting. I was going to try a heat gun. Y question is did these smell when melting? I saw a pin on using overhead projector film and oh my those are toxic to melt. Don’t try it! lol.

    • says

      Wow- I haven’t heard of using overhead projector film for this! It had a slight smell, but not terrible. My biggest concern would be finding the cups- I’ve tried to find them recently and couldn’t find them anywhere!! You are awesome for going in and volunteering for art. I feel like a lot of parents wouldn’t do that. Please let me know if you find the cups and experiment with a heat gun- now I’m really curious about that.

      • Mellisa says

        Thanks Jeanette. I tried with the the embossing heat gun and it worked! Yay. Didn’t notice a smell that would make this too noxious to just do in the class. I didn’t anticipate finding the cups to be a problem though. I had a stack left over from a party. They have a 1 not a 6. I usually grab these at the dollar store before big parties (with kids) so I don’t have a bunch of glasses to wash.. Now I hope they still have them. I’ve been trying for months to figure out a Chihuly lesson in the classroom. Appreciate your wonderful explanation.

        • says

          How cool that the heat gun worked! I’m glad, because half the fun is watching the cups change. And now I’ll have to try the #1 cups, too. Have fun with the project!

  17. says

    I saw a similar blog on another site and was looking for directions to tie them together. But we ended up using the #1 cups. Ours didn’t melt down as much, but the tops looked kind of cool. My directions said to “cook” them for 30-45 min, but I don’t know that it made much difference after the first 15 min or so. Here are pics of mine:

    • says

      How strange that yours didn’t melt down all the way- I’ve since tried some plastic cups from a party store and did not have much luck, so I think I may need to test a bunch of cups out soon!

  18. Michelle says

    These look awesome!! What kind of material do they feel like when they are done? Could you paint them or use something besides sharpie to color them? Definitely on my list to try

    • says

      I haven’t tried painting them, but I’m thinking the paint might melt off…. anyway, they get hard after they cool- harder than the original cups, which have some give.

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