Third Saturday: Make a Kite

The UMFA has a beautiful collection of Japanese woodblock prints. Let’s browse them to look for old favorites as well as find some new ones. The intriguing symbols and intricate designs will inspire you to decorate a kite that will be perfect for flying throughout the spring.

Nine Japanese figures wearing traditional 19th century clothes are standing along the bottom of the print on green grass. They are flying kites above their heads. Approximately 35 kites of different shapes and designs hover over a background landscape of mountains and clouds at sunset. Many of the colorful kites have images or writing on them.
Utagawa Kunisada II, Japanese, 1823-1880, Kabuki Stars rising in popularity like kites, 1873, Woodblock print, Gift of Sharon Shepherd and Laird Rodet, UMFA2011.12.3

What is the first thing you notice in this woodblock print? There are many patterns shown on the kites as well as on the people’s clothing. What is the pattern that catches your eye first? Think about what pattern or picture you will make on your own kite. Think about the scale (or size) of your pattern. How big will it have to be so you can see it high up on a kite?

Three small figures stand in the wind. Two are holding harvested grain and the other is wearing a loose yellow garment. Two trees blow in the wind and rain with a river and mountain in the background. Stripes of rain and wind are depicted in gray lines streaking diagonally across the print.
Utagawa Hiroshige, Japanese, 1797–1858, Mimasaica Province: Heavy Rain at the Yamabushi Gorge, from View of Sixty-Odd Provinces, 1856, color woodcut, purchased with funds from M. Bell Rice Fund, UMFA2000.14.1

Look closely at this print. What is the weather like? How do you know? What direction is the weather coming from? A pattern can give us clues about what is happening in the landscape and can suggest that something is moving in the print. Think about drawing a pattern that shows movement on your kite, something like stripes, or zig zags, or diagonal lines. It might even look like it is flying faster! 

The shape of an owl is printed in black ink. The figure dominates the whole page of paper. The owl stands with its head cocked to his right side looking out. The figure is all black except for its eyes and beak. The eyes have black pupils with red irises. There are faint dots of gray around the neck and head indicating feathers.
Iwao Akiyama, Japanese, 1921-2014, Wisdom, 1972, woodcut on wove paper, purchased with funds from the Salt Lake City Arts Council, UMFA 2002.24.7

This print of an owl is titled “Wisdom.” Why do you think it has that title? Look at the owl’s expression: what other word would you use to describe it? When an object makes you think of an idea it is called a symbol. You can put a symbol on your kite too. What symbol would you use to give the impression that your kite is fast? What symbol will make you think it is higher in the sky? What will make it look strong?

Make a Kite

Let’s make and decorate a kite with materials you have at home. After you are done, you can take your kite outside on a windy day to see how it flies. 

You will need:

  • A full sheet of newspaper (if you don’t have newspaper, a lightweight paper will do like tissue paper, or even a garbage bag!)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Crayons
  • String
  • Masking tape or packing tape
  • Ruler or yardstick
  • Yarn and ribbons
  • Two 1/4 inch round wooden dowels (one 24 inches, one 20 inches), or if you want to make a small kite, a set of chopsticks would work
  • Craft knife
Kite making supplies laid our in a line


  1. Start by cutting your wooden dowels using the craft knife, one at 24 inches and one at 20 inches. Kids, you can help measure but if you are not used to using a knife, have your grownup help you!
A person's hand measuring the a dowel and cutting with a razor knife

2. Use your craft knife to make notches in both ends of your two wooden dowels. Make sure the notches are going the same way on both ends of the dowel. 

a person holding a dowel in the right hand and a razor knife in the left cutting a notch in the end of a dowel

3. Lay the 24-inch dowel vertical and measure 6 inches from the top. Mark it with a pencil. Place the smaller dowel across this mark to form a ‘t’ shape. Be sure to center the smaller dowel on the larger one. Use your string to wrap the dowels together where they meet. 

dowels crossed together and tied with string

Pay attention to the notches at the end of each dowel. You’ll want them all parallel to the floor your sticks are on so that you can later wrap string around the frame.

Place some masking tape over the string to secure your dowels.

Close up of tape covering the strings at the intersection of the dowels

4. Wrap string all the way around the kite, making sure it goes into the notches. Pull the string taut all around and tie to secure. 

Dowels with string wrapped around the perimeter forming a classic diamond kite shape

5. Now that your frame is done, it’s time to add your newspaper. Place a large sheet of newspaper on the floor. Place your frame on top of it. Cut about one inch outside the frame to make your newspaper the same shape.

Kite frame on top of a piece of newspaper cut out to the same shape with extra edge to fold over the frame


6. Before you attach the paper to the kite, let’s decorate it! Use the crayons to draw on the newspaper any design you want. Think about the inspiration from artworks we have seen today. 

Newspaper kite with an orange lighting bolt colored on it in crayon

7. Place the kite frame on the back side of the newspaper. Fold the edges of the newspaper over the string and tape them down securely.

back side of the kite with black tape around the perimeter

8. Cut a piece of string 24 inches long. Poke two holes on either side of the dowel into the top and then two holes at the bottom points of the kite. Be sure to poke holes where there is tape so they are strong enough. 

bottom tip of kite with string secured

9. Tie one end of the string into the top holes and one end into the bottom holes. (Use some tape to keep it secure.) This is the brindle of your kite. Tie your flying string to this brindle string to fly your kite. Start out by tying the string about 1/3 of the way down the brindle and then adjust it as you fly your kite to get the best lift.

back side of kite with orange string attached to the tip and tail

10. Use ribbon and string to create a tail for your kite. Secure it with tape at the bottom of your kite. 

Bottom half of the kite with a tail of yellow and red ribbon bows

Now you're ready to fly your kite!

A boy holding a finished kite outside by a fence covered in vines


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Third Saturdays are funded by Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks