Follow the Bouncing Ball: Artists at Play…


Crash…click…rumble…clack. Giant rust-and-black striped balls, seen in the five window bays of the Museum, seem to be rolling around in the Main Gallery! Artist John Gibson, has been painting similar images (not on such a large scale!) for the past 30 years. For this monumental installation, he painted with colors that would complement the stone of our historic building and had the images enlarged and printed on waterproof material.

Gibson explains: 

I paint balls because they are the most fundamentally different thing from the flat surface of a painting that I can think of. I like that elegant opposition of forces. Every day, I try to wring a “real” ball out of a flat surface, and every day I can’t quite do it. In the good paintings, there is some residue of that effort, and in the best paintings, there is a lot.


Artists use line and shadow to create the illusion of three-dimensional objects on the flat picture plane. One of the things to think about when you’re trying to make something look 3-D is where the light is coming from. Here’s a video that shows the step-by-step process of turning a circle into a sphere.

You can practice at home. Start by drawing a circle on a blank page. (Use the plastic top from a jar of peanut butter or a cup and trace around it to make a perfect circle.) Remember to draw lightly, since you’ll want to have almost no visible line where the imaginary light source hits the ball.

It takes a lot of practice! John Gibson’s paintings remind me of all the games I played as a kid: croquet, tetherball, jacks! Getting good at any of those takes a lot of practice, too! Now is a perfect time to develop your skills. Have you ever seen the Harlem Globetrotters in action? Check this video out and practice your moves! Or teach yourself to juggle. You can make perfect juggling balls out of round balloons filled with rice. (Fill the balloon with about ½ cup of rice, twist, and then pull the rest of the balloon back over the filled area.)

Show us what you’re doing with all this time at home to play! Send your drawings to us

And all this talk of bouncing balls brings to mind a favorite poem—a little out of season, but wonderful! It was written by A.A. Milne (a writer who captured childhood so perfectly in his tales of Winnie the Pooh and friends).

King John’s Christmas
by A. A. Milne

King John was not a good man
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his live aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
F. Christmas in particular.”
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to this room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now!”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)

“He’ll bring one present, anyhow
The first I had for years.”
“Forget about the crackers,
And forget the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!” 

King John was not a good man,
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”
“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts!
And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red,
india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all…
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!