Build-a-bug: Activity Inspired by Contemporary Artist Cole Swanson

Parent or teacher guided activity

Figure 1. Build-a-bug activity example.

Try your hand at an art making activity inspired by contemporary artwork in the exhibition Glimmers of the Radiant Real. This is a travelling exhibition organized by The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, and curated by Ruth Jones and Sam Mogelonsky. To find out about the exhibition, and where else it has travelled, check out the exhibition’s own website:

This activity is designed for adults teaching elementary school students from grade 1 – 3.


This activity fulfills Curricular Competencies in BC’s New Curriculum for the following subjects and classes:

  • Science 1, 2, 3.
  • Arts Education 1, 2, 3.
  • Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies 1, 2, 3.

To see relevant connections between this activity and BC’s New Curriculum, see downloadable PDF “Curricular Competencies Related to Build-a-bug: Activity Inspired by Contemporary Artist Cole Swanson.”



Exhibition | Glimmer | Monument | Installation art | Gold leaf



Cole Swanson is an artist who lives in Toronto, Canada. He makes art about the world around him. Cole is known for making artwork out of objects that he finds in his everyday life, like bugs that he finds in his house. He is one of the artists whose work is in the exhibition called Glimmers of the Radiant Real.


Through this activity participants will:

  • Understand how artists use materials to help us see ordinary things, like bugs, in extraordinary new ways.
  • Learn about the artwork made by Cole Swanson in the exhibition Glimmers of the Radiant Real.
  • Practice using fine-motor skills and learning to appreciate the natural world.
  • Create and decorate your own insect in our activity that celebrates imagination through creation.
  • A clean plastic bottle (e.g., a water bottle) from your recycling bin
  • Tape / glue
  • Scissors (ask for an adult’s help)
  • Choose from our list of suggested shiny materials to build your bug. Feel free to mix and match from our lists:
    • Option 1: shiny objects from your recycling bin or around your house such as aluminum or tin foil, bottle caps, wrapping paper, etc. Children should work with adults to select and work with these items, as there may be sharp objects in the recycling bin.
    • Option 2: craft supplies such as glittery pompons, glittery pipe cleaners, googly eyes, sparkly scrapbook paper, etc.
    • Optional: glow stick



An exhibition is a group of artworks or objects shown together. Exhibitions can take place at art galleries or museums. An exhibition may show works of art by one artist, or works of art by many artists together. Exhibitions can last only a few weeks or as long as several years.

Glimmers of the Radiant Real is an exhibition of artwork by nine different artists. The exhibition opened at The Reach Gallery Museum on January 23, 2020. All of the artworks in this exhibition use materials that glimmer (or show a little bit of light), sparkle, shimmer, or shine. Some of the artwork is made with glass, gold, foil, plastic, and even pearls!

You can take a virtual tour of Glimmers of the Radiant Real by watching the 3-episode series of online videos at:

Figure 2. Installation view of Glimmers of the Radiant Real at The Reach Gallery Museum. Photo: SITE Photography.

WORK OF ART IN Glimmers of the Radiant Real

This activity connects to Cole Swanson’s artwork titled “Monument,” in the exhibition Glimmers of the Radiant Real.


Figure 3. Cole Swanson’s artwork called Monument that is part of the exhibition Glimmers of the Radiant Real at The Reach in Abbotsford. This image is taken from its earlier installation at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.

Figure 4 and 5. Cole Swanson, Monument (detail), 2018. Housefly, gold leaf.

Why did Cole Swanson call his artwork Monument?

A monument is a statue made to remember someone important, like the Prime Minister of Canada or the Queen of England. Usually monuments are built in parks or other public places, where they can be seen by everybody. Have you seen a monument somewhere before?

Cole Swanson named his artwork to make the humble bugs he found around his house seem much more important.

What is installation art?

Cole Swanson’s Monument is different from a painting on canvas or a drawing on a piece of paper. It’s an example of something called installation art. Installation art can be made of practically anything, and usually what it is made of is important to what it means. Installation art uses objects to transform a space into something special.

How did Cole Swanson make this work of art?

Cole Swanson spent five years creating Monument.

He started by collecting insects that he found in his house, then he painted them with gold leaf. Gold leaf is a very fine kind of foil. Like tin foil from your kitchen but much more delicate.  It is actually lighter than a leaf! This is what gold leaf looks like:

Cole Swanson used a tiny paintbrush to apply the gold leaf to the insect bodies.

Figure 6. Cole Swanson, Monument (detail).


Did you know that there are more than 14 different kinds of bugs in Cole Swanson’s work of installation art called Monument? If you watch the online tour of Glimmers of the Radiant Real: Episode 1, you will get a good look at the work of art. See how many bugs you recognize.


In this activity, you’ll be making your own bug by using materials that you find inside your house!

You can make your bug look like a real bug (like a bumblebee or a beetle). Or, your bug can look like something from your imagination!

  1. Use an empty plastic water bottle for the base of your bug.
  2. With the help of an adult, collect the shiny materials you want to use to glue or tape onto your bug.
  3. Let your creativity lead the way!
  4. Optional: If you have a glow stick on hand, crack it so that it glows and put it inside the plastic water bottle. Turn off the lights and see how your bug shines from the inside-out!
  5. Share your bug with the world!


  1. Now that you’ve created your very own bug, think about the name that best describes your bug. Come up with a creative name, like “Sam, the Silver Spider” or “Riley, the Rainbow Bug” or “Daphne, the Dragonfly with Diamond Eyes.”
  2. Where does your bug live? Does it like to shine in the dark under your bed or does it glimmer from the sunlight shining through a window? Maybe your bug lives outside in the garden or up a tree. Experiment with where you bug glimmers the brightest!




What different kinds of bugs can you find if you look around your house and yard? Can you find these bugs?

Are there any bugs that you saw that aren’t on this list? If so, draw a picture of this bug on a separate piece of paper.








If you use this free resource with your students at school / at home, we’d love to hear from you! Send an email to Diana Hiebert (Curator of Learning and Community Engagement at The Reach) at, with your comments including the number and age range of participants. This statistical information is important to us as a not-for-profit organization and will allow us to continue offering this kind of content.