Choosing a favorite childhood toy was incredibly difficult, since I absolutely loved all my toys as a kid and still love the ones I’ve acquired as an adult. But thinking back, I just kept remembering how a single marble used to provide me with hours of entertainment. I know this sounds weird, but it wasn’t just the marble. It was the elaborate contraptions I used to build out of anything I could find so I could watch the marble spin, roll, and whoosh its way through gutters, holes and tunnels. This type of rolling ball sculpture is also referring to as a marble run, or the even cooler name of gravitram. Though people are making rather elegant sculptures, little Charlie would make them out of bizarre mix of duct tape, Lincoln Logs, old board game pieces, and empty toliet paper rolls. In a word, hideous. But aesthetic was not the primary goal.

Today, the beautiful solutions many serious enthusiasts create are called kinetic art. The tallest rolling ball sculpture in the world is said to be Energy Machine, located in the Hong Kong Science Museum, which measures 22 meters tall (72 ft). I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure I would be mesmerized for hours. While other kids were playing with race car tracks, I was content with my little marble. Cars always seemed too advantaged with their four wheels to propel them. It always felt more magical to me seeing what a tiny little orb of glass could do. Shooting and rolling down chutes and jumping tracks to land safely at the bottom of whatever weird thing I built to make it happen.

I’ve never lost this fascination with perpetual motion and things that spin. Equally, I’ve never lost the need to create something out of whatever is sitting in front of me. I didn’t consider myself an artist back then. It wasn’t a word that ever came up in reference to me. Likely because toilet paper tubes and duct tape are not particularly beautiful. But what they made happen was beautiful to me. And it was the first time I experienced what I would later define as passion. That strong will to do something that overtakes you to the point that you get lost in the doing. Nothing matters in that wondrous time. Whether you’re holding a paint brush or you’re just a little boy with nothing more than a dream of a wonderful invention, built around the simple love of one tiny little marble.

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About the Doodlewash

M. Graham Watercolors: Azo Orange, Pyrrol Red, Permanent Green Pale, Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Teal, and Ultramarine Blue. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon blue ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal.

Posted by:Charlie O'Shields (doodlewash)

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world!

46 replies on “My Favorite Childhood Toy

  1. Wonderful painting. I was also a marble nut as a kid. I, however, used to play games with them and was pretty competitive and pretty darn good at it. It actually got to the point where my school banned me from playing games “for keeps” because other kids were getting upset that I was always winning all of their marbles. I had different names for the different types of marbles and had favourite marbles. I still love marbles. My sons have some they keep in a glass jar and I love to just ogle it. I think I will pinch them and display them when they outgrow them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Laura, the killer marble champion! I was just the same, we used to have pretty competitive games in primary school. It’s brought back some memories! Good call, Charlie, and great painting – I repeat, you are becoming a master glass-painter!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Love this! I remember playing with these with my brother. We would roll them along a ledge and see how far they would go before they fell off. Thanks for the memory. Great painting!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. No. It is not wierd at all. You took ua back to memory lane. Marbles were the prized possession during my childhood too and whoose not? One has to b a bit abnormal to not to have this fascination for marbles. You are easily thr best while painting glass.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was a kid, marbles were often a visual gallery of color and shape, and rolling them made all kinds of fun patterns. Most marbles you can buy today are the rather boring green ones with a sliver of orange suspended in the middle.

    I can see little Charlie building a temporary world on the dining room table, letting a marble roll down ramps until it plopped onto the floor. You really are a wonderful story teller, Charlie, inviting us into your world for a moment each day, and always enchanting us. A hundred thousand years ago, the village children would have sat around the campfire, mesmerized by your stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well done!
    I loved my marbles too..we would make a hole in the dirt ..try and get them in..or try and bump each other’s marbles..I won quite a few too.I loved the colors..I had some big ones also..and I forget how..maybe in the oven..we would crackle them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, you would have been a great play date as a child! 😍 I loved marbles! Loved how you invented ways to watch them spin and roll through tubes of creative fun! YAY! Love your imagination, Charlie and your Doodlewashes are fabulous – especially like how you painted your marble! WOW! ❤️🎨🎉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful post, Charlie! And what a nice marble! I loved them too, and I had exactly the ones of the type you painted, the ones with that little colour thing in the middle. I didn´t really make the roll or played with them, but I was totally in love with their feel and look. They are so pretty! And I always wondered and still do how they put that little colour thing in the middle of the glass… Guess I have to look up the production process somewhere. Thanks for reminding me! 😊 Have a wonderful day! 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A great toy, and there were so many varieties. We used to have ‘ marble season’ at school, it was around Autumn time, and my gosh it was competitive, each marble had a value….I have no idea how this was worked out, smaller was lower in value, going upto the best value emperor, the largest. Then it was dependant on the style, in your gorgeous painting we had the common marble, so the lowest value, then we had ghosts, ball bearings, speckled, plus many more. If a game was played of equal marbles only one hit was required, then you won that marble, if the marbles were different values, then the lower value marble should be subject to more winning games( hits) to win the better marble. I was so pleased I once won the best marble in the playground, the emperor ball bearing, how happy was I 😀
    Thank you Charlie, prompting a great memory out of the shadows with these beautiful glass balls

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Rebecca!😃💕 Glad you liked this. And WOW! That sounds like a truly intense competitive sport!! LOL I’ve never enjoyed competitive sports so I’d probably still be found hiding my room building contraptions. But that’s awesome you won the emperor ball bearing. I bet that was an amazing day!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Marvellous (marbellous?) – it’s like a little world! That was always the fascination of marbles for me. And of course sending them around elaborate courses! What better satisfaction than sending a marble through a cardboard tube off the coffee table and into a waiting toy train? Oh, the memories!

    Nobody else ever really played with marbles at school, from what I remember. It was the height of the Crazy Bones fad when I was growing up. I never got into those.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you liked this, Jacob! 😃Yeah… just rolling these babies around was the real fun! Lol I still think about building a rolling ball contraption today, but haven’t done it yet. Nobody really played marbles at my school. I was with the geeky kids who would play cards and board games on the playground. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I feel like the best toys are usually the simplest, the ones that can be used in many different creative ways, and provide hours of entertainment. I remember finding boxes, TP rolls, blocks, dominoes, scrap wood, books, fabric, string, legos, cars, etc. all to make our sculptures to drop our marbles into and see what happened and then making adjustments for where it got stuck or moved too slow. My sister sometimes would get mad when our parents would make us stop tinkering to go to bed. The good ‘ole days.

    Liked by 1 person

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