Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Photos: These amazing Vancouver sisters turn Styrofoam into giant art

It started as a way to rebel against Vancouver's 'no fun city' moniker

With Star Wars day approaching (May the Fourth, don't ya know), Vancouver's Styrogirls are getting things in place for a new (temporary) piece of lightweight art.

Tarrin and Sorrel McDonough have been making giant pieces of art, often referencing pop culture or events, for several years now.

"It sort of started when I started hearing about Vancouver being a 'no fun city,'" Sorrel says. "I think you need to jump in and try to change things, even if it's a drop in the bucket."

The duo decided to drop in, as much as anything, by entering the 2006 Red Bull Flugtag competition (there was one in Vancouver that year). After some research, they decided to build a replica of the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard. While the event was fun and inspiring, it was the material that stuck with them as much as anything.

They had found Styrofoam worked best to create a light, strong and flexible (as far as creativity) craft.

"It does everything," Sorrel says. "It's got a life of its own that we've embraced."

And so the Styrogirls were formed.

Why-o Styro?

"It's also sandable, carvable, paintable. It's really a great material to work with," says Tarrin adding to a list that started with waterproof. "It's not great for the environment, so we try to reuse the Styro in future projects."

To keep waste to a minimum they keep an eye out for free Styrofoam that's likely to be tossed, like at construction sites or even the Vancouver Art Gallery. Sorrell says she even tracked a piece down after it fell off a building in a windstorm.

Once it's in their hands, they make sure it has a good lifespan.

"Because it's got such a good structure, we just use it from project to project," says Sorrel. "We take it apart and use it again."

In one case, their Lego man (a two-person costume that's the top half of figure), they redress it. The same structure has played Deadpool, Brock Boeser and Harley Quinn.

Making realistic-looking objects out of very lightweight material has a side benefit.

"It's fun to run and round and toss it back forth and look like we're super strong," says Tarrin.

A Team Effort

It may surprise some people that the pair aren't prop builders or movie set designers. Sorrel's career is tangentially related; she's a graphic designer. Tarrin's works a little further (thematically) from their passion project; she's a bookkeeper for an IT firm.

On Stryogirls projects both do fabrication, while Tarrin focuses on the painting and Sorrel deals with the graphic side.

"This is purely non-professional," Tarrin says. "We like to refer to ourselves as an involuntary nonprofit."

"Tarrin's job helps make sure we loose money slowly," jokes Sorrel. "She limits me, I'm on a budget.

"We have our own roles and our own strengths."

While they're the Styrogirls for most pieces, on big projects they become a big Styrofamily.

"On some of these bigger projects we do it's pretty awesome because we involve the whole family," says Sorrel.

Their mother has been doing this sort of thing for a while.

"Our mother always made a lot of things for us because there'd be Barbie campers and stuff and we didn't have a lot of money," says Sorrel. "She figured 'I can make something better.'"

"So yeah, we're definitely quite inspired by her example," Tarrin adds. "Other than my mom, one of our brothers is also a graphic designer. When we do projects that involve more people he's great to compliment Sorrel's skills."

Their other brother helps too when he can, as a writer and video creator. Their other sister lives in Toronto and helps when possible. Their father, who doesn't have an artistic background, is sometimes called upon for logistics.

But where might I have seen their work?

Over the past 15 years they've created around 40 projects the public may have seen (and a few no one will see). That includes three Flugtag craft, most recently Airpug in honour of their friend's dog Donut.

"We had created this backstory that Donut's dream was to fly and we were making it happen," says Tarrin.

The pug's head was made out of a soccer ball created for the 2015 Women's World Cup in Vancouver.

One annual event they try to get to each year is the English Bay polar bear swim; on January 1, 2022 they dressed up as the barge. They've also gone as the Stay Puft marshmallow man, a giant penguin and Godzilla.

Another day they try to mark each year is May 4, aka Star Wars day. They find a public space somewhere in Vancouver and set up their art on something there, creating a recognizable Star Wars character or ship. In the past they've turned the 'Walking Figures' near city hall into Chewbacca, a West End orb into BB-9 and the Vancouver Art Gallery lions into Yoda and Leia.

"All year long I'm always looking for something that could become a Star Wars figure," Sorrel says.

They've already picked a location for 2022, but won't reveal it until the day of, when they set up the temporary additions.

"We're creating a creature," says Sorrel. "We're excited about it. It's in a more remote spot; we don't think many people will see it."

Tarrin isn't too worried about an audience.

"Half the time no one sees these things and we're entertaining ourselves," she laughs.

That said, keep an eye out for a creature from a galaxy far, far away in a couple weeks. But don't be scared; it's a lightweight.