How Dominoes Are Used in Art and Games

A domino is a small rectangular block that can be turned on its edge to show a number of dots, ranging from 0 through 6. Dominoes are used in games that involve matching sides of adjacent dominoes or arranging them in lines and angular patterns. When one domino is knocked over, it can cause hundreds or thousands of others to fall in an effect known as the domino effect. Dominoes can also be set up on their edges to form shapes and 3D structures that look impressive when they’re knocked down.

Dominoes are used worldwide and there are a large number of different games that can be played with them. In the West, two of the most popular are the standard Block game and the Draw game. These are usually played with a traditional 28-tile double-six set. There are also a great number of positional games in which each player places a domino edge to edge against another in order to make an identical pair or to form a particular total. Most of these are adaptations of card games which were once popular in some regions to circumvent religious proscriptions against playing cards.

Early dominoes were made from a variety of natural materials, including bone and silver lip oyster shell (mother of pearl). Some sets still use these materials; however, the most commonly used modern dominoes are ceramic tiles with a numbered surface. Most sets are painted or stained and the pips on the face of each domino are usually inlaid, although some have them etched. The most common color for the pips is black, but other colors are sometimes used.

In the world of domino art, there are no limits to what can be done with these small blocks of varying shapes and sizes. Some artists create stunning curved and angled lines, grids that look like pictures when they’re flipped over, and even 3-D towers and pyramids. Others use dominoes as part of more complex sculptures, such as landscapes or portraits.

While some artists use very complex tools, others rely on simple household items. Nick Hevesh, for example, started creating mind-blowing domino installations using only the tools that crowded his grandmother’s garage—a drill press, radial arm saw, scroll saw, belt sander, and welder. He uses test versions of each section of a setup to ensure that it works before assembling them into a single installation.

When Hevesh is creating a new project, she starts by considering the theme or purpose and brainstorming images that could represent those concepts. Then she carefully selects the pieces that will be a part of the design and sets them up on a table to see how they fit together. She also films tests in slow motion to get an accurate sense of how each domino is functioning.

Hevesh’s meticulous process allows her to create domino art for movies, TV shows, and events—including an album launch for Katy Perry. The resulting dominoes can be incredibly intricate and are a testament to the infinite possibilities of this versatile and entertaining game.