The Art of Dominoes


Dominoes, a cousin of playing cards, are one of the oldest tools for game play. Whether you’re setting them up to be knocked over or simply playing them with your children, they provide hours of entertainment and are great for building fine motor skills. They also help teach kids about numbers and probability. And, unlike many card games, domino is a very portable activity.

The classic 28-piece domino set has been around since the mid-18th century, but dominoes were first developed in China in the 1300s. The markings on a domino, called pips, originally represented the results of two thrown dice. European domino sets differ from the Chinese by incorporating seven extra pieces: six that represent different combinations of the pips on one half of a domino, and one that represents blank-blank (0-0)—this addition makes it possible to play positional games with more than two players.

Today, domino is used in a wide variety of ways, from playing traditional games to designing elaborate structures. In fact, domino is an integral component of many art forms and even serves as a model for physics-based simulations and computer programs. And, despite their seemingly simple construction, dominoes can be quite complex to build and manipulate.

Lily Hevesh began collecting and creating domino art when she was 9 years old, when her grandparents gave her their classic 28-piece set. She grew so enamored of the domino phenomenon that she started creating YouTube videos and now creates magnificent domino setups for movies, TV shows, and events—including an album launch for Katy Perry.

Hevesh meticulously tests each piece of a domino installation before assembling it. She builds the largest 3-D sections first, then adds flat arrangements and finally the lines of dominoes that connect them. She often uses a digital camera to film her work in slow motion, which allows her to see the smallest details and make precise corrections.

When it comes to domino effects in writing, each scene domino—the point that illustrates a particular plot development—is like a single piece in a large puzzle. It can be insignificant by itself, but when all the scene dominoes are laid out in careful sequence they can cause a chain reaction that’s exciting to watch.

Dominoes are most often made of a material like bone, silver lip oyster shell (mother of pearl or MOP), ivory, or dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on them. However, they can also be made of stone; metals such as brass or pewter; ceramic clay; or glass. More recently, polymer materials such as acrylic have been used to make dominoes. These are generally more durable than natural or polymer wood, but they may not be as attractive to some.