Monthly Archives: March 2011

Field Trip: Metamorphosis

I decided the flu and the lingering coughs had taken too much of a toll on us all for us to travel to see Mo Willems at the Carle Museum last weekend. Instead, we stayed a bit closer to home and went to see the temporary exhibit Metamorphosis at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center. The Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art (RIMOSA), according to their website, “is a group of imaginative people committed to a single goal: using Rhode Island’s rich resources in the arts and sciences to create a distinctive, highly interactive, informal learning center.” They hope to have a permanent site by 2014.

Turn the cranks and the wooden slats become a wave.

Again, according to RIMOSA’s own text, “[In] the Metamorphosis: Transfer of Energy installation, RIMOSA interprets the flow of energy at Slater Mill from the Blackstone River through gears, cogs, people, and textiles. We want you to experience the energy flow that moves through you and enables our machines to work.”

The gear table is cool.

The signs and the website indicate that the exhibits (and the future museum) are intended for children ages eleven and up, but my three kids, all younger than eleven, found plenty to enjoy. This gear table was particularly fun, although frustrating in that the gears slipped on the table and wall too easily, so your gear chain would work for a few turns and then stop. I imagine part of the process of installing temporary exhibits is working out the kinks and learning how well different pieces hold up to public use.

Light pendulum

The light at the end of that pendulum creates fleeting designs on a photosensitive material. Other exhibits included plastic open-topped cylinders of various heights, complete with rubber flip-flops to use to bang on top of the tubes to create different sounds; huge fabric waves; and a water wheel. Across the street from the Visitors Center is Slater Mill, and the Metamorphosis exhibit is designed to connect to this rich history, in Rhode Island, of work powered by nature and people both.

I’m glad to see an organization combining two disciplines that, I feel, are organically connected yet so often considered to be separate. We’ll be looking forward to RIMOSA’s growth.

Toddler Mixed Media

Materials: Paper, chosen by G; paints, type and colors chosen by G; oil pastels, requested by G

You  may be getting the idea that this activity was completely toddler run… as I mentioned in the last post, I think our most successful activities are the ones G directs, but she has the vocabulary to so do because I’ve introduced her to the materials. So when I finally felt well enough to go downstairs with the kids, G asked to paint. Her brother and I were using liquid watercolors, but G wanted tempera, and not big watercolor paper, but smaller purplish paper.

She’d asked for white and purple paint, but since we don’t have purple tempera, I gave her blue and red. Instead of using a different brush for each color (like she does at the easel), she decided to just use more than one brush at a time. When her brother began using the yellow watercolors on his painting, she asked for yellow tempera, and she began enthusiastically mixing colors.

Then, G asked for the oil pastels. A couple times now, after painting with watercolors, she’s asked for pastels, and I’ve said we need to let the painting dry first. Once it was dry, she had no interest. My apologies to G for being a slow learner, but this time when she asked I realized why not? It’s a $4 box of pastels, so if one or two gets ruined, so what? And really, I realized, I could just wipe the crayon off if necessary (which I did). And coloring on wet paint with an oil pastel made for some really neat effects, including a scratch effect where she had layered paint and the topmost, still-wet layer rubbed off while the drier layer underneath stayed behind.

But I get ahead of myself.

You can’t tell in a photo, but G was dancing as she drew with the pastel. She’d seen me and her brother drawing and painting with big swirly motions, and I think she was trying to imitate that. She moved her whole body while she drew, and her artwork really reflects the energy coming out her fingertips and onto her paper.

I think her finished piece is fantastic. It’s my job to facilitate… and then get out of the way!

Vegetable Netting Painting

Well, that was an unplanned blog hiatus! G and I did this right before the flu took me under…

(Inspired by “Impressive Burlap” in MaryAnn Kohl’s First Art.)

Materials: Watercolor paper, tempera paint, vegetable netting (I used the top from a clementine box), tape

Sometimes we try things that are only semi-successful, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. I think the most successful art experiences are often the ones G choreographs (more on that in the next post!), but when I introduce something new, that helps to expand her vocabulary in the studio. She has more tools at her disposal, whether she chooses to use them or not. I also think of the advice often given to parents when their children begin eating food, that a new item has to be offered many times before a child will try it or like it. I figure it works the same way with experiences.

And it’s not that she didn’t like this; she just didn’t get to into it. She was content to “see what happened” and be done.

The idea is to paint through the netting and make a print that way (instead of painting on something and then pressing the paper onto it to make a print). In the book, burlap is used. I had a piece of burlap ready, but I thought we’d start with the netting because the holes are bigger.

G chose her colors, I taped down the netting, and she began.

She didn’t really have much of an interest in covering the entire piece of netting. She dabbed on some paint and then wanted to see what happened. I showed her, and she added a little more.

A little double-handed painting… and then she was done. She didn’t want to paint through the burlap on the other side of the paper. To extend just a wee bit, I suggested we make a print of the netting on the other side of the paper. G was agreeable but not terribly excited.

In this photo, the painting-through is on the bottom and the print is on the top. And then we were done.

I think it’s valuable to document the activities that maybe don’t work out so well, first because I use this blog to document what we do for my own purposes, and that doesn’t mean just the wildly successful stuff. Second, it may appeal to someone else who comes across it–your child might love this! And third, because you never know, a few months from now G may direct me to get her some vegetable netting for an idea she has, and if we hadn’t done this, she wouldn’t know to ask.

What are some activities that haven’t quite worked out the way you thought? And did the ideas presented resurface later on?

Labeling the Studio

(Inspired by the project “Water-Slide Decal Jars” in Print Workshop by Christine Schmidt.)

Materials: Photocopy of your child’s art and a copy of the book. I can’t find instructions online (although she blogs here and might include it as a project sometime, who knows?!) and I want to encourage you to buy the book yourself, because it’s so inspiring! But I can tell you that all the materials we needed were right in our house, except for the photocopier–our printer will make copies, but ink jet won’t work.

So. I had no idea water-slide decal paper even existed, but it does, and it allows you to print your own decals and then, like the name says, soak them in water and slide the decal off the backing. According to Christine Schmidt, her way is easier and doesn’t involve sealers or special adhesives. When I read the directions, I wondered how on earth this could possibly work–how can I make a photocopy, then get the ink to stick to the decal while the paper rubs away? But it’s in a book and all, so I decided to have faith and try it out.

This was the result:

My double-pointed knitting needles sit in an old pickle jar by my knitting chair, and I decided to make the jar a snazzy label using a stamp I’d drawn and carved. Nice, huh? The boys thought so, too. Since we never recycle glass jars in this house unless the label is completely stubborn, we have lots of stuff in glass jars in the studio–markers, pencils, buttons, paintbrushes, pretty much anything that can fit in a glass jar is in one. The boys thought drawing labels was a smashing idea. (Click to embiggen pictures.)

At one point I heard one of them say, “Let’s label everything in the world!” Oh, I do love me some organization! I arranged the labels onto two sheets, and sixty cents at the library later (and that’s because I made two copies of each, just in case), we were in business.

It’s hard to see the labels very well with stuff in the jars, but they’re there. I learned some things along the way, and I realize that if you don’t have the book, this won’t make much sense, but I’ll share them in case you do buy or borrow the book and you decide to try this project.

One, I think the photocopier at my husband’s work is better than the one at the library. He photocopied the knitting label for me, and when I peeled the paper backing off, all the ink stayed where it was supposed to. Not so much with the library photocopies, so for subsequent labels, I burnished them much harder with the bone folder before soaking. That helped quite a bit. (Inconveniently, my husband is in Chile this week, far far from his work photocopier.)

Second, it’s hard to catch everything when doing this with kids.

On one of those decals up there, I didn’t get all the white paper off in one little spot, but I didn’t notice the straggler until we’d already Mod Podge’d the decal onto the jar. Oh, well.

But that’s about it! Really, this is ridiculously easy and the wow factor is huge. So huge that when we began peeling paper away, both boys said, “WOW!” It’s really cool to watch how the ink stays behind. It doesn’t seem possible, somehow. I felt like we should be muttering incantations or something.

Meanwhile, the boys were drawing, writing, and designing, and my oldest decided to practice his cursive while he was at it. They had free reign to design the labels any way they wanted, as long as they fit on the jars (or mostly fit, in one or two instances!). The buttons one might my favorite, although “brushes” runs a close second. I was having a hard time getting a good picture, even with the jar emptied (and whew, I had no idea the button jar still smelled so strongly of salsa!). This was the best I could do:

I think our studio now has the coolest organization system!


Last year we didn’t color Easter eggs, because we’d discovered the previous fall that G was allergic to eggs, and I didn’t want to risk her getting sick OR have her feel left out. Easter sort of snuck up on me last year, and I didn’t have an alternate plan. However, it’s late this year, which gave me time to think. (G may have outgrown her allergy by now; her dad did by her age. But I haven’t screwed up my courage to put that to the test yet.)

I decided that instead of dyeing real eggs, we’ll paint wooden eggs. And while I was on that site, I couldn’t resist ordering a couple bags of assorted geometric wood shapes. And when I poured the two bags into a shoebox (along with the few pieces left over from this activity) and set them out on the art table, the kids couldn’t resist them either.

G’s “playground”:

N dives in:

V comes over to play, too:

I found this later on… forest? City?

Maybe at some point we’ll break out the hot glue gun and paint, but for now, we’re leaving these as a box of blocks and neat shapes to play with, take apart, and build with again. Really, for three dollars a bag, this was an irresistible bargain!

Celebrate the Caterpillar

I’m in the “another” portion of “one sick child after another,” so there hasn’t been much going on in the studio lately. But besides being the first day of Spring, Sunday is also the Third Annual Very Hungry Caterpillar Day, and I wanted to share some ideas on how to celebrate (which may or may not happen here, depending on who this virus gets next!). Because we can’t all get to Northampton to celebrate in person…

  • Eat some fruit salad. You’ll need one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, and five oranges. Don’t forget the slice of watermelon that the caterpillar eats during his binge on Saturday!
  • Read some of your favorite Eric Carle books. Visit your local library if you need to borrow some. Our favorites include Dragons, Dragons, Mister Seahorse, and, of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • Paint some tissue papers like Eric Carle. When they’re dry, make a Carle-like collage. (Collage link is a PDF instruction sheet from Eric Carle’s website.) Or make your own sort of collage! Paper + scissors + glue = fun.
  • Plan a butterfly garden. It’s spring! (Sort of–here, anyway.)
  • If you are incredibly handy with the cake decorating, make a hungry caterpillar cupcake train. Isn’t it amazing?
  • See if the caterpillar is coming to a bookstore near you. While you’re on that website, check out the other resources on that page.
  • Try some of the activities listed on the Carle Museum’s resources/activities page.
  • Read this conversation between Eric Carle and Tomie dePaola, another wonderful children’s book author/illustrator. (You need to scroll down; it’s under the Editorial Reviews heading.)

Have fun! And Happy Spring! Are you celebrating (either Spring or Caterpillar Day) in any particular way?

In Progress

We are working on our Collaboration entries!

V had a plan, requested I pick up some specific acrylic colors we didn’t have, made a sketch, and got to work.

N wanted to combine oil pastel and tape resist with watercolors. This is his first attempt. He’s not quite pleased with the effect of putting pastel, then tape, then paint, so next time he’s going to try tape, then pastel, then paint.

I’ve decided to teach myself embroidery, but in a free form way. I’ve been practicing with this snippet of poetry. I’ve carved a sea star stamp, too. As the title says, it’s all still very much in progress!

Random Acts of Creativity

Shall I call them RACs? Aren’t they fun? One morning last weekend, N came upstairs for breakfast holding a Lego creation in his hand. Inspired by something in his Lego Club, Jr. magazine, he’d decided to create an animal out of his head. After trying out several ideas (and apparently working for quite a while after waking up early), he settled on this crocodile.

His mouth opens and closes on a swivel. He’s wicked cool, as we say in these parts.

This morning, I came home to find this:

N was home sick from school, but feeling better than he has been. While his dad worked from home, N built a structure with the element blocks. I love hearing, “Wait till you see what I built!” I also love digital cameras, because it makes it so easy to take pictures of the kids’ creations, which, in turn, makes it easier for them to let them go and build new ones.

What random acts of creativity have your kids (or you!) been up to lately?

What if Culture Stopped?


On Thursday, March 10th, 2011, Culture Stops! will ask you to imagine a world where writers put down their pens and artists put down their paints. Where architects stop designing our cities and poets, dancers and sculptors stop teaching our children. Where our national landmarks fall into decay. Where debate is no longer fostered in our universities, or on our radio dials. Where our symphony halls fall silent and our libraries go dark. Where our collective history is left unmade and unwritten.

On Thursday, March 10th, 2011, you will be asked to witness a world devoid of creativity, imagination and thought: America after culture stops.

Culture Stops! is a citizen-driven, peaceful day of action by individuals and organizations in the creative sector across the United States who share the simple belief that the power of creative thought is the lifeblood of democracy.

We come together to call attention to the deep and widespread cuts, proposed by Congress and the President to federal funding for the arts and humanities, heritage and preservation, arts education and a host of related federal programs that quietly fuel the creative sector. We understand and accept that our country’s economic crisis demands shared sacrifice, but we see these cuts as uneven and disproportionate. We believe that Congress needs to apply reductions fairly and evenly – but that it must not balance the federal budget at the expense of the millions of people who add critical vitality to American life. The issue is not only an economic one, but also a moral one. Arts and culture feeds the minds and fuels the souls of Americans. Seriously weakening these creative forces seriously weakens our country.

Our day of action will put a face to the millions of individuals, for-profit companies, non profit organizations and institutions who fuel and sustain the creative sector and are the backbone of America ingenuity.

Sign the petition here.