Category Archives: outside art

Fairy House Festival

You may recall that 5yo G has an interest in fairies. Yesterday we visited the Botanical Gardens at Roger Williams Park in Providence, on the last day of their “fairy house garden days.” This was something that came across my computer screen via a local homeschool email group, so it’s not a field trip planned by G (which is really how PBL field trips should go). I’m the one who heard about it, but G was in charge of the experience. We left the boys at home and went for a mama-daughter date with fairy gardens.

I didn’t tell G that the website invited visitors to dress as fairies–who needs to tell a 5yo to wear wings? She independently chose her outfit. Obviously one visits a fairy house garden wearing wings, a flower barrette, a poufy skirt, and sparkly shoes. Once there, she asked if she could take photos of her favorite houses. YES. I handed over the camera, and she took more than 70 pictures.

documenting fairy houses (PBL) at amyhoodarts.com

We weren’t just viewing, you see. This is also research, because she plans to continue building her own fairy houses (more on that in a minute). All the photos of fairy houses in this post were taken by G. This was one of her favorites, a seaside getaway for fairies who need a vacation.

seaside fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

She wanted to take a photo of this twisty ladder because it “looks like DNA, Mama!!”

fairy house ladder at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

A scavenger hunt had been set up, and while usually I’m not a fan of those at museums because they tend to cause visitors to focus just on the items on the list, that wasn’t the outcome here. It was quite well done–some fairy house displays had explanatory signs, which were clever or interesting, along with an item to look for in the display. G was looking very closely at all the displays anyway, whether it was a scavenger hunt stop or not. So this particular activity added to the experience. She took this photo at the display of hanging fairy house spheres because she was asked to find a bench and she did! (I didn’t spot it at all.)

hanging fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house display at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

Part of the special activities for Sunday was making a fairy house. She picked up a bag of collected nature items and some dirt.

fairy house-making supplies at amyhoodarts.com

However, she was having a hard time figuring out how to construct walls, so I asked if she’d like to bring the items home and use them to build a house in the yard–where we have trees and rocks and shells to add to the materials. She said yes. On the way out, we were asked if we’d like to take another bag (they must have had extras), so she picked out more supplies. There are wonderful things in there, things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to easily collect on their own. The URI Master Gardeners were a big part of this event, and the Master Gardeners themselves all collected items (legally and carefully, I’ve no doubt, as the back of the scavenger hunt list had cautions on being careful collectors). I suspect that most of the effort to create this event was by volunteers.

A couple of days before Easter, G decided it was time to build a fairy house in the yard. She’d been waiting patiently all winter for spring. Easter was in two days; we were into the second part of April. Surely it was time, never mind that the temperature was in the 30s. Spring may be wavery about committing, but G was not.

5yo's fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

5yo’s G first fairy house in our backyard.

The table! Set with acorn cap bowls! With her 70-odd photos of inspiration, and her memories of all we looked at and talked about, G has lots of ideas for building more fairy houses. (She also has a new fairy wand. It goes fetchingly with the wings and sparkly shoes.)

Setting Up An Outdoors Painting Area

My kids and I are trying out activities from the first Art Together e-zine issue, which I plan to have available for you next month. Today was not too hot or humid, so I decided to set us up to paint outside, and I wanted to share with you how easy this can be.

We have some basic plastic deck furniture–nothing too fancy or precious. The brown boards are masonite boards from Home Depot, cut to size–the same thing drawing boards are made from, but much cheaper. I’ve brought out our paints, brushes, glass rinsing jars, and a pitcher of water–this way, it’s easy to refill the rinsing jars without running back and forth into the house. My kitchen is on the opposite side of that wall, so it’s not that hard to refill the pitcher, either, when necessary.

That’s it! It’s that easy. Fresh air on a not-too-hot day and painting. Two good things together.

{Art Together} Summertime Art Ideas

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

It’s getting on towards summer, at least where I live. Here in Southern New England, summer is my favorite time, and I try to make the most of warm and sunny days. That means art activities can shift outdoors as well. For this last regular Art Together post before summertime, I want to share some of the outdoor art activities we’ve done in the past—just follow the links for full details on each activity. And of course, don’t forget you can just set up a table or easel out-of-doors and paint en plein air—which also makes clean-up much easier!

Bright, strong summertime sun means making sun prints is a breeze (photo above). It requires specialty paper. I ordered ours online, but it seems to be much more commonly available now; I’ve even seen it in local toy stores.

We really enjoyed making hot rocks by drawing on hot rocks with crayons, and the rocks we decorated are still used in building play indoors. And if, like us, you compulsively collect smooth rocks from your local body of water (ours happens to be the Atlantic Ocean), you may want to try painting them, too.

Sidewalk chalk is a big hit in our house. We tend to be old-fashioned and just draw with it, until the driveway is covered with doodles and designs, but we’ve tried fizzy sidewalk paint, too.

If you happen to have a child at the spray bottle/squeeze bottle stage, try arming him with spray bottles of colored water and letting him loose, like I did with my daughter. Along these lines, toddlers and preschoolers will usually enjoy painting outdoor surfaces with water; yes, their paintings will disappear as they dry, but the process is the main thing! They will probably also enjoy “painting” you, themselves, and each other.

And, of course, summer is a great time to bring sketchbooks and supplies outdoors and draw and paint in nature. (Here, we drew irises.) Try to remember to bring the sketchbooks on your excursions. In case you forget, though, keep a traveling art box in the car.

More-organized art activities and challenges are available online this summer, too. Tammy is once again hosting the index-card-a-day challenge, and kids are welcome to participate. Michelle recently acquired Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists and is looking for company as she and her girls work their way through the book: a draw-along! And Coursera, which offers free online classes, is currently enrolling for Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques, which is a beginner-level course exploring the concepts of line, shape, value, texture, and color through readings and art projects (hat tip to Karen at Mail Me Some Art).

Whatever your summertime plans, I hope you enjoy the season and I hope it includes some art! I’ll still be posting about our activities, just not as a regular series. I hope you’ve enjoyed these first three months of weekly posts. I’d love to hear what you found helpful and what you’d like to see more of, either in the comments or via email (amyhood at amyhoodarts dot com).

{Art Together} Take Your Art on a Field Trip

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

Drawing at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

One of the best, unexpected things that happened once I made art-making a priority for all of us is that my kids became accustomed to bringing sketchbooks on day trips and outings. This is as simple as it sounds; when packing for the day, sketchbooks and pencils go into the bag along with snacks and water. Why do I like having our sketchbooks along?

* Inspiration is everywhere! Sometimes you just need to draw your idea when you see it.

* It’s a balancing activity in a busy day—a time to focus and settle and look closely.

* It adds another layer to remembering the day. We have not just photos and memories but drawings and notes.

* If we’re learning about something in particular, those drawings and notes are part of project work.

Sketching in our own yard.

You don’t need to go to a museum or tourist destination to take your art somewhere new. We take our sketchbooks into the yard and on nature walks too. Take them on a city walk or on your daily errands. Sometimes the kids ask for them at certain points, and sometimes I ask if anyone wants to join me in drawing something. Sometimes ours don’t come out of the backpack at all during an outing; that’s okay, too. I’m not trying to force them on anyone, rather, just make sure they’re available.

Some things to keep in mind:

* If you’re visiting a museum or other institution, make sure to check their visitor’s guidelines before bringing your sketchbooks. Most art museums, for example, list restrictions on what type of drawing materials are allowed, and some limit the size of your sketchbook, too.

* If you’re going someplace where guidelines don’t apply, consider bringing along more than just drawing pencils. Experiment with watercolor pencils, watercolors, and colored pencils. A water brush makes using paints and watercolor pencils even easier. This shows you how to make your own.

* Clipboards can be really handy for loose sheets of paper.

* If you want to be ready for anything, consider putting together a traveling art box for the trunk of the car.

I bring my sketchbook when I go places by myself, too.

The more you and your kids keep a sketchbook with you, the more it will get used. I keep this as rule-free and simple as possible. At minimum, I have a pencil pouch with a variety of drawing pencils. If the destination allows, I’ll bring my pouch of drawing pens and markers, too. We all have more than one sketchbook going, and the kids bring whichever one they want. (It would be more organized to fill one completely before starting another, I know, but I have problems doing that myself.) It’s nice to date the drawings and make a note of where you were and what you were looking at. And that’s about it.

Take it Further

Brainstorm a list of where you might take your sketchbooks. Is there any place on your list you go regularly—daily or weekly? Challenge yourselves to take your sketchbook and draw in the same place more than once. Do you notice anything new the more you visit? Does your drawing habit force you to look more closely?

Take your sketchbook to the zoo or a farm and try to draw some animals. How is your child’s approach different from yours? Which animals are easier or harder to draw? I find chickens really hard—they never stop moving! They force you to practice gesture drawings.

I love this little post of Lori’s from several years ago, showing her and her son’s drawings of a place they pass often.

Further Resources

There are numerous books full of sketchbook inspiration.

Clare Walker Leslie focuses on nature sketchbooks. If that’s what you’re called to sketch, you’ll enjoy looking through her books for inspiration.

Artist’s Journal Workshop is just gorgeous to page through and has information on materials as well.

Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists is on my wish list, so I can’t tell you exactly what it contains. But I suspect, by the title, it covers a wide range of styles, reinforcing that a sketchbook is whatever you want it to be.

If you’re drawn to cityscapes, you may find inspiration in The Art of Urban Sketching.

Truly, a few minutes searching Amazon for “sketchbook” or “art journal” will bring up so many choices…I could spend all day browsing there.

Share Your Work

Reminder, if you have any photos of art-making going on at your house that you’d like to share, feel free to join the Flickr group.

Drawing in Snow

Last year, we got 30 inches of snow in January alone. This year, snow has been sparse at best, so far, and so my kids were delighted with the mere dusting that awaited them on Friday morning. Informed that there wasn’t enough time–or snow–to get the sleds out while we waited for the bus, N emerged from the garage with a kid-sized plastic rake and began doodling on the driveway.

Both boys used the rake to make patterns in the light snow.

They covered the driveway (the portion that had snow, anyway; the rest was a thin glaze of ice–really, it wasn’t much of a snowfall at all). N finished by drawing an elf/troll face in profile, still using the rake.

Knowing it would all melt soon, I snapped some pictures of their temporary experiments in the snow, enjoying the fact that they view just about anything as a canvas.

Summertime Art on Kidoinfo

Now that it’s finally summer, I want to be outside as much as possible, as long as the weather cooperates. Although I have a list of rainy-day art activities in mind, and although our outside adventures aren’t necessarily art-focused (beach! nature walks! day trips!), I do have some ideas on how to take art outside during the season most suited for it. They fall into two general categories: bringing messy activities outside, and activities that depend upon being outside.

Read the full article on Kidoinfo.

Making Prints While The Sun Shines: T-Shirts

As always, click to embiggen all photos!

Materials: White t-shirts (the kids’ shirts are white undershirts–they’re great for dyeing); liquid acrylics; sponge brushes; leaves or other objects of your choice; sunny (but not windy) day; optional but helpful: a piece of Plexiglas to place inside the shirt, unless you don’t mind the paint seeping through to the back

I read lots of art/craft blogs, because the Internet is filled with great ideas, and often I find ideas on non-kid blogs that I can use with my children. One such ideas is sun-printing on fabric, which I first saw on Mary and Patch. I was surprised to see that it didn’t require any special sun-reactive paint, so I decided we’d give it a try. We actually gave it two tries, and as I go I’ll share what we learned during our first, semi-successful attempt.

First, I wanted something firm under the shirts, so I slipped some Plexiglas into mine and my oldest son’s shirt, a piece of glass into my younger son’s, and the box part of a box frame into my toddler’s. We learned the first time that using cardboard will leave the texture of the cardboard on the shirt, so either put something smooth in there (like a file folder, if you don’t have Plexiglas) or accept that the paint will soak through–which isn’t a bad look either.

Next, spray the shirt with water to dampen it. This photo is from our first try; the second go-round we just moved the entire operation to the deck. I have one of our watercolor painting boards inside the shirt, which is another option.

I watered down our liquid acrylics, but I wasn’t exact about it. Liquid acrylics are the paints that you can find in craft stores in the little bottles, about $1 per bottle (for the big size!). They come in all sorts of colors, they don’t wash out, and we’ve used them successfully for printing and painting on shirts for years. So, squirt some paint into a jar, add some water, mix it up, and cover your shirt. We learned that if you want to mix colors, do it around the edges–if you overlap colors where you try to make the print, the print sort of gets lost.

Paint quickly! Spray some more if you have to, because you don’t want the paint to dry yet. Place your leaves and put the whole thing in the sun.

I sprayed our leaves with a bit more water to hold them in place, and then I thought later that we could have weighted them with small rocks. We learned it’s best to use full leaves. Ferns make really pretty sun paper prints, but they didn’t work so well on the shirts. Our shirts dried in an hour or less.

V’s shirt, which was mostly blue, didn’t show the prints much, so we decided to try overprinting. We could see some prints in the center, so he left those alone and added green around the edges. He followed the same procedure: he sprayed with water, painted, and then lay down the leaves.

It worked! Overprinting was successful:

Once the shirts were dry, I rinsed them out and washed and dried them like I would any laundry, in cold water. I’d do this first wash with something you don’t care about too much (like towels), but when I rinsed, the paint stayed put. From this point on I’ll wash them with the regular laundry with no worries.

N’s shirt came out really well. His was the only shirt from our first try that came out really well, too. His is on the left, and G’s is on the right. You can see her prints in person, but faintly. For some reason, blue paint didn’t make the best prints.

Although mine was blue, and it worked okay. One leaf blew over halfway through, so I’ve got a mutant leaf print on the lower left there!

For our first attempt, we used textile ink–specifically, Speedball screen printing inks, because we plan to print on t-shirts at some point too, so I bought some. It really didn’t work for this project. I’m not sure why I was seduced by the special textile paint when we’ve been using liquid acrylics for painting shirts for years and liquid acrylics don’t require me to heat set the shirt by ironing 3-5 minutes per side times four shirts–that’s a lot of ironing on a hot day!

Luckily, applying the paint with a brush created a sort of tie-dye effect, so even though the sun-printing didn’t work the first time, as V said, “It’s a nice red and blue shirt, anyway.” And N, especially, was interested in what we were figuring out as we went through the process–what colors worked best, what sort of leaves, what to try next. Because we generally approach art in a spirit of discovery, the kids weren’t terribly disappointed that it didn’t work the first time. We simply tried again, refining our process a bit until we got it right!

Making Prints While The Sun Shines: Paper

Materials: Sun print paper, various items, Plexiglas (optional)

The other day, G and I experimented with the sun print paper that recently arrived. (I couldn’t find it locally, so I ended up ordering some.)

Buttons, maple leaves, fern

It’s really simple to use, and reminds me of my first darkroom assignment, aimed at getting us used to using the enlarger: we scattered various items across some photographic paper, exposed it in the darkroom, and then developed it. This works the same way. Inside, we arranged some items on the paper, blue side up. Because our items were flat, I sandwiched the paper between two pieces of Plexiglas before bringing it all outside. The sun was so strong that the paper paled within a minute or so, and then we dunked it in water to stop the reaction and “develop” it.

(I found the Plexiglas in a box of old darkroom supplies when I went looking for the piece of glass I used to use for contact sheets. I thought the glass would be handy for this, and ended up finding the four sheets of Plexiglas I used to use to cover the trays of chemicals. I cleaned them all off and have been finding uses for them ever since!)

Today, we got the boys involved. These are N’s papers:

Pattern blocks, Lego pieces, Hero Factory pieces

These are mine (the skate egg cases) and G’s:

Play pasta, pattern blocks, mermaid's purses (skate egg cases)

These are V’s and more of G’s:

Look closely--Lego figures!

The Plexiglas came in really handy–we arranged our items on the paper, which was on the Plexiglas, in the hallway inside, which, if all the doors are closed, doesn’t get much natural light. Then I was able to carry the Plexiglas outside without disturbing anything. We did this in the morning, and you might be able to see that shadows were cast. That made for some interesting prints, because the shadows also show up, but lighter. (Click to embiggen the photos a bit.)

V's prints on left; N's on right

N really liked how the sun shone through his Hero Factory pieces a bit, so those images weren’t as sharp. I love the Lego figure print on the bottom left.

G's (mostly) & mine

G was so deliberate in placing the pieces. The boys were, too, but G really took quite a while in arranging her blocks, pasta, and buttons. We like how she put one of N’s Hero Factory pieces half off the paper in the top left print up above there.

Remember my mermaid’s purse print? I didn’t realize I had two pieces of paper stuck together. (Note: Make sure your hands are completely dry from rinsing the last batch before you grab more paper!) We ended up with a ghost print, as N identified it–and although the term “ghost print” comes from monotype printing I’d say he used it correctly here:

Pretty cool and completely unexpected result! And also–phew, the sun beats on our deck pretty strongly in July!

As you might be able to tell by the title, we experimented with other forms of sun printing as well…more to come, as long as the sun keeps shining!

Hot Rocks

Our tray of cooling hot rocks

(I’ve seen this on the web here and there, but I first saw it in the fabulous book Summer Crafts by Marjorie Galen, which I bought in a used bookstore two years ago. The book was published in 2005, and Galen says as far as she knows, her friend Elizabeth’s family invented hot rocks.)

Materials: Rocks–larger and flatter are easier; peeled crayons; oven; nearby bucket of cold water (my plan-ahead self decided this was necessary, in case anyone accidentally touched the rocks)

Following the directions in the book, I preheated the oven to 350, lined a cookie sheet with tin foil, and set up my rocks (I did 8 this first time, two for each of us). Meanwhile, the kids began to peel some of our older crayons–I gather this is so as they melt against the rock, you’re not running up against the paper. Once the oven was hot, I baked the rocks for 15 minutes while we continued to peel crayons. When the rocks were almost done, I sent the kids outside with the crayons–I’d already brought a bucket of water to the patch of shaded driveway–and I met them with the tray of hot rocks. (Obviously, you want to place the rocks on a surface that won’t get burned.)

The rocks are hot. I made sure all my kids understood that they’d get burned if they touched them. G is two, and she did fine, but really, use your judgment with your own children.

I had the kids sit down, with the crayons in the middle, and using my oven mitt, I placed a rock in front of each of them. Then the magic begins.

“It’s melting!”

“This is so cool!”

“This is so cool!!!”

I agree. I colored two rocks too, and it is so cool. And you can just keep adding wax and layering. Our rocks didn’t lose their heat before the kids were done experimenting.

The bucket of water did get a few uses, when fingers accidentally (or not so accidentally) bumped (do you see that inquisitive finger in the photo above?), but nobody got seriously hurt. It was definitely handy having the water there, though.

Look at those gorgeous rocks!

Working With Found Materials

I recently purchased Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini. This is not a how-to book; it’s a documentation of how the authors and teachers worked with early childhood students, in a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom, collecting and exploring found objects. As the authors say in the preface,

Rather than focusing on the creation of products, this book is based on observation and recording of children’s and teachers’ processes.

Fabulous. That’s what I try to do, too. I bought this with our natural collections in mind–mostly rocks and seashells–although the book covers all found materials, mainly recycled, and not just natural ones. Our collecting really ramps up in the summertime.

kids + nets + salt pond = summer as it should be

Documenting is an integral part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Here, the authors share the process of collecting and organizing the materials, exploring them, and working with them.

The kids are involved in every step. The first chapter begins with the authors acknowledging that it’s “crucial” to involve the kids and parents right from the beginning, thus with the collecting. Anyone who spends time with children knows they are natural collectors anyway. N picks up rocks everywhere. I find acorns in pockets, sticks on the floor, and G’s buttons absolutely everywhere.

We did not collect these jellies. We just observed them and let them go.

The kids in the book collect, clean, and categorize their materials. They spend time getting to know these items. How many ways can you classify something? They sort by material, by color, by shape. They work with them in temporary ways and in more permanent ways. They re-create self-portraits using found materials, they create 3-dimensional pieces, they study blue and circles and metal, with materials and through drawing and in paint.

The latest haul, rinsing in fresh water

It’s impossible for us to visit the beach without bringing back treasures, and we visit the beach at least weekly in the summertime. (The crabs in the left-hand bucket, by the way, were dead when we found them. They were supposed to be left behind, but G slipped them in.) On the way home, N was considering what we could do with some of our items–we can make rubbings of the Irish Moss, we can try printing with the underside of a crab (although, he pointed out, the paper might smell bad afterwards), we can make rubbings of scallop shells, with all those wonderful ridges.

Beautiful smooth purple piece of clam shell

I also collect at the beach, and I’m fond of the small polished pieces of broken clam shell. This visit, I found several purple pieces. (The bits that became the most valuable wampum, N pointed out. See here; scroll down to #9.) Aren’t they beautiful?

The main idea to take away from this book, I think, if you’re looking for just one, is that collections are not necessarily meant to be displayed and looked at, or, alternately, turned into some end product in order to have value. They can be living, breathing things, to be touched, to be rearranged, to be worked with. We have, literally, buckets of quahog shells, and I’ve been thinking they need to come inside and take their place on the shelf next to the tree blocks. Some of our rocks need their own basket on the play shelves as well (some live in the sandbox). Some items (oh-those-purple-pieces!) may become works of art to be worn; others may find their way into collages or sculptures; others we may love so much we give them a place of honor on the shelf for a while. But the best collections of found items, I think, are dynamic, just like the children who collect them.

Note: This particular beach is a barrier beach. We found most of the rocks and clam shells on the ocean side; we found living (and dead) crabs and jellies, as well as oyster and scallop shells, in the protected salt pond. It’s a fantastically neat place.