Throwback Thursday: Fair-Weather Forts and other Sunshine Notions

It’s Throwback Thursday, and a beautiful day outside, so grab your recycling bin full of last week’s newspapers and a roll of tape and build yourself a backyard fort! (Just don’t use it to hang your child’s playpen out the window…)

Brain Popcorn

It’s warming up, it’s almost school vacation week here in Massachusetts, and as the leaves are starting to unfurl I thought I’d offer up some paper-craft options for fresh-air fun.

That’s an idea whose time has fortunately gone by, but if you’ve got that spring-air fever, may I recommend a fair-weather fort made of newspaper?

Indulge your architectural side and build a geodesic dome out of rolled newspaper struts.  (Alternate directions also available here.)  This is a great activity in small scale or large — I’ve done it with visitors both ways, and it’s always a big hit.  Just typing this makes me want to build one in my backyard.  There’s some fun inspirational architecture-via-recyclables here: Amazing Recycled Architecture.

And while you’re into the newspaper-folding mode, and out in the backyard, try out a six-sided kite or these neat biodegradable newspaper seed-starter  pots. Or make yourself…

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Recyclable Design Challenges

Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Molded Plywood Division, Evans Products Company (Venice, 1943-47). Elephant, 1945.

Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Molded Plywood Division, Evans Products Company (Venice, 1943-47). Elephant, 1945.

With the inspiration of California Design at PEM currently, not to mention the new Maker Lounge, we’ve been focusing on some fun design challenges with recycled materials that I thought I’d share.

Can packing peanuts be strong enough to make a bridge or a tree?

Can packing peanuts be strong enough to make a bridge or a tree?

Packing peanuts are the bane of many people’s existence.  Unless you’re into demonstrations of static electricity or have to ship breakable stuff nearly constantly, they’re a nuisance.

Unless they’re starch packing peanuts, in which case they’re awesome.

Check out what a damp sponge, a pile of starch packing peanuts, and a lot of imagination can do in the hands of some inventive visitors, challenged by our ANC staff:

starchy sculptures 1 starchy sculptures 2

We also had some guests this week from the Green Up initiative working with visitors on energy-efficient design challenges, looking at insulation and ‘energy vampires’ in the home:

green up energy vampires green up insulation challenge

And remember how it’s National Poetry Month and we’ve got the amazing Mass Poetry Festival coming up next weekend?  We’ll be making random poetry generators, invented by yours truly, in addition to our other raft of fun drop-in art making, artist demos, and workshops.

Nouns, adjectives, and verb phrases collaged onto plastic eggs: rotate to create inspiring phrases for poetry starters, and swap halves to create new possibilities!

Nouns, adjectives, and verb phrases collaged onto plastic eggs: rotate to create inspiring phrases for poetry starters, and swap halves to create new possibilities!

A Posey of Printmaking Possibilities

It’s horrendous and snowy and rainy and just overall gross outside today, which makes me dream of bouquets of spring flowers, and also makes me want to stomp things.  Put those two impulses together, and you get a handful of colorful ideas for making prints with unusual materials that I’ve been collecting for the past few months, just waiting for an excuse to try out!

Printing with Natural Materials

Using a tree cookie as a pattern: like woodblock, but less carving required! Click for source.

Using a tree cookie as a pattern: like woodblock, but less carving required! Click for source.

Printing with celery and other vegetables. Pinecones don't work as well as you'd think, based on my previous efforts, but starfruit are great!  Click for source.

Printing with celery and other vegetables. Pinecones don’t work as well as you’d think, based on my previous efforts, but starfruit are great! Click for source.

Printing with Recycled Materials

Cardboard tubes are one of the most useful things ever.  I bet it would be fun to squish them and make different shapes to print as well. Click for source.

Cardboard tubes are one of the most useful things ever. I bet it would be fun to squish them and make different shapes to print as well. Click for source.

There are entirely too many plastic bags under my sink.  This seems like a genius way to give them some bright new life.  Click for source.

There are entirely too many plastic bags under my sink. This seems like a genius way to give them some bright new life. Click for source.

Probably my favorite of the lot--surprisingly pretty and definitely helping with my wintry mix grumpiness. Click for source.

Probably my favorite of the lot–surprisingly pretty and definitely helping with my wintry mix grumpiness. Click for source.

Printing with Surprising Materials

Definitely click through for this one: they made a lego print Millenium Falcon!  Click for source.

Definitely click through for this one: they made a lego print Millenium Falcon! Click for source.

This one has all kinds of possibilities based on how you mix the paint and how much you 'squish' the balloon in printing.  I love the element of chance involved! Click for source.

This one has all kinds of possibilities based on how you mix the paint and how much you ‘squish’ the balloon in printing. I love the element of chance involved! Click for source.

Negative Prints

Looks surprisingly sharp for rolling paint over a pan of jello.  I like the way the give of the substrate means you get nice even pressure.  Click for source.

Looks surprisingly sharp for rolling paint over a pan of jello. I like the way the give of the substrate means you get nice even pressure. Click for source.

For a softer look, using liquid watercolors in a spray bottle works great.  Seems like a 'let's do this outside!' activity if you don't want to have to do a lot of clean up, though! Click for source.

For a softer look, using liquid watercolors in a spray bottle works great. Seems like a ‘let’s do this outside!’ activity if you don’t want to have to do a lot of clean up, though! Click for source.

 

Inspiration from ‘The Greats’

Happy New Year to you all from Brain Popcorn!

I hope these first few weeks of 2014 find you well and happy and looking forward to all kinds of new ideas and things to learn and explore in 2014.  Looking back at how I spent some of my Christmas vacation, and forward to some of what’s coming up at the museum, I decided the year’s first post ought to be about inspiration.

picasso inspirationOver the break, I went to the always rewarding Museum of Fine Arts, and spent an uplifting and intimidating 2+ hours in the Sargent watercolors show.  It’s up for a few more days, and if you have the chance to see it and have *any* interest in anything from painting to color theory to cool images from interesting places to travel, it’s more than worth the effort to get there (preferably in the early morning before it’s positively swamped).

Underside of the Rialto Bridge, Venice, by JS Sargent

Underside of the Rialto Bridge, Venice, by JS Sargent

It takes a lot to convince me to buy the catalogue for an art exhibition–pretty as they are, they take up a lot of space and I am seriously short of bookshelves these days.  (Books under the coffee table, in the night stand, on the top shelf of the closet, in my pocketbook, on my desk…)  However, this was a knockout of a show and there was absolutely no question that it was worth it–especially when I can prop the catalogue up near my easel and try some of that ‘learning from the masters’ method of self-pedagogy.  Maybe it will knock a few original compositions loose, too.

In the spirit of art forms that are a little more accessible than insanely intricate paintings of moored sailboats and the graceful facades of Venetian palazzos, however, here is a collection of some of my favorite art activities inspired by some big-name artists:

Mondrian

A perennial favorite for transformative works due to his simplicity, Mondrian has always been a personal favorite of mine as well.  I can’t explain it, because generally squares of primary colors aren’t exactly my taste, but there’s something reassuring about the rules his paintings follow.  (I was a kid who liked coloring inside the lines.)

Here are a few fun examples of people who took Mondrian’s squares to another level (click the pictures for links to the sources):

Mondrian Owl on Artsonia, drawn by a fourth grade student

Mondrian Owl on Artsonia, drawn by a fourth grade student

Mondrian mobile, from a French elementary classroom

Mondrian mobile, from a French elementary classroom

"Mondrian's squares have lost a side!" Triangle paintings from a French elementary classroom

“Mondrian’s squares have lost a side!” Triangle paintings from a French elementary classroom

Klimt

I really love the projects that go from 2D inspirations to 3D transformations.

Inspired by the Tree of Life, 5th grade project

Inspired by the Tree of Life, 5th grade project

Chihuly

Coffee filter 'Macchia' (and a version for older kids on the same site)

Coffee filter ‘Macchia’ (and a version for older kids on the same site)

Sharpie on spiral-cut plastic bottles for the chandelier look

Sharpie on spiral-cut plastic bottles for the chandelier look

 

Also, be sure to check out the assorted very cool inspirational posters over at Masterclass Minis! (see example below)

calder poster

Finally, check back for a second round in “Inspiration from the Greats: Female Artists” coming in a few weeks!

 

Found Poetry in Altered Books

"Iron Woman" steampunk print by Karen Hallion

“Iron Woman” steampunk print by Karen Hallion

As a librarian’s daughter, an avid reader, and an English major, I am always attracted to wordy art projects, and I often find artworks made out of recycled print absolutely beautiful while simultaneously wincing over the fact that one must deface books to create them.  After all, books are meant to be read, and what are they when they are no longer readable?

Poe's Short Stories, altered book art by Susan Hoerth

Poe’s Short Stories, altered book art by Susan Hoerth

book_roses

Paper roses made from book pages by Twigg Studios

For some artworks like the roses above, one could easily substitute with magazine pages or old maps (about which I feel decidedly less squeamish), and for others newspaper will also work.

However, I have finally lit upon a type of altered book artwork that bothers me less than others, because while it still alters the original intent, the book still gets ‘read’ in a new fashion.

Found Poetry in Altered Book Pages

As with the roses, this is an activity that can be done using other forms of the printed word (newspapers, magazines) and can also be done without altering the original text at all (words captured and written down in a new form from museum object labels, etc.)  However, it combines both poetry and the visual arts in a way that is perfect for the programming that we do at PEM for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.  (Guess what’s going in this year’s program?)

The image I saw on Pinterest that started it all: A Batman poem out of some other detective/adventure story

The image I saw on Pinterest that started it all: A Batman poem out of some other detective/adventure story

How does Illustrated Found Poetry work?

  • Pick a piece of text with a decent amount of wording to it.
  • Read through it for the sounds of the words and not necessarily the narrative or the original author’s intent.
  • Find a theme to the words that inspires you.  Use as many or as few as you like: cherry pick a word here, a phrase there, etc.
  • The one limit to working on the original sheet is that you cannot rearrange the words to your own liking–the poem flows in the same direction as the original text did.
  • Pencil boxes around the words you want.
  • Pencil in any illustrations (doodles, sketches, details) that help to give your new poem mood, shape, or further depth.
  • Use marker to darken the boxes around your poem and color in the details of your illustration.  You may want to use highlighter within the boxes for your poem to help pick it out of the illustration, depending on how much color there already is in your drawing.
  • Use black marker to cross out any words left that are not part of your poem or are already obscured by your illustration.
"Leaving Town" by Meg Winikates, originally from a page of The Walk West by Peter and Barbara Jenkins

“Leaving Town” by Meg Winikates, originally from a page of The Walk West by Peter and Barbara Jenkins, click to read in full-size

The plan is to have a bunch of genres of books available from which to select pages: sci-fi, mystery, classics, memoirs, maybe even some more technical books.  Hopefully this will show people that poetry can be found absolutely anywhere.  The 2013 festival will be held May 3-5 in numerous venues around Salem–I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Links for images in this post: Karen Hallion’s Etsy Page
How to make Book Roses
Poe’s Castle Short Stories Altered Book
Batman Altered Book Poem Illustrated

Ideabox: Plastic Bottles

Everybody loves to hate plastic bottles, and yet somehow it’s impossible to be rid of them, even for the most conscientious reusable-bottle carrier.  Here are a few incredibly cool artists who have figured out fun ways to repurpose the ever-present plastic bottle, and a few ways you can do the same.

ideabox plastic bottles

Art from the Ugly

Here are a few artists I admire, who work with plastics and make thought-provoking and beautiful objects from less-than-sightly leftovers.

David Edgar – makes impressively beautiful marine life sculptures from discarded detergent bottles.  He was a featured artist in the PEM/Art & Nature Center show, Trash Menagerie.

Miwa Koizumi – Her PET project created stunningly ethereal jellyfish and coral forms out of plastic bottles.  While not the most eye-catching of the pieces in Trash Menagerie, they were still among my favorites.

Christine Destrempes This artist is currently featured for her River of Words project in Ripple Effect, the Art of H2O, but one of her best known pieces is an installation of bottle caps, each representing a person who dies for lack of clean drinking water. 

Stuff You Can Do

Cool Project Links

Photo credit to the site linked below

Plastic Bottle Zippered Purse/Box – Upcycle those unredeemable bottles into handy containers.  (I’ve always been a fan of Winnie the Pooh’s ‘useful pot to put things in’ theory of birthday presents.)

Wave Bottles — One of my favorites, and you can find lots of suggestions for how to fill them.  (I use water with food coloring and baby oil because it’s perfectly clear, but some people recommend vegetable oil as well.)  I like adding a layer of glitter to lie on top of the waves, too, and gave people the option of also adding floating beads, or sinking shells, sea glass, and pebbles.  When I did this activity with a group at the museum, I went for a purpose-bought set of bottles with sealable leak proof tops instead of recycling, so that I didn’t have to worry about getting the label glue off.

Photo credit, Educational Innovations at teachersource.com

Science Kits — I don’t usually advocate for things one has to buy, and I haven’t actually tried any of these, so I don’t know how well they work, but they sure do look like fun.  (I really want to build a tin can robot!)

Plastic Bottle Bracelet Directions

It’s almost spring (or at least I can pretend it is, right?) and one’s thoughts naturally turn to the pleasant days to come when it isn’t imperative to wear three layers of sweaters on a constant basis and can bear to bare one’s wrists.  I was simply stunned at the variety of directions for making bracelets out of plastic bottles: these two cuff-style bangles are fabric-covered and felted, while this one (typos and all) recommends giving your bangle some twisted appeal by heating it over a candle.  I think anything involving not only exacto blades but heat and needles has the potential for tragedy, but then I gave myself a foot-long scratch with a sewing pin this weekend, so caveat crafter.

Photo credit Cool2craft.com Click the picture for directions!

My favorites, therefore, are these simple plastic and paper bangles, using two layers of bottle-rings to sandwich a particularly cool artwork, illustration, magazine cutout, or seasonal wrapping paper.  These directions recommend using metallic tape, which looks classy, but electrical tape works just as well, comes in a variety of fun colors, and stretches as you wrap it so you actually get very few problematic wrinkles.  The version I’ve made also cuts both rings at one spot so that the bangle can adjust to any size wrist: very helpful if you’re starting with a small bottle!

Twelve Days of Popcorn (Day 5): All the World’s a Stage

I’ll save my thoughts on the importance of an educator’s being a ham for another day, but for today I’d like to highlight the magic that is live theater, from playing ‘dress-up’ in your backyard to setting King Lear on the Moon (okay, that I’ve never seen, but wouldn’t you like to?).  Here’s a collection of fun and fascinating links for you on theater, puppetry, and the Bard:

Make Your Own:

Jim Henson on making Muppets from things you find around the house.

A lesson plan on making shadow puppets in the classroom.

A video tutorial on making joints for shadow puppets (which has proved very useful for Eye Spy art activities this year!)

A historical make-your-own: 19th century children’s paper theaters on exhibit at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT.

Download a pdf of a paper theater to color and construct yourself from London's V&A. Click for link.

Or try a modern equivalent with one of Robert Sabuda’s Peepbox PopUps.

Make You Laugh:

‘Superclogger’ commits random acts of theater from the back of a truck on LA’s crowded freeways.

A Christmas Carol re-envisioned…in Klingon.  (You’ll never appreciate Dickens until you’ve read him in the original…)

Call for Submissions: A Steampunk Shakespeare Anthology (Maybe I’ll get that King Lear on the Moon after all…)

On the fifth day of popcorn, these ideas gave me glee: five puppet theaters, four juicy questions, three chugging trains, two coral reefs, and a pop-up folding snow-bedecked tree…