Studio Deep Dive: Artists in Absence

Today, I was planning on driving two hours to Solomons, MD to set up for my two-week Artist in Action residence at Ann Marie Sculpture Gardens and Arts Center. Combined with cancelled/postponed spring festivals and exhibitions, I felt a little lost. I still had these two weeks set aside. Should I just eat ice cream and catch up on TV shows? Watch all of the Marvel Movies? Could I still use the two weeks to create? How could I still be available for friends, guests, and my collectors? What does a studio deep dive look like in an online space?

I am incredibly fortunate to have this time and space to create. I hope to share my videos, time lapses, Facebook Live events, and new artwork here on the blog, on Facebook, and on Instagram. My goal is to bring the outdoors inside and online with my botanical and wildlife art, and to be available through social media and email to connect with fellow art enthusiasts. I’m looking forward to creating with you!

Arts and Crafts: Book Making (Preschooler – Adult)

Materials: Paper, Thread, Needle, Ruler or Measuring Tape, and Clamps (optional)

Goals: Preschoolers will practice fine motor skill development and creators of all ages will experience gained confidence and satisfaction that results from the completion of an aesthetically pleasing project.

Step 1: Tear down paper to equal sizes.

We used our handmade paper from our paper making project, but you can use sturdy papers like construction, cardstock, or drawing paper from sketchbooks. Thin printer paper is not ideal for this project. I also had a strong, fibrous paper that made a great cover material, which was purchased from an art supply store. Originally I planned on using a hand pulled sheet with a flower inlay as the cover, but a wild three-year old preferred it inside a glass of soda water.

To tear down the paper:

  • Fold the sheet in half with the corners of the sheet meeting. Create a strong crease.
  • Take a damp sponge and run it along the crease. Run the back of your fingernail along the crease, reinforcing the fold.
  • Unfold the paper and refold it along the crease in the opposite direction. You will not be creating a new crease, but continuing to weaken to same crease. Run the damp sponge along the edge again and reinforce by running the back of your fingernail along the fold.
  • Unfold the paper and slowly pull it apart in opposite directions (photographed above). You should be left with two equal sized sheets. The edge that you created will mimic a deckled edge that comes from hand-pulled paper.

Step Two: Measure and create holes

Once the paper was broken down into equal-sized sheets in the dimensions of our planned book (10 sheets total at 3″ x 5″), we stacked them, making sure they were centered with edges lined up at the spine. To keep them in place, I used my mini-clamps. Chip-clips work well too.

I measured 3/4″ from the spine into the book, and drew a line in pencil. Then I measured my three holes along the 3/4″ line. The first and last holes were 1/2″ from the edge, and the middle hole was 1.5″ (centered). Mark your holes with a pencil (or a pen if you’re especially brave), and make sure to remeasure to confirm that your holes are lined up and equally spaced. Once you’re happy with the spacing of your marks, run a needle through each mark, piercing the entire book and making sewing easier for your preschooler.

Step 3: Sew the book

Have your preschooler sit near you or in your lap as you guide their hands through the stitching process. There are several different patterns you can use to bind the book, and we chose a simple Japanese side stitch. I sewed from left to right, and below are the detailed steps that I took.

  • Thread the needle and knot the ends of your thread together. Open the front cover of the book and pull the needle and thread through the front cover (moving inside to out) leaving the knot on the inside.
  • Moving the needle around to the back of the book, push it through the same hole as your knot. After the needle has pulled through the book, pull the thread tight, creating a loop over the top of the spine.
  • Move the needle around the the back of the book and repeat the previous step, but pull the looped thread over the left edge of the book, creating a square on the left side on the front and back.
  • Move the needle to the front of the next hole, and push the needle to the back of the book. Pull the thread tight. You will have created a horizontal line on the front connecting the left square to the center hole.
  • Move the needle back to the front of the same hole, creating a loop over the top of the center hole. Pull the needle through, tightening the thread.
  • Move the needle to the back of your right hole, and pull it through to the front.
  • Loop the needle over the top of the book’s spine and pull it back through the same right hole from back to front, creating a top loop.
  • Loop the needle over the right side of the book’s spine and pull it back through the right hole from back to front, finishing the right side of your book (the square will look the same as the leftmost square).
  • Move the needle back into the center hole, moving front to back.
  • Move the needle back into the leftmost hole, moving back to front. This should finish the stitching on both sides of the book, creating the final pattern photographed below.
  • Tie the thread inside of the front cover, knotting it with your first knot.
  • Cut off excess thread. You can use the back of a fingernail to compress the knot so that the book does not bulge when closed.

Now you can do whatever you’d like with your final book, from a beautiful sketchbook to a diary. Our plan is to ink found natural objects, and for my preschooler to create hand pressed prints on each page, making a preschool-aged nature journal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the creative preschool activities we’ve documented over the past two weeks! I realize that life has been stressful, different, and unpredictable throughout March and going forward during this pandemic. My goal was to offer a few creative ideas to explore with your little ones as we navigate this strange time together. With pressures to homeschool and anxiety about our future, I realize that it may take time to find a new normal or to explore the ideas here. It’s okay. If or when you are ready to try a creative activity, I will have a quick link to this collection of posts on my website. I will occasionally add notable projects and cool activities we will complete going forward.

I’d love to know if you tried any of the activities we’ve been posting, if you have any awesome projects of your own to share, or if there are any questions about the process. I’ve turned on commenting for this post, if you have anything to share.

Preschool – Adult: Recycled Paper Making

Materials: Scrap paper, blender, mould & deckle (frame with a screen to catch the pulp), sponge, towels, and felt (and/or couching sheets), and wide plastic bin.

Goals: Introduction to paper materials and recycling. Exploration and integration of found objects.

For Deeper Material Exploration:

  • Focus on creating paper sheets with an even thickness and defined edges.
  • Add different colors to multiple bins of pulp and scoop the pulp directly onto the deckle, creating a paper painting.
  • Create “Unicorn Paper” using glitter, pastel pulp colors, and other found materials that combine to create sheets of sparkling joy.

Paper making is a very soothing, repetitive (or meditative), and rewarding process that can result in a wide range of creations including thick paper sculptures, fibrous and translucent sheets, and drawing papers full of cotton and luxurious texture. In my drawing practice, I cut down my sheets from a large roll of archival paper, and usually have small scraps leftover. A great way to reuse these scraps is to blend them back into a pulp and create new sheets for sketches, for book making, or for standalone works of art.

I was excited to introduce paper making to my preschooler and believed that he would really enjoy the process since there is a similarity to the process of baking (there are ingredients, a blender, scooping, and creating), and there is an opportunity to integrate found objects and to play with the shape of the paper, thus personalizing the final product to his interests. Disclaimer: He is 3, did not nap, and was not feeling this part of our paper and book making project. I recommend trying this with the 4+ age group, with a well-rested 3 year old, or trying this for yourself.

For set up, you will want to have your materials out. I used two screen printing frames for my mould and deckle, with the mesh cut out of one to create the mould. To start, run the paper through a shredder or tear it into approximately 1″ squares. Fill 1/3 of the blender, I recommend an inexpensive one, with paper, then fill it the rest of the way with water. Blend the paper into a pulp, as pictured above, and pour it into a vat/plastic bin. I repeated this process 4x, then added 2 blenders full of just water to my bin.

Now you can start pulling paper. The deckle (screened frame) will need to be screen side up, and the mould (frame without screen) will go on top of the screen. It is important to not have the deckle upside down, because you will have a really tough time sponging out the extra water and getting the sheet of paperoff in one piece. With one hand, stir up the pulp so that the paper fibers are moving when you dip your mould and deckle into the bin (this is called creating a slurry).

Moving the mould and deckle together in one direction through the slurry, scoop the pulp up. As you pull the mould and deckle up, slightly wiggle them left and right and front and back, interlocking the fibers of the paper, then hold the mould and deckle still as excess water drains. You want to have an even layer of pulp reaching all four sides of the mould. Once the water slows, you can gently remove the mould, leaving the pulp on the deckle to drain.

After a minute, flip the freshly pulled sheet of paper face down onto your felt/couching sheet (pronounced coo-ching), and gently sponge the extra water off through the back side of your deckle. Once enough water is sponged off, the paper will be ready to separate from the deckle. Pull the deckle up from one side. If the paper is having trouble detaching, sponge again, and/or try slightly and quickly jiggling the deckle side to side to jar the paper loose.

The paper will need one to two days to dry depending on temperature and humidity. The paper, still on the felt or couching sheets, can be stacked with a felt sheet on top and pressed using a wood block and weight. This will squeeze out excess water and speed up the drying time.

I made a few plain sheets of paper as well as a few with dried flower inlays (they can be added to the slurry or directly to the sheet after it is pulled). We played with cookie cutters, creating rabbit and heart shaped pages. Rosemary, coffee grinds, and glitter are a few of the exciting materials I’ve seen mixed into hand pulled papers, and you have endless options for making your paper unique to you or your preschooler.

I imagine my preschooler will paint the shaped paper with watercolors and fixed to homemade cards to be sent to our family. Tomorrow, we will bind the plain paper into a small sketchbook/nature journal. I imagine that we can use the journal to trace leaves and make prints with flowers or other natural interesting shapes.

Preschool Craft: Cardboard Animals

Materials: Cardboard, Paint, (or Markers), Scissors, Googly Eyes, Glue, String

Goal: Process Art, Color Exploration, Independant Creative Play

My earliest creative memory was in kindergarten. Each student drew and decorated their favorite animal on a large piece of cardboard, and the teacher cut each one out and hung them on strings. I finished my dolphin drawing last (it was a tough call, choosing a dolphin over a giraffe, but I knew I could get the dolphin shape right), but remember being so proud of it. I pretended to be a mermaid for the rest of class and hitching a ride on my dolphin to explore sunken ships.

I hoped my preschooler would enjoy the project too. Since he is only three, there was a lot of indecisiveness around the animal we picked. I made an executive decision and drew the shape for him. He selected green and purple to paint with. I grabbed orange to make the dolphin a secondary color scheme, and white to add value variation (light and dark shades of colors).

He painted directly from the jars of paint, mixing the colors on the cardboard. We played with different sized brushes and with different marks. The only rules were: no paint on the floor and the dolphin needed to be filled in to cover the cardboard.

Once dried, I cut out the dolphin and strung it so that it can ride on my preschooler’s shoulder. My son added the google eyes as a finishing touch. He promptly donned his dolphin and galloped through the house yelling “neigh.”

Preschool Arts & Crafts: Cardboard Boxes

Materials: Large Cardboard Box, Paint or Markers, Scissors or X-acto knife.

Goals: Process art, Written Name Recognition, Imaginative Play

This was a perfect rainy day activity! While my preschooler was napping, I grabbed one of the old cardboard boxes I was saving for my art studio and quickly sketched out a simple rocket in paint (marker works too!). Add a little window by cutting a hole in the side. If you have trouble drawing a rocket from your head, you can always Google search “rocket clip art” to get a few simplified drawings to use as a reference.

The drawing/painting doesn’t have to be perfect. Your preschooler won’t care if it’s a little abstract or disproportionate.

When my preschooler woke up, he was delighted. He played with the rocket for a solid thirty minutes before needing to shift gears. We practiced painting his name to reinforce name and letter recognition, and then on the rocket sketch before I stepped back to let him paint independently. He played with different sized brushes. We talked about how different the marks were when he used the tip of the paint brush compared to the side of the bristles. The goal here is to encourage your child to explore with the materials and marks.

Preschool Arts & Crafts: Music

We changed up arts and crafts time this weekend by getting my drums out of storage and the ukelele out of it’s case. Music helps preschoolers flex their creative muscles, exploring and discovering different sounds and their combinations, just like process art explores the different combinations and possibilities of visual materials. There is the added benefit of rhythm and a lot of physical movement while creating, listening, singing, and dancing.

  • He sang his A, B, C’s and we made up silly songs.
  • He experimented with the different sounds of each drum and played with rhythms.
  • He tried again and again to show me some chords on the ukelele. 
  • We danced. Preschoolers are the best dancers.

I hope you all have a creative, calm, and music filled week.

Preschool Activity: Pipe-cleaner Bracelets (Quiet Time)

I have been trying to encourage independent & quiet play, not only to help my preschooler develop into a confident and creative person, but also for my own sanity. This is my favorite “mommy has a headache” activity.

Materials: Pipe Cleaners or String & Beads

Objective: Develop Fine Motor Skills & Practice Independent Play

I showed my preschooler how to loop the bottom of the pipe cleaner to prevent the beads from falling off and showed him how to thread the first bead. As soon as he felt confident, I let him create on his own. He made a bracelet for mommy, daddy, and for himself. I helped him tie off his bracelets, tucking in the ends (those wires can be a little sharp). He continued to play with them once complete, using his imagination and creating a conversation between each bracelet.

Preschool Activity & Craft: Daily Walks & Pinecone Bird Feeder

As we continue to change and adapt in response to the coronavirus’s impact in our state, I’ve relied on two things to remain calm and centered.

The first is continuing in my studio practice. Drawing has always been deeply meditative for me and not letting stress disrupt my daily work has been key in keeping a sense of uninterrupted routine.

The second is daily walks with my preschooler. We love discovering new buds and blooms, like the saucer magnolias (pictured above), seeing fat squirrels and brave birds, and, of course, finding sticks. These walks are also centering for my preschooler, and we both will miss the calm they provide as the next few days bring rain.

Pinecone Bird Feeder

Objective: To connect with nature by creating a feeder with found natural materials and observing the wildlife that is drawn to it.

Materials: Pinecone, string, nut butter, and bird seed.

Our craft for the day was creating a pinecone bird feeder, just like I did as a kid. It is a great idea to let your preschooler slather peanut butter on the pinecones themselves to work on their dexterity. At the same time, if your child is just as likely to bathe in the butter or lick it off of the pinecone, as mine was prone to, you can apply the nut butter yourself.

However, my preschooler did apply the bird seed. Then, we hung the feeders up by his recently painted birdhouse and hoped that the cardinals would take a liking to it. I’m pretty sure the squirrels are going to love us.

Process Art: Sidewalk Chalk

Today was all about the process. Art and crafts aren’t meant to be a stressful. Instead they are an opportunity to create, explore, and play. The only material needed for this activity is sidewalk chalk.

We both practiced drawing and ended up creating a lava pit with a caterpillar, a monster bug, a leaf, a couch, and a skateboard. We played keep off the lava, and practiced steering his bicycle around the lava pit, and played tag.

Preschool Crafts: Saint Patrick’s Day

For Saint Patrick’s Day we created a leprechaun hat, cupcakes, and a clover sun-catcher. Each mini-project practiced motor skills for tiny hands.

Materials

  • Leprechaun Hat: Construction paper, safety scissors, & glue sticks.
  • Sun-catcher: Dollar bin clover from Target OR Contact paper & tinted tissue paper.
  • Cupcakes: Box cake mix, eggs, oil, water, baking cups/muffin tin, & green sprinkles.

Leprechaun Hat

This activity was really simple and fast, but was great for introducing scissor safety and practicing fine motor skills.

I used a ruler to draw out the shapes on colored construction paper. With a brief safety overview, my preschooler used his safety scissors to cut out his shapes with my guidance. He then used a glue stick to piece everything together. It was a really easy craft, and he was so excited to show my spouse his creation.

Adjustments

  • For younger children, precut the shapes and focus on the motor skills reinforced through gluing.
  • For Increased Depth: Push those cutting skills by adding a clover to the hat which will give your child a chance to practice cutting curved shapes.
  • Advanced: Add paint to the process. Create 3-5 green color mixes (green + white, green + yellow, green + blue, green + orange, etc.) and fill in the entire hat before applying the belt and buckle paper strips.

Clover Sun-catcher

This activity also used fine motor skills, embraced the process of layering and creating, and resulted in a cute final piece. It was $1 at Target, but can be replicated with tinted tissue and contact paper. I helped my preschooler get started, but soon he was focused on fitting each tissue square onto the clover shape. Once complete, I cut it out, strung it, and hung it by the window for a fun Saint Patrick’s Day decoration.

Adjustments

  • For increased Depth: Encourage your child to cut out the shape by her or himself. Consider shredding or cutting her or his own tissue paper in varying shapes.

Cupcakes

These came from a box and couldn’t get more basic, but my preschooler measured, poured, counted, mixed (have we talked about motor skills yet?), and decorated these delicious bundles of sugar. Baking with my son is one of my favorite activities, and these festive goodies were perfect for his age.

Tip: If your preschooler is in charge of sprinkles, consider taping off most of the container’s holes to control the flow or pour the sprinkles into a bowl to be added by hand.

As we dive in to social distancing, I hope that sharing our crafts is helping. Send me a message (amy@amyfixart.com) if there are any crafts you would like to see us create. I am looking forward to making paper and bookbinding later in the week, but have some simple and engaging projects lined up until then. Have a happy and lucky Saint Patrick’s Day!

Children’s Arts & Crafts: Color Mixing

I planned so many fun things with my preschooler while schools are closed. I am starting this series to share these activities and build a resource for parents who need some art-focused ideas. I hope these are helpful! Please remember that you know your child best, and that these activities can be adjusted to meet your child’s individual needs.

Color Mixing: Introduction to Primary & Secondary Colors

Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, & Blue Secondary Colors: Purple, Orange, & Green

Materials: Acrylic or tempura paint, aprons or paint friendly clothes, paintbrushes, paper plates or plastic palette, and acorns (or other surface that you would like to paint).

Let’s get started!

This activity can be done with anything from creating a paper plate color wheel, to cut out drawings of your child’s favorite characters.  Making a rainbow for Saint Patrick’s Day definitely crossed my mind.  The main purpose of the exercise is to focus on mixing primary colors to create secondary colors. 

We went on a color scavenger hunt/walk yesterday and ended up with a few wildflowers, several sticks, pinecones, and a million acorns.  His excitement about the acorns made them a great surface for color exploration. *We dried the wildflowers in the oven for a papermaking project later this week.

I sat out a few paper plates and red, yellow, and blue paint.  I explained that we were going to paint the acorns the colors of the rainbow, but we were missing some colors.  I began to ask my pre-schooler questions, encouraging him to think about what we were doing.  I kept the questions and instruction brief, knowing his attention span.

“What colors are we missing?” “Oh man, we are missing orange.  Do you think we can make orange?”  “What colors do you think can be mixed to make green?”

I helped him mix the paints together, but let him do most of the work.  His excitement about creating a new color was really palpable, and by trusting him to do his part, I reinforced his confidence in his creativity.

Once we had all of our colors mixed, we began painting his acorns.  Each acorn I painted was one solid color, but my preschooler enjoyed mixing and layering primary colors on his acorns, occasionally grabbing a pre-mixed secondary color.  Once dry, I super-glued string under each acorn’s “hat” and attached it to his moon phases stick (from a nature group project we completed earlier this month).

Since this was just an introduction to secondary colors, I do not expect my son to have a complex and deep knowledge of color theory or remember that red, yellow, and blue are called primary colors.  However, if anyone asks him what colors make green, he knows the answer.

Adjustments:

  • For younger children: Focus on reinforcing color identification.
  • For increased depth: Children can choose their surfaces and have more autonomy with color mixing.  Ask children to be able to identify cool (blue, green, and violet) and warm colors (red, orange, and yellow).
  • Advanced: Identify analogous colors (colors sitting next to each other on the color wheel) & complementary colors (colors opposite on the color wheel).  Introduce tertiary colors. 

Local Art Under $100

Despite the controversial name, the Starving Artists’ Sale has been an established and highly successful exhibition for almost as long as the Harford Artist’s Association has been established.   Inside the gallery, art hangs salon-style on the walls with handmade jewelry, sculptures, and other three-dimensional art interspersed on shelves and pedestals.  Art is expertly coordinated through color, pattern, or subject to feel cohesive despite the variety of artists, styles, and media.

The media represented is diverse, including photography on aluminum, acrylic pour painting, oil on canvas, watercolor, gourd sculpture, fused glass, jewelry, and more.   The artists are all local and range from emerging to established.  The best part is that everything on display is under $100.

The gallery will have a reception this Saturday, January 9, 2020 from 1 PM – 3 PM.  

Here’s the location, and have fun!

Harford Artists’ Association

37 North Main Street in Suite 104 of the Armory Marketplace
(behind the historic Reckord Armory) Bel Air, MD 21014

Disclosure: I am a member of the Harford Artists’ Association. However, I am not a participant or exhibiting artist in this show. All views stated are my own.

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