Under the Bed Kid Curated Art

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Elaborate Lego imaginative play made by my daughter.

I have been reading a fascinating book called, How Children Make Art: Lessons in Creativity from Home to School by George Szekely. There is a fascinating section in the book about pre-service teachers making home visits to document and discuss their students’ collections in their bedrooms, as a way to help future teachers balance the study of adult and child art.

The author points out that all young children start off as artists and collectors, and that their bedrooms are the home to rich and varied, yet carefully curated collections. The author argues that children lose this passion and love of art when they come to school and find no connections between their home art and school art. So, as art educators, what do we do to encourage the connections? How do we as adults honor their playful and un-adult eye for design?

I started by looking at my own two children’s rooms for ideas on what I can do to encourage their collections.

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Objects from my childhood treasures.

This book has been a timely read, as I recently helped to take apart a childhood collection site of my own – a glass case shelf where many priceless treasures were stored.  I did not photograph this lovingly curated shelf, before taking it apart.  Items had been in certain locations for so long that I can still close my eyes and see the arrangements.

My children sat with me, in absolute amazement, picking up each object one by one, treating each thing as sacred and precious.  They asked question after question, cataloging my responses as insights to my own childhood experiences, making connections that their adult mother was once just as imaginative as they are are now.  Revelations to my little humans!

My 8-year old daughter has a more elaborate system of set-ups, comprised of animal figurines, dolls, dollhouses linked together, scarves, washi tape, rocks, glass beads, shells, wrappers, and prize bin items. There are constantly items all over the floor, which at first appearance may seem random and messy, but upon closer inspection, they are set up in a deliberate and playful manner. She HATES the weekly floor clean up, in order to avoid her precious collection from being vacuumed up.

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My son’s collections are housed in old cigar boxes.

My 5-year old son, on the other hand, likes to keep his collections stored in a series of boxes, which are then in turn put inside his nightstand drawers and on his book shelf. If given the opportunity, he will pass on letting friends play in his room, because he likes the floor clean and free of items.

Enter a solution that comes from my hybrid roles of mother and art teacher – under bed platforms for each child’s room.  They can hold train tracks, cars, Legos, fairies, ponies, dolls, furniture, or whatever is being curated at the time.

We just so happened to have two nice pieces of plywood in the garage, casters in the basement, and kids who wanted to help in this process.

Eric had both kids help him to measure, mark, and screw in caster wheels to the bottom.  We left the wood natural, knowing that at some point they may paint them, tape paper on, or layer their own playful surfaces.  Now their curated collections can be safely stowed away to be returned to again and again.

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Two recent thank you notes made by my children.

This book has been an on-going source of ah-has for me and has helped me to honor the creative ideas and art making of my own two children.  My next step is to find more authentic ways to bridge the home art and school art of my students.

DIY Vinegar Cleaning Spray

I hate artificial smells & perfumes and anything too heavily scented, even if it is natural. Overly strong smells make me twitchy and sneezy. So when I grabbed a couple of these amber glass spray bottles, I decided to try out my own natural cleaning concoction.

I started with a large glass jar and filled it with white vinegar. I dropped in two cinnamon sticks

Then, I let the vinegar solution sit for two weeks in a sunny spot in my kitchen.  It turned this lovely amber color after just a couple of days.  I let is soak until the cinnamon and orange smell were noticeable over the vinegar smell.  When it was ready to use, I filled a spray bottle with half water, half vinegar solution.  I then added a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castille citrus soap.  I use it on my counter tops, sink, cabinets, bathroom, table — anything needing a wipe down.

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I’ll be needing this spray in large quantities in the next couple of weeks, as this is my current view.  This is from my dining room table, which is currently located in my living room, just in front of the fire place.  Gus is loving the ability to snag fun items out of boxes and tubs (i.e. sponges, paintbrushes, cups, spoons…)

Pray to to Gods of house renovation for me.  More on all of this later.

Egg Carton Wreath

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As I got out spring decor this year, I realized I did not have an egg carton wreath for my own front door, even though I was certain I had one somewhere in the basement.  Nope.  No luck, the wreath was absolutely, nowhere to be found.

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It was then that I realized I had assisted my students in making a few of these wreaths for a school fundraiser silent auction, and forgot to keep make one for myself.  As this was two years ago, I will chalk it up to post-baby-then-toddler mommy memory loss.

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So, what is a DIY mama to do?  Make a new one!  I set to work cutting up a paper egg carton, trimming them into semi-flower forms.  I used the ring of an extra large take and bake pizza box as the circular shape of my wreath.  I simply cut around the circle hole to make my wreath shape.  Otherwise, using a compass, large mixing bowls, or a pencil tied to a string are all great ways to make circles in your cardboard.  Then, I painted the cardboard ring blue.

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The kids needed an on-going project this week to work on.  March has been rough – sickness, snow, rain, freezing rain, more sickness, cold weather, mud, and time changes.  Ugh.  It’s enough to drive any teacher or parent mad right now.  So, we spread out newspaper and the egg carton eggs, divide up some different size brushes and started painting.  We always use liquid tempera paint for kid craft projects like this.  It is washable, bright, and easy to dispense and mix.  I personally like Crayola liquid tempera paint.  The 12 bottle set is a great array of colors and will last!  Actually, if it lasts too long, it will start to stink, FYI.  If you do not plan on doing a lot of painting, or are painting a smaller project, the 8 oz size bottles might be a better choice.

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After the flowers were dry, we simply glued them onto the blue wreath ring.  We just used liquid Elemer’s glue, so the kids could help.  If it falls apart, I will fix them with hot glue.  The leaves are made from green construction paper and origami paper squares.

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After attaching the leaves with liquid glue, I also decided to add some embellishments on the flowers with some of the printed origami paper.

Updated Baby Shower Game

It’s wild to think that the last baby shower I threw was almost 4 years ago, when I was pregnant with my youngest!  Now, we are showering the friend who helped throw this last shower.  Today, I updated the baby shower game, What’s in Your Purse?, and thought I would share the new and improved version.  The font is a 1,000 times better thanks to my current favorite design site – Canva.

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I don’t have much else to share right now, except I am on spring break and plan to power through the last of my homework and hopefully make some artwork of my own.  I have just two more weekends of classes and then I am done with grad work.  Maybe this blog will spring back to life…stranger things have happened.

 

Boredom Buster Books

I finally got around to creating a set of small take-along binders for my two kids.  They are forever wanting to be busy, constantly restless in restaurants, and my eldest is always wanting to write or draw something.  Here is what my solution looks like:

A half-sized, mini binder filled with pocket dividers, page protectors with activities, and lined paper in the back for writing or drawing.

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I drew some simple, blank-ish images for the kids to creatively fill in.  My thoughts were to update these every now and then with more simple line drawings.

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We absolutely love the Crayola dry erase markers – washable, wipeable, bright, and not smelly!

My five-year old, as we speak, is working diligently on  her book, all while giving me suggestions for more pages.  I haven’t even dived into the free printable sections of the internet yet, but suspect that will be the next place I look for page ideas.

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I made quite a few simple pages with writing practice.  My eldest is working hard on learning her rather long middle name, address, and phone number.  This certainly can’t hurt!

Now I am debating whether or not to make a set of these for the drawing center in my classroom.  I could fill  it with some simple drawing ideas for the younger grades, or even with FAQ in drawing.

Bleached Bones + Beetles

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A portion of my childhood insect collection.

Quite frankly, this is a post I have been wanting to write but also avoiding like the plague.  It will easily be one of my most personal posts to-date, as it shares parts of my childhood history.  I have always collected objects and items from the natural world – having amassed a large rock and insect collection in my early years, and at some point beginning to include bones.  I grew up in the country, and so the natural world and its circle of life were not at all foreign, scary, or the least bit gross in my mind.  We  had dogs that would regularly bring roadkill up from the wooded ravine, the harsh Iowa winters often took a toll on the old and sick animals, and our cats would present me with a wide array of interesting rodents and birds.  So, quite naturally, I became interested in bones.

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Turtle shell (found by my grandmother), sand dollar, and rodent skull.

This wasn’t the typical childhood hobby as it didn’t involve toys, ceramic figurines, or the normal collectibles, though it did involve books – field guides to be exact.  It wasn’t a hobby that I freely discussed with peers at school.  Usually friends found about my bone collection while standing in front of it, looking at stark white skulls that I had painstakingly put back together, labeled, and put on display in my glass case.  My parents didn’t discourage my collecting, but instead bought me a hinged lid, glass display case, much like a Queen Anne jewelry case, in hopes of containing and organizing it.  As the collection grew, my parents maintained a good-natured attitude about my hobby, and to some degree, encouraged my curiosity with the natural world.  I was however, firmly told no, when I checked out a book from the library on taxidermy – my dad very firmly drew the line there.

Even as an adult, when the bone collecting comes up, I skirt away from the topic, never knowing how others will react.  My husband one time said in the presence of some friends, “Give yourself credit, those are museum-quality bones you have in your collection, a collection you started as a kid.”  That encouragement from him has given me the courage to share my self-taught trade secrets on cleaning bones.

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More from the collection: raccoon skull, mounted stag beetle, and fossilized plant.

The display case housing my collection is long gone, but in a recent basement clean-out, my parents came across the tub with what remains of my collection.  After tossing out the un-salvageable, I am in the process of trying to decide what parts to allow my children to keep, what to take to school for still life study, and what to display in my current home as a proud reminder of my childhood love.  You can see the beginnings of this display in the vertebrae on the living room built-ins and the illuminated deer head on the living room wall.  Now, thanks to recent inspiration from Busy Mockingbird’s post on Beetles and Bugs, I think I will combine my artmaking and collection in some interesting ways.

I remember when I discovered the rich Southwest scenes and vivid abstract paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe and wanting to know more about her and life life.  I was thrilled reading of her discovery of bones in New Mexico and shipping them back to her studio so she could paint them.  It felt like an ah-ha moment, like perhaps my career choice in the arts made the collecting of bones more appropriate and a part of my destiny.

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Bones before cleaning.

Just as Georgia O’Keeffe saw something beautiful in bones, I was always attracted to the lines, negative spaces, and curves of bones.  Not only did I draw them, but I learned all I could about bones, preserving, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, museum studies, and similar avenues of study.  I thought for many years that I would go into such a field as a career.  It was over the course of this self-taught hobby that I learned how to clean the bones, identify species and individual traits, and basic common anatomies.

If I found bones that were not yet bare (i.e. still had skin, fur, etc.), I would place them in an old rabbit cage.  This way, there were exposed to the elements and to any helpful bugs that would speed up the process of decay.  If you are interested in the fascinating stories that bones can tell, I highly recommend the book, The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist, by Mary H. Manhein.  It was one such book I read while delving into this world of bones.

Once the bones are fairly clean, I begin the bleaching process.  I used to use actual bleach – but have since moved to a less chemical-laden method.  I place all the bones into a large plastic bucket or tub.  Next, I boil a large pot or two of water, and I pour into the bucket 1-2 cups of hydrogen peroxide, and then add enough boiling water to submerge the bones.

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I always do this outside, for it can be both messy and stinky.  I leave the bones to bubble away, usually 4-6 hours.  Depending on how debris-free the bones are, one soaking may be enough.  If not, I repeat the process.  I have been known to don rubber gloves and scrub the bones with an old toothbrush, as this speeds up the cleaning process significantly.

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When the debris is gone from the bones, they are placed to dry, in the sun.  The sun is what completes the bleaching process, making them a brilliant white.

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Here are the bones after drying in the sun.  As you can see, there are still a few stained areas.  With a few more cleanings, they may go away, or they may be there to stay.  There is where using household bleach may be helpful, if you truly want them perfectly sun-bleached.  The skull is from a raccoon – a roadkill find.  The jawbones are from a deer – a winter death in my parents’ field.

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The rest of the deer had already been cleaned and mounted on the wall to be lit up with battery-powered lights.  I love the new variety that are strung on thin wire – it makes for easy manipulating of the lighting arrangement.  I put this up back in the winter, but have kept it up all year long and have been enjoying it still.

I am always open to questions about the collection, my methods, and the cleaning and preserving processes I use.  I have never done any taxidermy and have never killed any of the animals in my collection.  I am not against hunting, it just isn’t for me.

Natural Dyed Eggs 

eggs1This year, for Easter, we decided to try something a little different for the egg decorating.  I ventured into natural dyes – something I had tried with success for Greta’s car cake for her 3rd birthday.  To entertain the kids, even more, I had them paint some of the eggs and add washi tape – the last 4 eggs on the right side of this image are those eggs.

 I started by boiling my ingredients in water for 30 minutes.  I used tips from The Kitchn’s post on naturally dyed eggs as a starting point.  Then, I strained all my dye through a sieve.  Above is the results of boiled purple cabbage.
 Next, I collected my dye in jars with 1-2 tablespoons vinegar.  Jars with lids seemed like the best option for storing them in the fridge, while the dye set.  We simply placed 1-2 hard-boiled eggs inside each jar to soak, I did one set overnight and one set for 8 hours.

 During all of this, the kids helped me by being eager watchers.  They also worked on watercolor painting their own eggs.
 Like I said, it was a huge hit with the kids.  They got to be observers of the changes of color over time.  We took them out every hour during the day to check the progress.

 The natural dye from top to bottom is: turmeric (yellow), yellow onion (orange), purple cabbage (blue), and red zinger tea (brownish-gray).

I am looking forward to trying more natural dyes with other materials – paper, fabric, wool…

DIY Wood Die Set

Eric made this lovely dice set a while back (as in, December!) and I forgot to post them until now.  It was a simple project – cut a long piece of wood into a set of five cubes, sand, and then use a Wood Burner  to make dots on the die.

They could be a fun addition to a kids’ block collection, a larger than life set of die for backyard or game night fun, or a great learning set for young, budding Yahtzee enthusiasts.  In any case, we gave them away to my sister and her husband.  Now I just need Eric to make me a set for summer die games on the porch.

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Speaking of the porch, we are getting closer to being done with that project.  Here’s a peek – we redid the floors, insulated the walls below the windows, and added white bead board under the windows.  We also upgraded to some more comfortable furniture.  Eric scored these orange (!) office chairs at a furniture thrift shop.  He knows me and my affinity for orange and chairs, so well.  We started this porch process last summer and hope to finish it this spring before it gets too far into porch season.  More on the porch project in the near future.

Living Room Built-ins

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Just as the trees sap starts to flow as spring nears, my creative juices start flowing and my right brain warms up at the thought of spring break and the ever-nearing summer off. For me, break from work brings the joy of less-interrupted project time.

Today we got out the PANTONE Moroccan Blue paint and touched up the bands of bare walls above the windows on either side of our fireplace. These have been bothering me since we had the windows replaced a couple years ago.

I have also been working on finishing my papier-mâché jackelope from a few years back. I’m torn on the face. I think it looks cheesy (kinda creepy, too) and will most likely collage over it before I mount it on my wall.

I broke out my black Sharpies and added textural lines on the insides of the built-ins on either side of the fireplace. The results are a fun fiber-inspired design.

I also reorganized the books by color. It makes a weird order to the topics but pleasing to the eye. This is the left side all done – aside from the bottom shelf which I left alone since it is on floor level and filled with children’s books.  I will post the right side at another time.

Valentines 2016

  I still loathe buying greeting cards.  It’s a DIY disease – “I can make that.”

 This year’s Valentines have a bike theme going on.  I made this fun little stamp a couple weekends ago while Greta was working on her bicycle and heart print.  Or was that last weekend?  I don’t know…this time of year just escapes me.

 
 I started off my Valentines with some fun abstract watercolor paintings.  Once dry, I spliced them into sections.

 
 I attached the paintings to card stock with glue and by sewing machine.  Then, added small stamped bicycles to them.  On some of the cards, I stamped the bike directly on the painting.  Those ones turned out fine, but the bicycle ended up being a little hidden.

 
Greta had fun adding embellishments and her signature to her cards.  I love her ideas on what needed to be glued down!

 
 These are my two little Valentines, working hard at the kitchen table the other night.  The oldest was busy signing away – she opted for Ninja Turtle and Little Mermaid cards for her school buddies.  Meanwhile, little brother is sliding and throwing her Valentines on the floor.

 

 This is me this morning at work – I survived yet another year of teaching during the Valentine season – today were the element kids’ Valentine parties.  In the spirit, I decked myself out in my heart sweater (old one from Target!) and my heart earrings that my mom gave me way back in 8th grade.  They were sort of a big deal, because they were dangly and not just studs.  I cannot believe I still have them. My hubby and I are not much into gifts, cards, or any of the likes for Valentine’s Day, but whether you celebrate or not, Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!