New Outdoor Art Studio

Did I ever tell you that our backyard used to be a dirt patch? It would have been perfectly lovely for a team of dogs, but it’s driven me nuts since we first moved in.

 I’ve tried all sorts of hacks to make it more appealing. I’m a DIY-hacky kind of girl, after all!. First, we made a cute brick path and filled the entire yard in with wood chips. Ugh. It was pretty, but not recommended with small, barefoot children…I hate learning things the hard way! Months passed. This was followed by a half-failed attempt at seeding my own lawn. Again, learning the hard way. Another month passed before I got the sense to ask our gardener about installing sod.

And it took him one day to make it beautiful. That’s it. One day.

As soon as the grass was laid and watered my 3 year old and I wanted to run around on it. Feeling the grass under our toes was divine.

We’ve been enjoying the garden in all sorts of ways — playing in the sand box, picnics, gardening, building bridges, and of course…making art. I taped some large paper directly to the side of the house for an instant easel. The grooves from the siding gave N the additional challenge of working with a bumpy constraint, but she figured out how to work with it. When we’re indoors she rarely draws with crayons (markers are her tool of choice), but in a new place with new challenges, the crayons became more appealing.

Related to this, I recently spotted this clever way to dry outdoor paintings. Suspend rope between poles and/or trees and add some clothespins to keep the work secure. It’s not original. I’ve seen this before and I expect you have too, but I’ve never thought about setting up a clothes line for art in my own yard. Time to get to it before the weather turns and keeps us indoors.

Is there a part of your home that feels like it’s kept you and your family from reaching your full potential?

What could you do to make it work?



Pop-up Paper Zoo

I love collaborating with my three-year old, so I was thrilled when she came up with this idea for me to draw animal shapes for her to color in. We don’t have coloring books in our house (aside from a mandala coloring book suggested by Jen at Paint Cut Paste), so maybe this fed some deep seated need to color in the lines? When I drew the outline of the first animal I wasn’t sure where this was going, but N started coloring away with a clear vision in mind. She’s a true director, putting me to work on the the details while she masterminded the big picture. When she came up with an idea to make the animals stand up, we cut them out, cut small slits in the bottom of the animals and a matching slit in the opposing “stand,” and we suddenly had the makings of a zoo!


  • Card stock
  • Favorite mark-making tools: Markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • Scissors
After working on the bee, N worked on which way she wanted it to stand.

And she even made her own animal shape. I tried to pin her down (in the most open-ended way possible) on a name or type of animal, but she kept me guessing. I think it was just a shape, but you never know!

She colored both sides of the animals, making them truly three-dimensional. She’s just started to draw with representational marks, and I love seeing how faces and other recognizable objects emerge through these marks.

Our zoo family!

Would you make a pop-up zoo?

After making these I thought some of you might like to have some animal templates to print out. If you do, let me know and I’ll make a PDF set that you can download.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime, World Animal Day Bloghop

I heart RAFT

I spent part of Saturday at Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) in San Jose, CA. Despite my best efforts, I can never get out of this place in under an hour! I was first introduced to RAFT, an enormous warehouse full of all sorts of wonderful upcycled baubles and bits, when I managed the school programs at the San Jose Museum of Art. Imagine the neatest, cleanest, most organized heap of recyclables, and you have a pretty clear picture of RAFT.

And this is why it’s like my second home.

Everything is sorted so nicely, just waiting to be turned into something fabulous. It’s an incredible resource for teachers, and I’m lucky enough to have an excuse to continue shopping there. I’m designing the curriculum for a DIY art space at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, which will open its doors in October. Yay!

All sorts of paper.

Colorful stickers and tapes, sold by the yard (that’s almost a meter, for my Aussie friends!).

Some of the tape is sold by the roll. I got a roll of caution tape for about $2!

One of the loveliest things about RAFT is that they have a team of smart and friendly staff who spend hours figuring out what you can actually do with this stuff. I got a demo on how you can turn a record + pencil + foam + pin + paper cup into a simple phonograph. Brilliant!

If you’re interested in RAFT, you might like to read about our trip to SCRAP.

Where do you go to find recycled materials? Your trash? Sidewalk? Resource center?

Painting with Straws in Preschool

Blown straw painting kids

Make gorgeous drips and swirling designs by painting with straws. This is a wonderful preschool art activity, but fun for all ages.

straw blown painting preschool

painting with straws preschool

Materials: Straw Blown Painting

  • Watercolor paper or card stock — we used 8.5 x 11 card stock from the office supply store. A heavier weight paper will do a good job absorbing the paint and water.
  • Liquid watercolors. We like to use Sax Concentrated Liquid Watercolors from Amazon. They’re washable and non-toxic.
  • Eye droppers or pipettes. If you don’t have a pipette, you can forage your medicine cabinet for a medicine dropper.
  • Straws
  • Tray to hold the paper. This keeps the paint from blowing all over the table
  • Paper towels, sponge, or towels. Optional, but you won’t regret this insurance policy

squeeze paint onto paper

Blow Painting Steps

  1. Set up a tray with a heavy sheet of paper
  2. Place a few bowls filled with a bit of liquid watercolors nearby. Place a pipette in or next to the watercolors.
  3. Invite your child to draw watercolor paint into the dropper and then squeeze it on the paper.
  4. With a straw, blow the paint around the paper.

blow painting preschool


Experiments and Extensions

  • Once your child has had enough paint blowing, add a brush and invite him or her to paint
  • Test regular narrow straws against fat milkshake straws. Which works better? Our favorite was the fat straw.
  • After the paint blowings have dried, add another layer of paint blowings with different colors
  • Fold in half and turn your paintings into cards. See 40 Homemade Cards that Kids can Make for ideas.
  • Dip the end of a straw into tempera paint and then use it as a stamp. Watch Art Tips and Tricks: 5 Non-traditional Painting Tools to see this in action.

straw blown painting

Straw Air Rockets

This is a project we had fun testing with Kiwi Crate, a new hands-on kit of monthly projects that launches  soon. Follow their fun blog for more.

We’ve been having the best time shooting air rockets out of milkshake/boba tea straws (found in our supermarket) The baby enjoyed seeing the rockets fly overhead while chasing them around the room, while my three year old challenged herself to shoot these far and wide.


  • Milkshake straws
  • Copy, Printer, or other light weight paper
  • Transparent Tape

You’ll want to roll the paper into a tube that will cover most of the straw. Cut a piece of paper large enough to roll around a straw, leaving a 1″-2″ tab that can be taped closed over the other side of paper. Cut another small piece of paper and attach it to the end of the paper tube. Seal it shut. See photos for more direction.

Place the paper tube on top of the straw, move into a wide open space, and blow. What you don’t see here is my one-year old laughing hysterically each time a paper tube shot over her head.This was the third day we played with these over a three week period, and it still caught my kids’ attention. If you decide to try this and it doesn’t work, the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll be stuck with some milkshake straws that may need to be put to work in a more traditional way! Mmmmm.

Have you ever tried to make a paper rocket? What do you think?

More rockets

This project is shared with It’s Playtime, Running with Glitter