Family Visit to Tara Donovan

We had the great pleasure of visiting the Pace Gallery pop-up in Menlo Park, CA to see Tara Donovan: Untitled. If PACE sounds familiar to you, PACE is a well-established NYC gallery that represents work by artists such as Alexander Calder, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, Pablo Picasso, James Turrell, and Kiki Smith. In short, they’re not messing around.

While Silicon Valley is a hotbed for tech innovations, it’s not exactly a contemporary art scene, which I bemoan. But this show gives hope that this is about to change! Enter:

Tara Donovan…

tara donovan text

The gallery is housed in the former Tesla car showroom, and the make-shift space added an element of spectacle to the exhibition. My three-year old took this afternoon as a chance to practice her tour guide skills, and we were off!

Family Vist to Tara Donovan | TinkerLab

First up, these incredible orbs made from rolled mylar. One of the more striking things about Tara Donovan’s work is how she repurposes manmade objects into organic forms.

tara donovan mylar

Donovan’s sculptural installations were just the thing to help us practice perspective-taking.

We spent a lot of time looking at works of art up close and then far away. Because we had most of the galleries to ourselves, my kids took many opportunities to get up close and personal with the art.

Can you tell what this installation (below) is made of?

tara donovan pencils

How about with a closer look?

tara donovan pencils 2

While it doesn’t photograph as well as it looks in person, this piece (below) was spectacular. It was a wall of clear straws, layered one on top of the other. The straws were then formed into rounded waves that popped from the wall at different distances. Walking back and forth along the wall created implied movement in the piece, and it was mesmerizing.

tara donovan straws

My little one continued to tour us around…

tara donovan

And the guards, I almost forgot them! As you may know, I used to work in museums. The San Jose Museum of Art, where I last worked, had the most incredible guards who were all trained to be…friendly (gasp!) and talk with visitors about the art. I’m seeing more and more of this now, and was so impressed with the warmth of the PACE guards. They were lovely!

Can you tell what this next piece is made from? Take a good look!

Family Visit to Tara Donovan | TinkerLab

How about now? Isn’t that great?!

tara donovan nails

 Visit Tara Donovan

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, this show is worth a visit. It’s free, interesting for kids, and the art is beyond spectacular. More things you should know:

  • There’s a comprehensive reading area with catalogues from most (if not all) of the PACE artists represented.
  • May 22, 2014 – June 30, 2014
  • 300 El Camino Real.  Menlo Park CA 94025. 650-462-1368
  • Hours: Mon – Sat 1 – 9 pm
  • More about this show: Elusive Silicon Valley Buyers Come Out for an Arty Party 
  • If you’re on the East Coast, PACE is also showing Tara Donovan in their 25th street space through June 28, 2014

Hands-on Tara Donovan for Kids

Tara Donovan started working with materials such as toothpicks and buttons out of a need to make art on a very tight budget. She’s since become a master at using inexpensive, everyday materials to build organic forms. A few days after visiting the show I brought out some mini cupcake liners and white school glue, and we got busy upcycling these materials into new objects. So fun!

Turn cupcake liners into Art, inspired by Tara Donovan | TinkerLab

Turn cupcake liners into Art, inspired by Tara Donovan | TinkerLab

A question for you…

What was the last gallery or museum that you visited? Can you remember the last show that you were inspired by? This show takes the cake for me!


Art Tips: Recycle Boxes into Art Panels

Art Tips on Tinkerlab.comWe love art tips. Click here for more tips from this series.

This is a favorite tip for the economical folks in the room: recycle your cardboard boxes and turn them into art panels.

How did this all start? Well, we had a yard sale this past week. Can you hear my sigh of relief? I used to love having yard sales, but since having kids it’s always been easier to take our long-loved belongings directly to the thrift store. My kiddos have been eager to have a sale, however, so that’s what we did. And you know something? Not only did I survive, but we cleared out a walkable path in our garage and I also uncovered my trusty old-fashioned paper chopper that was previously covered with boxes and cushions.

Along with getting reacquainted with my old paper-cutting pal, I uncovered a bunch of cardboard boxes. And with that, I spent a jolly twenty minutes chopping those boxes up into panels that my kids and I can paint, collage, and otherwise attack with our art.

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

Cardboard boxes are wonderful for so many reasons. When I have them in the house they often get recycled as…cardboard boxes. I’ll use them again to ship things to friends and loved ones. But when I have a few piled up, I like to chop them into smaller pieces that we can later use as art panels.

Throw that box on the guillotine and create some incredibly enticing art substrates.

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

There are a few ways to cut cardboard into panels

  1. Cut the box with heavy duty scissors. Don’t cut yourself. Obvious, I know, but I did this the other day.
  2. Cut panels with a box cutter on a cutting mat
  3. The quickest way is most likely an art-grade chopper like this Guillotine Paper Trimmer.

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

And now we’re ready to use these as bases for painting, collage, gluing, etc. Here are some examples:

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

Two questions for you

How do you like to recycle or upcycle cardboard? What are your favorite art tips?

More Art Tips:

Clean up (and reuse) your paper scraps

Low-cost Stamps made from Cosmetic Wedges

Set up a “Bits and Pieces Box”

Tips on how to clean up after a creative session

Make a Milk Jug Shovel

I spotted a milk jug shovel online. Gasp! Given that I adore all things DIY, especially if they involve my recycling bin, I had to try this.

I dug and dug (pun intended…I love puns) for the original source of this spiffy idea, and nothing came up. So, as a public service to my amazing readers, I pulled this very simple tutorial together for you, with the help of my trusty 3-year old assistant.

Make a Milk Jug Shovel |

Thank you, little R!


  • Milk Jug
  • Sharpie (or other permanent marker)
  • Scissors

Make a Milk Jug Shovel |

Draw a shovel shape onto the milk jug with the permanent marker. Use the photo (above) as a basic guide.

Make a Milk Jug Shovel |

Cut along the marker lines (simple, right?) until the shovel comes out of the jug.

Make a Milk Jug Shovel |

Take the shovel outside for some digging fun.

Shovel Tips

  • As you might imagine, the shovel is somewhat flimsy, which makes it a better tool for dry sand. The shovel will have more trouble digging up soil and wet sand.
  • Following up on the last tip, this shovel is great for emergency digging but I wouldn’t recommend this in lieu of a regular shovel since it’s not super-sturdy. Like, if you’re on vacation at the beach and you forgot a shovel at home, you might want to visit a local coffee shop and ask them for a milk jug.
  • Although it’s not the greatest shovel in the world, making one of these is still a fun exercise and introduces children to recycling cast-off objects into something new.
  • Try making shovels from different kinds of plastic bottles. How will they vary from one another?

Make an Easy Milk Jug Shovel |

How to Felt a Wool Sweater

Have you ever wondered how to felt a wool sweater?

Today we’ll show you how how to felt a wool sweater and how to make felted wool flowers to use as pins or barrettes.

The inspiration for these instructions and post came from one of our favorite new books, This Book was a Tree by Marcie Cuff (Perigree, 2014). We reviewed the book here (and there are links to other reviews) in case you’d like to check it out!

How to Felt a Wool Sweater – Step 1

Collect your 100% wool sweaters. They should be 100% wool, and the thicker they are, the better. Alpaca is wool, and felts beautifully! I’m not sure if you can tell much about the weight of the sweaters from the image below, but the one on the right felted MUCH better than the other three, which were on the thinner side.

How to Felt Wool Sweaters |

How to Felt a Wool Sweater – Step 2

This step may be a little painful at first if you’re using a sweater that you kind of love.

Cut the Sweater at the seams. Cut off the necks, arms, and slice right up the side seams. Cut off the edges so that the sweater has a better chance at felting. The following pictures give you an idea of what you’re after.

Use sharp scissors. I LOVE my Gingher scissors. These were recommended to every costume design student at UCLA (and I won’t even tell you how many years ago I was there!). Suffice to say that these last FOREVER. These scissors are not cheap, but if you want really great sewing scissors that will last, these are the ones.

Anything with ribbing is probably destined for the scrap bin. You’ll notice a few squares of ribbed cuffs in the bottom of the stack of the last photo (below). I was hoping that these would felt nicely, but they were a mess.

How to Felt a Wool Sweater | TinkerLab

Toss your scraps. See those scraps in the bottom right hand corner (above)? Those get tossed. The ribbed cuff pieces should be tossed too.

Wash on HOT. Put all your sweater parts into a hot water wash with some detergent that will help agitate the fibers. Wash and then dry on hot. Marcie suggests doing this two times, so I washed and dried mine twice to maximize the felting.

Now you should have a mad pile of felted wool that you can turn into all sorts of wonderful things. Are you ready to make something now? Let’s get started with a felted flower!

Felt Wool Sweaters into a Felted Flower


  • Felted Wool Sweater Pieces
  • Strong/thick needle
  • Thread
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Hot or low-heat glue gun
  • Barette clips. We used alligator clips like these, but your favorite type of clip will be great.

How to Felt a Wool Sweater into a Flower | TinkerLab


  1. Gather Supplies
  2. Measure and cut a piece of felt to be the center of the flower, about 15 cm (5″) long x 4 cm (1 1/2″) wide. Marcie’s instructions of 15 cm long x 1.5 cm will make for a flatter flower.
  3. Roll the piece of felt up
  4. Secure the felt with needle and thread
  5. Cut another piece of felt, about 10 cm (4″) long x 5 cm wide (2″). Cut loops or zigzags at the top of this second strop to look like petals. Wrap this second piece of felt around the center piece. Secure with needle and thread.
  6. Cut another piece of felt, about 10 cm (4″) long x 5 cm wide (2″) and wrap it around the flower. Secure with needle and thread.
  7. Cut two 6 cm x 3 cm leaf shapes and stitch them to the bottom of the flower.
  8. Wrap a small piece of felt around the top part of a barrette and glue it in place with a glue gun (no photo – so sorry!). The idea here is to cover the shiny silver barrette with felt. Then, glue the flower to the felt that’s attached to the barrette. Voila!

How to an old wool sweater and turn it into flowers | TinkerLab

We made two felted flower barrettes, and now I have an enormous amount of felt just waiting for the next project. Any ideas for us?

More Felted Wool Sweater Projects

Felted Bird Ornaments

Felted Alpaca Purse

Recycled Wool Throw Pillows

Felted Wool Snowflake Pin

Felted Wool Blanket

Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience!


Recycled Art Sculpture | Mystery Box Challenge

Do you have a box of recyclables with a plan to turn them into art or something amazing? Today we’re sharing one of our favorite recycled art projects using found objects, inspired by this project at the Boston Children’s Museum. and the Random Challenge Boxes from Matt Jervis at Make it Creativity.

Recycled Art with Upcycled Materials

Recycled Art Sculpture |

I recently led a fun maker station for the California Museum Association’s (CAM) annual conference that we called the Mystery Box Challenge. While we often share child-led projects here on TinkerLab, the participants in this challenge were all all museum professionals. To see how my children interpreted the same prompt, click here. This project was inspired by the Art Studio at the Boston Children’s Museum.

Mystery Box Challenge

For the Mystery Box Challenge, I prepared a bunch of boxes by filling them with all sorts of interesting found objects and trinkets: pieces of wood, surplus plastic, cupcake holders, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, etc. Each participant received their own box with a prompt to make a critter from any or all of the supplies in the box.

I found the boxes at the craft store, some of the supplies came from RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching, a non-profit that sells low cost surplus materials for education), and others were found at the craft store and a local party store. We were also lucky to receive a generous donation of low heat glue guns and glue sticks from Blick Art Materials.  Thanks Blick!!

My colleague and art buddy Danielle and I set everything up, and then we waited for people to show up.

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge |

The table got busy and it was amazing to see the high level of focus from our incredible makers as they cut, glued, assembled, and invented their characters.

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge |

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge |

Once their critters were done, we invited everyone to have us take a photo of their inventive designs. Those who were on Instagram tagged their images with #tinkercritter. One of the best things about an open-ended prompt like this is to see how differently each person interprets the invitation and materials.

We were blown away by the creativity and ingenuity in the room!

Recycled Art Sculptures with Found Objects | Mystery Box Challenge |

Recycled Art Sculpture |

Margie, Director of Education and Public Programs, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Mary, Graduate Student, University of Washington

Tyrena, Camp Coordinator, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Recycled Art Sculpture |

Jamie, Mutual of America

Elizabeth, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Carl, Director of Education, Curiodyssey

Recycled Art Sculpture |

Maria, Museum Studies Student, San Francisco State

Elise, Long Beach Museum of Art

Dawn, Curator, Heidrick Agricultural History Center

Recycled Art Sculpture |

Conny, Graduate Student, San Francisco State

Kristine, Community Education Director, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Mandi, Exhibit Envoy

Invite us to your School or Event

Thanks to everyone who played with us in Napa at the CAM Conference. It was so nice to meet each of you. If you’d like to have us come out and lead this or another maker project at your school or event, shoot me an email at rachelle at

Buy a TinkerLab® Mystery Box

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