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 | TinkerLab.com

Thank you, little R!

Supplies

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

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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

Supplies

  • 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

Steps

  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 | Tinkerlab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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.com

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

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 | Tinkerlab.com

Jamie, Mutual of America

Elizabeth, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Carl, Director of Education, Curiodyssey

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

Maria, Museum Studies Student, San Francisco State

Elise, Long Beach Museum of Art

Dawn, Curator, Heidrick Agricultural History Center

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

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 tinkerlab.com

Buy a TinkerLab® Mystery Box

Click here to buy your own mystery box, a TinkerLab.com exclusive.

 

Boston Children’s Museum Pop-Up Recycle Shop

Boston Children's Museum Pop-Up Recycle Shop | Tinkerlab

We spent some time in Boston over the winter break, and had the great pleasure of happening upon the Boston Children’s Museum’s Pop Up Recycle Shop. The Recycle Shop has been a staple of the museum for over 35 years, and lucky us, they’ve brought it back just for the holidays.

If you find yourself in the Boston area in the next few days, it’s open through January 1, 2014, and totally worth a visit. Hours posted here.

We were lucky to meet the Alice Vogler who oversees the space, as she gave us a little tour and talked with my children about the various materials. Alice writes an outstanding recurring blog for the Children’s Museum website called Creative Confidence, and you should check it out if you like learning about how to raise creative children.

recycle pop up shop bags and room

The Pop-up Recycle Shop is located on the second floor, next to the Art Studio.  When you walk in, grab a bag and fill it with industry cast-offs that most kids see as treasures, full of potential for sculpture-building, art-making, and all sorts of inventions. My children each filled a big bag with shiny papers, tubes, and materials to make bird’s nests.

recycle pop up shop bags

According to the museum, “all of the materials are provided by Extras, a clearinghouse that recovers tons of material from being burned or thrown away and redistributes it for creative educational use.”

There’s a similar organization near our home, located in San Jose, CA called RAFT. I’ve been thinking about compiling a list off all of these reuse spaces — would you find this useful? If there’s a creative reuse organization near your home, will you add its name in the comments? [UPDATE: You can find a complete list of creative reuse centers here, courtesy of Lancaster Creative Reuse]

recycle pop up shop collecting

The space is only open for a few more days, but Alice mentioned that it’s been a huge success and will probably return again.

After filling a bag with goodies, move next door to the art studio, where you can make an upcycled character from wood scraps, felt, cups, and other found materials. I love how the simple act of adding googly eyes or eye stickers to an object brings it to life.

I’ll share a few photos as inspiration, because even if you’re not in the Boston area, these little figures are easy to replicate with found materials that you likely already have lying around the house.

recycle pop up shop characters2

recycle pop up shop stuff

recycle pop up shop characters

Happy Making!

Jellybean Matzo House

 This article was first shared in April 2011.

How to build a jellybean matzo house for Passover.

We had more than our fair share of Easter sweets this weekend, but I had a plan all along to purge our house of all that extra sugar by “gluing” it to some sort of base, like a paper plate, and calling it art.

As I talked to my almost three-year old about the idea, we mused over what we could glue our candy to. Something bigger than a cracker. Something flat. Something hard. Something we already had in our pantry.

And then it occurred to us — Matzo!

The irony of mixing Easter jellybeans with Passover matzo isn’t lost on me. As I laughed about this with my husband, we also realize that this is a fair representation of of our melting pot family. And I’m sure we’re not the only ones these ingredients on hand?!

What I especially love about this project, which looks oh-so-similar to the beloved gingerbread house, is the reminder that we can borrow ideas from other seasons. Here’s another seasonal mash-up from last summer: Easter in August.

How to build a matzo house

N started with some matzo and enjoyed breaking it into smithereens. She’s two, after all. Totally unusable for this project, but super fun.

If you’ve ever broken matzo with the intent of making neat little sandwich, you know that matzo has a mind of its own and can be completely unpredictable.

First, break your matzo…carefully

After accepting my fate that we would use uneven pieces, my husband messed around and came up with this strategy: Place the tip of a knife into the middle of the matzo, on the groove that you want to break…

And then press down.

It’s still a little wobbly, but it worked SO much better than my sad attempt at breaking them by hand.

I since found another strategy that sounds worthwhile: dip your finger in water and run it down the groove you intend to crack. It will soften the matzo just enough so that you can get a clean break.

Then we attached the pieces together with ornamental frosting, which dries hard. Our ornamental frosting was too runny for the job, but I’ll share the recipe below just in case you want it. Instead, I’d recommend the royal icing recipe that we used for our gingerbread houses.

Recipe for Royal Icing

Recommended

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

Ornamental Frosting

Used in the pictures of this article

  • 4 cups powdered sugar (one box)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 egg whites

Blend it together until smooth. If you’re not using the frosting right away, cover the top of your bowl with a damp towel to keep it moist.

We attached the “wall” pieces to a large matzoh base.

And then added jellybean decorations. That leaning wall is the result of one of my hand-breaking attempts. Sad. Looks like a foundation problem.

I finally conceded to the frosting-coated jellybean eating request. I can be tough!

We thought the white frosting made this was looking way to wintery, and not at all spring-like…

…so we colored our frosting green.

And then there was more…eating! It looked a bit like Roman ruins…

How to build a jellybean matzo house

So we added a roof. Voila! Jellybean Matzo House (with icicles) for Spring.

Resources

Do you have a good idea or tip for making candy houses?

This post was shared with Craft Schooling Sunday, Skip to my Lou, Sun Scholars

DIY Paper Pyramid Lanterns

I have such a heavy heart today, friends, because we lost one of the good ones in this world. My dear friend, Steve, who happens to be one of the funniest, wisest, and most generous people I know lost his long battle with cancer.

I wasn’t planning to post anything today, but the glow of these paper lanterns made me think about Steve’s shining light, and I thought I’d dedicate this post to him and his incredible wife, Jen.

Grab a few battery-operated tea lights, a favorite paper (in this case security envelopes!), scissors, and tape, and you're ready to make these simple DIY lanterns to illuminate a dark winter night.

These were inspired by the Paper Lanterns from Willowday, and if you change up the paper patterns (or maybe make your own), these could become party decorations, Halloween luminaries, or bedroom night lights.

If you you happen to make these lanterns (and why wouldn’t you — they’re rad!), I like to think that the glow might remind you that we’re each filled with enough light to brighten a friend’s darkest hour. Go on — spread some joy today. Life is truly short and we each have the capacity to touch the lives of others.

So let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need…

How to Make Paper Lanterns

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Hole Puncher
  • Clear Tape
  • Ruler
  • Battery-operated votive candle
Because I drew my triangle free-hand, and you shouldn’t have to go through all that trial and error, here’s an equilateral triangle for your printing delight:
equilateral triangle
If you know me, you know that I like to get my kids involved in hands-on learning, and this is a good way to teach children how to carefully outline shapes, which in turn teaches patience and accuracy.

make a paper lantern

Step 1: Draw an equilateral triangle (or scale and print it) and cut it out.

Make paper lantern

Step 2: Trace it onto a sheet of paper FOUR times.

We drew ours onto a security envelope because we like to upcycle around here. And I’m super crazy about the patterns on these.

how to make paper lanterns

Step 3: Cut the whole shape out.

Step 4: Tape it together and punch holes into the sides if you’d like.

Step 5: Add a battery-powered tea light (not a real candle, please, safety first) and decorate like mad.

how to make paper lanterns

I love you, Steve and Jen. You’ll always be in my thoughts.

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Celery Science Experiment

How to set up a simple Scientific Experiment with Celery and Food Coloring :: Tinkerlab.comWhile I’m an art educator by trade, having small people pulling at my pants has turned me into a mini-alchemist who’s suddenly found herself reading books to her kids about Galileo (The Magic Schoolbus and the Science Fair Expedition) and brewing all sorts of concoctions in our kitchen (vinegar and baking soda, anyone?).

The celery science experiment is easy to achieve with basic kitchen materials and it’s embedded with all sorts of opportunities for introducing the scientific method (in short: asking scientific questions, making predictions, and conducting an experiment).

 

science food coloring celery experiment

Materials

  • Celery with leafy tops
  • Clear glasses
  • Water
  • Food coloring

The Celery Science Experiment

N poured water into three glasses. about 3/4 cup in each.

Then she added a few drops of food coloring — 5-8 drops, but who’s counting! — into the glasses and stirred with a piece of celery, which was left in the glass. And then we talked about what might happen if we left the celery in the colored water for a while.

science food coloring celery experiment

We oohed and ahhed over the lava-lamp effect of the food coloring as it hit the water.

The Scientific Method: Make Predictions

We started off with red, yellow, and green, but N really wanted to mix colors and added blue and red to the green water (far right). We revisited our earlier discussion and made predictions about how the celery might change.

While waiting for something to happen, I chopped the celery heart off the bottom of the stalk and set up a printing activity.

N humored me by making a few prints and then asked if she could play with colored water. Totally!

While I only have one photo of this, it was probably the highlight of the afternoon.

capillary action

When we checked the celery a couple hours later, this is what it looked like. I put a leafy top next to it so you can see how subtle the change is. Hmmm. While I could see the change, I wasn’t sure it would make a big impact on my daughter. And then I realized that I should have just put the leafy parts in the water for a more dramatic result. Done!

A few hours later the blue/green had the most pronounced shift, but the red and yellow were visibly different too.

capillary action

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the red and blue-green died celery tops, about 16 hours after the stalks had been sitting in the water. N seemed to appreciate the difference, but wasn’t nearly as impressed as her dad and I were.

How the Celery Science Experiment Works

Plants need water to survive and they draw water up from their roots through their capillaries. The capillaries are hollow and act a lot like a straw. Adding color to the water helps us visualize this usually invisible process.

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