Cork Sculpture

cork sculpture

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a thing for repurposing found materials. Neither of my parents were mad upcyclers, but I think I can trace this passion to an after-school class that was led by a parent-artist. This mom was (still is) AWESOME! — she died her hair, plastered her house (walls, ceilings, etc) with sequin-studded art, and encouraged us to create imaginary worlds from whatever we had on hand. Obviously I had an affinity for this sort of thing because all of my friends didn’t turn into artists like me, but this exposure helped me see the world through a lens that made things a whole lot clearer. (So thank you, Ingrid!).

Fast forward way too many years…I’m still making art with random bits and bobs — it just comes naturally to me, but it’s also a way of living. Art materials don’t have to be purchased in the store — they’re all around us. And now I’m in a position to inspire my own children as Ingrid inspired me.

Exposure is everything.

I like to offer my 3-year old, N, materials as a provocation: I’ll put a few bowls of things out and see what she comes up with and on this occasion it was: CORKS! My daughter developed her idea for this sculpture from a box of corks, bag of buttons, a few small dowels, piece of laminate, and a hot glue gun, but it could have gone in a million directions.

She built the tower as high as she wanted, and then added the buttons and dowels. To assemble it, I manned the low heat glue gun while she directed me on where to put the glue. She was in control, but I got to keep everyone’s fingers burn-free.

Baby sister was right there with us, captivated by and grabbing for all the little pieces that were potentially hazardous to her health. Who knows, maybe she’ll become a busy upcycler one day too!

If you like to create, tinker, or make art, can you trace the root of your passion back to an inspiring person or event? And do you see yourself as the source of inspiration for someone else?

This project is shared with It’s Playtime

Old Slides into Sculpture

slide house

I was excited to find a bounty of blank slides when we visited SCRAP (San Francisco’s answer to a re-use center for artists and educators) a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what we’d do with them, but it didn’t matter because resourceful children always know just what these sorts of things are for.

My 3 year old colored some of the slides with Sharpies and then taped them together to build a house. I try to keep our clear tape dispenser stocked to support spur-of-the-moment inspiration like this. N needed a little help holding the roof on while she taped the sides together, and I also helped her press all the tape down so it wouldn’t fall apart.

We also picked up a few pieces of wood at SCRAP, which formed the base for these “airplanes.” N colored the windows with Elmer’s Painters Markers and left one unpainted “so that the pilot could see the way.”

If your kids have made things with slides, I’d love to hear about it!

 

Seven Ways to Upcycle Paper into Flowers

We’re flooded with flowers this time of year, but soon enough we’ll have to make our own flowers to brighten up the dark corners of our wintery homes. These would make great DIY hostess or teacher appreciation gifts. I wandered around some of my favorite sites and found a little sampling of some easy and charming recycled paper flowers — these can all be made with materials that you most likely have around the house.

Coffee Filter Flowers, TinkerLab

If you do a search for coffee filter flowers, this is the TinkerLab post you’ll land on. These are made with watercolors and chenille stems.

Coffee Filter Peonies, Aunt Peaches via Design Sponge

These beauties are made with water-based paint, green tape, and ordinary straws.

Flowering Lampshade for a Flamingo, Aunt Peaches

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Take those coffee filter flowers that you learned how to make in the Design Sponge post and attach them to an old lampshade with hot glue.

Paper Napkin Wall Flowers, Dana Made It

Made from Paper Napkins (it looks like the IKEA brand), these are stronger than flowers made from tissue paper. And they’re big enough to make a dramatic statement on a wall. I’d love to try painting these like we did the coffee filters.

Pop-up Magazine Flower, Pink Paper Peppermints

This one is so cool! Cut out a bunch of flowers and then glue them together in a unique way that makes them pop up. It makes me realize that I need to start subscribing to more colorful magazines!

Recycled Paper Flowers, How About Orange

Made from any ol’ paper you have in the house: magazines, books, wrapping paper…They don’t require any glue or tape, and the tutorial even includes a free downloadable PDF with the flower shape.

Cupcake Liner Flowers, Martha Stewart

Would this list even be complete without mentioning Martha Stewart? The picture by itself is a great tutorial.

If you have a favorite recycled paper flower post, please share a link…the more ideas the merrier!

A Little Business + Make a Name Badge

make a name badge

I have a few new things to share today before jumping into our project.

First of all, I’ve received lots of questions about where I get our materials, so I added a tab up in the navigation bar called Supplies that you can click on. As I discover new things or think of other materials that we like to use, I’ll add them to this page. If you have any favorite materials, please feel free to share them. I love to learn about new things.

Second, I’m excited to share that TinkerLab is nominated for the “Best Craft for Kids Blog” at Parents Magazine. If you think this is a valuable resource, please click here and give us your vote! You have to register, which I know is a pain, but I’d be so grateful for your support.

And finally, do you know about the new TinkerLab Forum? It’s been up for a couple weeks and it’s a great place to ask your creativity-related questions or share your expertise on everything from how to use art materials to tips on visiting art museums with small children. There are over thirty topics up on the forum right now and the growing community has been quick to share their expertise. I also try to repost big questions on the TinkerLab Facebook Page when I think the Facebook community can help shed light on a question or idea. Please pop over and check it out.

And now, making a name badge…

When I spotted clips like thesein the office supply store I was sure we’d find a use for them. Within a week, my daughter found them, discovered their purpose, and decided that her dad needed a name badge so that his co-workers would know his name. My husband doesn’t normally wear a name badge at work, so clearly this would help! N doesn’t write yet, so she asked me to write her dad’s on a piece of paper. She decorated it, tried it on for size, and then sent him out the door with his new name badge.

This wasn’t a complex project, but it gave my daughter confidence in manifesting her own ideas and connected her to real world solutions. Plus, my husband went to work decorated in polka dots.

Styrofoam Prints and Baby “Painting”

DSC_0486

Printmaking is one of my passions, so we invariably make a lot of prints in my house. I was about to recycle a styrofoam tray (I think it was from a pack of corn) when N asked if we could print with it. Why yes, we can! We’ve printed with these before (Abstract Recycled Prints) and the technique is the same except this time we printed the pattern found on the tray instead of creating our own design.

I like this project because it’s inexpensive, helps children look to their surrounding for inspiration, and utilizes the pattern found in the tray.

We cut the tray into a flat piece.

My daughter squeezed tempera paint onto a cookie sheet, rolled it with a brayer, and then rolled it onto the styrofoam tray. She chose a red + white paint combo.

N moved the tray (or “plate”) onto a clean sheet of paper, covered it with another piece of paper, and then pressed it to transfer the paint.

Checking the print. Yay — it looks good.

Carefully peeling the print off the plate.

Meanwhile, Baby R, who now stands and walks along the furniture (i.e. cannot be contained with a happy basket of blocks) was desperate to join the fun and made a nuisance of herself, grabbing papers and reaching for paint . While she made the printing difficult, we wanted her to join us and came up with this alternative:

Baby Painting!

I scooped some yogurt onto her highchair tray and added a few drops of red food coloring to match our paint color. (The food coloring, India Tree Liquid Natural Decorating Colors, is made from plants and completely natural. I love that I can feel safe giving this to my kids).

While N continued to pull prints (without the distraction of baby sister grabbing her papers), R happily stirred her paint and ate away.

Prints, and most art projects for that matter, often get turned into other projects. N decided this one should be glued to a card.

And Baby R continued to enjoy the activity until is was gone.

Have you tried printmaking, and have you “painted” with yogurt?

This post is shared with It’s Playtime.

How to Build an Easy DIY Light Table

easy DIY light table

Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comAfter seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.

I had a few rules:  No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this. 

Supplies

  • Acrylic box frame or storage container– Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
  • Large Plastic Storage Container like this one or this one. 
  • String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Wax paper
  • Two 26 oz. containers of salt
  • Toys and gadgets to create textures

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

How to build your DIY light table

1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container

My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that  you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this. 

Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.

Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?

2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container

When not in use as a light table, we use our containers all the time  for messy sensory projects like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda.

 

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.

3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.

4. Pour salt into the top container.

Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.

My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.

If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Play with your DIY Light Table!

We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comPressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Kid-tested DIY Light Table

As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.

So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.

And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.

Light Table Success

Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:

What do you think? Are you ready to make a light table too?

This post is shared with It’s Playtime, Teach Preschool

Permanent Markers on Cellophane

cellophane on window

We received these amazing permanent markers (Project Popperz), courtesy of Elmer’s, and I’ve been dreaming up ways to use them. This is actually almost as simple as it gets, and N got a huge kick out of “drawing on the table.”

Materials

  • Permanent Markers
  • Cellophane (I used Cling Wrap)

I covered her art table with cellophane, being sure to overlap the edges by a few inches so the marker wouldn’t poke through the cracks and onto the table. I could have done a neater job laying the Cling Wrap flat on the table to avoid all those bumps that acted like little roadblocks toward the markers. But, it still worked.

Then we opened the markers and started drawing!
We used every color and scribbled away until we decided to switch seats.
N added more marks and then we were ready to hang it.
I simply peeled it off the table and placed it right on the window. No tape necessary! I bet you could also put the cellophane right on the window/s before drawing to give your child the opportunity to draw on the windows. That would be fun! But be sure those window are well-covered first!

I love projects that are easy, use household materials, and change the way we think about art-making. A+ in my book!

Painting on Ice Cream

painting ice cream

If you live in the U.S., there’s a good chance that you’re in the middle of a terrible heat wave. While I can’t make it cooler (sorry about that), I’d like to offer up this cool lesson in color mixing…and it all happens right on top of a chilly scoop of ice cream, sure to help you forget the heat for at least 5 minutes.

Tools

  • Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Food Coloring. Because I like to keep it natural, my new favorite food coloring is India Tree Liquid Natural Decorating Colors. They’re pricier than supermarket food coloring, but they last a long time, the colors are wonderful, and you’ll feel good about feeding your family with natural coloring.
  • Bowls
  • Ice Cream Scooper (optional)
  • Assorted sprinkles and syrup (optional)

Drop food coloring directly onto the ice cream.
Blend it around in whatever way you like.
After you marvel at the rainbow colors on your ice cream, pour on the jimmies, rainbow sprinkles. colored sugar or syrup. Yummy and cool.

Enjoy!

Mini Paintings

mini watercolor paintings

Do you recognize these materials?

I’m big on repurposing found objects into art, so when I found a plastic slide sheet from my pre-digital days I couldn’t bear to throw it out before giving it the ol’ arts and crafts makeover. If you’re not familiar with these, they’re essentially sheet protectors for slides. I showed the sheet to N with the suggestion that we fill it with mini paintings. She liked the idea, and got busy collecting markers while I chopped watercolor paper up into little squares.

Materials

  • Watercolor paper, cut into small squares
  • Markers or mark-making tool/s
  • Liquid Watercolor Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Covered Work Area

N wanted to color each of the squares with red marker. Cool!

She started off slow but steady, and I think when she realized just how many squared were ahead of her, her momentum picked up and the drawings became quite sketchy.

A full tray of watercolors was left over from another project, and while there was a rainbow of color to play with, she stuck to violet. She had a plan!

I was amazed by her diligence, and thought she’d certainly make it to the end. But with two squares to go, she called it quits and asked me to help her finish. I’m partial to keeping my hands out of children’s art, but N often begs me to collaborate with her so I helped her complete the project.

+++++

I encourage you to look around your home for objects that could be repurposed into art. My heart melts when I hear N say, “Let’s turn this into art!” And this happens often! While store-bought art supplies certainly have their place, sourcing materials from the environment is a wonderful lesson in recycling, resourcefulness, and creative thinking.

Happy Hunting!

Fine Tuning the Mud Pie Kitchen

mud pie kitchen

In case you’re one of the few who doesn’t read my blog religiously (gasp!), we’ve been building a mud pie kitchen in our yard. It began in part as a way to lure my child into our yard, but its popularity with our resident 3-year old has organically turned this into one of our summer’s bigger projects. And the biggest surprise is that it’s been almost entirely child-driven.

About a month ago we started with this. A couple crates, some sand toys, and lots of big ideas. Two weeks later the kitchen was still going strong, so we piled into the car to drive to the Goodwill to search for mud kitchen treasures. 

This is how it looked after our thrift store trip. But did you know that my daughter likes things in their places? I was aware that the hodge-podge pile of dishes and scoopers might eventually keep her away from the outdoor kitchen, so I pulled out a jar of nails for us to hammer in “hooks” for our pots and utensils.

What I didn’t anticipate is N’s interest in hammering the nails in HERSELF! But I should have. This child has three (3!!) wooden hammers and couldn’t scramble into the house fast enough to get one.

She hammered in a few nails, but really enjoyed directing me to hammer nails in specific places.

N’s friend came over and the two of them were so industrious in this new space. It was actually very difficult to turn off the caramel-maker and break up the party at closing time!

And now I think we’re done! I love the order that the hanging utensils brings to the kitchen.

Baby Food Candle Jars

cutting paper

Despite putting my best foot forward toward making my own baby food, I’ve still succumbed to buying jars of smashed peas and pureed peaches for handy food on-the-go. While all of our jars get recycled, it’s hard to ignore the quantity of glass or the art-making potential in these adorable little vessels. I allowed about ten of them to pile up before this project hit me. Not only do I like how they turned out, but it’s also one of those crafts that’s child-driven. And if you know me, you know that I like my art projects to be open-ended. If you also have a stack of these cuties in your dish rack begging to be repurposed, you might also want to scroll through the links at the end of this post for more ideas.

Materials

  • Baby Food Jars with the labels removed
  • Tissue Paper
  • Mod Podge
  • Paint Brush
  • Scissors
  • Glitter (optional)

Cut the tissue paper up into pieces. I cut a bunch of these ahead of time since I wasn’t sure how invested N would be in this step. But of course, she loves cutting, and we had a bounty of tissue paper pieces in no time at all!

I limited the palette to pink, light blue, and white with a red pattern (saved from an Anthropologie gift…lucky me!), and recommend this as a unifying strategy if you’re going for something seasonal or to match your couch.

I poured some Mod Podge into one of the jars and N mixed in some glitter for an extra-sparkly effect. If you’ve never used Mod Podge, it’s similar to white glue and does an amazing job at both gluing and sealing. Mod Podge Rocks is a fabulous blog that’s brimming with Mod Podge ideas.

We placed the tissue papers into clear containers for easy spotting. With a brush, my daughter painted glue on the outside of the jars and covered them with tissue paper of her choice. I didn’t want to miss out on the fun and made a few, too!

I was impressed when she came up with the stumpy-hand technique for covering the jars mess-free!

To seal them well, I gave each jar a goodly overall layer of Mod Podge before turning them upside down for drying.

We’ve been decorating our summer table with them, but given the palette, wouldn’t these be sweet decorations for a baby shower? Looking for Mod Podge? You can buy it here!

So, I know I’m not the only one trying to come up with baby food jar ideas. Tell me, please, what you’ve done with baby food jars!!

More Baby Food Jar Crafts from around the web

Fabric Tea Light Baby Food Jars from Prudent Baby

Tons of Ideas for re-purposing baby food jars from Making Friends

Gluing knick-knacks to baby food jars from The Mother Huddle

12 Ways to Re-Use Baby Food Jars from Chasing Green

Personalized Tea Light Holders from Radical Crafts

 

Face Collage for Scribblers

DSC_0367

When I was an art teacher, the youngest age group I worked with was Kindergarten so I rarely had the chance to witness a child’s transition from scribbling to representational drawing. My three year old daughter is at the precipice of representational drawing and it’s an exciting place to be, but she can get frustrated that she can’t create what she imagines (which is often!) and frequently asks me to draw things for her. This can be tricky because it goes against my belief that children should find their own way with visual representation and I’m often reluctant to draw things for her.

This project was born from a need to manifest her vision while also matching her abilities, and would be appropriate for children on the verge of creating representational drawings as well as those who draw realistically. Links to information about stages of artistic development at the end of this post.

I cut circles, rectangles, half circles, and some organic shapes from colorful recycled pantry boxes and spread them out on the table for my daughter to choose from. N chose a light blue oval for the face shape (also pre-cut), glued it to a 9 x 12 sheet of paper, and selected pieces to represent the parts of the face.

Facilitating and Asking Questions

I acted as a facilitator and if she seemed stumped I would ask questions such as, “What part of the face is next to the eyes?” “Ears? Okay, can you find a shape that could be an ear?”

I tried not to guide her decision-making and made room for her to adhere the pieces in the way she envisioned it, even if I didn’t think it was “accurate.”

She added the eyes (on top), nose, ears, orange cheeks, a mouth, and an aluminum foil philtrum (the area between the mouth and nose!). Did you know it’s called a philtrum? I didn’t!! I thought she was adding a mustache on top, but she explained that it was just a ribbon! Always ask before making assumptions!

She wanted to make curl the ribbon into a circle and I helped her glue it together. I enjoyed watching her vacillate between reality and imagination in one sitting.

When she finished the first picture she moved on to the next one (after a costume change, of course!), and this time it was all about the imagination — no faces involved!

Resources

  • For more on the developmental stages of children’s drawings, Viktor Lowenfeld is the last word on this topic and you’ll learn a lot about it here.
  • For even more from Viktor Lowenfeld, you could read this seminal book from him: Creative and Mental Growth. I just bought a used copy for myself for just $7!

How did your children make the transition from scribbles to representational drawing?