OK Go’s The Writing’s on the Wall and Optical Illusions

Have you seen the new OK Go video, The Writing’s On the Wall? Holy Smokes, people — if MC Escher were alive today, this is the sort of thing he would have come up with.

OK Go's super amazing music video, The Writing's on the Wall, and the art of Optical Illusions. The post includes some DIY optical illusion activities to try after watching the video  - TinkerLab

All of OK Go’s videos are impossibly imaginative, and they somehow seemed to have trumped their best work. See for yourself…

From what I’ve read, they created this in just one take! Seriously. Of course there were lots of takes that didn’t work out (50 takes preceded this one). This behind-the-scenes Mashable interview with OK Go talks a little bit about that and shares some cool insights on how it all came together:

Of course my heart flutters for geeky art + science madness like this, but I also really like the song. For more, this Rolling Stone article is worth checking out.

One of my favorite things about optical illusions like this is the seamless blend of art and science. Optical illusions wouldn’t exist without the physics of science and the creativity of art. When I watch this video, I also think of the the shadow work of Tim Noble and Sue Webster. This is Colossal reviewed the video and they cite influences such as the large-scale perspective-skewing installations of Bernard Pras, geometric projections of Felice Varini, and the photographic trick-of-the-eye masterpieces by Bela Borsodi. If you like this stuff, you’ll want to check out this links.

Talk about the Video with Kids

Whenever I see cool things like this, I often consider how I could introduce this to my kids. So, here’s a fun project for you: Watch this video with your child and then talk about what you saw. Or, try this with a friend or on your own. Optical illusions are for everyone, after all.

Some guiding questions:

  1. Which of the optical illusions surprised you? Why?
  2. Which illusion did you like the best? Why?
  3. Which illusion is still puzzling you? At this point, you can go back to the video and watch that part to try to figure it out.
  4. What other questions could you ask?

Following this discussion, make some of your own optical illusions. Some ideas follow:

Optical Illusion Activities

  • Check out these classic optical illusions via Optics for Kids, and figure out how they work.
  • Make a fish-in-a-tank optical illusion from Science Sparks
  • Try this fun bending finger trick. The short and fun video shows you how. From Julian’s Magician School, via YouTube
  • Draw your own hand in 3-D using just a pencil, paper, and markers. This video from Handimania is great!
  • Try to set up your own photographic trick-of-the-eye like Bela Borsodi’s (the video on this page is so worth watching — just to see what’s possible)
  • What else could you do? Let us know in a comment!

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!


Doily and Watercolor Art for Preschoolers

This simple doily and watercolor art for preschoolers uses basic art materials and encourages children to explore the medium of watercolors through process-based creating.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art for Preschoolers | Tinkerlab

This project, like so many others that you’ll find on TinkerLab, is process-based. It’s set up as a Creative Invitation, meaning that the materials are laid out in an inviting way, and then the child is invited to interpret and use them however he or she likes. With creative invitations like this, I’ll sometimes give my kids a little prompt, but usually I sit back and see what they come up with…and I’m often surprised by their ingenuity.

Around here, these creative set-ups are part of the Creative Table series, and you can find more of these ideas here.

Supplies: Watercolor Art for Preschoolers

Note: I’ve included Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

The Creative Table Set-up

Line a tray with paper: Set up a big tray, and line it with paper. We have big sheets of 18″ x 24″ paper that I cut to fit. You could also use butcher paper, a brown paper bag, or smaller papers that are taped together. This step isn’t mandatory, but it’s helpful to have a absorbent trough to catch all the extra liquid.

Squeeze liquid watercolors into an ice cube tray. We have a mini tray that’s reserved for just this purpose. I often add a little bit of water to the watercolors to extend the life of our paints just a bit.

Doilies and paintbrush. Set up some doilies and a paintbrush and/or pipette nearby.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

My three-year old enjoys the challenge of pulling doilies apart. Oh, and she’s also wearing an apron and has rolled-up sleeves. Both recommended for this potentially messy project.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

Here’s the pipette in action. Pipette’s are fun for little kids, and a good challenge as they figure out how to squeeze the paint up, and then squeeze it out again.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

We set up another tray nearby to absorb our drying, colorful doilies. Once she made a small handful of these, my daughter thought it would be fun to dip clean doilies in the pool of murky paint. What a fun experiment!! It’s moments like this that make this a Creative Table!

soaking doily

She loved seeing the paper soak the paint right up. Once we had a healthy collection of doilies, my kids remembered that we recently picked up laundry hanger at the dollar store. So we carried our trays full of doilies outside where we hung them to dry in a tree.

They’re still there, actually, decorating the neighborhood.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

And here’s a bit of the aftermath. I love before and after photos!

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

If you enjoyed this activity, be sure to check out our new book, TinkerLab: A Handbook for Little Inventors (June 2014, Roost). You might also enjoy these creative invitations:

Creative Table Highlights via Instagram

Creative Table: Tape and Paper Bags

Creative Table: Paint and Looping Lines

Creative Table: Doilies and Scissors

Creative Table: Leaves and Glue

Creative Table: Stickers and Frames

Found Object Art | Junk Critters

I’m a huge fan of breathing new life into long-lost materials, and I’ve been making found object art pieces like these since I was a kid.

Last weekend my friend, Danielle, and were in Napa to lead a fun, fast-paced Maker Session at the California Association of Museums annual conference.

For our workshop we brought these cool hands-on mystery boxes that my kids oohed and ahhhed over before I headed off to play in wine country.

Tinkering Kits

The tinkering kits carried similar materials, but the nature of collecting found objects meant that each maker box was unique. I’ll share images from the workshop with a close-up on how adults interpreted these materials shortly, but I thought you might be interested in seeing what kids made of these.

My kids were my prototype testers, after all.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Collect your junk supplies

Before the boxes were even filled, we experimented with some basic materials like ribbon, wood scraps, fabric swatches, paper baking cups, markers, and plastic party beads.

You’ll need:

  1. Junk
  2. Something to cut the junk (scissors)
  3. Something to attach the junk (glue gun – Amazon link to our favorite one)

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Invest in a low-heat glue gun

There are always people who gasp when they see kids handling hot glue guns (maybe that was you…no worries) and I’m here to tell you that kids are capable of using glue guns.

Here are a few glue gun tips for kids:

  • Use a low-heat glue gun like the Cool Shot (Amazon link). I’ve been using this model for years, and it’s fabulous. If you spend more than a few seconds touching the tip you could theoretically burn yourself, but I have yet to see this happen.
  • Explain the glue gun rules to your child ahead of time: don’t touch the tip, try not to touch the hot glue with your bare hands

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Add some eyes

My 3-year old worked on this one. She added goggly eyes to make it come alive, but of course you could draw eyes on or cut eyes from paper. Googly eyes are an awesome invention, and truly animate anything they’re stuck to. We have a pair on our stapler, and “he” looks like a little alligator.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

We foraged the recycling bin for more objects and had some fun with building blocks and pom-poms: all stuck on with the miraculous glue gun.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Share your found object art critters

When you’re all done creating, put your critters on display, play with them, take photos of them, carry them on a walk and take photos of them in different places. The options are endless. More sharing ideas:

Share on Facebook

And if you’re really brave, snap a photo and share it with me on my Facebook page!


When I was at the conference we asked participants to take a photo of their critter and tag it with #tinkercritter. Here’s on example. I love it! Go check out their critters and upload your own to Instagram. Don’t forget to tag it with #tinkercritter!

More Found Object Art

This cool Pinterest board from Mary Briden

Louise Nevelson painted on assemblages made from wood scraps in the 1950’s.

Joseph Cornell made these gorgeous diorama boxes that were filled with all sorts of curious ephemera.

Sister Corita Kent | Art Department Rules

Corita Kent

I was grew up in Los Angeles, not too far from what was once Immaculate Heart College (IHC). Perhaps one of the biggest legacies of IHC is Sister Mary Corita, better known to many as Corita Kent, artist-activist and chairperson of the IHC art department from 1951-1968.

Do you know about Corita Kent? In her own art, she was primarily a printmaker who used film, calligraphy, folk art, and advertising to help her students think creatively and make the world a better place through art.

Her Art

corita kent art

To give you a little context on Corita’s aesthetic, you may be most familiar with her 1985 “LOVE” postage stamp, or if you live in the Boston area you’ve undoubtedly spotted this colorful water tank

Her Writing

learning by heart corita kentI was first introduced to Corita by a friend of mine who directs the Corita Kent Art Center, located at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. Sasha suggested that I pick up a copy of Kent’s book, Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

At the time, the book was out of print and the almost impossible-to-find copies could be had for $50 and up. Gasp! Thankfully, I forked out the cash and my life was forever changed.

The book is full of ideas for new artists, artists who could use a little kick in the creative pants, and especially art students. I found my copy just before heading off to graduate school, and still enjoy flipping through it for nuggets of inspiration to this day. I would also recommend this book to any parent with a pre-teen or teenager who’s eager to soak up fresh ways to use art as a form of intervention or social justice.

Corita Kent Classroom

Thankfully, the book is back in print again, and can be had for far less than what I paid (lucky you!). You can find a copy over here on Amazon.

And if that’s not enough, Corita Kent wrote up this list of Art Department Rules that is so fabulous, I know you’ll want to save it to your desktop, just like I have. Or pin it. Or tape it to your fridge. I just love it.


A Question For You…

If you could pick just one of these rules to remember, which one would it be?


note: this post contains affiliate links