My husband works at a university and the collector in me was overjoyed to discover that there’s a little-known department on campus that sells surplus property from departments that no longer need old projectors, desks, and reams of paper.
I wandered into the dusty space about a year ago and walked out with something everyone needs: an overhead projector for just $5. Right, you have one, don’t you? And then it moved to my garage where it continued to collect dust for another year.
Well, I finally pulled it out and it turned out to be a perfect rainy day art project.
My daughter had never seen one of these before, so we started off with an open-ended game in object-based looking that I learned in graduate school. The idea behind the game is to unpack the qualities of a mysterious object based solely on what you can see. No other information is shared, and the process of discovery can build a great deal of enthusiasm around an experience.
I didn’t tell N what we were looking at. Rather, I put the projector in a place where she could easily see it from multiple points of view and then our conversation sounded something like this:
“What do you see?”
A box with a long, tall pole and a plug. It’s dusty. You missed a spot.
“Got it. Okay, how do you suppose it might work?”
I don’t know. Maybe you plug it in. And I see these knobs, so they probably turn. If I turn this one, this piece moves up the pole. There are some buttons, so you can turn it on and off.
“If we plug it in, what do you think it might do?”
I think it makes noise. A loud noise, like a blender. Brrrrrrrrr.
“Hmmm. Maybe it does make a noise. We’ll find out in a moment. If you open this flap, what do you see?”
A light. Let’s plug it in!
I plugged it in, flipped open the light, and spread out a collection of tangram pieces to play with. N had fun adjusting the height of the light and then made various arrangements of shapes, both abstract and realistic.
I have a huge collection of transparent tangram tiles that I picked up at Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), but if you click on this link it’ll take you to Amazon where you can order these shipped straight to your home.
I pulled the curtains in the room shut, and the overhead projector’s bulb did a great job illuminating the wall. The walls in this room are painted dark grey, so I taped two sheets of 18″ x 24″ paper from Discount School Supply to the wall, and it made for a perfect screen.
We talked about how the projector reverses images, so you won’t see a mirror image of what exists on the glass plate.
This art project was wonderful in so many ways. The dim lights in the room were calming and helped focus my child’s big afternoon energy like a cup of tea can focus mine. It was fun to play with something new, and we both enjoyed exploring the mechanics of this archaic tool from Stanford’s past. As an artform, working with the tangram shapes was like painting with light and color, while making compositional choices.
In case you’re interested in finding your own overhead projector, I did a quick Craigslist search and see them posted in the $25-$80 price range, but I bet a little searching could find you something for less money. And if you happen to be in my real-life friend circle, you’re more than welcome to borrow mine for a while, which is better than having it collect dust in my garage.
I’m thinking our next overhead projector project might be making our own transparencies. Any other ideas?
Do you have an overhead projector, light table, or some other type of projector (either of your own or at your disposal)? What could you try this with?