Tag Archives: children

Gum Art

Of course this is all Jason Kronenwald’s fault, an artist who uses gum as his medium of choice. He had a show in Toronto a few years ago, exhibiting his series of Gum Blonde portraits of famous blonde starlets. The idea seemed unique and impressive at the time. So much so that I gathered my kids, drove to the nearest Walmart, and bought a crap load of gum for all of us. For a brief moment, I was the coolest mother on the planet. For the sake of art, I was asking my children to chew gum, as much as they wanted, with or without sugar, as long as we had a decent palette to work with. Then the ick factor set in. It’s one thing to chew the stuff, it’s quite another to store saliva laden globs of gum for weeks on end. We became so grossed out by the process, we gave up and joyfully tossed our chewed bits away. Upon reflection and sad to have been defeated by a bit of saliva, I realized scale was the problem. This guy’s work is done on huge pieces of plywood which inspired us to aim big as well, instead of doing the opposite. So this project aims small. Miniature canvasses are used, which means commitment to chewing and storing is shorter, and the ickiness becomes acceptable. Plus it was fun.

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And so begins the month-long journey towards the most splendid holiday of the year. You’ll find shrunken apple heads perfect for turning your home into a Halloween house of horrors, and a big hit with kids. Although I don’t remember making them as a child, I certainly recall coming across the real thing in National Geographic, which routinely featured stories about indigenous peoples and their curious practice of decapitating enemies and collecting their heads as trophies. I propose we begin the festivities with a little headshrinking of our own. This sort of thing takes time, so lets get started.

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Self Portraits With A Twist

The illustrator and cartoonist Michael Mathias Prechtl made this poster for the G. Schirmer music store in New York, back in 1974. When I recently saw it in an old graphic design book, I realized it was time to spice up the traditional self portrait. If Beethoven could have his head exploding with women and music, children could also have things they enjoy tumbling out of their head. Imagine the possibilities.

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Making Mistakes

Detail from The Son of Man by René Magritte. Image:http://bertc.com/g9/magritte16.htm

Maybe Magritte just couldn’t get the nose right and gave up. In the world of arts and crafts, mistakes will happen. Some will be beyond repair and require moving on (sniff, sniff), like incorrect folds in your origami paper. Learn from your error, grab another sheet and start again. Other mistakes can be fixed with problem solving and patience. And sometimes you can build on your mistakes, which can lead to wonderful, unexpected outcomes. A willingness to explore and make mistakes can also teach you a tremendous amount about art supplies and materials; about the best ways to use them and unexpected ways of applying and combining them.

When making things with children, they can easily become frustrated if their creation does not meet their expectations. And rightly so. We all know the disappointment of something not working out as planned. Opening their minds up to other possibilities will help teary-eyed and demoralized little artists to look beyond their initial plan, and see that there are alternatives to destroying their work and stomping away. Mistakes can be happy ones. Accidental drips and blobs of paint can give rise to new creatures or intriguing abstracts and backgrounds. That “perfect” outline that didn’t quite happen can be transformed with varying thicknesses, adding more interest and movement. Unintended colours can be welcomed to stretch the imagination, or simply painted over and changed. Reassure children that even great artists made mistakes and chose to learn from them and work with them, or simply start over.

Finally, my apologies to Magritte, whose Son of Man is a fine example of Surrealist art. I’m sure he had no difficulty painting noses.

Detail from The Man In The Bowler Hat by René Magritte. Image: http://www.surrealist.com

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
Scott Adams

“Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.” Salvador Dali

“It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent.” Vincent Van Gogh

References: http://quote.robertgenn.com/getquotes.php?catid=192

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March Break Addendum

…with an emphasis on ‘dum’. There is no snow, in Toronto anyway. My apologies for all the snow-related suggestions in my last post. Clearly, my headspace was clouded by images of last winter. Your options now include dusting off your wellies and doing the swamp thang with the kids. Enjoy the mud puddles.

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Hiding From March Break?

I’m not going to help you hide, but to cope. Entertaining children during March Break may appear to be a daunting task, but you really can come out of it unscathed. And if you’re not escaping to the sun, you can seek solace in the fact that this will not last forever. As soon as kids hit their teens, they’re quite happy to fend for themselves and would rather you not interfere with their chill time anyway.

First of all, weekends don’t count so you’re really only faced with five days to fill, unless of course your children are in private school, in which case I wish you much luck and plenty of wine. I’m down to one child in need of entertainment, and I can’t stress enough the importance of friends. It’s more fun for your kids, and everything they do lasts a bit longer when they’re together.

Unless you’re going on a big outing like skiing, mornings should be long and lazy; that’s half your day already. Let the kids indulge in some cartoons, or throw them outside to play in the snow. Forget the snowman, challenge them to make a snowwoman which will have them in fits of laughter; give them squirt bottles filled with coloured water for a little Pollock on ice; have them shovel the driveway. There could be incentive in this, if you know what I mean. After all, we are also interested in preserving your sanity. Little stolen moments to read the paper and have a cup of tea are golden.

Lunch. At this point, you better have a plan for the afternoon like a friend coming over. Give them lots of opportunity to fend for themselves. Set them up with an arts and crafts activity, karaoke, a dress up theme like Alice, board games, computer games, a treasure hunt, etc. Maybe you’d like to bake something with them that could end up being their snack, and the beginning of a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. You could play ‘beat the clock’ and have them clean up the kitchen before the timer goes off and the muffins are ready. Before you know it, your kitchen’s clean, the kids are proudly enjoying a snack they made, and evening is around the corner.

I’m a firm believer in not having to go out to the same, overpriced, crowded places, year after year. The wonderful thing about Toronto, and many other North American cities is how multicultural they are, giving you an opportunity to play tourist. You can actually go to neighbourhoods like Little India, Little Italy, Greektown, and Chinatown, and feel momentarily immersed in that culture. The people, colours, sounds, smells, food, street signs all help to transport you. Why not propose a day trip to China with your children and their friends? Walk through your local Chinatown, visit the shops, eat some local food for lunch, and don’t forget to buy a little souvenir. Make sure the kids bring a notepad to record their thoughts or make sketches of things they enjoyed seeing. They can also take photographs, and save any receipts and business cards, so when they come home they can create a wonderful collage of their outing.

If you live in Toronto, I do have a few suggestions. First would be the Textile Museum, where they have special activities for the occasion. Since it’s off the beaten path, it’s calmer than the big museums and a beautiful space to visit.  The Paper Place is having a collage competition and providing materials free of charge. You just have to pick up the package, take it home, and bring back the collage once finished. It’s an inspiring shop to take your kids to. Another plan is to hang out at a bookshop, followed by a hot chocolate. Indigo/Chapters and Mabel’s Fables are really great about letting you hang out for as long as you want. And while I’m hoping to stay far from the madding crowd most of the time, I might brave one visit to the AGO, or the ROM which has a new bat cave to visit. And this time, make the gift shop your friend; it’s good for at least half an hour. Bonne chance!

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Stepping Back In Time

Ontario Specialty Co.

I grew up in a small town that actually had a general store. While this may conjure up images of one room schoolhouses and Laura Ingalls, I promise you it wasn’t that long ago, and I did not call my parents Ma and Pa. The shop pictured above, however, is exactly what it reminded me of.  It’s on Church Street in Toronto and has been around since 1939; the interior seems to confirm that.

It’s a gem of a store and when you enter, it really does feel like you’re stepping back in time. It’s a great place to take your kids for a visit and show them what kind of toys used to be popular. There are lots of wind up toys, a serious collection of sunglasses, as well as a nice selection of faux vomit and plastic poo. I have no problem fessing up to the fact that I owned at least one of those at some point in my life, and yes, it brought me great joy.

Be warned, you might end up hearing things like: “It winds up and moves forward? That’s it? No laser? I can’t connect with it?” Welcome to the past.

If you want to teach the young’uns about general stores, it’s all here: http://www.saskschools.ca/~gregory/genstore.html

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Recycled: The Perfect Euphemism

While I’m all for encouraging everyone to create, storage is another matter.  Picasso may have been one of the most prolific artists of his time, but he had a steady stream of buyers to cart off his work. Toddlers, on the other hand, are not so lucky.  I have every intention of hanging on to a selection of my children’s work; a manageable representation of the stages they went through, which leaves us with THE REST. While I have no problem purging and moving forward, they tend to freak out when witnessing their macaroni-embellished paper plate being tossed. Discretion is key. Language is key. Take the word recycled, for instance. “Where did my black and red wooden sculpture with nails that I made last year at day care go?” When faced with such inevitable queries, one can simply reply “I recycled it honey.” At this point a big smile and distraction are in order, unless you intend to explain what that overused word really means. One more tip. I highly recommend the ‘temporary-holding-zone’, where things to be ‘recycled’ are piled in a corner for a certain period of time (works well for husbands too). If cobwebs start to form, or paper becomes an agar substitute for growing mould, you can safely throw it out. Anyone asking for it wouldn’t have wanted it anyway.

"Why did you throw it out?!?"

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Careful What You Wish For

The New Year tends to fill us with the inexplicable need to explore what are usually short-lived activities, hence my new blog. And what better way to welcome you than with an introduction to my son’s version of the Family Portrait. That would be me on the upper right, bearing a disturbing resemblance to the Venus of Willendorf. On the left, as you can see, I very clearly have a husband, and below are my two children who are responsible for motivating me to do this. If I hadn’t had little ones to scrunch crêpe paper with, my creative radar would be out of order, and I would most likely be found decomposing in an uninspiring  job with ‘rescue me’ stamped on my forehead.

My goal is to post fairly consistently about arts and crafts projects for children; naturally, adults can play too. Some projects are my own, inspired by what I see around me, while others have been done a million times over but are still worth exploring. I hope you’ll be inspired to make something and look forward to your feedback; successes and disasters welcome. Thanks for visiting.

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