DIY Notebooks

Hello there, creative people out in the cybersphere!

Today the sky is filled with smoke and everything is bathed in yellow light. There is a monochromatic filter over the world. To counteract that, we should add color and dreams and fill the page with pop and sparkle.

I’ve missed communicating with you and missed creating blog posts with art projects and musings. So, I said to myself, “Self, get busy!” There is work to be done and exchanges to made, and as we are distracted by environmental, social, health and political challenges, no better time than now to dig in and make something with your hands.

So, a few weeks ago, my kids started talking about “Back to School” supplies- binders, pencils, notebooks. We decided that nobody needs another plain grey notebook, especially not this year, and that we should create our own notebook covers. As online school unfolds for us, here’s a project that can brighten your math, spelling, science, language arts, music, etc., etc. folders.

Materials:

Composition books – They are often available at dollar stores or drug stores or of course, office supply stores.

White acrylic paint or gesso

Brushes

Acrylic or craft paint in variety of colors

Sharpies

Optional: glue, glitter glue, Mod-Podge, collage papers

Procedure:

For me, this project falls under the category of “altered books”. So first, we need to begin the alteration by painting the front and back cover of the composition book. To protect the pages inside, I would put a piece of scrap cardboard inside the front and back cover and begin painting the entire cover with the white gesso or white acrylic paint. Don’t water the paint down because though the cover is thicker than the inside pages, it will still absorb water.

Cover your book covers with white gesso or paint and then let dry completely. 

The next step is all about your creativity and designing a book that reflects an academic subject, your favorite book, fashions, or perhaps an abstract pattern.

For spelling, my daughter created a “spelling bee” book.

For science, another daughter made a galaxy.

For a language arts notebook, another daughter made an inspiring seascape.

And a friend of mine altered a notebook with a card of Harry Potter.

Have fun and good luck with the start of school- online and/or in-person…and thank you teachers, administrators and so many other people out there who are working so hard to make this challenging time more gratifying. Your hard work and patience do not go unnoticed. 

Nature’s Wands

Let’s make some pretend magic and cast spells with our very own magic wands! Imagine what a fairy or gnome living in a garden would use in their magical world.

Now these nature wands are not going to last forever. After a while the leaves will droop and the flowers will wilt, and that’s okay. Enjoy them while you can and always be grateful for the power of nature.

For this project you will need:

1. Some sticks – you can also use chopsticks, popsicle
sticks, pencils.
2. Something colorful from outside – I’m so thankful for the
colorful flowers around my house, but don’t forget the other
plants. A sprig with leaves, some tall grass, some pinecones
from a tree, a long strip of bark, they all make great magic.
3. Some yarn.
4. Some glue or tape. If you have double-stick tape, that is
great!


Steps:
1. Choose a few flowers or leaves, and a stick. Attach them with your glue, or wrap around with a piece of tape. It does not need to be completely held down.
2. Take one end of the yarn and attach it to the stick as well. Start up at the top, and begin wrapping around the stick, slowly moving down. Sometimes extra double-stick tape or glue here is helpful.
3. When you get down as far as you want to go, and the flowers are secure to the stick, tie a knot and cut off the extra yarn.
4. Cast a spell with your wand!

Important Safety Note!

When gathering your supplies from outside, be careful of a few things.

1. Are there any bugs or animals using this as a habitat? Would you be picking something that is being used as a home? I found a beetle and a snail on a few plants outside so I let them be. I also left the flowers that the bees were using, and I never picked ALL of something.

2. Is this a safe plant to touch? Some plants will make your skin itch or can make you sick. Be sure a grown up is with you and ASK FIRST!

Put a sticker on it!

I’ve been taking my cues from my kids. What keeps their attention? What do they want to make? How can they stay connected to their friends?

What happened last week at our house was completely unprompted by me. They decided to make stickers for their water bottles, computer cases, notebooks and to tuck into envelopes for their friends. They’ve been writing letters like crazy- I’ve even chased down the postman to make sure a few forgotten letters made it out one day. We’ve run out of stamps and now are waiting for our order of special Earth Day stamps to arrive. So, while we wait, the table is covered with homemade stickers.

My kids find creative prompts from popular culture memes, inspiring quotes and music. Funny sayings gleaned from the internet include “Hello, I’m Hungry”, “Tea Rex”, Billie Eilish logos, and sunflowers. Some designs are just small drawings from their imagination, hopes for the future or little doodles. I think our next step might be to transfer these designs from stickers to fabric for iron-ons or patches.

Materials:

Copy Paper

Scissors

A variety of pens, pencils, fine line Sharpies, colored pencils, markers

Packing tape 

Parchment Paper or Wax Paper- according to the experts in the house, the parchment paper makes it easier for the sticker to release, but if you don’t have parchment paper, wax paper works well too (it’ll just take a bit of patience to remove before you put your sticker on a surface)

Procedure:

Create a design, outline and color it.

Cut around the outline, leaving a little white paper around the design.

Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper at your workstation. Put some packing tape, sticky side down, on top of the parchment paper, a little larger than the design you just created. Smooth out all the air bubbles. You can used ruler or plastic gift card to help make smooth out the bumps.

Lay your design on top of the shiny packing tape and then place more strips of sticky packing tape on top to seal the design. (Use the plastic card or ruler again as described above to get rid of any air bubbles)

Then, take scissors and cut out the taped design. This is important…make sure to leave at least 1/4″ of space around the sticker or else the tape will come undone. See the example photo below…you see the parchment paper around the design. The parchment paper won’t show up once you remove it.

Remove the parchment paper backing and stick your handmade stickers where you want them.

Art for the Table

Today’s art project is about creating art that your kiddo can make while you are in the kitchen. So have them pull up a stool and give them a snack and a paper towel or two while you get the meal on the stove or in the oven. 

Today’s project is decorating paper towels. Sounds funny, but let me tell you, it’s amazing what designs are available on an everyday paper towel or paper napkin. There are indentations that just call for decorating. My kids have spent hours decorating napkins and paper towels…sometimes they look so great we don’t even use them! But you can also use these napkins at your table and then, viola, into the compost they go…no waste.

Here’s how some examples of what we call napkin art! Granted these napkins were done by an older kid, this would be great for a preschooler to create awesome designs and watch the colors explode on the thin paper. Encourage your child to make a napkin for all people at the table.

To take this project to the next level, ask your child to create patterns using certain colors- alternating two to three colors. Ask them if they see designs in the repetition of the printed dots in the towels. I think each brand of paper product must have a unique pattern. It’s been fun to compare! Find one line of dots and follow it from top to bottom, or maybe just want put some color and design on the napkin and have it as a special napkin at dinner or for a picnic. Finally, if you want to experience a little art and science, test the solubility of the markers…draw on the paper towels with the water soluble markers and then spray them and watch an abstract painting emerge.

Materials:

Paper towels or paper napkins (you can use the whole sheet or fold in half or quarters)

Non-toxic washable markers or ballpoint pens (don’t use Sharpie or other permanent ink)

Spray bottle or pipette (optional)

Snail Mail

I see our postman now with a mask and gloves that he wears along with his blue/grey uniform. He’s an essential worker. Always has been, but now, as we crave communication with friends and family, the postal workers during this time of social distancing and emotional highs and lows are heroes. They carry our letters, bring us packages. They deliver treasures.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much a letter received means to me. I’ve also been thinking about how much it means to send them too. A little story for you…my mom who lives in Memphis, Tennessee (“too long a way from Seattle”) used to tell me how her grandmother would say, “You write me a letter, and I will make sure you get one in return.” Now, she does that with my kids. She sends them newsy stories about trying to learn how to play chess, suggestions for activities and sometimes, just little reminders that although we are far away from each other, she is always thinking about us. The girls race to door to see if a letter might be for them! She is continuing the story that her grandmother began, the girls have to respond to her letter first and send one off to Memphis before another treasure will arrive. In this age, when we communicate so much with our phones and computers, it is nice to have something to hold in our hands, and they treasure these notes.

This week we decided to make our own postcards and send them to friends and family. The postcard format is easy and quick. We made our own template, decorated the front, wrote a quick update on the back, added the address and stamp and left them in our outgoing mail slot for the postman.

We all worked with different themes. Being a photographer, I use my camera as a journal, so I found a few fun images and created some mixed media designs. One with a stencil and colored pencils, adding an image transfer on top to create a colorful print. The second postcard I made using a photograph was printed small and framed with washi tape and stamped a title. The girls used a variety of media: One decided to create three postcards using markers. She combined words and images to make sweet notes that she mailed to schoolmates. Another drew colored pencils a dreamy scene from a photo that a friend had recently texted to me. Her note went to the aforementioned grandmother! And my oldest, created postcards with a graphic bent…using just pencil to sketch and then a fine tipped black Sharpie. 

Ok, so here’s how what you need:

Heavyweight paper such as mixed media paper, watercolor paper, or cardstock (If you only have copy paper, that will do. Just cut 2 pieces 4 x 6 inches and glue to a piece of lightweight cardboard) You need a heavier weight paper so that make it through the mail system without getting torn.

Postcard template or trim your paper to standard postcard size: 4” x 6”. Leave one side blank for your artwork. Template link below:

https://1drv.ms/w/s!AuzSUkokH6WXgUxznCkVKGtIJNPs

Snail mail address

Stamps

Materials that you might use for designing front of postcard: colored pencils, photos, washi tape, glue, markers, fine liners. If you are using heavy stock paper, watercolors would be nice.

After you’ve designed your card, write a note, find a stamp and leave it in your mailbox.

Parents of younger kids: you might offer a drawing prompt to get the designs flowing. Sometimes a little suggestion is all that is needed. 

Another idea: practice your cursive writing on your note (I bet your grandmother will notice!)

Also, if you are interested in learning how to do a photo image transfer, you will need Mod Podge or an acrylic medium and an ink jet or laser print of the photograph. There are great resources on the web to walk you through this process. 

Being in my happy place: A watercolor project

I’ve been thinking a lot about my happy place. Where I go when I need to feel the sunlight on my face, where the air and light meet and I feel relaxed, memories that I collect to make difficult times easier.

This time of social distancing and changes in life have left me thinking of these places: the porch swing in Santa Fe, a bike ride along the river in Avignon, France, azalea blossoms in Memphis, TN, and a small river, more the size of a creek with a tire swing hanging from the cottonwood trees. I think about drinking coconut water from a fresh coconut in Oaxaca or cheering for soccer stars at the Women’s World Cup with my family beside me.

I also have to say that my happy place is also my home. I really like my house and the people inside and the backyard and the neighborhood. When I think about my backyard, I see images of barbeques with the neighbors, sprinklers, hair-brained construction projects building rabbit hutches and playhouses. We live in a rainy city that rewards us after months of wet, dark days with spring flowers, dewy green grass and fresh air. These are my happy place too.

So for this week’s project, I thought it would be fun to go to a happy place and paint. 

Conjure in your mind a memory, or maybe pull a photograph from an album, or perhaps, find a quiet place in your home, backyard, or front porch, and set up your “painting studio”. The French term, en plein air means to work outdoors. Well, since the spring is sometime fickle (meaning one minute it’s sunny, next there is hail), you can adapt your painting studio to what will work best for you.

So, here’s how I worked to make something that felt like going to my happy place.

Materials:

A clipboard or something sturdy for a support

Watercolor paper or heavier stock art paper 6” x 9” or 9” x 12”  (a page from a sketchbook would work or cardstock if that is what you have). Try not to use copy paper as it is too thin but if that’s all you have, it’ll be fine

Pencil and eraser

Watercolor paints and small cup of water

Paintbrushes- small and medium size

Paper towel to blot brushes

Procedure:

To start, I decided to work small so I cut my full size paper in half making it 6” x 9” and I used a clip board. If you don’t have a clip board, tape the corners of your paper to a hard support. (tape it down so it won’t fly away since you might be outside)

A hailstorm had just blown in as my kids and I were about to bring our clipboards into the yard, we quickly decided to change our location to inside so, we brought the garden to us. We ran outside and cut some flowers to make a few bouquets. 

One of the girls decided instead to paint from a photograph. She’d snapped a picture of tulips the day before (when the sun was out) so we made a quick print for her to draw from. 

Each of us sat at different spots around the table and then used our pencils to draw what we saw in front of us. 

When the pencil drawing was complete, we started with watercolors. It’s great to use the plastic cover as a palette to mix or thin your paint. Remember, each time you change your colors, dry your brush a little bit so that it’s not drippy. Watercolors will dry pretty quickly and once they are dry, you can add another layer of color to create an impression of depth. 

If you are drawing from a photograph, maybe you decide to just concentrate on one thing in particular and work with the paint to show off the details- the colors, the highlights, texture.

To those that decide to brave the elements and paint en plein air, you must be prepared to battle the elements, so the challenge might be to work fast and play with the paint. The most famous of the impressionist painters would work in gardens where the light would shift changing their scene. 

And if you decide to conjure up your happy place from your mind’s eye, don’t get stuck trying to recreate the scene exactly. Think about a detail in that scene that you can draw and let that be a way to start the painting.

So, now as I finish this note, the sky has turned again blue. I hope you have fun painting either in your happy place, about your happy place and here’s to blue skies.

A Photographer’s Thoughts

I’ve been thinking with my camera a lot these days. I know that might sound strange, but it’s true. My camera is my rock, my steady and when days are turned upside down and routines are twisted, I use my camera to steady myself and to see the world as it is. Changing. 

The light is different, the trees are exploding with blossoms, there are rainbows of color everywhere I look. My house has all of its people in it ALL THE TIME…doing so many things. We talk to one another on computers. We bake cupcakes.  We read books. We walk our neighborhoods. We take care of our pets. We draw and paint, cook big dinners, and we wash our hands A LOT! The streets are quiet, so we sleep a bit more and we take quiet moments to think about people and their struggles. I send up tiny thoughts to the birds, the flowers, the Spring and use my camera as way to document my days.

So, here’s an idea for you photographers out there…first, ask if you could use a family camera or cell phone camera. I know that not everyone has their own camera or cell phone but see if you could use a camera to document your world. Or ask a grownup to go on a walk with you and photograph together. 

You can follow my suggestions for “finding” things to photograph or you could use the camera/phone camera every day at a certain time and make a “photo of the day”.

Here are some ideas for you and things that I have been photographing:

A Rainbow of Spring- I like to challenge myself to photograph the rainbow.Red tulips, orange carrots from my garden, yellow daffodils, green moss, blue bells and the blue sky, pink cherry blossoms and purple magnolias.

My Bunnies- we’ve got two rabbits- Nibbles and Truffle. These bunnies are super cute, but they don’t like to be held.  They are ok if I photograph them, though. I like to sit near their cage, and I wait for the perfect moment to snap their photo.

My Delicious Meals- food photography is awesome! We made waffles the other morning and the sun came through the window and lit up the mango that I put on top. It was like spring in my kitchen. Oh, and the cupcakes that my daughters made!

My Family- I like to make portraits. I like to document the activities we do together. I like to document them doing their reading, math worksheets, their online music lessons. I like to photograph them watching movies together and talking to their grandparents via Facetime. It’s an historic time- anything and everything goes!

Collections- I went on a hike last week to a rocky beach and collected rocks- they were so beautiful. I laid them on the concrete floor of my studio and examined the details and photographed them.

Other ideas that you might like to photograph around your house could be a collection of your favorite stuffed animals…One time I set a red stool against a plain background and had my kids collect their favorite 10 stuffies. Each stuffie got its picture made…kind of like ‘school day picture day” but for stuffies!

Dress up: You know all those costumes that you have around the house…ask a family member to “model” for you…funny hats, capes, masks, etc. Or model them yourself…create a selfie station.

More advanced photographers might want to challenge your photography skills by learning how a camera works- study how different shutter speeds will create different kinds of photos. What is the lens aperture and how does that work to make different images? What is a silhouette? Think about waiting for the “decisive moment” to push the shutter. And most importantly, watch the light and how it lends itself to the scene.

Once you’ve collected some images, the fun part could be to print them out and make a scrapbook of your collection. If you can’t print them at home or would rather save them on ink, there are many online options that you and your grown up could choose. All have mail delivery options. Shutterfly, CVS online, Printique are some that I’ve used.

I’d love to see what you see…if you have some images that you’d like to share, send them my way.