Cookie cutter colourings

What: Drawings and artwork using cookie cutters as tracers

Yes, that butterfly is one single (very treasured) cookie cutter. Kid 6 is all about bigger is better. I love the spirals and linework they’re exploring here. The pen was new, a reward from school.

How: I’m not actually sure. I was cleaning the kitchen, and I looked over at the table to see Kid 6 and Kid 4 working away. Apparently Kid 6 had come up with the idea and organised the two of them to do it. It appears that they chose one or more cookie cutters, traced them onto paper, and then worked back into the design with solid colours (kid 4) or lines and patterns (kid 6). They were perfectly happy working away and conversing in a polite and friendly fashion with each other, so I didn’t ask too many questions in case I interrupted them and broke the magic.

Kid 4 doing more intricate tracings, but simpler infill.

Extras: This was fine on its own, just choosing how you work back into it was giving the kids plenty of variety. But going in different directions – I could see doing this as a wrapping paper thing – the cookie cutters would allow you to repeat shapes easily into a pattern. You might even be able to tesselate them. As a single art piece you could assemble several cookie cutters as parts of a picture and trace those. I’d be more inclined to take a variety of cutters and trace all over the place with lots of overlaps, and then colour the odd shapes created by the overlaps and spaces between. I suspect you might be able to use the cutters on scratch paper – that stuff that’s coloured underneath but has a black layer on top that you scratch away – which could give us some interesting negative effects too. Or placing the cutters on white paper and then using toothbrushes to spray edicol dye across the page, so that you get the shapes of the cutters white against the dye. Lots of things for me to think about!


Origami baby ball

What: a lightweight origami toy/gift for a little baby.

Four month old, fascinated by something they can actually grab and hold and turn.

How: To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how or where we found the instructions for this, it was a random origami book somewhere, but I’ll bet it’s available on YouTube nowadays. The idea was that you folded six of these shapes, attached them together as a cube, and they flexed into a ball shape. The only trick was attaching the bits together. I think I used stickytape for this one, because I didn’t want to risk staples flying around when the baby grabbed with both hands and yanked in opposite directions. The first time I made one of these, for my first Kid 0, I used paper glue (just a standard glue stick) and that worked OK until they worked out how to apply more force than the glue resists. So, fastener is your choice, see what works for you and your kid’s developmental stage / attitude towards interesting objects. I found there was a huge difference between 3 months, 4 months, 6 months – and between children of the same age (there are smashers and kissers and many types between).

I loved this ball because it was light weight, so the baby could pick it up, wave it around and then when their hand strength predictably yet unexpectedly failed they could drop it on their face – and this wasn’t a problem. I also liked that it had lots of pointy-out bits – paper, not stiff, so they didn’t hurt or poke, but small grasping fingers could find plenty of bits to latch onto in order to try and grip. That made it suitable for a whole range of manipulative abilities, it wasn’t something they just accidentally knocked around the room because they couldn’t grasp it when they threw their arms in its direction. Because it was home made we could use a range of textures and colours and patterns in the paper, getting more subtleties than baby toys often have. It’s also visually interesting, with the combination of detail and symmetry. And it’s paper, so if they chew on it, well, it gets soggy and maybe it tears, but at the end of the day it’s still only paper. You can make another one easily enough.

Extras: The first one of these was made as part of an origami party for Kid 0, when friends of ours came over and made lots of origami shapes for a mobile. So it was a nice social thing. It was actually made by a Kid 11, from memory, who really enjoyed working through the printed instructions and then repeating the steps five times to get the six identical pieces. I think you’d need at least a Kid 8 or 9 to make it – it wasn’t too tricky, but it did take a little folding precision (plus of course the ability to read and follow instructions!). I made the one in the photo here, and I also made a third one that we mailed to a friend for a new baby gift. Lightweight = cheap postage!  These latter two were both made under Kid 1 and 2’s “supervision” – they helped select the pieces of paper I used and which order they attached in.

Art party activities #1

What: Some of the activities we did at Kid 5’s make-lots-of-art birthday party – painting balloons, making paint, decorating party bags.

Painted balloons – the final product. (And yes, the boys are happily playing with the dollhouse in the background.)

1. Painted balloons. My husband battled the breezes to attach as many white balloons to the punching bag as he could using string and tape. I saw this done at a community fair where they’d attached dozens together close and tight to a rope to make a dragon shape for painting. After our efforts, I have no idea how they got the balloons attached but I applaud their skill. Then, paint. I put some acrylic poster paint in plastic party cups, put a paintbrush in each cup, and put the cups on a milk crate (which has slots about the right size to hold these cups upright). Up to five kids at a time were clustered around this activity, painting on the balloons. Several of the balloons were later taken home by kids, on request. Except for the one where the kid asked, and his mother made frantic waving motions of “No wet paint in my car!!!” behind him so I had to say no, we wanted to keep them to remember the party by.

Paint production process in progress.

2. Making paint. The kids got to make a little bag of paint and take it home with them. I set up a bag of flour, a bag of salt and a jug or water, each with a metric tablespoon in them. The kids had to take one spoonful of each and put it in their little ziplock bag. I added food colouring of their choice – about a lidful – then they sealed the bag and mixed. In theory the proportions should be 1:1:1 of flour:salt:water, but in practice most kids needed two tablespoons of water because Kid 5s don’t know to level off their tablespoon of flour (or even that there’s enough of a difference to matter in how much is in a level spoonful vs a heaped spoonful), and there was enough of a crowd around the table that I wasn’t able to tell or help most of them with that. I kept my hands on the food colouring and insisted that only an adult add that. Which meant we didn’t have anyone accidentally tipping the entire bottle into their bag until the very last child, so that was good. Once the paint is mixed, you can keep it in the sealed bag and run your fingers over it to “draw” pictures mess-free. My original plan was to tape the bags of paint to a glass door so that they could do the finger-drawing there, but with all the chaos going on most of the kids were happy to just put the bag of paint in their party bag and move on to the next activity.

Spot the party bags, ready to begin.

3. Party bags. I’m not keen on loot bags at parties, but the kids were going to need some way of taking their art home with them. So the very first activity we had set up before doing the main party stations was this one. A pile of coloured paper bags from the local craft store, and lots of coloured dot stickers of various sizes. The kids had to write their name on the bag first, then make themselves a picture on their bag using only sticky dots. We had a wide variety of results! Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the final products. It was good to have the sticker sheets cut into strips, because each of the Kid 5s tended to take a strip and then put all the stickers on it onto their bag somewhere before making the next decision. They’re not visualising what they want to make and then choosing the bits that will make it, at least, not to the degree that they can put a sticker sheet back down without using ALL the stickers. This worked well as an icebreaker, as kids who didn’t know very many others got something to do without feeling lonely, and it got everyone busy and thinking about making art. It could also be relatively unsupervised, unlike the main station activities.

Other art party activities: suncatchers, sticky tape resist paintings, and the cake.

Grass seed picture

What: A picture “coloured in” with glue and collected grass seeds.

The placing of glue and seeds is a little imprecise, though if you have the patience to do a bit, let it dry and come back for the next bit you can get more precision. We didn’t.

How: First, I and Kid 3 went out into the garden and collected seeds. We found different kinds of grass – there are several kinds of tussock and weed grasses in our overgrown back yard – and collected handfuls of seeds from each in different bowls. TBH, I did a lot of the prompting and collecting here, including sneaking back out and getting more of the kind that were most different, though Kid 3 thought they did it all. All with lots of conversation about the colour and size and differences. Then we went inside with our loot.

Inside, the bowls gathered dust sitting on the table for a day or two while Kid 3 “played” with them (i.e. talked about them to anyone who came near). Then I drew a picture on a piece of cardboard with big black marker (Kid 3 requested “a house”), and one section at a time we applied glue, then tipped seeds of a particular kind into the segment and spread them around with a popstick. I say “we” because glue and tippy things with a Kid 3 generally involves some “assistance” to make sure results match intentions (both yours and theirs). It took a couple of hours to fully dry, even though it was poked regularly to check.

Extras: You could do this with spices, or left over garden seeds from different kinds of plants – grass seeds have some commonalities, but seeds from the daisy/lettuce family or from the salvias or poppies or brassicas or umbrella herbs (parsley, celery, dill etc) can all be quite different in shape and kind while being similar within the family. You could draw patterns or shapes instead of a picture. And if picking the seeds together just doesn’t work out, taking a mixed bowl you’ve prepared beforehand and sorting or sieving them into different kinds might be fun too (depending on seed type).

Paper mosaics

What: Mosaic-like pictures made by gluing irregular “squares” of coloured paper into a design.

Flower and butterfly, made by Kid 6 with varicoloured paper squares on black paper.

How: This was three linked activities.

First, one afternoon, we coloured in random cuts of paper with textas. That was hard work for them to get the paper so there was very little or no white left. They each had a piece of used-on-one-side paper to use as a colouring mat, in the interests of saving my table, and those became a kind of artwork of their own with the overlapping outlines. As they finished each piece of paper I took it and cut it into rough squares, some larger and some smaller, and added them to a mixing bowl. That took enough time that they were “done” for the day, even with me doing the cutting and quite a bit of the colouring (Kid 4 spent a very long time colouring in his first scrap of paper and then ran out of steam). They did like seeing how the bowl ended up, and tried sticking their hands in and mixing up the squares.

Second, another afternoon, we took pieces of black paper and a glue stick and picked out paper squares and stuck them down into a pattern or design. I didn’t insist on any particular design elements such as filling a space or matching edges neatly, just let them do whatever they came up with. They also each did one on white paper. I thought the black paper made the colours come up more vividly even if they haven’t been coloured in that well, but the white works fine too.

Kid 4’s dragon, same coloured squares on black paper but stuck with glitter glue. The colours of the squares have become much more washed out.

Third, on a later afternoon, we used up the rest of the squares but stuck them down with glitter glue. We tried this on both white and black paper. The most interesting effect was that because the glues were quite liquid, and coloured, you got a lot of running and blending with the texta on the paper squares and that wasn’t entirely predictable. I spent a bit of time playing with it to see what effects I could get, but that’s my training – neither Kid 4 nor Kid 6 was quite that reflective and try-adjust-try-again about it. Plus the full effect doesn’t show up for at least ten minutes or until the glue’s fully dried, and that’s way too long for small humans to remember – I barely managed it myself!

Glitter glue on white paper by Kid 6. You can see the bleeding of the texta and glue colours together a lot better like this.

The Big Cups

What: Big cups made from otherwise-rubbish items.

Mochi wrappers, glue and one of the finished cups. For some reason Kid 6 was insistent that the pattern had to go on the glue-side and the white side had to be outwards.

How: I had popcorn cups from a movie trip, I had mochi wrappers in several colours (or cupcake wrappers would be equivalent), I had the highly decorated and patterned wrapping papers from rolls of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. I put a selection of these on the table with some generic brush-on paper glue and let the kids go for it. Kid 6 was methodical and worked directly towards creating a functional object rather than any random creative thing, Kid 4 had to copy exactly what Kid 6 did. So we ended up with two traffic-light cups. Kid 6 was quite insistent we should drink from their new “cups”. I wasn’t sure about the water-holding abilities nor the food-safe-ness, so I put a bowl inside each cup and put their drink in that bowl. It so happened I’d found giant straws at the two dollar shop not long before, so they each got to put their cup on the floor and drink standing from a giant cup with a giant straw.

This was the most hilarious thing ever.

Extras: Doing this with soft drink bottles with the tops cut off? Making hats – which was what I thought would happen with the popcorn cups, but they didn’t see it. Making pencil containers – really, anything we could think of is possible. And making nothing at all but a sculpture or 3D collage, which is just as good. I’d like to see more playing with the patterns on the wrappers, but the kids didn’t identify the wrappers as materials in their own right.

Kid 4’s finished cup. Typically random amounts of meticulous finishing – there didn’t have to be dots all the way around but gods help us if there wasn’t a traffic light on each side. 

Plastic box landscape

What: a two-layer picture on a clear plastic box, stuck to a window or screen door.

Our finished project. These type of gift boxes turn up semi-regularly if you keep an eye out for them.

How: I had some clear plastic packets from some gift or other. We took permanent markers and drew on each side of the packet. The pictures layer against each other when seen through the box. Kid 6 could see how this worked when done but couldn’t imagine it beforehand, Kid 4 was oblivious to the idea of planning anything, and I myself didn’t spot how it would work until the first time we held it up to the light while drawing – I’d just been looking for something to draw on that wasn’t paper to keep them distracted on a hot holiday afternoon. We did need to work to get colour patches broad enough – thin lines weren’t very visible. Once it was “done”, I taped the hang-fold to a screen door so we could see it lit up by the sunlight outside. (This turned out to be impossible to photograph.)

Extras: Next time I may go for wider-tip markers to make that bit easier, and I’ll make more of a point (at least with the older child/ren) of thinking and talking about what parts of the picture are background and what are foreground. We can also talk about flipping an image, seeing as when you turn the box around you’re drawing the foreground against a reversed background or vice-versa. This project gives the potential to look at colour combining / transmission – e.g. seeing red through green or orange through yellow. You could also insert another piece of plastic inside the box to get a three-layer picture if you wanted to be really complicated. A related activity would be to try something similar but with shadows and varying degrees of translucency, so layers of tissue paper and card and similar, but that’s starting to get a bit past the age where my kids are now.

Review – Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck


Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck. Written by Michelle Gillespie, illustrated by Sonia Martinez.

About: This is a true story of rescue and adventure, retold for a picture book. In December 1876 the steamer Georgette came aground at Calgardup Bay in the south west of Western Australia. Many of the passengers were rescued from the waves by stockman Sam Isaacs and sixteen-year-old Grace Bussell, both from a nearby homestead. The two received medals of bravery for their actions.

Good things:

  • Strong artwork close to graphic-novel style
  • Local history
  • Western Australian setting
  • Young woman acting independently and collaboratively to rescue others
  • Bravery
“Grace reaches Smiler’s leg with her hand and feels for the rope. The horse stumbles sideways, kicking to keep his balance. The child sobs in fear.”

Rearranging flowers

What: Flower arrangements, using leftover / regifted flowers from a hospital stay.

How: When my mum got back on the plane home after an extended stay in a capital-city hospital, she didn’t take her bunches of flowers with her. One of the arrangements had been put into a large block of Oasis, the water-holding stuff that holds flowers and stems and leaves in place. I took all the flowers and greenery out, divided it into two as-equal-as-possible piles, and cut the Oasis in half so that each child had a piece. Then I let them at it.

Two cream-coloured bowls each have bunches of orange and yellow flowers stuck in them with big green leaves pointing out. The arrangements are very random. A small child looks on, out of focus. The table is very messy.
The two final products. The styles were quite different in the end.

Kid 4 and Kid 6 both quite liked the activity, regardless of gender assumptions, and we had plenty of conversation about whether you put tall ones together or in front of short ones, grouping colours (or not), what shapes different things were, what shape the arrangement was, how many flowers there were on some stems. Kid 4 put things where they wanted without a lot of consideration, until they were “done”. Kid 6 spent a little more time thinking about it and making reasoned choices, but not a lot more. They were both delighted with the results and had a great sense of achievement and ownership in making the arrangement, greater than I’d thought they would.

Extras: It’s really about the conversation and the visual results, so I guess doing this again I might think about what items I wanted to put on the table for them to arrange, though the idea is to re-use what’s available rather than getting new stuff so there’s not a lot of buying choice involved. We could be more specific about ordering from tallest to smallest or grouping by colour, and soon the older child will be starting to look at colour relationships. There’s also viewpoint – considering which way the arrangement was meant to be looked at (all around? just from one side? which side?). And also the idea of testing – put something in, look at it, decide to change it, take it out again and put it somewhere else. Both kids are at this point not very good at this – once something is done, it’s Done.

Pasta pictures

What: Pictures made by gluing coloured pasta to paper.

Red and blue pasta stuck to heavyweight black paper. This was my bird, that I could work on slowly filling in the space and adding texture while the kids talked to me over their own work. Keeping my own hands busy elicits a lot more conversation from them.

How: We had two bags of previously coloured pasta (see Extras) that I wanted to get out of the craft cupboard. So I put them on the table with some PVC “gloopy” glue (in a plastic cup, with paintbrushes to apply it) and some black and white paper and let the kids go for it.

The Flower of Heaven, done by Kid 6. Glue is put on the paper rather than the pasta, to avoid the food colouring coming off on fingers *quite* so much.

I like to work with the texture and shape of things to make texture in the artwork, building up solid shapes, but the kids aren’t quite on that page yet. Kid 6 is (as is typical I believe) quite line focused, and used the pasta to make outlines of what they wanted to achieve. In their second piece they’d seen what I was working on and tried laying out pieces of pasta to take up space, then gluing them down – which resulted in the butterfly. Kid 4 went abstract, with no picture at all, and concentrated on making a pattern. After the pattern was done to their mental and emotional satisfaction, they began to add in other bits to make it more of a “picture”.

Kid 6’s butterfly. This was originally more densely packed inside the wings, but the process of lifting each piece off, putting glue on it and putting it back got a bit much and they lowered their goals a little bit .

Extras: This is actually the third activity we’ve done with this pasta. Kid 2 and Kid 4 helped me make it originally – we put pasta in plastic bags with a whole lot of food colouring and mixed it around and around (from the outside of the bag) until they were all covered in colour. Smooth pasta takes colour better than textured pasta, but the latter gives some cool effects too. Also, the blue was harder to manage because when it was even, it’s a bit dark and you can’t see the colour. Brighter and lighter colours are more optimal. The second activity was once the pasta was dried – we used it for threading pasta necklaces. There’s an age where threading seems to be a useful manual dexterity skill, and pasta and a bit of wool is a nice cheap way to do that. Plus having two linked activities meant we got a bit of time spent for not so much of my mental effort. Unfortunately, macaroni is really crap for threading – a lot of the pieces are squished at one end so you can’t get wool through, and that was very frustrating for Kid 2 and Kid 4. The penne was fine! The last thing you could do with this pasta is try cooking it. We didn’t, and now I wouldn’t because it’s had a *lot* of handling and sitting around gathering dust etc etc, but if you were doing these activities all in the same week then cooking up the pasta and seeing if it held its colour would be a nice finisher off. Plus then you’d have none left to take up space forgotten in the craft drawer.

Kid 4’s pattern, with some additional bits to begin turning it into a “picture”. I think it might be a plane with wings, or something with wings, I’m not sure.