I went to the woods….

I thought the sparrow’s note from heaven,
Singing at dawn on the alder bough;
I brought him home, in his nest, at even;
He sings the song, but it cheers not now,
For I did not bring home the river and sky;–
He sang to my ear, — they sang to my eye.
The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave
Fresh pearls to their enamel gave,
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore
With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.


From “Each and All”

As you can see in the photo above of my drawing table, I (and all the kids I walk in the woods with) collect things to study and draw later.  Yes, it gives me more time, access to field guides, etc, but the spark of amazement seems to die a slow death the longer I am away from the woods.  I have to be in their environment, with them.  Three more weeks until I can get back to my woods.  Then trilliums, orchids, hepatica and bloodroot will all be up.  I will go to the woods, so that I may live.


Little kids paint

The Sage was almost 4 when he painted this bear.  Our materials were: cheap canvas, student grade acrylic paints (in the tube, not the craft paints in the bottle), cheap brushes and rubber cement.  I put out a few similar colors (yellow, light green, off white) and let him paint, making sure the edges get painted also (which makes it look more finished without having to frame it).  Then we let it dry a day or two.  I made a stencil from a drawing of a bear he had done, placed it where we wanted it on the canvas then painted rubber cement over and around.   This masks the outline of the bear so he would only paint where the bear should be.  Remove the stencil before the rubber cement dries.  After the rubber cement was dry I gave him a few paints (brown, black and off white) and a small brush.  It’s ok to get paint on the rubber cement.  If any paint gets in an area where you don’t want it, quickly wipe it off with a damp cloth.  Waiting for the paint to dry completely before removing the rubber cement was hard.  Very hard.  But you’re more patient than I, so you won’t make a mess.  Rub your finger over the rubber cement to remove.

The King was a little older, probably 5 or 6, when he did his first acrylic painting based on a drawing he did when he was younger.  We painted the Spotted Salamander together and talked about painting styles (mostly Van Gogh).  I painted most of the edges and helped him keep the painting even but random.  We didn’t mask any areas with rubber cement.

So, next time your art and craft store has a sale on acrylics and canvas, stock up!

Cardboard Chair Project

My grandparents’ first table was a cardboard box.  My mom and I built innumerable dollhouses out of Pepsi boxes.  We made a kitchen set out of box for the King when we lived in India.  Sixty years later, cardboard boxes are still one of the best toys money (can’t) buy.

cardboard motorcycle

The Sage riding his cardboard motorcycle

I’m trying to give the King a larger project or puzzle to do each week, something that is interesting and thought provoking.  Last week he was told to build a chair or stool out of cardboard and glue that would hold his weight.  The Prof thought it would be too hard for a 10 year old.  Not only did the King enjoy thinking about design options, measuring everything and assembling the stool himself, but the Prof and the Sage (who turns 4 this week) made a chair, too.  Warehouse stores like Costco, BJs and Sams seem to be the best places to get large pieces of unbent cardboard, though we used some that was already cut and folded as well.  Glue (we used Elmers) and an exacto knife or box cutter are the only other supplies you need.  (Of course the Prof had to one up the rest of us by not even using glue.)

This would be a great Earth Day project.  And when you tire of the chair, simply recycle it!

3 chairs

3 cardboard chairs

Here are some other great cardboard chairs:

Cardboard highchair that can be folded flat for storage.

Of course you could always buy this chair from Frank Gehry for $984.   Oh wait, he uses screws.  That’s cheating!

Instructables has step by step instructions, but it is the collection of images that you really must see.

Chinese Knot Tying

Chinese New Year decoration in hotel.  Gui Yang, China. 2008

Chinese New Year decoration in hotel. Gui Yang, China. 2008

This is the best tutorial I’ve found for tying Chinese Good Luck or Fortune  knot (which is relatively simple compared to the knot in my photo).  Don’t rush it and pause the tutorial as needed if you need to catch up.  I suggest using safety pins on a cork board or a covered foam surface (like a cloth couch) instead of tape and paper to hold the string down.  Before you start, slightly burn/ melt the cut ends of the cord with a lighter so they won’t unravel.  I got the cording at Hobby Lobby ($2 for 24 feet if not on sale) and hope to pick up a 12 inch cork board.  Since our furniture is leather I probably shouldn’t be sticking pins in it!

Here is a tutorial for tying Dragonfly Knot part 1 and part 2.

Once I can do these in my sleep, I may have to get Chinese Knotting by Lydia Chen.  This links to Google books which has some pages excerpted including directions for the Clover Knot and the beginning of the Good Luck knot.  With younger or less patient kids, I might stop the Good Luck knot at the end of step 2 (all that is given in the excerpt) rather than doing the more complicated knot in the tutorial above.

This Chinese Knotting page isn’t fancy but does have several knots with clear step by step photos.  Click on the knot then on How To.  I have to try the flower knots as soon as I get the Good Luck knot down.  Flowers on New Year’s day are auspicious, but since we don’t have camelias,  I think knot or paper flowers are the only one’s I’ll find.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year decorations for sale in Gui Yang, China. 2008

Chinese New Year decorations for sale in Gui Yang, China. 2008

Our family begins our holiday celebrations in October with Diwali, fall and Halloween and then it’s non-stop through February.  This year, Chinese New Year is January 26.  It is the year of the Ox.  Here is an overview of my craft plans for the month.  I’ll update with photos, links and random thoughts as we go.

First, I’m trying to learn how to tie Chinese Knots.  I thought the easy ones would be a breeze, but they are proving to be a bit more of a challenge.  I just found another tutorial (bless the people who make video tutorials for the rest of us mortals) so I’ll keep working at it and hopefully have success to report soon.

chinaguangzhou-027Red is a very auspicious color in China.  We have strings of red silk chilies that we bought in China to decorate with.  We also found red chili lights that we’ll string from the ceiling.

My to-do list for Chinese New Year activities include everyone practicing their calligraphy.  The Sage’s New Year banner may be limited to me painting glue in the characters’ shapes while he sprinkles glitter on.  Or maybe he can add gold paint to a red paper that I’ve added the characters to.   The King and I can practice the proper character or trace the character and paint it in if we get to frustrated.  Linoleum cuts could work well, too.

We’ll make very simple Chinese Lanterns  and read Paper Lanterns.  We’ll have hopes of making more complicated lanterns, but won’t get it done (aren’t I the optimist!)

We’ll make finger puppet dragons  and have dowel rods they will fit on as well as fingers so they can be displayed and the kids can run around the house with them pretending like they are lion dancers.  We’ll read The Lion Dancer and watch clips of the video The Prof took of Lion Dancers in Guangzhou, China last year.

Lion Dancers in a shop in Guangzhou, China.  2008

Lion Dancers in a shop in Guangzhou, China. 2008

We’ll eat lots of Chinese food and wish we could watch the fireworks in China because they were the most amazing we have ever seen.  We’ll think of the many wonderful things China has given us and be thankful.

The Sage’s Many Faces

Blue Face

Blue Face

Red Face with Hat and Orange Face

Red Face with a Magic Hat and Orange Face

The King and the Rest of Us.  Do you think size demonstrates importance here?

The King and the Rest of Us. Do you think size demonstrates importance here?

Red person, complete with arms and hands, legs and feet.

Red person, complete with arms and hands, legs and feet.

Again, I am very thankful for the big pile of paper from my aunt.  The Sage drew this pile of faces, plus a few more, right before nap.  He hasn’t drawn many faces, but today he took off.  It was interesting how rapidly they became more complicated.  They had been playing with a magic Santa hat, so he drew one on the red face.  And he was quite excited to draw the feet on the last one.  He looked at me and said ‘feet?’ asking, excitedly if it was ok to draw feet.  Of course!  Draw as many feet as you want!  We have been using Prismacolor pencils or paint for the past few weeks, but I switched out the materials on the dining room table, putting the paint away and adding markers and stamps.  It seems that the markers encouraged him to create differently, in part because they make a bold, yet controllable mark?  Note to self: Keep materials available in a communal space and change weekly.

DIY: Toddler Watercolor Palette

The Sage's new palette

The Sage’s new palette

I have a serious dislike of those little cake watercolors intended for children, but I am not yet willing to let The Sage use my professional watercolor paints.  So, my solution involves a plastic tray with 9 indentions that my mom found somewhere (a plastic egg carton could work or different little take out salad dressing containers or the tiny play dough containers) and tempera paint.  Pour each color of tempera paint into its own hole, then set it aside until it is dry.  Now you have a toddler approved watercolor palette with lots more paint and bolder colors than the ones you buy.  As the paint dries, it will shrink and probably crack, but that’s normal.

Since you’re making your own palette, customize it for your child- lots of orange and red paint for my kids, a multitude of pinks for others.  You can also use seasonal colors, mix your own colors, make a palette of primary colors (red, yellow and blue) so they can mix their own, only warm or only cool colors, etc.