Assignment 1 – Give Trash a New Life

Our first assignment is inspired by a request from my 4-year-old who has been learning about taking care of our planet. She wanted to find something that we would typically throw out and instead make something new from it. Since it was her idea I wanted to make sure this was a project we could work on together but I encourage everyone to give this challenge a try if they have a young child assisting them or not.

My household goes through a lot of crayons! They travel from room to room, they get lost, they get used up but mostly they get broken. Over the weekend we began to separate the leftover nubs of colour from the ones that were still easy to use because nobody likes drawing with half an inch of crayon. We decided to make toddler-friendly crayon pucks that her little brother could easily control.

Here is how we did it:

1) We started by peeling the paper labels off each crayon and set them aside, this challenged my patience and my daughter’s small motor skills but we made it through.

2) We separated the crayons into their colour family into each section of a mini muffin tin.

3) I popped them into an oven preheated to 300ᵒC.

4) We waited 15 minutes before taking them out to cool. Once I saw that they had hardened again I flipped the tin upside down and gave it a bang. They fell out easily without leaving residue.

It felt a little wrong to throw out all the beautiful labels when the purpose was to reuse material so we ventured on to our second task; making paper. I had made paper once before when I was much closer to my daughter’s age than my own and I was excited to introduce her to the exhilarating world of DIY stationery. I wasn’t however excited to clean my blender after making pulp so we made some alterations to the process.

1) We ripped the crayon labels into smaller pieces and while we were at it added some colourful bit of the newspaper too.
2) Pour warm water (we used warm because it just felt right) into the bowl until all the paper is submerged.

3) We waited 10 minutes.

4) Then I ripped the paper until you barely recognize it and it just looked like mush.

5) I scooped the paper pulp out with my hands squeezing out excess water and placing the pulp on a piece of parchment paper. This was a bit tricky a sieve would have been a great help.

6) After laying another piece of parchment paper on top we used a rolling pin to flatten the surface.

7) Every so often we lifted the top layer of parchment paper to fill in any holes and to sop up the water that had been squeezed out.

8) Then we had to find a safe place to let it dry where it would be safe from curious two-year-olds.

To be honest I’m not sure what we are going to do with this piece of paper we’ve created. It is not easy to write on nor particularly beautiful, It is one of those projects that was fun to try but didn’t result in anything exceptionally special.

The crayons, however, have been a hot item around here and have been popular for their intended use as well as stacking and even substitutes for figurines in imaginative play.

Now I challenge you to rifle through your junk drawer or your recycling bin and see what innovations you can come up with yourself. If you do try this assignment I would love to hear about what you created in the comments.

Hobbies, Hobbies Everywhere

Yesterday my daughter was carefully stringing beads and foam cut outs on to some thread to make a necklace when she looked up at me and asked “Mommy, do you think I’m really an artist?”. There she was, actively making art and questioning if she had earned the title. “Yes” I explained “You are making art so you are an artist.”

Since I was very little I always identified as an artist, the problem was that I didn’t invest the time into any particular medium to excel at it. The older I got the more obvious it became that in our society if you aren’t particularly skilled, if you can’t produce a final product that is impressive or generates income you don’t have any business creating at all. I saw my endless curiosity and lack of commitment to any one craft a major weakness. I had my youth to grab hold of an art form and practice until I was great and instead I had squandered it bouncing from one thing to another and mastering nothing at all. One month I’d be knitting, the next experimenting with pastels, writing short stories, illustrating, making over old furniture, filming YouTube videos, embroidering tee shirts but never anything long enough to get really great at anything. Never long enough to advance from the ‘beginner’ tutorials, never long enough to warrant any attention, and so as a result I was an artist without an art form. The thing is that I have a lot of ideas, maybe too many ideas and no way of expressing them; at least not in the way that they deserve. After watching a The Movies That Made Us episode on The Nightmare Before Christmas I longed to be Tim Burton. I could come up with a concept, an image sketched out after a burst of inspiration and then hand it over to someone more talented then me to refine the drawing, someone else to turn it into clay, a third to compose the music and finally another to hammer out the story*. My ideas, I thought, were worth sharing but I was not qualified to be the one to do so. My second thought however was that I haven’t sculpted with clay since childhood and how quickly could I have some delivered to my house. I was once again inspired to put my current hobbies on hold and spend the next afternoon sculpting The Grinch’s face out of some old plasticine simply because green was the only color I had. Even as I allow myself to day dream about dolling out ideas for others to create, the satisfaction I’d have to see my imagination come to life (and of course the millions I’d make in the process) it wouldn’t feel fulfilling; I would be missing out on the best parts.  

I started thinking, maybe getting excited and all absorbed, even if only temporarily, is something to celebrate. Maybe it’s a gift to have so many things to fill up my time, things I love even if it doesn’t amount to anything particularly impressive. My hope is to use this platform as an opportunity to encourage and showcase my projects and progress not because they are particularly good but rather in attempt to inspire myself and others to push through fear and simply enjoy the act of exploring, learning and creating. I guess this is my way of saying this is not a place to learn how to be a great artist, I can’t tell you the best way to learn a new language or how to improve your yoga poses. This is simply a place as the wise Ms. Frizzle once declared “to take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”

*My knowledge of Tim Burton is limited entirely to this one documentary which depicted him as not particularly involved in materializing his idea of Jack past his initial conception. It is quite possible that this is not true at all. I am sure he is a great guy.