Draw Like an Old Master

draw like an old masterMove over Leonardo! You too can draw like an Old Master. And you don’t need a studio, an aristocratic benefactor, or an artistic temperament. You just need one of these…

overhead projectorYup, it’s an overhead projector. Remember these things? They used to be a fixture in classrooms. Now, you can probably find one in a forgotten corner of a school storage closet, or buried in the back of a library office, its head peeking out from a pile of mimeograph sheets like the Loch Ness of the office realm.

I rescued this overhead projector from the surplus pile at my library and am proud to house it in my stable of useful outreach tools. Among other things, I’ve used it to make inexpensive event signs, salvage presentations when PowerPoint went kaput, light up shadow puppet shows, and replicate iconic pieces of Renaissance art. Here’s how it works.

First, select the image you want to replicate (we used Leonardo da Vinci’s helicopter sketch). Then, print the image on transparency film made specifically for printers…

transparancy filmLoad the transparency film into a computer’s printer like a regular piece of paper, and lo! It comes out with the image printed on it.

transfered drawingFire up the overhead projector, drop the transparency film in place, aim the projected image at a piece of paper, poster board, foam board, or wall and…start tracing!

katie tracesWhen you’re finished tracing, simply fill in the outlines with markers or paint.

katie drawsVoila! You now have a lovely image that requires zero artistic ability.

finished artTo make inexpensive event signs, simply print the titles of the signs on transparency film, trace them onto the top of a piece of foam board or poster board, and fill the outlines in with paint. Once I had the title, I’d use computer print outs to create the images and/or copy I needed for the rest of the sign. Our most popular event sign ever was created this way (and you can see it here).

If I hired a professional printer to have the titles of the sign printed on foam board, it would have cost between $15 – $25 per sign. Since I would typically create 10-15 signs for a large event, it added up pretty quick. On Amazon, transparency film is about $20 per pack of 100, 8.5″ x 11″ sheets. Vinyl letters and/or stencils are another option for creating signs, but they don’t always come with the widest variety of fonts (and they can get a little pricey too).

The overheard projector tracing method does require some time. If you have an event with a small budget and volunteers looking for work, however, you might just consider trying this method. It also works for theater sets and/or murals. Or you can just, you know, whip yourself up some classic art for the fun of it.

katieThis person featured in this post, by the way, is my new part-time assistant Katie! You actually already met her foot in this post, when she was operating a skeleton marionette. Katie was my temporary event assistant for 2 years before I managed to reel her in to work for me on a permanent basis.

So she’s way used to my odd requests and strange job requirements. Such as selecting hundreds of specifically-sized rocks at a local quarry, folding 500 origami hats, helping me shove University students into 8′ cardboard tubes to install archery targets, developing a tax game for kids, locating an Etsy artist who could make a cuddly Ichthyosaur, and dressing up as a Victorian Steampunk spelunker at a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event.

So she was totally game for throwing on a doublet, taping on some construction paper facial hair, and posing as an Old Master. No problemo.


Special thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop for the doublet and hat loan! Thou rock!

Art at Home

art at homeOver the years, I’ve had parents approach me at my programs and say “I bet you do a ton of art at home with your kids, right?” They are very surprised when I tell them that no, actually, I don’t!

The reason is this. I have a very active son. And I mean active with a capital A. He decided he was done napping when he was 13 months old and celebrated this decision by vaulting out of his crib. I have a younger daughter who puts everything in her mouth. Absolutely everything. So art supplies were not the best match for our active, mouthy little household. My one experiment with crayons resulted in eight decorated walls, and my son referring to my daughter as a “great artist” with something akin to awe in his voice.

This winter, however, I decided that everyone was a little older (and hopefully, a little more careful) and we were ready to try again. I put together a little art studio, in a little house, on a little budget.

I decided that the studio would be in our kitchen, since we already had a second-hand table parked there that had previously been used as a train table for our son. I purchased a couple art caddies from Michaels craft store and parked them on the tabletop.

caddiesInside the caddies are scissors, a glue stick, a hole punch, markers (regular and thin), a tape dispenser (for a good one, see this post), and plastic shape tracers my husband purchased 3 years ago.

We had been using 3 drawers in the kitchen for toy storage. I moved the toys elsewhere and set up art storage.

drawersThe top drawer holds crayons, colored pencils, and regular pencils. The middle drawer holds construction paper and patterned paper. The bottom drawer has sketch pads and white paper. It might seem like overkill to have these supplies divided into three drawers, but I wanted the kids to be able to segregate the supplies easily and put them away on their own (it worked too!).

The final art storage area is located in the bottom of our pantry, which is right next to the art table. Again, I didn’t pack the pantry full of supplies because I wanted the kids to have plenty of room to access the supplies and put them away on their own.

pantryI stocked a canvas bin full of clean recyclables: empty oatmeal containers, cereal boxes, tissue boxes, toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, plastic retail packaging, tea tins, etc. Every now and then, I replenish the bin with new stuff. In many ways, it’s a small-scale version of the recyclable program I run at my library. Here’s the canvas “art bin” in action:

art binTucked next to the art bin are containers with Playdoh…

playdohWatercolors (not tempura or finger paint – not quite going there yet) plus extra brushes

watercolorsAnd a miniature version of the Bling Bin, which contains odds and ends like pom-poms, pipe cleaners, a pair of unused shoe laces, ribbon, clothespins, feathers, craft sticks, even those little hook thingees that come on new pairs of socks.

mini bling binAlso in the pantry was the biggest splurge – a huge roll of easel paper for floor projects. But a 40% off coupon really helped knock down the price. In fact, I used Michaels 40% off coupons for all of this stuff, slowly acquiring supplies and stashing them in the basement until the big reveal on New Year’s Day.

So, how did the art studio go over? That morning, my son spent 4 hours in the studio, creating things. He made a roadway with easel paper, a jet pack, a rocket, a drawing of a haunted house, a train map, and a train bird feeder, which he promptly asked me to hang on the porch. These days, he’ll head to the art studio to manufacture his own toys to play with. Here’s a shot of that snazzy train bird feeder. Look at that fancy tape work!

train birdfeederMy daughter favors Playdoh, coloring, and using pom-poms from the Bling Bin in various scenarios around the house (ice cream store, grocery store, some sort of complicated sports game with vague scoring parameters). Often, she can often be found scribbling away at the art table with multiple markers at once. She says this is a drawing of a playground. Can you guess what her two absolutely favorite colors are?

playgroundThis past holiday weekend, we stepped into the studio to create some snazzy submarines with spinning propellers (toilet paper tubes, drinking straws, cereal box cardboard, and plastic medicine cups).

submarinesAnd, continuing with the nautical theme, we also made these boats out of tin foil (that’s sailboat on the left and a rowboat on the right). Then we floated them in the bathroom sink.

boatsIn short, the studio was a success and I didn’t need to invest in something big like an easel, shelving, or even new storage bins to make it work. In fact, I was surprised and delighted to learn that many of the containers and even some of the art supplies were already lurking in the house.

Oh, I can still fantasize about my dream home, where a whole room would be dedicated to art. It would have big windows, a sink, a tile floor, a drying rack, a costume/performance area, a drafting desk, paper mache mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and walls adorned with the cheerful work of my genius children.

But right now, I’m happy with my little kitchen studio, and so are my little artists.

Projects, Projects, Everywhere

project bookIt’s the age-old question. What, oh what, am I going to do all of my kid’s artwork? The fridge door is full, the closets are stuffed, the space under the bed is crammed, and that cabinet in the entertainment center is approaching alarming.

This question is especially relevant for patrons who come to my Tiger Tales weekly story time. The program is year round and we always make a project. Sometimes a rather large and involved project. We definitely have regulars who attend every session, so…that’s one project a week over the span of a year. Give or take some holidays, sick days, and vacation days, that could be 40 projects to store in your abode.

No fear! I have a solution. I spotted it in FamilyFun magazine a few years ago and it works a treat. It’s an art project brag book.

brag bookBrag books are basically small, 4″ x 6″ photo albums. Typically, they hold 36 – 40 photos and retail for $6 – $8. I snagged this one from a discount bin at Bed, Bath, & Beyond for $1.99 (and then I shamelessly used a 20% off coupon on it).

The next time an art project has run its course in your home, simply snap a photo of it, print the photo, and add the photo to the brag book. That way, the artist still has a record of his/her work. A “pint-sized portfolio” if you will. You can even customize the cover!

customized coverYou could also include the child in the photo with his/her artwork and gain a sweet little timeline of the artist. Later, when he/she has their first show at the Met, you can bust it out at the opening reception whilst warbling “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Want to know more about the two projects pictured in the brag book that started this post? You’ll find the answers here and here!