Letter Art

letter artInspire alpha-centric creativity with this simple project! This dandy “Letter Art” gallery was created by Cotsen Critix, our literary group for kids ages 9-12. First, I asked each kid (plus 2 Princeton undergraduates and myself) to select a plain paper mache uppercase letter. I used these 8″ ones, purchased from our local Paper Source store (uppercase letters are $3.95, lower case are $3.75).

undecorated letter NWe took the letters home, decorated them, and brought them to the group’s next session, where they were proudly photographed and put on display. After that, we launched into a workshop with a Japanese calligrapher, who introduced us to an entirely different approach to the art of the letter.

calligraphyBelow are larger images of the individual letters, beginning with one that was inspired by the drinking straws and rosettes on this Cinderella dress (as library VIPs, Cotsen Critix got a sneak peek at the dress before the big event).

Also, if you’re wondering… yes, the backwards R in a box is wired for electricity. The angle of the box, the letter R, and the striped T in the illuminated background all combine to spell “ART.” There’s also a backwards Z. Apologies for reversing that honorable letter of the alphabet, but I couldn’t resist capturing the side with the cotton ball storm cloud and Sharpie highlighter lightning bolt!

letter Xletter Hletter Aletter Wletter Iletter K_1letter Rletter Zletter Kletter E_2letter R_2letter Mletter Eletter R_3letter Nletter Z_2

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!

Team Cupcake

team cupcakeMmmm…is there anything more enticing than a cupcake? How about four cupcakes artistically decorated with delightful toppings? Oh cupcakes, you complete me.

finished cupcakesWe read Cupcake by Charise Maricale Harper (Disney-Hyperion, 2010). One day, a cupcake is born. Topped with a plain creamy frosting top, Vanilla Cupcake is eager to meet his brothers and sisters. There’s Happy-Face Cupcake, Chocolaty Chocolate Cupcake, Pink Princess Cupcake, Rainbow-Sprinkles Cupcake, Stripy Cupcake, Polka-Dot Cupcake, and Fancy Flower-Top Cupcake. At the end of the day, however, only Vanilla Cupcake is left on the platter, completely overlooked. A plain little candle hears Cupcake weeping and can definitely empathize – what with his large and colorful family (there’s Number Candle, Stripy Candle, Letter Candle, Super-Long Candle…). Candle decides that Cupcake just needs something special on top. It’s not pickles, pancakes, peas, or a squirrel. Hmmm…I wonder what it could be?

You’ll need:

  • 1 white paper plate
  • 1 6″ white paper doily (optional)
  • 1 white paper cup
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • A 21″ piece of shimmer ribbon
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 4 rectangles of construction paper (approximately 1.5″ x 6″)
  • 4 coffee filters (the standard size, 7.5″)
  • A small handful of polyester fill
  • A selection of dot stickers
  • A selection of iridescent fabric shapes
  • A selection of mini pom-poms (mine were 0.5″)
  • A selection of self-adhesive foam shapes
  • A selection of fabric flowers
  • A selection of eye stickers
  • Scissors, tape, white glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Begin with your cupcake stand! It’s very simple. Cut a scalloped edge into your paper plate like so:

plateThen, flip a white paper cup upside down and wrap pattered tape around it.

cupHot glue the paper plate to the top of the flipped cup, and tie a piece of shimmer ribbon around where the cup and plate meet. For extra fanciness, glue a white paper doily to the top of the paper plate.

standThe stand is done, now for the cupcakes!  Decorate 4 construction paper rectangles with markers and patterned tape. We gave kids 4 choices of “cupcake colors.” Namely, yellow, brown, white, and pink. Cut the toilet paper tubes into four, 1.5″ pieces. Wrap the decorated construction paper rectangles around the tubes.

To make frosting, use the markers to decorate 4 coffee filters. You only need to decorate the center of the filter, not the entire thing.

frosting 1Flip the filter over and drop a bit of polyester fill in the center.

frosting 2Bunch the filter together around the polyester fill like a little bag. Then trim about 1″ of filter off the top.

frosting 3Push the gathered end of the bag into a tube and secure it to the interior of the tube with tape.

frosting tapeYou now have a cupcake with frosting…

frosting 4Which you are free to decorate with markers, dot stickers, iridescent fabric shapes, mini pom-poms, self-adhesive foam shapes, and fabric flowers. The final step is to add some eye stickers.

frosting doneThe thing I loved best about this story time was  how much personality the cupcake creations had. Here are a few I managed to capture with my camera!