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!

Worth the Splurge IV

scissor standDo you like reaching into bins of pointy metal things? Neither do I. That’s where this little baby comes in. No risk of getting skewered here!

This wooden scissor rack holds 24 pairs of scissors. The scissors are stored blade down, one pair to each hole. Not only does the rack store scissors safely, it has a built-in visual alert mechanism when a pair go missing. If I’m cleaning up after a program and notice that a hole in the rack is empty, I immediately know that:

  1. The scissors are on the floor somewhere, about to be discovered by a toddler.
  2. The scissors are being carried out of the craft area by an adventurous youth.
  3. The scissors are being used to give an impromptu haircut to oneself or others.

Before you scoff at my paranoia, let me assure you that all three things have been narrowly avoided, thanks to this fabulous scissor stand. I’ve used metal and plastic scissor stands, but this wooden one is by far my favorite. Eight years of use, and it’s still going strong! I purchased mine at Discount School Supply, where it currently retails for $20.

scissors top

Worth the Splurge III

box portraitI use a fair amount of boxes for my projects, and what wonderful boxes they are!

While said projects can be done with tissue or household boxes, I admittedly splurge on these 100% recycled gift boxes from Nashville Wraps (the “economy matte white” ones are shown above). Why? Oh, let me count the ways:

  1. They’re packed flat, which makes them super easy to store (and since my storage is limited, this is a huge plus).
  2. They offer a blank template to begin with (instead of having to cover a tissue box with white paper, for example).
  3. They hold up really well to marker, crayon, tape, white glue, glue sticks, and hot glue.
  4. These dandy boxes also come in brown, which I’ve used to make this adorable little produce stand, this fantastic boat hat, this splendid garden, this candy factory, this bouncy bed, and this creepy carrot basket.
  5. They’re 100% recycled! And I love me some recycling.

So, how much of a splurge are these boxes? Well, if you want to buy a case of the white 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” size (which I use pretty often – see this monster feet project, this dog project, this ice cream truck, this robot marionette, and this dragon), you can buy a case of 100 for $26.50. That’s 27 cents a box. Pretty good!

They come in different sizes of course. I used a white 4″ x 4″ x 4″ box for this dentist project, this hot air balloon project, and this floating island. You can buy a case of 100 for $15.90 or, 16 cents a box.

Shipping can add some cost. The good news, however, is that Nashville Wraps offers flat rate or free shipping (plus a small handling fee) when your order reaches certain levels. I take advantage of this by estimating what I need for a year and placing one BIG order to get a break on shipping. The cases of boxes easily stack in a closet or under a table. Nice!