Saturday, July 30, 2011

Forever Sandcastles

So, the past week has been spent at the lake while my oldest three children take swimming lessons. I enjoy the sun and relative peace while my littlest child scoots all over the beach (she doesn't crawl), getting sand in her diaper. I have been thinking a lot about sand these days, after taking great pains to clean the sand out of everyone's shorts, diapers, food, sunscreen, car seats, etc. This week's project is all about sand: creating sandcastles from a dough that allows your project to be enjoyed long after the summer fun is done.

This project is originally from Family Fun magazine. I originally did this project at the beginning of the school year with my art students. I thought it was a good way to ease the students from summer into a year's worth of medieval art. While this project can be done with children as young as preschool age, results will vary, so don't be too concerned if the masterpieces of the younger set don't look quite like castles! Have fun and enjoy the sand!

Supplies Needed:
  • Sand dough, recipe to follow
  • Small shells
  • Small twigs or toothpicks
  • Pieces of scrap paper and glue stick for flags
  • Tacky glue
  • Paper plates covered in wax paper (to use as a work surface)
  • Plastic table cover
  • Colored pencils & scissors to decorate flags
  • Castle books for inspiration

1. Start by making the sand dough. Use an old metal pot that is not non-stick (the sand will scrape the finish). You can make the dough 1 day in advance, just keep it tightly covered until ready to use.

Sand Dough Recipe:

1 cup sand
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. alum (found in the spice section of the grocery store)
3/4 cup water

Combine the dry ingredients in the saucepan using a wooden spoon. Add the water and stir until the mixture is smooth & combined. Cook the clay over medium-high heat, stirring once in awhile. The clay will start to thicken. As it begins to thicken, stir more frequently. After about 3 minutes of cooking, the dough will be the consistency of play dough. Remove the clay from the pan and let cool a bit. Once the clay is cool enough to touch, you can begin sculpting.

2. Give each child a portion of the dough (1 batch will make enough for two children). Have the child work on a paper plate covered with a piece of waxed paper (that will make the sculpture easy to remove once it's dry).

Some of the elements you may want to include in your castle are:

The Keep: the last defensible part of a castle. This is the "building' portion of the castle.
Crenels: Openings cut from the top of a tower or wall for guns or arrows to fire through.
Moat: A water-filled ditch surrounding a fortress.
Drawbridge: A huge, heavy door that was raised and lowered over a moat to stop or allow entry into a fortress.
Bailey: A courtyard inside a castle compound.
Loop hole: A thin opening in a tower wall to let light in or to see out and to shoot arrows or fire guns through.
Battlement: A fortified top of a castle wall or tower.

Once you are done sculpting your castle, you can use shells to embellish it. The children in my art class used shells to make patterns on the sides of their castles, or as doors or windows. You can use the point of a toothpick to make brick texture or windows on the side of the castle. Now is also the time to create little flags for your castle out of bits of paper glued to toothpicks and stuck into the dough. Do this while the dough is still wet though--once it is dry it is rock hard!

Now you can let your castle air dry. It will take about 2-3 days or so. Any shells that fall off during the drying process, can be reattached with some tacky glue.

Enjoy your little bit of summer!

The castle from above

When I presented this lesson to my art class, I had the following books on hand for them to look at:

“Castle,” by David Macauley (ISBN 0-395-25784-0)
“Castles,” A First Discovery Book, Scholastic, Inc. (0-590-46377-2)
“Knights and Castles,” by Philip Dixon (ISBN 1-4169-3864-8)
“Knights and Castles,” by Fiona Macdonald (ISBN 0-8368-4997-3)
“Knights and Castles: Exploring History Through Art” by Alex Martin (ISBN 1-58728-441-3)
“Medieval Castles,” by Lynne Ferguson Chapman (ISBN 0-88682-687-x)
“See Inside a Castle,” by R.J. Unstead (ISBN 0-531-09119-8)
“The Story of a Castle,” by John S. Goodall (ISBN 0-689-50405-5)
“The World of Castles & Forts,” by Malcolm Day (ISBN 0-87226-278-2)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fun With Heiroglyphics: Name Cartouche

Ahhh, Summer. Weeks and weeks of heat that eventually force children to play inside. This is the week that it is officially "too hot" for the boys to play outside for very long. 
Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs used to make personalized name plaques.

The other day I had 6 children running around inside & outside during the afternoon (my four and two friends). I pushed the ice water & juice boxes. I handed out freeze pops, but eventually they came inside to cool down and recharge. They weren't super-crazy about the toys on hand, so I whipped up a bunch of salt dough and brought out my newest find: a book and stamp kit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art written by Catharine Roehrig. The title of the kit: "Fun With Hieroglyphs."

I found this great little kit at a discount store near me and snapped it up even though I won't be covering that time period with my art class again for a couple of years. The kit has 24 rubber stamps, an ink pad and a full-color book explaining TONS about the development of writing in ancient Egypt. The pictures are engaging, the text easy-to-read and understand. Roehrig gradually introduces readers to the "rules" of using hieroglyphs and gives many examples, easy-to-use charts and games so that readers can become familiar with the symbols. It's a wonderful resource, and would be a great gift for a child who is maybe 7-12 years old.

I am not a huge fan of stamping (ink and my boys don't mix all that well just yet), but I thought they could use the stamps in dough to make a more permanent decoration for their rooms.

If you do not have this kit, you can still have fun with hierogylphs--see if your local library can get this book on loan for you or if you can get another book about hieroglyphs to use. Roehrig explains that the the system of writing used by ancient Egyptians used 24 symbols, so any resource that would show those 24 symbols along with their meanings (sounds) would allow you to do a project like this.

You can draw or stamp the symbols of your name on paper (maybe make notecards or a bookmark). Or, if tracking down a source of hieroglyphs is just too much work for the summer, whip up a batch of salt dough and make something else that strikes your fancy! ENJOY!

Clay Name Cartouche

Supplies Needed:
  • 1 batch of salt dough (Make about 6 cartouche plaques, each 2" x 6" or so), recipe to follow
  • Foil or parchment paper for work surface
  • Toothpick or skewer to make a hole to hang the piece by
  • Hieroglyph stamps
  • Rolling pin
  • Watercolor, tempera, or acrylic paints
  • Water & water bowl
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper towels
  • Newspaper to protect your work surface
  • Acrylic spray varnish, optional

1. Mix up a batch of salt dough right before you are going to do the project. Here's the recipe I use:

Salt dough

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup (or so) of water

Mix the flour and salt together and gradually add the water until a soft dough forms. Knead the dough for 7-10 minutes. If the dough is too wet or sticky, add more flour. If the dough is too dry, sprinkle it with a few drops of water. Keep excess dough covered with plastic wrap until ready to use.

2. Chose the symbols you will need for your name. The Egyptians based their writing on the sounds of a word, so you may have to make some adjustments to the spelling of your name. For example, the name "SUSAN" sounds like "SOOZIN" and so we'd be looking for hieroglyphs that captured those sounds.

3. Cover your workspace with foil or parchment. It is easier to work directly on foil then to try to remove your clay piece from table to cookie sheet once it is done. Take a portion of the dough and roll it into a log shape. Gradually flatten it, using the rolling pin, so that a flattened oblong shape is created. I chose that shape because it is the shape of a cartouche--a symbol that shows readers that a group of hieroglyphs should be read together. Make sure all of your hieroglyphs will fit on the dough piece you have created. If not, simply create a larger plaque using more dough.

4. Stamp your hieroglyphs into the dough. I stamped my symbols in a column, but you can arrange your hieroglyphs horizontally or vertically within the cartouche shape or fit them together so that they look nice (Egyptians took great care in the arrangement of the hieroglyphs within a cartouche).

Adding the clay border around the hieroglyphs.
5. Once all of the hieroglyphs in your name are stamped into the clay, you can create the border of the cartouche. That is an oval around the hieroglyphs that looks a little like a rope. Take a bit of clay and roll it into a long rope. Gently lay it onto the plague as a frame or border around the hieroglyphs. Take a shorter piece and place it onto your plaque horizontally, using the photos as a reference. I then took the side of a toothpick and pressed lines into the dough to make the little lines that appeared in the cartouche pictures I was using as a reference.
Ready to go in the oven.

6. If you'd like to hang the cartouche, use the toothpick to gently make a hole at the top of the piece.

7. Bake the piece in the oven at 325 degrees for 30 minutes per 1/4" of thickness. The dough should be light browned when done. Allow the baked plaque to cool slightly, remove the foil, if necessary, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

8. Once the piece is completely cooled, gather your supplies for painting. I used liquid acrylics in bottles. They are inexpensive and easy to work with. However, while they are water soluable while wet and will wash off your skin, they will stain clothes and wood. Cover your work surface with paper and wear an apron or old clothes. Younger children may want to use tempera paints or watercolors.

9. Using images of wall paintings from Egyptian times, paint your cartouche. Egyptian wall paintings usually have bright, natural colors and the images don't have much detail (they are stylized). Let the paint dry thoroughly. Once dry, you can spray the plaque with acrylic varnish to protect the paint, but it is not necessary.

10. When your cartouche is done, thread a ribbon through the hole to hang the piece or hang it directly on a nail in your room. Now everyone will now whose room it is by the ancient hieroglyphs in your own personal cartouche! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Memory Pillow and Artist Talk

I visited my son's first grade classroom a few weeks ago and gave a talk about being an artist. It was so much fun talking with the children about ways to make art as well as the different careers an artist can have. We then did a project where the children made memory pillows. It was a wonderful way for them to remember the school year and all of the friends they made this year!

The Memory Pillow--what a masterpiece!

What is an Artist?

In preparation for this project I looked in the dictionary to see what being an artist meant. It said that an artist is someone who creates art. Well, that didn't seem like a very good explanation!

We discussed different kinds of art/ways of making art and we came up with this list:

Fabric Arts (like knitting embroidery, quilting)
Computer Arts (like web design)
Cartooning/Animation (like cartoons on TV & movies as well as in newspapers and in books)

(I'm sure this list isn't complete! I also added that people can be artists if they create music, dance, perform in the theater and write).

Many works of art like paintings and drawings are found in museums and in galleries, but art is all around us every day. We discussed different art careers that are out there such as:

Architect: If you like to draw houses and create buildings with Legos then maybe you could be an architect!

Illustrator/Cartoonist: I told the children they were already illustrators since they all published books for the school's writing festival! If you like to draw pictures to go along with stories you could be an illustrator!

Sculptor/Potter: Do you like to work in clay? Do you like to make sculptures or bowls and cups? Maybe this job is for you!

Graphic Designer: Do you like to make books with words and pictures? Do you like to look at cool websites? Those are made by graphic designers!

Actor/Actress/Dancer: If you love to perform and put on shows--this is for you!

Art Teacher: If you love to talk about art and share different projects with children, then this job is for you! This is what I do and I love it! :-)

Memory Pillow:

This is a wonderful project for a teacher gift, a class project, a birthday party and more! After our talk we worked on this craft.

Supplies Needed:

1 square of white 100% cotton fabric (ours was about 12 x 12")
1 square of printed fabric for backing that is the same size as the front piece (ours was 12 x 12")
Gold acrylic paint
1 4"x 8" piece of craft foam
Paper plate for palette
Newspapers or other work surface covering
Fabric markers (I use Crayola brand)
Sewing machine
Needle and matching thread
Pillow stuffing


1. Wash the fabric to remove sizing, dry and cut to size.

2. Cover your work area with newspaper. Cut a frame shape from the foam. Put some gold paint onto the palette and, using a brush, apply a thick coat of paint to the foam. Stamp the foam shape onto the center of the white square. Let dry.
Choose a metallic gold paint for a little sparkle. The children asked,  "Is this REAL gold?"

3. Trace around the edge of the gold frame with a black fabric marker, if desired, to make the frame's edges a little more crisp and interesting. You don't have to be neat about it--it looks more interesting if the edges are off a bit (I completed up to this part at home so all the children had to do was draw with markers).

4. Using fabric markers, draw a picture inside the frame. If you are doing this with a group, you may want to have the artist sign inside the frame as well.
A dragon being stopped by a super hero

A horse and rider in a woodland scene. Love those woodland critters!

5. Now's the time to have everyone sign each other's pillows. Do not sign inside someone's frame or on their picture. Leave about 1/2" border all around the edge of the white square for a seam allowance.

6. Once the marker work is done, pin the white square to the backing material with the right sides facing each other. Sew around the pillow, leaving a 3-4" opening on one side.
Older children can use the sewing machine with adult supervision, to sew their pillows on their own. My 9-year-old was able to sew his pillow.

7. When done, turn the pillow right side out and gently stuff with pillow stuffing.

8. Pin the opening of the pillow closed, thread a needle with matching thread and sew the opening closed.

Ta-da! A masterpiece (and a memory) has been created! Enjoy!!
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