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A Glorious Mess Revisited

This after Thanksgiving craft bears repeating! Thanks Tracey…


I am the Martha Stewart generation—a young mom before the days of DIY, blogs, Handmade Nation, and Etsy (and email and cell phones for that matter). Crafting in those days was mostly the realm of groovy-hippie-types or country-calico-quilters. And although I had a certain appreciation for both asthetics, I didn't quite fit in anywhere on the maker's spectrum. All that changed when I first laid eyes on the premier issue of Living magazine. Everything about it ignited my graphic-designer-modernist tendencies; the sophisticated color palettes, the charmingly smart photo styling, the graphic play of patterns and materials, everything seemed perfect. And I wanted to make stuff like that!

I credit Martha for inspiring me to make things that I liked and that felt like "me". She brought both class and wit into handmade objects and she creating things with one's hands. making things with my hands is both a soul-nourishing and using my hands for more than just clicking and typing makes me feel human, creative, like I'm both giving and receiving. 


So let's get to making:

These popsicle stick stars are my favorite—well suited for mass production, quick to put together, and infinitely customizable.

All you need are:
– popsicle sticks
– glue gun
– paint

The possibilities are limitless. 


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Haiku of Thanksgiving


These pumpkins don’t grow on vines but they have something in common with fortune cookies and piñatas.

The Recipe:
1. Take a lunch-sized paper bag and fill the bottom with torn paper.
2. Before twisting closed, insert a handcrafted thanksgiving haiku or two.
3. Twist the top of the bag tight.
4. Paint using pumpkin colors.
5. After the paint is dry, use ribbon and raffia to decoratively seal the stem.

Display during the Thanksgiving season and tear open when it’s time to celebrate gratitude.



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Stitching Leaves


Last fall, Sara collected leaves to trace for this stitchery project. You can too.

She found some beautiful hand-dyed felt on Etsy. You can too.

She traced her leaf shapes onto the felt and cut out the shapes. You can too.

Then she sent the felt leaves to me and I had my students stitch the veins. And look what our little ones made!

Your little ones can too!

Here are some tips for stitching with little ones:

1. Demonstrate – Make one yourself! Children learn so much more this way. Think SHOW vs. tell!

2. Thread needles in advance. Always have an extra ready.

3. Have each student work on two at once so that when knots happen (and they will), they can keep busy on the second leaf.

4. Go slow! Teach stitchers to “go down through the top”  s l o w l y,  then “up through the bottom”  s l o w l y.

5. Use the internet if you need help with stitching.



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The Yarn Bombed Pumpkin


Yarn-bombing is a thing. 

Look it up.

This pumpkin is a project that I worked on with my family during the month of October a few years back. Let me tell you, bringing shape to this silly little idea afforded our family with a fun collaborative activity in the busy weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. It was peaceful work. We discovered it was work that taught us about the organic lines of the pumpkin. But most surprisingly, well, this project was scientifically thought provoking. This white pumpkin mummified in orange yarn did not begin rotting until July of the following year. And when it did, it only molded a bit at the bottom. In fact, only when I set it back into the garden at the beginning of the following October did it move well on it's way to dirt.  We enjoyed our pumpkin art for an entire year. And I imagine the dirt it eventually contributed to is not only nutritious, but rich with creative fodder.


Yarn bombing a pumpkin is super easy. Here's how:

1. Choose a pumpkin. 

2. Choose a yarn color. I chose orange to cover a white pumpkin but any color will do. 

3. Paint a small section with glue and cut lengths of yarn to cover the pumpkin from stem to base and begin covering the pumpkin.

Continue in this manner until the pumpkin is mummified with yarn.



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Butterflies of Winter


When the cold of winter nips at your toes, remember summer with its warm, sunny days. While you are remembering, think butterfly. Remember how they come fluttering aglow with complex design—longings and swallowtails, and of course monarchs flitting through our blossoming gardens. Of course there is butterfly activity in every season, but when the rush of flitting color slows in the cold of winter, make a butterfly garden of paper and chalk pastel. 

Here's how:

For this project we began with a goodly weighted bristol, with a bit of a tooth. Pastel paper is best, but costly. Drawing paper will do just fine too. Begin by looking closely at a real butterfly. Next, study the anatomy of a butterfly. Pay attention to the symmetry and the complexity of these wonderful creatures.





You will need to draw the shape of two forewings and two hindwings onto the paper you have selected. After drawing, you will need to cut out the wings and fold them horizontally in accordion folds. Unfold the wings. Using chalk pastel, decorate the shapes with butterfly details. Smudge some of the color, but leave some sketch marks. Be creative, but try to keep your creativity tied to the butterfly motif.

Next, cut a thin, very long triangle shape of paper and roll it up like a croissant. This will be the head, thorax, and abdomen of the butterfly. Use a hot glue gun to attach the forewings and hindwings to the body. Finish the butterfly by blending the wing colors to the body using similar colors of chalk pastel. Attach a bit of wire for the antenna. Cut a length of the wire depending on the size of the butterfly you created, bend to a V, add some beads to both ends, and attach to the head of the butterfly with a drop of hot glue. 

Continue this process to create a rabble of butterflies. You will be amazed how wonderful these creatures akin to the real thing will brighten a winter garden window.





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Chasing Lines Slowly


Learning to follow a line is a skill that will teach students to think well. This skill is mathematical, involving spatial recognition, fractional and proportional relationships, and directional measurement.

To complete this project you will need colored pencils or markers, a sheet of heavy drawing paper or a drawing journal, and a quiet space to enjoy the process.

  1. Look carefully at the drawing by Henri Matisse.
  2. Divide your drawing space in your mind into four quadrants.
  3. Choose a quadrant to draw one of the fruits that you will then anchor all the other fruits and leaves to. Be sure to consider how much space the fruit demands and where the fruit is settled in the quadrant.
  4. Swap colors and draw a shape that connects to the first shape.
  5. continue like this until the drawing is complete.

Remember, teasing students that good things take time is an important lesson. This lovely drawing was completed by a 3rd grader in three sittings.

Ready, set, go (SLOWLY)!



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Rothko and El Greco Mashup


It began back in November with our iModannari after Rothko who  thought that the greatest paintings were the ones that captured a moment of stillness. What better way to enter into the Thanksgiving season.

Rothko painted rectangles. But he blurred the edges so the shapes seem to float. the saturations of color he offers seem veiled somehow, adding to the contemplative nature of his work.

He was born at the dawn of the 20th century in Latvia and when he was ten his family emigrated to America. Later he studied painting at Yale University and then became part of "The Ten"— a group of expressionistic artists who rallied behind abstract art.

After returning from the Thanksgiving break, we didn't have the heart to white out the sidewalk patch dedicated to iModinnari, so artist-in-residence, Taylor suggested we try a mashup.


In steps El Greco—painter sculpture, architect of the Spanish Revolution. Born in crete in 1541, and trained to become a master of Byzantine style art. But, as with all legendary artists, he soon departed from that style, breaking rules to bring shape to a voice that is uniquely his own. His expressionistic, dramatic style influence the likes of Picasso, and reached into the work of Rothko.  


Are you catching the vision? Use the Rothko as the backdrop to host our interpretation of the El Greco.


The result is miraculous! Took my breath away. The students were able to capture something of the El Greco, while simultaneously letting the Rothko shine through.

Chalk pastels, a willingness to get your hands dirty, and the patience to look closely to discover how shapes and lines, and darks and lights work together to communicate an idea—that's all there is to it. You, too, can make a mashup. Step outside and give it a try. And if the weather outside is frightful, find a large piece of cardboard (the size of a refrigerator box works great), prep it with a couple coats of white tempera paint, and off you go!

 And keep Rothko in mind as you do: “Pictures must be miraculous"

Enjoy the miraculous process of making art. 




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Master Class: iMadonnari


It's December in California, so we took to the great outdoors to tackle a master class. The mentor? None other than Fra Angelico. 


Before tackling this Fra Angelico project, take a bit of advice from Leonardo: "It's easier to resist at the beginning than the end."

Even though this project looks extravagant, you will be able to resist the urge-to-resist at the beginning if you take the time to look.

Look closely at the top of the "canvas" where the profile line begins. Is it directly at the half-way mark, or closer to two-thirds? Trace the profile contour as it gently falls in a curvilinear manner toward the bottom left-hand corner.

When placing the eye, look at where it sits on the "page" in relation to the forehead and nose. How many fractional parts does the eye represent. In other words, how many eyes would fit in a line from the left-hand edge and the bridge of the nose?

What kind of curve is the eyebrow? And what kind of strokes is it made of.

Look at the color of the lips. Notice how the color is used to warm the cheeks with a soft smudge.

Ask and look. Continue to ask and look.

If you do, you will have conquered the most difficult part of the project at hand. Drawing is more about engaging in the process of looking than anything else. Beginning at this beginning will embolden you to press in to the end. 

This work began by students blocking out a great section of our Guild courtyard patio (5 by 6 feet). Next they painted the entire space with white, water-based tempera paint to create a canvas of sorts upon which the drawing could take shape. Next, the students studied the placement of the line that divides the drawing— the great contour of the angel's silhouette. And when they were certain of the line, the laid it down using a flesh-toned soft chalk pastel. They continued drawing and shading the profile, using their hands to smudge and soften details. Once satisfied with the angel, the students painted the great halo using gold tempera.

After three hours of joyful focus, the work took on incredible detail, materializing on the cement with the depth of an oil painting and the essence of the original.

So begin at the beginning and enjoy the persist. Persist straight through to the end!


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Celebrate Color: Happy Birthday Kandinsky!



Celebrate the many colors of Wassily Kandinsky and practice the math of concentricity in the process.

Kandinsky connected color to sound. What an awesome metaphor: "The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble notes." 

For this project, mix up jars of brightly colored paints that would make the treble notes sing with delight. We used Kandinsky's palette as a starting point:


Always remember that the colors you mix will be so much more interesting than the colors straight from the tube. For example, when mixing red, add a splash of yellow to move it towards red orange, then mix a drop of the opposite of red orange, blue-green to tame it down a bit. 



When you are ready to paint, think outside the box. This project could certainly be accomplished on canvas, but we decided to pick up some eucalyptus slices at our local craft store to create a puzzle-like effect.

After the project is completed, step back from the work and you will see, when it comes to art, Kandinsky is right: "Everything starts from a dot."



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Stitch Picasso


Stitchery builds cognitive plasticity.

Embroidery is a practice that will empower students to be aware of fine motor potential, overcome the short attention span, and to have a growth mindset. The nervous system controls all of the body functions. But it is a complicated system with diverse potential. by tapping into all potential and possibilities while learning, students will develop diverse thinking skills. 

Enhanced performance of the brain ensures that all of the other body systems perform accordingly. Metabolism, for example, is a complex task that makes sure the body has minerals when needed and ensures that toxic waste is extracted from the body. Creative endeavors help the brain to engage in focused, relaxed work, improving nervous system performance. Embroidery is good for the brain. And this is good for learning.

For this project we began by observing Picasso's Owl:


Next, students made original drawings inspired by Picasso's drawing. After each child had a drawing they were settled with, the drawing was transferred to the burlap flap. We used the running stitch since these were made by 1st and 2nd graders. But running stitch is great place to start with all ages.


One hint: Have two needles threaded for each student, "unthreading" is common with new stitchers!  

Embroidery is academic. So put down the pencil, pick up a needle and thread.

While stitching, think interdisciplinary: Read a book about owls! Write an owl poem.