Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Easy Way to Protect Children's Oil Pastel Paintings

I've loved oil pastels from the day my aunt sent me my first box! They are creamy and just glide across paper producing gorgeous, vibrant, shiny colors! They take coloring with crayons to a whole other level for kids. Besides being beautiful, kids can have all sorts of fun moving the colors by smearing them with their fingers or blending them with baby oil (check out this great post from The Artful Parent for more on this technique!).

Their downside? They do not dry, instead they harden as time passes... and that process can take a long time. This can make an oil pastel painting a bit of a mess to keep if you don't intend on framing it. The painting can stick to other papers if you put it in a pile, it will transfer pigment to things it comes into contact with, and it smears. There are spray fixatives available at art supply stores (like Sennelier D'Artigny Pastel Fixative, for example) but they can be pricey, are full of chemicals, and explicitly state that they are not to be used by children.

I didn't want to let our daughter's oil pastel paintings sit around for months to harden (at the rate she produces art I would run out of horizontal surfaces in a flash!) but I really wanted to keep them. So I started thinking about what I could use to seal them quickly without resorting to the expensive fixatives or varnishes. 

I found a really simple solution: glue! The best part about glue? It's cheap and, as an added bonus, kids can seal the paintings themselves! Now, I'm not sure what these paintings will look like 20 years from now, but as a kid I would use glue to seal all sorts of things and they look good to this day.

I decided to test Elmer's Glue Gel and the regular Elmer's White Glue on swatches of oil pastel. I had three swatches for each glue: the first swatch was just a thick layer of oil pastel applied to the paper, the second was smeared oil pastel, and the third was oil pastel blended with mineral oil (I was out of baby oil...).

I squeezed some glue onto a paper towel and used a foam brush to apply the glue over the oil pastel swatches. I didn't experience any smearing while doing this. However, a small amount of smearing may occur if there are oil pastel "crumbs" on the surface of the paper. "Crumbs" are created when a lot of pressure is applied to the oil pastel while coloring, basically the same thing that happens with crayons. The problem with the "crumbs" is that the foam brush my take them for a ride and end up streaking the painting. So it's a good idea to give the painting a shake to remove any crumbs from the surface of the paper before applying the glue.

So here are the swatches, still wet, after having applied the glues. You can see here already that the white glue is much cloudier than the glue gel.

When the glues dried, the swatches with the glue gel were shiny and vibrant, very similar to what they looked like before applying the glue. The white glue, on the other had, clouded the colors a bit. Now, if you are protecting a lot of oil pastel art, I would definitely go with the white glue (so much cheaper!). I would save the glue gel for special pieces.

As a final test, I rubbed the swatches with my fingers to test the surfaces. Neither glue peeled nor did any pigment get transferred to my fingers.

Now the ultimate test, I handed my daughter the glue and let her do it herself. She squeezed the glue directly onto the painting.

Then she spread the glue around with the foam brush. She did a great job and with just a little touching up on my part (she's very young and isn't able yet to apply the glue evenly ), the oil pastel painting was nicely protected!

A quick final observation: The paper does wrinkle a bit from the glue. Once the glue was dry, I just put the paper under a heavy book for a while and it flattened out without a problem.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Back to School DIY: Elastic Notebook Strap with Personalized Shrink Plastic Emblem

My sketchbooks and notebooks are what I'd call an organized mess. I'm a bit of a collector in the sense that I'm always sticking pieces of paper, doodles, our daughter's drawings, lists, magazine clippings, and anything that catches my eye into my sketchbooks. They end up getting really chubby and unruly pretty quickly. I always tell myself I will get around to gluing things in place but more often than not the pieces stay where I left them. And to tell you the truth I love them that way and, surprisingly, I know where everything is! But it is a little unnerving to think of the mess I would have to contend with if they ever fell on the floor...

I thought it would be useful to have some elastic straps to secure them. But I wanted to add a personal touch and a bit of whimsy to them with a small illustration or one of our daughter's drawings. My mind immediately went to shrink plastic!

These elastic straps would be a fun accessory for school notebooks and binders. And kids can personalize them with their own drawings or tracings of their favorite characters. They are also so easy to make and a fun activity for a rainy August day!

Here's what you'll need:
  • Shrink plastic
  • Permanent markers such as Sharpies
  • Acrylic paint and Paintbrushes (optional): I felt that the colors of the permanent markers weren't vibrant enough after baking the shrink plastic, so I colored the drawings with acrylic paint.
  • Craft Polyurethane Varnish (optional): I wanted to give the acrylic paint a layer of protection so I covered it with a coat of varnish.
  • Craft felt
  • Elastic: Braided elastic, knit elastic, soft waistband elastic, ruffle elastic, glitter elastic, whichever one you love!
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Sewing materials (optional): Necessary if you want to add pen and pencil holders. I sewed the elastic wherever needed but the elastic could just as easily be glued to the shrink plastic.  
  • The Reluctant Dragon (with Robert Benchley) (not part of the process but so much fun!): A really cute Disney movie with a tour of the Disney studios and a good look into how cartoons were made in the 1940s. While painting the shrink plastic, I kept getting flashbacks of the lady painting Bambi on a cel (transparency film)! If you want to watch this great movie be aware that there is another "Mini Classic" version that cuts out the entire studio tour part of the film.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

I made two different types of elastic straps, illustrated by the Creative Bug and the Piggy Ballerina. The former has a few additional steps because the elastic is secured to the shrink plastic by "wings" and has pen/pencil holders. The latter is a much quicker and simpler design (a better option if you are doing this with kids).

I'll start by explaining the process of making the Creative Bug elastic strap:

1 - Select the image you want for the shrink plastic.

2 - Trace or draw the image using a permanent marker. If you don't want to use acrylic paint later, color in the drawing with permanent markers.

3 - To create the "wings" I made a template that I traced onto the shrink plastic. During the baking process the shrink plastic will shrink to at least 50% of its original size. With that in mind, I made the holes in the wings 0.75 cm wide, which, once shrunk, would give me plenty of room to slide the elastic through.

4 - This is what the final design looked like.

5 - Time to cut it out!

6 - Cut only the outer border with the scissors, do not try to cut out the holes yet.

7 - Using an X-acto knife, carefully carve out the holes in the wings.

8 - Holes successfully cut out! You can erase any permanent marker that was left over from the "Cut Here" guides by carefully wiping it with rubbing alcohol (be careful not to let it touch your drawing!).

9 - Bake the shrink plastic according to the manufacturer's instructions. Here it is, fresh out of the oven! 

10 - My daughter was doing her own along with me! Hers was a family portrait (she's the one in the middle hugging us)!

11 - (Steps 11 - 18 are optional. If you colored your drawing with permanent marker in Step 2, then skip ahead to Step 19.) Start painting! I painted my drawing "backwards", starting with the tiny details and then moving to the larger areas. The side you paint on will be the underside, this way you don't have to worry about painting over the black outlines. Start by painting the highlights and tiny details. Flip the shrink plastic over every now and then to make sure everything looks the way you want it to. You will need about 3 coats of paint to achieve a vibrant color. 

12 - This is my first layer (details and highlights).

13 - Move on to painting the small areas. As long as the paint is dry, go ahead and paint over the previous layer.

14 - Then paint the larger masses.

15 - And, finally, paint the background.

16 - Flip it over and this is what it looks like!

17 - I wanted to protect the paint because I didn't want to risk the hot glue messing up my paint job. So I pulled out my craft polyurethane varnish.

18 - I applied one coat of the varnish to the painted side of the shrink plastic.

19 - To hide the messy underside and to make the shrink plastic slide easily on a notebook or binder, I selected a piece of coordinating craft felt.

20 - I cut the felt to match the shape of the shrink plastic.

21 - And I hot glued the felt to the shrink plastic.

22 - Slide the elastic through the holes in the wings of the shrink plastic. Measure out the amount of elastic you will need by wrapping it around a notebook. If you are creating a pen/pencil holder, leave some excess elastic on one side.

23 - Sew the elastic in place.

23 - Measure the size of the pen/pencil holders and sew the elastic loops shut.

25 - Once sewn, this is what the pen/pencil holders will look like (I made three loops).

The finished elastic notebook strap with a Creative Bug emblem!

Now onto the simpler design! Preparing the shrink plastic is the exact same process as before (Steps 1, 2, 5, and 9 - 20), except here there are no wings

26 - Measure out the amount of elastic you will need by wrapping it around a notebook. Sew or hot glue the loop shut by laying one end of the elastic on top of the other.

27 - Position the elastic so that the seam you made in Step 26 is in the middle of the felt. Hot glue the elastic to the piece of felt.

28 - You are now ready to attach your shrink plastic design to the elastic loop and felt.

29 - I put the elastic around a notebook so the felt and elastic would be nice and flat for the next step.

30 - Hot glue the shrink plastic design to the felt and elastic.

31 - This is what the final piece will look like.

The Piggy Ballerina elastic notebook strap!

And here is our daughter's masterpiece!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tulle Tutu Tutorial

Lately our house has been filled with a lot of dancing! Our daughter recently discovered ballet and has been spinning and "arabesque-ing" all over the place (followed by a bow after every performance!). I couldn't be happier because I love ballet! I'll admit I've watched a little too much of White NightsThe Turning Point, and ballet specials and she is on the same track with Angelina BallerinaPrima Princessa, and ballet YouTube videos and PBS specials.

There is something so magical and whimsical about ballet, I completely understand the appeal to little girls... it was only a matter of time before she asked us for a tutu. I, of course, wanted to make one, so the two of us sat down and picked out the exact colors she wanted, then we went shopping together for the supplies. I wanted her tutu to be very full and fluffy and have a lot of movement to it. This is what I came up with!

Here's what you'll need for the tulle tutu:
  • Tulle - I used tulle spools in three different colors. The tulle off the spools is 6 inches in width and 25 yards long. I used four spools in total: one purple, one dark blue, and two light blue. (Wow, 100 yards of tulle! I hadn't thought about it until now! That's the length of a football field!)
  • 3" Grosgrain Ribbon - I used the ribbon to make the waist. I opted for the wider ribbon because I planned to fold it in half.
  • Embellishment - Optional. If you want to add a little sparkle to the waist band. Anything goes here: sparkly ribbon, pretty buttons, beads, bows, etc.
  • Sew-on Snaps -  I wanted to make the tutu adjustable so I used snaps to close it. I don't recommend velcro as a closure for the tutu... it will stick like crazy to the tulle and ultimately destroy it.
  • Thread - Match the color of the grosgrain ribbon. 

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Before starting, measure your child's waist (my daughter's waist is 19.5 inches) and determine how long you will want the tutu to be (I made hers 20 inches long).

1 - Cut out a piece of foam board or cardboard approximately 10 inches wide and the length of the tutu (in my case, 20 inches). This board is going to be used to cut all the tulle to size. It is the quickest and most painless way I could think of to get 100 yards of tulle cut into 20 inch strips.

2 - Wrap the tulle around the foam board. Run the spool around and around until all the tulle is off the spool and on the board.

3 - Cut the tulle at both ends of the foam board. Be careful to hold the tulle in place while cutting the first end. You don't want the tulle to fall off the board.

4 - Cut the rest of the tulle in the same manner.

5 - Next lay out the grosgrain ribbon and cut it to the desired length plus 3 inches (the extra 3 inches are for hemming the ends). Since the tutu I made has an adjustable waist, I added about 4 inches to the 19.5 inches I had measured around my daughter's waist:

            Waist Measurement  +  Adjustable Length  +  Hem Allowance  =  26.5 inches
                  (19.5 inches)                  (4 inches)                   (3  inches)       

6 - Fold the grosgrain ribbon in half and iron it.

7 - If you are adding a ribbon as an embellishment, pin it along the length of the grosgrain ribbon.

8 - Unfold the grosgrain ribbon and sew the embellishment onto it.

9 - To make the hem of the grosgrain ribbon, first unfold it, then fold the ends over twice and sew.

10 - Lay the grosgrain ribbon down on a large surface and open it in the shape of an L. Start placing the strips of tulle along the length of the ribbon. The ends of the tulle strips should sit along the crease of the ribbon. I placed two strips at a time and overlapped the strips so that the skirt would be very full and fluffy.

11 - When you reach the end of the ribbon, go back to the beginning and add another layer of tulle on top of the tulle you just placed. Repeat until all the tulle is gone.

12 - Carefully fold the grosgrain ribbon over the layers of tulle and pin in place. All of the tulle should be secured to the ribbon.

13 - Sew the tulle to the ribbon. I sewed it twice, once along the middle and once at the base of the ribbon where the tulle meets the ribbon. 

14 and 15 - Hand sew your snaps on.

Fluff the tulle and you are done! 

Here is the finished tutu! I loved it, it is so full and moves beautifully when my daughter dances around! The whole process took about 3 hours and I would consider this a beginner-level sewing project, since you only have to sew straight lines. 

Let your little ballerina dance and dream!