Have you ever played with Nuudles? Magic Nuudles are these styrofoamy-looking little tater tots that stick together with water. They’re apparently made of cornstarch (yummm! –oh, wait, you’re not supposed to EAT them), and are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
For some reason, they kind of weirded me out at first (maybe just a sense memory of packing-popcorn disasters?), but I have changed my tune. I. LOVE. NUUDLES.
They’re easy: Stick ’em in a bowl so you can see all the colors easily. Get a little sponge (if you lose the one in the box, a wet washcloth works), give your kid some safety scissors, and BOOM, it’s just that easy.
(In case you’re not aware, I don’t get any money for anything on this blog, so no one’s holding my kid hostage, telling me I have to say good things. I just love getting good tips from other crafty moms about things that might peacefully and quietly entertain my kid that DON’T involve a TV or IPad.)
You can squish the little pieces, or cut them up with scissors, and all it takes is a little touch of water (they even say you can lick them, but…um…no thanks) to make them stick together.
Myla found them fun, and had a great time trying to make characters with them. The little blue fox above is Fig, from the Amazon show Tumble Leaf. She also made the little crab with the wooden claw (look how she made the little wooden claw!!) from the same show. Below them is what she says is Catbus, from the movie Totoro, but (admittedly) looks a bit like a CATerpillar. Hur-hur.
And look at these teensy weensy little bats!
I’m sure she told me what these are, but I’m not sure I remember (BAD momma!)…The bottom one is most likely a version of Nightcrawler, I’m sure (based on my scientific deduction…and the basic color scheme)…
And some other cute little critters…
So anyway, not that anyone asked, but I give Magic Nuudles a big high five! If you’re looking for something for a bigger kid to play with (they recommend over age 3) that doesn’t require TONS of parental involvement (alright: when you need a bit of a breather), they’re definitely worth a try!
Playing with Mermaids
Inspiration comes in strange places. With the excitement of Austin Wizard Con looming, I have been playing with all kinds of ideas for the table display and the idea of little knick-knacks to show. And since I follow a ton of very talented artists on Instagram, I was inspired by them to try something completely new for me: molding and casting.
So I watched a few videos on YouTube, and now I’m an expert.
I won’t do a full DIY step by step, since I don’t really know what I’m doing and this is all new to me anyway (trust me, this is one of those situations where you have to just jump in and try it). But I’ll give a rough rundown of the basic steps, just to show you what was involved…
Step 1: Sculpt something.
I used Super Sculpey, and tried to come up with a little sculpted version of the mermaid girl Myla & I made. (I realize she looks very little like the original, but Myla said she was cute, so I think it’s okay…) Since kids have a natural magnetic attraction towards clay, I sacrificed a handful of Sculpey and let Myla make her own mermaid. (She modeled her after a character on Doc McStuffins, who is not, in fact, topless–but she couldn’t remember what her top looked like, so she just gave her breasts. I’m not sure if I should put a censored black bar over kid-sculpted breasts? I just go with it)…
Step 2: Make a mold.
I got my kits from a company called Smooth-On (who have TONS of great videos on their site). I won’t give you every little detail on this, since the directions are really easy (and on the box)…but the basic idea is mix This with That and pour. (Plus, if I told you everything, I’d ruin all the messy fun for you.) The main thing I learned during this step: make sure you mix it REALLY well. If you don’t, it doesn’t set right. I made mine from silicone rubber in a plastic cup. I nearly didn’t mix enough for the tail, but it turned out alright.
Step 3: Cut your sculpture out
You know that bit of instructions that you think, “Ah, that’s not a big deal, I’ll just sort of wing it”? Well, turns out sometimes they tell you those little tips for a good reason. When I put my sculpture in the cup to mold it, I forgot to mark on the cup where the back side of her was. So when it was time to open her, and I “guessed,” I guessed wrong, and sort of sliced up her face. The stubby arms were apparently a little too weak for the whole process and broke off. And the body crumbled because I hadn’t fully cooked her. But the mold itself turned out fairly good. And Sculpey can be touched up a bit, so I patched her up and fully cooked her, and she was just fine.
Step 4: Pour plastic/resin into the mold.
The first go-round, I tried a liquid plastic kit from Smooth-On. And along with my repeated advice of making sure you mix everything the right way, I’ll add a couple of pointers I learned: First thing is that it’s probably a good idea to wear gloves. Initially, I gave that bit of advice a big ol’ “Pshhhht, whatever.” But plastic nearly ALWAYS gets on your hands, and it feels super creepy, like when you get superglue on your fingers. Blecch. And later, when I tried pouring resin, I had a bit of a leak in the silicone mold (it was a different mold, and I had two “air holes”), and it leaked hot resin ALLLLLLLLLLL over my work table. Trust me, that’s not fun at ALL. So my bit of advice there? make sure you don’t have a spot in the mold that might leak. And lastly, GIVE IT TIME TO CURE. I’m very impatient. But hot plastic hurts.
Step 5: Plastic mermaids!
So I messed up quite a few mermaids, but after some trial and error, I was able to get a few decent-looking plastic mermaids! Fun! I couldn’t figure out why their faces were bubbly, though, until I looked closely at the mold, and realized that the mold itself had bubbles set into it. Whoops. Later I made a better mold, and made it smaller and on its back, so I wouldn’t waste so much silicone rubber. That helped clear up any bubble issues, and gave me a much clearer mold. Apparently, having her on her back, and pouring the silicone in the corner and letting it sort of “seep” into the face on its own is the big trick with that. (I HAD done that the first time, but she was positioned upside down, and all the details of the face were on the bottom, leaving lots of chances for air to get trapped in there. Whoops.)
Step 6: Paint that junk
So with a handful of funky mermaids, I decided we should go ahead and paint’em up. Why not? And since they came out wonky, I let Myla have a go at them, too.
I had a little trouble painting on the actual plastic with acrylic paint. (Myla had no complaints.) I even tried a basecoat of brown primer for plastic, but it just didn’t look so great.
Myla had an awesome time painting them, though. She painted her McStuffins mermaid, along with a yellow-haired one (modeled after a Monster High doll), and a green-skinned Ariel.
Later, after making the bubble-free mold, I tried casting in resin, instead of the plastic…and despite MANY failed attempts (note the mutant mermaid army in the background) I finally got some good ones!
Apparently, again–the trick is very careful mixing. In my very limited experience, I’ve learned that if your mixture is off, it can do all sorts of wonky things to your cast. I haven’t tried painting these resin casts yet (I’ll try that later), but I’ll be sure to post the outcome!
With new projects, there’s always a level of intimidation for me. That casting kit sat in my art room for about 5 months before I actually got the courage to try it. But you know–when you do, it feels awesome to have finally figured it out! Even if you end up with an school of mutated fish-women, you can’t really consider it a failure if you’ve learned something.
So jump in and try something new! I promise, it’s worth it. Wonky mermaids and all.
The State of Stuff
People ask me sometimes if Myla and I still do our collaborations, and if we will do them forever. I’ve come to learn that kids’ fancies are fleeting, so I do my best to just encourage her and do the best I can to support whatever she’s into at the moment.
Lately, what she’s been into has fallen into two categories…namely, Stuff Stuck to Paper and Paper Creatures. I’ll attempt to describe them, because given a brief moment alone, and she’s furiously scissoring and coloring a creature, with her brow furrowed, and a very faraway look of concentration on her face. In case you labor under the belief that we ethereally flutter around an immaculate house, doing artsy art thing in a perfectly-styled art room designed by artsy art professionals, I will share this photo of what our kitchen table looks like most of the time:
I admit to claiming responsibility for about 20% of the mess that constantly grows in this table (usually concerning school-related paperwork). I have cleaned it and straightened it and battled it in full gear, time and time again, and I have just given up. It has finally won the battle.
But see the look on that kid’s face? That one of absolutely overwhelmingly engrossed concentration? I’m okay with that mess. Plus, I can sit on my end of the table and just draw in my sketchbook. Win-win, if you can handle a messy kitchen table. (We’ll see what happens when the husband gets back from deployment and might like a place to–oh, I dunno–EAT, maybe.)
In any case, here is what she’s been up to:
Stuff Stuck to Paper
The things she’s been creating come from out of nowhere. A scrap of paper, a bottlecap. Left unattended near her, they are at high risk of being glued or taped to a page and made into a “project.” I have had to give her very good reasons why it is not a good idea to GLUE scissors to the page just for a projects’ sake. But for the most part, I don’t mind the random things.
Sometimes, when she’s glued or taped food to the page, I’ve either secretly smuggled it to a temporary holding area (in the garage) before secreting it out to the trashcan (0nly after taking countless photos, of course) to avoid an onslaught of ants, or (as in the case of the Bugle-dragon above) I’ve sprayed it with a multitude of layers of varnish to hopefully keep ants at bay. She’s also glued or taped a birthday candle, bottlecaps, and pieces of plants, creating a little scenery (or what she calls a “project.”)
She’s made birds with Bugles cracker beaks, and carrot parrots…
Once, I gave her a bowl of dry mixed pasta to make “projects” out of, and she made this little crab for me:
I once showed her some doodles by InkyGirl on Instagram, and the next morning she drew this:
The other thing she’s been doing is making “creatures.” These are things she builds out of paper to be “toys.” (Because, you know, she doesn’t have like a million ACTUAL toys. Heheh)
Here, she frantically cuts up tiny pieces of paper and usually tapes (because she’s got no time to wait for glue) or glues them together to make some sort of creature.
(From left to right: Mouse from Cinderella, a talking tortilla, Unikitty, a cow, a porcupine, and a lion.)
Sometimes she cuts out & colors all the pieces, and other times she markers them…
(Catbus from Totoro, and her green catbus friend)
They’re fully realized characters, since they almost always have backsides, too.
I showed her how to use metal brads once, and she created all the pieces, cut them out, and had me help her put it together…
Other times, they are full sheets of paper (with backsides, too) that are like “dolls…”
She voraciously made this dinosaur finger puppet for me, which is pretty gosh-darned cool. It even has a tail!
So those are exciting. And she’s been obsessed with these paper things. I’ve had to stock up on construction paper and tape, something I didn’t need to do when she was voraciously drawing. But that’s what she’s into. And that’s cool.
But the other day, I wasn’t feeling well, and I lay on my stomach on the couch with my sketchbook, and she dragged her marker box, scissors and tape into the room and started making paper bats like a madwoman. And then she suddenly looked up, climbed onto the pillows over my head, and stared at my sketchbook, watching me draw. I was playing with colored ballpoint pens, drawing Napoleon Dynamite.
“Are you using shading?” she asked.
“Yes I am,” I replied, and I showed her how layers and layers of colors can look like they’re mixing to make other colors, and that darker things look like they’re behind. Sort of like when we played with pointillism.
“I’m going to try that, too.” she said. “And I’m going to make it look SO REAL.” So I watched her look at the photo for references (or what she calls “estructions”), and drew her own version:
I was blown away! Shading, “realistic” features. So exciting, and pretty darned awesome, for a 4-year old! She really took her time with it, focusing very hard on looking at the picture and trying to draw it the same way (making me instantly recall the Napoleon Dynamite quote: “It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip. It’s probably the best drawing I’ve ever done.” Hehehe.)
Yesterday, I had a doodle of Wonder Woman in my sketchbook, and she tried her hand at it again, and again–I’m blown away.
It’s so cool to be able to see your kid change and grown and learn new things. Sure, it’s a little sad to see a beloved phase go by, but my mom always said, “enjoy whatever phase she’s in, because the next phase might be a rough one.”
So while we still doodle the occasional heads from time to time (and I’ll be sure to keep giving her the option to), it’s so great to see her trying new things! Believe, me, the collaborations have changed our lives so much for the good that I’m going to keep trying them with her, and it’ll be fun to see how they look once she’s a little older. Maybe she’s ready to let me draw the bodies to HER heads now…
Whatever the case, I’m just glad for it. All of it. Messes and ants and all.
Summer’s coming! And for a stay at home, work-at-home mom, the prospect of keeping the munchkin busy all day every day for several months while simultaneously working from my computer is a daunting one indeed. But while I work on the prospect of signing up for a little bit of summer day camps and a few hours of daycare each day, I have to remember to make some really good memories. And sometimes, the quickest way to make a good memory…is to make a good MESS.
A long long time ago on the blog, I wrote about making beautiful messes. When I was a kid, I loved to make a mess, and I wasn’t afraid of things like dirt, muddy clothes, or bug guts. But somehow, in the process of growing up, instead of being carefree and fun, a roll in the grass now makes me fret about grass stains, spiders, and where the dogs may have peed. But how is our daughter supposed to know what it’s like to squish mud between her toes and all that stuff…if I never let her do it?
And honestly, can’t all that stuff be washed away, for the most part? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, really? When I was in the army, we would get disgustingly gross, sweaty and muddy and horrible-smelling and sore, and I think the fact that you are so disgustingly messy beforehand made you feel SOOOO GOOD when you got all cleaned up.
As a mom, when I find myself being resistant to something the kid wants to do, I try to ask myself if I’m saying no for a good reason, or just because it makes me uncomfortable. If it’s just that it makes me uncomfortable, it might be something I actually SHOULD do.
So a recent trip to our local library has unearthed my sister’s favorite book series and our newest book obsession: The Magic Schoolbus. Along with being EXTREMELY educational and fun for me to read to Myla in a way that can grow with her (there is the main story about going on crazy adventures and exploring things like the human body, insects, sea life, etc, and then additional more detailed information along the sides in cute “side notes”), the crazy teacher’s motto has reiterated an idea that has been a key thing I’ve learned from becoming a parent: to “Take chances, make mistakes, GET MESSY!!!”
If you’re someone who gets the oogies about messes, there are easy stress-free ways to get messy, and the key is to GET PREPARED! Use washable paints, wear sloppy clothes or an apron. Put down a table cloth and have towels on hand for when you’re done. Have the washer on standby and have a set of clean clothes waiting by a readied bathtub.
And don’t forget to JOIN IN! Don’t just be a spectator. It’ll be good for you to get out of your comfort zone–believe me!
Most important of all, though: don’t take anything too seriously! Get out there and challenge yourself to make all kinds of messes with your kids, with your family, with your friends. You can do it! And when you DO, don’t forget to take some pictures, and share them with me on Facebook. I’d love to see ’em!
From the time she was little, my daughter (like most kids, I think) loved nothing more than a big mess. Now, I’ve mentioned I am a bit of a perfectionist–which I once defined as someone who thinks they’re ALREADY perfect…I’ve learned that instead, I’m someone who always WANTS things to be perfect, or in their right spot, or “just so,” which is a constant feeling of internal frustration since things NEVER EVER ARE.
I have a problem with that. I’m working on it.
But since I wanted my daughter to be a fearless mud puddle-splashing, bug-loving kid, I make a point to allow her to be messy and try my best not to worry about it. That mud on the patio? Calm down, mama…I can hose it off. Sand in her hair? That’s what bathtime’s for. Doodles all over her skin? Well, that’s why you get washable markers.
I let her cover her arms in stick-on tattoos, paint her hair with temporary pink mousse, and make magical messes experimenting with food coloring, baking soda & vinegar. The way I see it, childhood is the BEST time for messes! The BEST time to color your hair and marker your skin, when the responsibilities of the world and work and jobs and life don’t interfere.
Well. That’s all well & good in theory…until she started asking ME to join in.
As a kid, I was a mess-lover, dirt-digger, and bug-catcher. But something changed as I grew up (as I’m sure it does in us all) that made me not WANT to lie down in the grass anymore (it’s itchy! There are bugs!) or splash in the puddles (my pants will get soaked! I’ll ruin my shoes!) or catch a bug (I don’t WANT to touch a mealworm!). I started realizing, though, that unless I joined in, all my talk to her about having fun and making messes would be just talk. My kid learns more from what I DO than from what I say, and unless I joined in, she might feel that the beautiful messes were somehow wrong. So I did.
I let her paint on me. I let her polish my nails. I get down in the grass and get dirty. Not every day. Not always. But when the opportunity presents itself and the only thing stopping me is my own discomfort.
The main key to it all is preparation. Painting outside, or with a mat down, or in a cruddy shirt, and ALWAYS with washable, skin-friendly, or water-based supplies. Have a towel ready.
It was difficult at first, ignoring the inner “irk,” but I told my inner voice the same things I’d say about her: “it’s washable. I can take a bath later. It’ll come off.” And the fun we have doing it is always worth the cleaning up. I can’t say that afterward I don’t run immediately to the shower & laundry to clean everything off, but I try my best to wait til we’re all done to internally freak. I can’t say it’s not a challenge sometimes, but I try my best to enjoy it IN THE MOMENT.
Because I allow the messes, you’d think that nothing would be off limits. But she is VERY sincere about knowing what’s okay and what isn’t. She knows not to paint on the walls in house, and respects that story books are for reading. Thankfully, she asks before she doodles on things. Because I allow the messes, she doesn’t seem to feel the need to go crazy elsewhere. It seems with her that giving her the opportunity to go wild sometimes keeps her calm in other places.
We have a world full of no. Every day of her little life is full of boundaries and structure, struggle, conflict and organization. There are rules and manners and courtesies, permissions and consequences. These are good things. These are necessary. But there are moments you can let go of your hangups and just enjoy the feeling of paint slopping around and mud between your toes, for no other reason than that it’s fun.
You forget those things when you’re older, and you’d be surprised how quickly and fiercely that happens. So why not cram your childhood full of them?
So, kids or no, artistic or not….when’s the last time you made a beautiful mess?