Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting in the Christmas Spirit - Family Craft Night

Today, after carving some custom rubber stamp orders, I moved onto carving two snowflake potato stamps to make hand printed gift wrap. This is a really easy project that anyone can do at home. All you need is a firm potato (uncooked, obviously), a sponge brush (that you can pick up for pennies at any hardware store), acrylic paint (I like Basics brand but any craft acrylic paint will do), paper, and carving tools. Below is an idea for a great craft night for you and your family!

The next time you're at the grocery store, ask for paper instead of plastic and be sure to have a sack of potatoes on your list! Other materials you'll need are acrylic craft paint OR finger paint depending on the kid's ages (the basic, festive colors of red, green and white should do), wide sponge brushes as seen above, and assorted cutting tools which could include a lino cutter (if you have one), metal cookie cutters, sharp pencils, paring knives, forks to create lines and texture, and anything else around the house that you could use to carve the potato.

Start by cutting the paper bags to make flat sheets of paper, cutting away the bottom of the bag rectangle. On a clean table, lay down some newspaper and then lay the paper down to be printed.

Cut potatoes in half with a sharp knife (not serrated). If you're using cookie cutters to cut out shapes, slice the bottom of the potato half off so you have a 2" slice. As you (the grown up) are cutting the potatoes, the kids can work on drawing out simple designs they'd like to make.

The cookie cutter idea is great for little ones as they get to pick out the shape they want and you can do the cutting (metal cookie cutters are much too sharp for them to use themselves). Then they can get right to the fun part of stamping. Older kids that you trust with a paring knife, however, are free to explore their creativity either carving out designs or around designs. Remind them that the part they are carving won't have paint and you could make a sample stamp beforehand just to show them how it works.

In preparing your paint, you can use a regular plate or paper plate if you prefer. Squeeze out a healthy amount of paint and keeping dabbing the sponge brush into the paint, working it until it's saturated with paint. You can experiment to find that perfect amount where it's not too much and it's not too little. Basically, the sponge acts as an ink pad and you want to dab your potato stamp onto it to get an even, not too heavy-not too light, layer of paint.

Once you've got the "inkpads" aka sponge brushes "loaded" you can do a few tests prints on scrap paper to show the kids how you dab it onto the sponge, then press it down firmly on the paper, trying not to move it around (as that will blur the print) and then dab it on the sponge again every time before you print. This information will be useful for the older ones, the younger ones will surely just dive in and have a ball. If they are young enough to get messy and be covered in paint by the end of this exercise, you should use finger paint instead. It might not make as good a print as acrylic, but it's a safer paint for little ones to get messy with and when they're that little, does print quality even matter? It's just about the fun!

Once they are finished stamping, everyone can go clean up, wait for the paint to dry, and have some cocoa. Drying time will depend on the thickness and saturation of paint on the paper. The paper I made above took about 10 minutes to dry, maybe less. But I've taught kids that end up with a sea of paint on a thin slice of paper, so anything's possible when it comes to making art with children!

If you do want to use it as wrapping paper, you don't want the paint to be thick because it will crack and peel off, especially when you start to fold it. But I find projects like these to be launching pads for creativity. You may start out with the idea of wrapping paper but one child will decide they want to make a book cover or another will want to cut it out and make ornaments or bookmarks - you name it. Roll with it and have a great time!

If you happen to try this at home, I'd LOVE to see pictures of your process and results and I'd love to share them here on the blog!

Hand stamped snowflake paper