This afternoon we were wondering home when we popped into The Architecture Centre on Narrow Quay, next to the Arnolfini. The exhibition they have on at the moment is called 'Life of Clay: Experimental Practice at Grymsdyke Farm' (on until 12 March 2017), which includes beautiful, organic-looking ceramics made from robotic sausage stuffers, and video footage of said robotic arm, which appealled very much to both my children and my husband too. Although it might not be an interactive space for children in a conventional sense, in that the work looks very tactile but it fragile so you can't touch it, we were excited to find a large table dedicated to making your own plasticine designs on cardboard tiles. This has really opened my eyes to plasticine, which I always thought was pretty much defunct after faring badly over the years compared to playdough. We all enjoyed making tiles, my husband and son worked together to make a blue sausage robot inspired design, which looked like a bit like a paddling pool. My daughter made a rainbow coloured inverted pot with her sausages, and I made a flat sky-inspired tile with a marbled look. The tile-making area is really well set up with laminated mats to work on with printed examples of tiles, and prompts to help you find inspiration. They also have a shelves and wall space for you to exhibit your tiles afterwards. There is a 'Clay Play Day' drop in event scheduled on Saturday 18 February 1-4pm if you fancy some half-term creative clay time!
Here's an adult messy play / craft activity for you! I made these last year and am about to dig them out to refill them for this Christmas. They were very easy and fun to make and are pretty sturdy - I think they should last a good few years. I was inspired by those lovely fabric advent calendars you see, but didn't have the time or inclination to sew, and had a large loo roll tube collection, thanks to Happymess. It takes a few days to make due to glue and paint drying, but it doesn't use up much actual work time to make, if you know what I mean.
What you need:
12 loo roll tubes - all the same size, cut in half
Sheet of sturdy cardboard
PVA glue (I used an adult version but I'm sure children's glue would be fine too)
Green spray paint
Coloured tissue circles
Loom bands or other small elastic bands
Number stamps (or you could use stickers, or hand write)
Sweets/tiny toys to fill (I used chocolate coins, and some jewellery, erasers, stickers and a parts of a 'road works' set that I found in a charity shop)
How to make:
I followed the instructions on the glue packet for priming the loo rolls and board - I watered down the glue and brushed it over the board, and dipped the ends of the loo rolls into it, and left to dry over night.
I then arranged the loo rolls into a Christmas tree shape and glued them onto the board, and left overnight to dry. I sprayed the whole thing green and again left overnight to dry. I cut out tissue circles and stamped each one with the numbers 1-24. This year I have made this part easier and I have got pre-cut tissue circles and Christmas number stickers (from my new favourite shop, Tiger).
Once the paint was dry I popped sweets and tiny toys into the loo roll compartments and covered them with the tissue circles, fastened with a loom band. The children loved them and I was pretty proud of them too!
If there was a prize for the most child-friendly art installation, Liz West's Our Colour at the Pithay, Bristol would get our vote! It's basically like playing inside a rainbow, but not as high up. In fact it's in a disused, striped-out office space, with a shiny but not too slippery floor, so much better for health and safety than an actual rainbow. When we went, the lovely invigilators were really happy for children to run around. One of them even sang nursery rhymes, there were so many children there. There is absolutely nothing they could break, and it's a unique, rainbow-lit space for a play. I imagine it's so much more fun than when it was an office!
Our Colour is part of the Bristol Biennial 2016: In Other Worlds and is on 10am-7am until 10 September 2016, at the Pithay, Bristol BS1 2LZ
The weekly Happymess sessions only run in term time, but if you are missing getting messy over the summer, you can find us at the Bristol Harbour Festival and the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta as part of the Children's Areas organised by Cirque Bijou. Both events are free to come along to and there will be lots of other fun family activities.
The Bristol Harbour Festival Children's Area is at Castle Park, 12-6pm Saturday 16 & Sunday 17 July. Happymess will be there will a mud and sand magical grotto, and making magic wands.
Then in August we will be at the Bristol Internation Balloon Fiesta at Ashton Court, 12-6pm Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 August, with a used coffee grounds messy play zoo, and we'll be making recycled zoo animals.
Keep an eye on the Happymess Facebook page for more details. Hope you can join us!
This is an article I wrote for the second issue of Babber, the NCT magazine for Bristol parents, which you can view here: http://bit.ly/babber2 (lots of other interesting reading in there too). Here is the article in full...
I run preschool art, craft and messy play classes, which I love doing, but I have to admit at home I don't really like mess. With two young children I have to embrace it, but I'm the kind of person who has a dust buster at arms reach at all times.That said, we do a LOT of art and messy activities at home and I have learned strategies to contain and cope with the mess. The thought of doing messy play at home can be a bit intimidating, especially if you have limited space or lots of light coloured carpet. My first bit of advice would be to only do this if you really want to, otherwise you won't enjoy it. Your child will be just as happy if you sit down and do a puzzle with them, and there are playgroups you can go to make a mess – Children's Centres are a good bet for affordable messy play classes*. However if you do want to have a go at home, you are likely to find it rewarding, I definitely have. Here are some tips on how to go about it;
A list of my top ten simple messy play activities to get your started is coming soon!
*Or come along to Happymess, my preschool art, craft and messy play sessions – see www.happymess.info for more information.
I recently made this light box fairy castle (with a bit of help from my children) so we could take part in Window Wanderland - a lovely event; it's a walking trail of night-time window displays. There were over sixty houses taking part in our
area, and they all had great displays, ranging from simple and effective to large-scale artworks that must have taken days to create. It was really fun to make our window display, but also to wander around a check out everyone else's.
I wanted to make something that my children could play with afterwards so after a bit of deliberation hit on the idea of a light box castle. Each of the 'rooms' were lit from the inside with a torch or an electric tealight. This way we could decorate lots of little windows rather than one big window, plus I had built up a vast collection of cardboard boxes that I wanted to use up! In fact I didn't have to buy anything specially to make this castle, it was made entirely from stuff we had collected and basic craft materials.
If you'd like to make something like this, it's really flexible, but here's what I used, and how I did it:
Gold spray paint, optional
Black sugar paper
Scrap cardboard - i.e. cereal box
Double-sided tape, optional
Brushes for glue
Novelty hole punches (butterfly and stars), optional
To make the castle structure I built up a castle shape from boxes and took a photo to remind me how I had arranged it, and then cut the windows out with a stanley knife. I cut some crenulations (the turrety bits) out of a cereal box to add to one of the boxes at the top, and to a thick cardboard roll I had, and cut more crenulations out of kitchen and loo rolls so I could add some towers to the castle. I had half a can of gold spray paint so I used it up to cover any mailing labels and turn white boxes gold, which blended in with the rest of the brown cardboard and made it look a bit neater in daylight. If I'd had more paint I would have covered the whole thing but I didn't want to buy more specially.
To make the windows I cut out greaseproof paper rectangles to cover the window holes, and drew round the window shapes onto the paper. I then got my children to decorate the paper with coloured tissue, using watered down pva glue and brushes, to make 'stained glass' windows. I cut out black shapes - fairies, bunnies (bunnies are important in our house), balloons and I also used our shaped hole punches to make tiny butterflies and star shapes, and stuck them down on top of the tissue. Once it had all dried I glued the greaseproof paper window panes into the inside of the boxes.
For Window Wanderland I stuck the castle using a bit of double sided tape (to hold it together a bit, knowing I'd want to reassemble afterwards for the children to play with) and I lit up the inside of each box with a torch or electric tealight, and switched the lounge lights off so that the windows really glowed. We also made some peg fairies, birds and a moon to decorate the lounge window with. After it was all over took the castle apart and reassembled in my daughters room, by the window because it looks good with the sunlight shining into the castle windows from outside too. I left the boxes and turrets loose so they could arrange it how they wanted each time they play with it. We also added some dolls, furniture and puppies! It's not the sturdiest homemade toy but I think it has quite a bit of mileage in it as a play castle!
I'm quite keen on the phrase 'life hack', although I like to think I use it in a slightly ironic manner. Anyway, toddler painting life hack coming up...
If it's raining and you are stuck at home with your toddler, and you fancy doing some painting, but it's too wet to even make the trip out to the garage to get a non-spill paint pot, simply cut a hole in the lid of a ricotta tub. Or any plastic tub you can find in the recycling. It worked pretty well - he only managed to dribble a small amount of water out of it, and he got on well dipping his brush in.
Incidentally in the photo he's using Ikea's coloured pencils that turn into watercolour paint when you brush over them with water. They are popular in our house at the moment - a good, fairly unmessy alternative to full-on painting.
I took my one year old to see Richard Long's Boyhood Line last week. It's perhaps not the most visually exciting piece of work but I thought it would be a good one to go and see with a small child, especially a contagious but not that poorly one. I was also quite keen to have a wander round the Downs just because I hadn't been before, although that didn't really happen because aforementioned small child was too tired, and upset I didn't have a second banana for him.
It was a drizzly, slightly misty day, so quite atmospheric. One interesting aspect of the work is that it's not signposted so you have to wander around and ask people where it is. I think that is what makes a piece of land art in a semi-urban area unique; although it looks like countryside, it's actually quite a busy spot with lots of dog walkers, joggers and there was even a buggyfit type class going on while we were there.
We asked a very pleasant elderly couple of directions when we got out of the car, and they pointed us in the right direction with no discussion of the work itself, but had a little chat with my son. We got as far as a outdoor gym which he was reluctant to leave, and then we had to ask a dog walker for further directions. She was very interested to know more about the work, and the artist and questioned me for quite a while about it. I felt like I should have read up a bit more before coming. She then showed me some examples of lichen and told me about her lichen tour of the Downs.
By the time we found the work, I felt like I had had quite an interesting introduction to a new place though interactions with a few local people and short-ish wander round, which may not have happened without the artwork being the focus of our journey. Richard Long is quoted in an article the Guardian as saying the stones will probably end up in rockeries. I might pop back and get a few to turn into Happymess stone creatures ;-)
I've been experimenting a bit with playdough playmats, and they have proven pretty popular at home and at Happymess. You can download playdough playmats from the internet to print and laminate, which would be good if you were just using these at home, but I like to make my own for using at Happymess. First off I made some monster playmats by cutting out coloured tissue and laminating the shapes on top of a sheet of A4 (printed with some suggestions for use). Second time round I designed some very simple face shapes on the computer and then printed and laminated them. I think they are great because they provide a focus for playdough play without being too prescriptive. My four year old picked the monster shape that she wanted (I made quite a few different shapes), and filled the whole shape in with dough - a bit like colouring in with playdough. She then added some eyes and decorated it with buttons. You could use this to practice counting, we didn't because I was slightly preoccupied trying to stop her little brother eating his playdough. She enjoyed picking the buttons off carefully to show the pattern of indents left in the dough.
I think the face templates worked better at Happymess than the monster mats, maybe because there were more three and four year old children there that day, or maybe because it's more obvious what to do with a face than a monster shaped blob! I used the face-shaped mats for Father's Day - to make funny Dad faces - but they could be any kind of face, so they will be back soon!
If you haven't been already, I would recommend a visit to the lovely Leigh Woods to see Luke Jerram's Withdrawn, a flotilla of five boats marooned in the middle of the woods. Designed to raise questions about how they got there; climate change, extreme weather, or over-fishing, they create an interesting focal point in the woods, and a space to consider the nature of the work. We went on a sunny Saturday, the first weekend after it was installed, and even then it seemed pretty peaceful.
It's not often that you get to view a contemporary artwork in such a family friendly environment. Most of the paths around the woods are suitable for buggies and there is also a nice natural play area. The woods themselves are great for pottering around. My only complaint would be that children aren't allowed to play on the boats, which makes them a bit less interactive than some of Luke Jerram's previous works, but it states on the website that he intends to give the boats away after the project finishes (in September), and they could be used for children's play, which would make up for that! In fact my daughter's nursery have put in a request for one of them, so fingers crossed that might happen.
One consequence of the work is that it has opened up Leigh Woods to a new audience as many of the visitors to see the boats had not visited the woods previously. Hopefully they will all be back after seeing how beautiful this easily accessible woodland is.
Jenny Clarke. I run Happymess (art, craft and messy play classes for young children). I have two small children who love to get messy and make things. I also like to see as much art as I can. This blog is about art, craft and messy play activities you can try out at home, art to see with your children, and the occasional Happymess event you can come along to!