En plein air

"Just try going outside and painting things on the spot! All sorts of things happen then." - Van Gogh

Painting and drawing outside is one of my favorite things we do at camp. It is entirely different than being in the studio or classroom, and it is something every artist should experience. You have natural light that is always changing. You have 365 degrees of inspiration and choices. You have wind, heat, unfamiliar sounds, smells, dirt, distractions, and bugs. You stop and observe the beauty around you, and realize, yes, this is beautiful. You have a challenge of replicating that beauty. Working outdoors you can't help but feel like a famous plein air impressionist artist. 

I showed the campers examples of impressionist paintings and we noticed the vibrant colors, the use of light, textures, and composition. I told them that they had an artistic license, which meant it was ok to make choices- you could exaggerate a tree trunk, you could omitt a bench, or you could add some little flowers. We talked about the colors we saw. The lake wasn't just blue, it was green, white, yellow, and black. We were thinking like real artists.


"All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside." - Paul Cezanne


Ring, ring! Who's there?

Camp is a place that is free of cell phones, lap tops, and internet. We talk and make friends. We interact face to face. We play and pretend. Our communication is reminiscent of a time before the internet. It is rare to have a place like that these days, and it is refreshing. 

The theme of second session was called: Knock, knock, Who's There? aka How We Communicated Before the Internet. Campers played charades, learned old fashioned games, wrote letters, made friendship bracelets, followed the leader, and designed secret codes.

In the art workshop we made play-phones, and other non-functioning communication devices. The project encouraged imagination and creativity. We used recyclable materials: egg cartons, shoe boxes, tin foil, lids, caps, bottles, tubes, and ribbons. We introduced the campers to rotary phones, pagers, and the original over-sized cell phone. Each camper created their own device and then we had fun calling each other on our pretend phones and typing on our faux lap tops. The kids loved this project!

pack up and explore

Travelling is a great way to see new things, make new friends, and explore the world. But before you can go anywhere, you will need a suitcase. For kids, the perfect piece of luggage is not made of leather, it has no designer name, it is cheap, and small, and flat....it is an envelope! In the art room the campers have been busy turning clasp envelopes into mock suitcases, complete with handles, luggage tags, and international stickers. We had fun recalling memories of vacations past, and imagining where we would like to travel next. These suitcases are ready to be packed, and the campers are ready to explore!

Superhero Magazine

The first session at camp was themed: The He-ro and She-ro in You. Through art projects, games, and performances, we encouraged the campers to find their superhero within. In the art room we made magazine covers, featuring ourselves as the models. Everyone became a star, just like the musicians, athletes, celebrities, politicians, and leaders that we regularly see on magazine covers. I took a photo of each camper in front of a white background. We printed out the glossy photos and then the campers could write and draw on the photo to transform themselves into a superhero character. We all had a lot of fun drawing on our photos and brainstorming superhero names and magazine titles. Each magazine cover came out so unique and creative. 


Kindergarten self portraits

Every day at CAPI's journal time, the kindergartners take out their boxes of crayons and draw whatever they want. Sometimes they draw ninjas, Darth Vader, or Power Rangers. Sometimes they draw princesses, Angry Birds, or their mommy. Their worlds are filled with their favorite things and they see themselves in the middle of it all. The most popular subject to draw is pictures of themselves. How do they see themselves? They see a kid who is not a baby anymore. They see themselves as a brother or sister, a daughter or son, a smiley happy heart shaped ball of love, a mis-shaped blob, a wide-eyed face without a body, a pretty face with a pretty dress and curly hair. They can be any color and every color. They are confident to say "This is me!". I nod and encourage them, "that looks just like you!".



CAPI love

I pretty much love anything that is bright red, pink, and cute, so I pretty much really love Valentines Day. I love doing Valentines art projects with the kids at CAPI. Doing a kids Valentine art project makes you think about love in the purest and most innocent way. The kids cut out awkward shaped hearts and proudly declare  how much their mommy or daddy will love it. It is the sweetest thing. This year I did 2 art projects to celebrate the holiday of love. We made collage cards featuring robots and fake cupcakes made out of tissue paper. 


holiday gift tags

Decorating tags is a fun project for any age. This is a quick way to make a gift more personal. I found these blank tags 2 years ago at the Rhode Island recycling center and I stocked up on a bunch. Because the tags start off completely blank they are good for any holiday or any friend or relative. At Capi we designed our own white circle stickers to add to the tags. This project was so laid back, which made it especially enjoyable for me all of us. We talked while we drew, we discussed missing teeth, grandma's toes, and the great molasses spill. Kids helped each other draw tiny snowflakes and sound out long words. The tags look great!

Cute as an ice cream cone

Cambridgeport is such a diverse school; some of the students will be celebrating Christmas, some will celebrate Hanukkah, and some will not be celebrating either holiday. At Capi we have to be careful with our holiday art projects. We must stay away from projects that are too Christmasy or religious in any way. No Christmas trees, no Santa, no Rudolph, holly, or wreaths. It is a challenge to think of creative alternatives.

I came up with an idea for a homemade non-offensive ornament decorative hanging. We made mini ice cream cones out of pom-poms, brown paper, and a little glitter. Each ice cream cone has a cherry on top and ribbon to hang it. They are absolutely adorable and have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. They would look great on a tree, but they could be hung anywhere. I'm looking forward to making some of these with my own homemade pom-poms!



Piñata: step four

After the Halloween Piñatas were painted and decorated there was one final step.

We cut a hole in the back of the piñatas to fill them with candy, then we duct taped the opening closed. We got a little help from a handy father to hang our finished piñatas. Each one was so strong and heavy- probably about 15 pounds! We hung the Piñatas one at a time over a basketball net in the school gym. 

All of our hard work was finally ready to be destroyed. At the CAPI Halloween party, kids took turns hitting the piñatas with a pole, hoping to let loose a flood of candy. Princesses, ninjas, witches, and skeletons, held their empty bags and waited for candy to fall. No one was upset about ruining our piñatas, because it is well known that this is the purpose of a piñata, and because everyone loves candy. 


Piñata: step three

This step was a lot of fun! We painted and decorated our piñatas to look like eyeballs! 

We began by painting pupils, corneas, and veins. We looked closely at each others eyes to observe how the colors and shapes looked. We did not have to use real colors; we could make a red eye, or green veins. The next step was to add details made out of fabric, feathers, foam, and other glue-able items. It took two different days to create this evolution. You can see the two steps with this monster eyeball.

We wanted each eyeball to have its own personality. We decided to create 4 different types of creepy eyeballs. The monster eye (above), would have bugs crawling on it, extra googly eyes, and translucent green ooze spilling over it. The zombie eye would have a hypnotized swirl, spider webs, blood splatters, and scars made of red ribbon.  The pink eye would wear rose-tinted glasses and have a pink bow.  The cat's eye would have sparkly makeup, tear drops, and long feathered eyelashes. Each eyeball needed a few details to make it special. Take a look at our finished Piñatas!

There is still one final step, perhaps the best step of all! Look out for step 4!


After 4 days of messy and sticky paper-mache-ing, the CAPI kids had created 4 strong giant piñatas. As the paste dried the balloon shells became harder and stronger. 

Step two for the piñatas is a relief. We were happy to know that the hard work was done and that the end was in sight. "Now is the time" to paint our beautiful piñatas. We started with solid coats in 4 different colors. I chose light colors- gray, pale orange, yellow, and light green. The painting goes so quickly with 6 brushes helping at once.

The painted balloons make the the final piñatas easier to imagine. We decided that the piñatas will become 4 giant creepy eye balls. Look out for step three!

Piñata: step one

CAPI may be the only afterschool that has already began preparing for Halloween. It is Christine's (my supervisor) favorite holiday. All of our art projects are now in preparation for a highly anticipated Halloween party, complete with haunted house, costumes, piñatas, and candy!

An old tradition at CAPI is the Halloween Piñata. A homemade piñata takes many steps. We started by covering giant balloons with newspaper strips and a paper mache paste of equal parts flour and water. We worked as a group to cover the balloons, trying not to drip on the ground, trying to ask politely for more newspaper, trying to cover every little part that was peaking through. This is the longest step, as the balloons will need around 3 solid layers to support the candy and withhold the stick whacks. We are planning to make 4-5 Pinatas for the different age groups. 

This is the messiest step.

What should we turn our piñatas in to?

Look out for Step Two.

Dot Day

September 15th was International Dot Day. This is not a day that I made up. I had never even heard of it until my friend/roommate/fellow after school teacher told me it was a big deal at her school in Watertown. Dot Day gets it's name from Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot. The book is very popular among the kids- it is artistic, and promotes the importance of creativity and being true to yourself. All around the world, classrooms and kids celebrated dot day with creative projects. 

I was excited to celebrate with the kids at afterschool. Coincidentally, I had already planned and prepared a dotty art project for Monday! We used the eraser heads of pencils to paint dots on to paper bookmarks. It is a very simple idea, but the process is fun, and the outcomes are all unique. We used multi colored washable paint and brightly colored card stock. Little kids and older kids all enjoyed the project.

Along with the dotty art project I brought in one of my favorite books. Perhaps the original Dot book is The Dot by Cliff Roberts. The book is a story about peace and community, a lesson in drawing, and a study of graphic design, all in kid-friendly terms, with bold illustrations. I was thrilled to find the whole book online.

Felt board

For my first afterschool project of the year I made a felt board with the kids. This was a good first project because we worked as a group and because the board can be used all-year round. The board was made by stretching a large piece of felt over a cardboard rectangle. The felt edges are hot glued to the back of the cardboard then placed in a frame. We made a poster-sized felt board with a bright blue background. The kids and I cut out various scraps of felt to make an assortment of shapes in different sizes and colors. The shapes are used on the board to create images. A felt board uses the principle of friction to hold felt shapes in place. The shapes can be easily moved, rotated, or taken off of the board to create infinite picture variations. No glue is needed! The kids enjoyed cutting the felt, but especially loved creating pictures. 

Monet for a Day

My good friend from RISD has illustrated her first children's book. It is a very exciting and special thing to know someone who  is doing something they love and something they are so good at. The book, “Monet Paints A day”, was the perfect project for Caitlin. The story , written by Julie Danneberg, is thoughtful, unique, and informational, and the watercolor illustrations that Caitlin executes so beautifully are a perfect match for the story. 

I am not only proud but inspired. I’ve been reading Caitlin’s book to all of my classes. The first and second graders, from my classroom in the spring, were some of the first kids to ever hear the story. After listening, they were excited to write letters to Caitlin- complimenting her, asking questions, critiquing the pictures, sharing about themselves, prying for some personal information, and inviting her to visit the classroom. Because Caitlin lives all the way in St. Louis, letter writing would have to suffice. The kindergartners at after school loved the book as well, requesting to hear it twice in one week! They also made her some cute happy cards.

At camp I used the book as inspiration for a free Friday class. The class was called “Monet for a Day.”  After reading the story to the campers, we then painted like Monet did in the book! This meant taking all of our supplies- paper, silky crayons, trays, and other hard surfaces- down to the waterfront. We looked at the lake the same way that Monet used to look at the beach. We used colors that gave an impression of the place. We had to work quickly before the light changed. Fortunately, unlike Monet, we didn’t have to worry about the tide coming in.  The campers were very happy with their work. The book was now more than a story- it was a whole experience.  This book is a great teaching tool with beautiful illustrations, and I am so proud of my very good friend. 

Two ideas

1. Endless art

Endless art was a free Friday activity that I taught on the third week of camp. All the little artists were really looking forward to this one, as was I. Each child got a fat stubby roll of white paper, and well, anything was possible from there. Using the seemingly endless roll the kids could draw whatever they wanted- a treasure map, outer space, smiley faces, snakes, song lyrics, scribbles. I suggested that they could hang the paper in their room like streamers! Or wrap themselves up in it and be living art! Or, keep it as a sketchbook and try to fill up the whole roll this summer! 


2. Message Stones

Market day is one of my favorite traditions at camp. It is a day when everyone trades their artwork. Each year the campers make something different- clay beads, pet rocks, finger puppets, beaded insects, etc, then try to trade and barter with each other to collect the most beautiful, humorous, or sparkly works of art. It is kind of like a camp version of silly bands, or magic cards, or pogs. This year, for our theme of Boom, Bang, Blast, I taught the kids how to make message stones. A message stone is a small painted ball of clay with a hidden message inside. To find the message you must break open the dry clay ball. It’s kind of like a more aggressive and inedible fortune cookie. The message is put into the clay while the clay is wet, then when the ball has air dried it can be painted, and eventually traded and broken!


Sand Mandala

Inspired by the ancient Tibetan Buddhists, and with this session's theme of "Sun, Sand, and Surf", the campers created a sand mandala today. The mandala was created in the traditional way where there was no glue used. The colored sand sits on the paper and you must work very carefully, and all together. After the mandala is complete it is ritualistically destroyed.

We started the workshop with a long conversation about what it means to be a careful artist.  If you are being a careful artist you are aware of your body, you are thoughtful, you are looking at what you are doing, you are quiet, you are patient. It is not easy to be careful. A sand mandala is precious and can be easily ruined. We want to ruin it, but not until we have worked on it all day. If you laugh too hard, if you sneeze, if you shake the table, if you drop something on the table, if you reach too far across the table, if you jump up and down next to the table... all these things could ruin our mandala.  

We talked about ephemeral art. I made everyone repeat the word out loud. I explained that ephemeral art does not last, it is only temporary, and the joy is in creating it. The campers brainstormed other forms of ephemeral art: chalk, ice sculptures, sand castles, snow men, birthday cakes, piniatas, jack-o-lanterns. They were ready for the challenge.

Each age group had a ring of the mandala to create. Every camper got to add something. I must say, I was very surprised and impressed by the results of such careful artists. 




The first Friday at camp is called "Free Friday". Free Friday is completely different from all the other days at camp because the kids get to pick what they want to do. We offer a ton of choices, all of which are really crazy and fun, and not following the theme. On Free Friday I am not confined to the art room. This is my chance to teach something completely different. If it is not art or design, than I am typically drawn towards "pretend play". Pretending kind of doesn't need a teacher. I can let the kids lead me, then play off of their comments and questions. I love this.

My classic Free Friday pretend workshops- Junior Office and Potion Making, were put aside for some new potential favorites- Mud Kitchen and Pet Shop.

The idea for Mud Kitchen actually derived from last years Mud Pies workshop. This year I boosted up the idea, expanded our business you could say, to include not only pies but soup, lasagna, cookies, coffee, and whatever else the kids could come up with. We set up a make-shift sink with a watering can, an oven outlined in chalk, and a pantry full of collected ingredients. Camp is the perfect place, if not the only place, for a Mud Kitchen workshop. It's okay to make a mess. It's okay to use your hands. It's okay to use all the dirt in the bag because it will be easy to find more. It's even okay to throw your pie as far as you can. The kids know what to do, but I give them little hints and tips: Try adding some pepper, these pebbles look like blueberries, I think you need the egg beater. Sometimes it's more of a warning: Don't forget to turn the oven on! Don't forget about the food in the oven! Mostly, I give compliments: mmm, that looks delicious, you're a mud expert, I love the chocolate filling, did you know you were such a good cook?

The Pet Shop workshop was in collaboration with other camp specialists. We came up with the idea to lead a class based on pets- both pretending to be a pet, and making things for your pet. As a camper, this would have been my absolute favorite workshop. So many kids, including myself, are obsessed with cats and dogs. We made giant pom poms out of yarn that were attached to strings and sticks for the kitties to play with, and we braided felt tug toys for the pups. We decorated bandannas and created some no-bake dog treats. My dog Oliver dropped in to visit too! We painted noses black and tried out our best "meow". The workshop ended with bowls full of mushed up ice pop, that the kids were allowed to lick up. 


Boom blast bang

This session at camp the theme is "Boom, Blast, Bang!" This means a lot of loud and messy art projects. Yesterday, the campers decorated radios that look like milk cartons. The radios are so cute and work really well, plus they are easily portable and durable. As one kid suggested, you could listen to music while taking a bath, or bring it with you to the beach! We used sharpies to make bubble letters and 3D letters that spelt out sound effects and noises. We learned about comic book art and brainstormed lists of sounds. Childrens typography makes my heart melt. Here are some examples.