Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Homemade Home from Cardboard, Trash, and Glue

milk carton and cardboard house I made last week

There's no place like home, and there's nothing like spending a month being home bound to brainstorm ideas for homemade student projects...about home. 
Scissors, glue and paint transform trash to treasure
Architects are sculptors. They have to figure out how to make form follow function. They think through appropriate building materials and aesthetically pleasing color combinations. I want my students to think about rooms in houses, what they are used for and how the architect met those needs (ie. Where does the plumbing go? What rooms have closets?)
 I want them to think about what their ideal house would look like? Would it have a fire pole or a slide to go from one floor to another. Would there be a greenhouse or a maybe a swimming pool?  It's fun to dream and draw. 
jar and card stock house
Then I want to see what kind of magic they can work with an exterior, using every day objects. This week, I took clean garbage and turned it into some miniature homey homes, beginning with a simple jar, wrapped in card stock. Windows and doors can be glued or drawn, a cone roof for the cylindrical house is made from matching card stock.
For a more elaborate project, I took a milk carton, added a cardboard roof, traced and measured to cover the sides with cardboard. I hot glued cut shingles of various sizes, during family movie night.  

Then I cut and glued cardboard strips to create siding, being sure to trim the strips to make room for windows and doors.

 Once the siding was on, the fun part started: adding all the details, like door framing, shutters, and balcony. 
Painting is like icing on the cake, except I did a couple of layers of paint and added some painted trim (balcony railing, molding, and chimney) after painting it, so it would look neater. Between the hot glue and paint that I already had, the project cost about $3, but if you were to buy a big package of hot glue sticks and 3 small bottles of acrylic it would probably cost $8.  Of course you could make several houses with the supplies once you had them. The project took 3 days, working 3 or 4 hours a day. I think this would be perfect for a 2 week (10 hour) project for my high schoolers. I would love to see what they could come up with in a couple weeks.

To make the jar house, check out this video:

The cardboard house video can be found at this link: 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

My Art and Pandemic Musings

Past-Future, mixed medium, Kristen Applebee, 2012

During this month of shelter-in-place, I have had time to reflect on some key principles of living a meaningful life, including mindful awareness, gratitude, and being able to differentiate between needs and wants.

Being present isn't just a useful strategy for times of worry, such as this pandemic. It is just a way to appreciate life, throughout your life--while you are living it! There are some moments that stand out to me as truly joyful moments in my life. There is nothing extra-ordinary about these moments, except that I was extra-aware. For example, when I was a 19-year-old college student, I ran into my cousin on campus, and we sat on the lawn in front of the library, collecting a few friends as they walked by. Once we were a group of five or six, my cousin  said (probably quoting a commercial), "This is what it's all about, guys, right here." At that moment, I felt the sunshine on my face and the soft grass under me. I felt the energy of eager young college students walking by; I felt loved and I felt truly happy in the moment. That's the only way it's possible to be happy: moment to moment. In my art piece, Past-Future (above) the past and future are represented by ephemeral spaces, the only place with any substance is the present.

My work sometimes contains, transfer drawings to represent the tiny particles of spirit or energy that linger in a room. I once walked into a meeting late...so late that it had ended and the room was empty. I could feel a sense of anger still lingering in the air, like suspended dialogue bubbles. I looked at the arrangement of chairs and the story they told. I'm not a forensic scientist but I do like to think about the stories of objects, and how we leave little bits of ourselves: our scent and fingerprints behind on the places we occupy, the chairs where we've sat. For me, chairs are symbols of environments that influence the people whom they've held (we behave differently in a church pew than a stadium stand or a recliner). Chairs are also symbols of people as they mimic the human form: back, seat, legs, and arms. We exist in an environment that influences us, and we are part of an environment that influences others.
Now, Kristen Applebee, mixed medium 2012

Our environment/society shows it's influence on us by the level of consumerism and busy-ness in our individual lives. It was just a couple months ago when I could be caught saying, "I need to get to Lauren's game early," or "We need some more heavy whipping cream."  Being able to realize that there is a difference between needs and wants is very empowering. In truth, the world wouldn't end if I didn't make it to my daughter's soccer game that day, and my family would have survived without whipped cream on our dessert (or even dessert for that matter). By saying, "I want to get to the game early" it brings more pleasure to the act because it recognizes that it is born of choice. We often get what we want without even realizing what a blessing it is.

I would encourage us all to live in the present and enjoy the gifts of stillness and simplicity this quarantine has to offer, rather than try to rush to the future or get back to the pass. Let's notice the goodness that is part of whatever situation you are in right now and be grateful for the needs that are being met this moment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Cardboard Flamingo Decoration

The end of the school year brings with it a flood of activities. I was looking forward to the spring art show and concert at the end of March. The next day I was going to chaperone on the New York City trip, where we had front row tickets for a couple broadway shows, a guided tour of the MoMA. This week, I was going to take a group of students to see Hamilton in Atlanta. There was the senior trip to Tennessee, water play day for the elementary students, Special Olympics, the school talent show, awards ceremony, graduation, and of course prom, which would have been today. If you follow this blog, you know that I've been trying to get prom decorations together since January. But the school closing which was supposed to go through April 6th, was pushed back to April 13th, and now we won't be back until August. So it turns out there'll be no need for the cardboard flamingo I made from home for this year's Alice in Wonderland Prom.

To make it, I used the front and back of a large box to cut out the flamingo shape with a box cutter. Then I used another box to cut strips (maybe 3" wide) perpendicular to the corrugations. I rolled the strips to make them flexible enough to hot glue to the edge of side. Then I glued wooden dowels to the inside, along with a cardboard strips to make a little box to contain the tops of the dowels so they wouldn't slide all over the inside. I glued the second flamingo shape on top, used masking tape to smooth out the attached corners and painted it all pink. Viola! I had planned on cementing the bottoms of the dowels into a large can and covering the outside with long strips of grass, but the dowels can also be placed in the ground to stand; add a few leis to make it a perfect backdrop for a backyard luau. I may not need this for another year, but then again, you never know if that first faculty meeting back requires everyone to bring large bird shaped decorations. It's better to be prepared.

Creativity and Balance during Quarantine

“As one grows older, one sees the impossibility of imposing your will on the chaos with brute force. But if you’re patient, there may come that moment when while eating an apple, the solution presents itself politely and says, ‘Here I am.’ ”—Albert Einstein

As someone who loves to feel productive every day and keeps the calendar full, I am trying to learn how to change my pace. Like most of you, I am sheltering in place and slowing down in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We, as a society, have forgotten how to be still, and yet this is an essential skill to allow ideas to come. Have you noticed how many people have had time to make things and post their creativity to the internet lately? Songs, poems, and hundreds of people dressing up to recreate masterpieces from Art History, whimsical memes, and Rube’s Goldberg machines. But these are also days to invite ideas that can change your life or change the world.

This isn’t the world's first pandemic, so it’s not the world’s first quarantine. Schools across England closed during the plague of 1665, including Trinity College in Cambridge, who's student, Isaac Newton, was sent home along with his peers. It was at home, not at school, where he played with prisms, invented calculus, and discovered gravity! Six decades before that, the bubonic plague caused businesses, including the theatre shut down. That's when many believe Shakespeare wrote King Lear. 

a view from one of my neighborhood walks
There’s a difference between down time and wasted time. My friend, Fernando, who was a native of Peru, explained it this way, “In North America we spend our time. In South America we take our time.”  Wreck-less spending of money depletes your bank account; unbridled spending of time depletes your soul. 

Here’s what I'm seeing now that people are able to take their time:  The lawns in my neighborhood are better manicured. People are planting and weeding gardens. People are making meals and baking from scratch. They are getting outside to take daily walks, talking with their family around a fire pit. Gardening, cooking, walking, family bonding: these are activities that should be done every day for basic mental and physical upkeep, not just when a government official tells us to “shelter in place.” The life we are used to living is so out of balanced that a granola bar for dinner on the dash between math club and soccer practice and a monthly walk around the block seems normal. If we can’t learn to maintain some sort of balance after the quarantine, we will have wasted a golden opportunity. If we can’t slow ourselves down, something else will happen to slow us down. (My dad calls that “forced relaxation.”)

Breaks are built into the day at companies like 3M so that employees can get ideas, which is why they have 55,000 products: more than one for every two employees! Slowing down allows you to find solutions that you won’t be found until you can clear your head of all piles of information getting in the way. We must never be lazy about thinking, really hard thinking is like doing the hard pedaling to get your bike to the top of a hill. When we sit back and empty ourselves of assumptions and pre-mature conclusions, new thoughts surface and we gain ground like we’re coasting downhill. Some of those new ideas are bound to be really good ideas, inspired even. It is in the stillness that inspiration comes, you can't force it. So do some yoga, eat an apple, take a walk, and take your time.