Monthly Archives: August 2015

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Banksy

iron-man banskystyle

Banksy-style art makes it fun to leave anonymous gifts for friends and family.

The Artist: Banksy

Who is Bansky? That’s a question many people want to know, as Banksy is the pseudonym used by the now world-famous grafitti artist. Banksy’s work started popping up around the Bristol and London underground art scenes in the mid-1990s.


Bansky’s graffiti has influenced many other street artists. Images: Wikicommons and Random House UK.

He started out doing freehand art, but soon turned to the quicker stencil method in the 2000s. Banksy has also created stickers, spoof “Bansky of England” £10 notes (which can still be found on eBay), limited-edition posters, and other works. He has traveled beyond the United Kingdom, and left his mark in American cities like New Orleans and New York.

There has been plenty of speculation about the identity of Banksy, including that he might be a woman artist or group of artists, going by “he” to help hide the true identity. His… or her… or their… work is sometimes humorous and often bearing an anti-establishment political or social message. Whether or not the viewer completely agrees or adamantly disagrees with Banksy’s viewpoint, there is one thing everyone agrees on—Banksy’s work is eye-catching.

Many artists use their work to support a certain social or political view, but Banky’s anonymity may have more to do with where his art ends up, rather than what actually depicts. For example, one time the artist somehow climbed into the London Zoo’s penguin enclosure and painted the seven-foot-tall message, “We’re bored of fish!”

Bansky has done his share of behind-the-scenes commissioned work, as well, from exhibitions to art installations. He also co-created the 2010 documentary on street art, Exit Through the Gift Shop, with fellow street artist “Space Invader.”

One problem with anonymity is Banksy isn’t available to give public talks about his work, but he talks about it in his book, Wall and Piece. There are also other books highlighting Banksy’s pieces found in different cities.

No one may ever really know the true identity of artist behind the Banksy name, but really, would that be any fun? Just knowing this artist is Banksy is good enough for now, and Banksy is happy with it that way.

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint,” he said in Wall and Piece.

 The Project: Anonymous Graffiti Gifts

grafitti gift

Find a design to fit the environment and leave it where someone you love can see it.

Many artists have used stencil or screen printing techniques, including Andy Warhol, Corita Kent, and Pablo Picasso, but Banksy created a way to make this method bold, detailed, and fast, the latter usually to help him get the work finished without getting caught.

This project is going to take advantage of one of the easiest forms of stencils to find: pumpkin patterns. Anyone who has looked online at for pumpkin patterns recently, or has seen kits in the store, has probably noticed they don’t often have anything to do with Halloween or fall anymore. Some superhero, pop culture patterns could be used year round to create summer lanterns in watermelon, make t-shirt stencils, or in the case of this project, make some quick Bansky-style stencil murals.

I need to emphasize one thing, first. Actual graffiti is illegal. Don’t leave any permanent images anywhere without the consent of the owner. Now, I grew up in an area where graffiti-style art is a true fine art form, but it often takes the form of “murals.” One artist I talked to a few years ago told me the difference between a mural and graffiti was “you have permission to make the mural.” In short, get permission.


So, how do we leave surprise art bombs without getting permission? Easy! Create portable graffiti on poster board or cardboard, so they aren’t permanent.

Find a stencil (start out with a fairly easy pattern), and print it out. For larger images, this will take a few pieces of paper, so print on scrap paper at the lowest draft setting. Print two or three copies of the image, in case you need extras. Good, clean stencils are important in getting a layered effect.

Cut the first pattern out as just a silhouette, no details, and leave the cut-out piece for later. Place this image on the poster board or other surface and spray over the entire image. Younger artists can do this sponging or brushing on the paint.


Create design’s shape with a silhouette (top), the add the details with other layers.

Now, if you are just choosing a two-color method, take the cut out potion of the pattern and cut the  details, and place it over the first pattern. Then spray, sponge, or brush the detail layers on. Once you’ve mastered this, you can try it with three or more colors by just cutting out certain details on each layer. You can add smaller details freehand.

This method can also be used for sidewalk chalk art graffiti. Use a thicker cardstock paper, so it doesn’t rip or warp when coloring in the pattern.

chalk art

Chalk art is another way to leave a non-permanent graffiti-style gift.

The finished pieces can be left behind as a fun “thank you” to family or friends who you were staying with for the summer, a birthday gift for a parent or sibling to wake up to, or an end-of-school gift for a teacher who made a difference.

Some artists have criticized Banksy’s use of stencils as “cheating,” but when stealth is key, they work best. Banksy, apparently, doesn’t care what others think, as stated in Wall and Piece:

“Become good at cheating, and you never need to become good at anything else,” he said.

Okay, this isn’t something to follow in all aspects of life, but in Banksy’s high-speed art world, it’s okay to take a short cut sometimes.

It is also totally okay to reveal yourself as the artist after a couple of days, but make them guess a little first.

Originally ran July 11, 2015 in



Make Your Own Little Sock Alien

sock alien main

Everyone needs their own little alien. Make one with this easy variation on the classic sock monkey design. Picture by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Roswell-style alien is an instantly recognizable figure in the worlds of science fiction, conspiracy theories or American folklore He also makes a for a nice twist on the classic sock monkey.

As much as I love making geeky variations on the sock monkey, I love the alien best because I don’t have to mess with the meticulous parts like the ears or tail.

This variation will work with any color of wool or cotton socks, with just one piece of black (or other dark color) felt and any color embroidery floss.

If you haven’t made a sock monkey before, start with a basic sock monkey pattern found on many craft and sewing blogs. The site Craft Passion has a nice, basic pattern and tutorial.


Left: A Basic sock monkey design, sans the nose, ears and tail. Instead, just draw in the face with some thread (right) for the Mouth, before adding a pair of felt eyes.

Once you’ve found your pattern, build only the easy “body and legs” portion, which entails cutting a slit in the leg portion of the sock. Disregard most of the second sock’s pattern (ears, tail, mouth, etc.), and just cut a pair of arms.

Once assembled, tie a piece embroidery floss a short way above the arms and pull it around the front of the alien’s face. Pull the thread through the sock to where you sewed the first end of the floss. This will smush in the bottom potion of the face, so it takes on an oval Roswell-style alien face.

Next, fold your felt in half to cut two identical oval “eyes.” Sew these on the front of the alien and use extra floss to add a pair of nostrils, the nose, and any other details you want. I like to sew a little star-shaped highlight on one of the eyes.


The best thing about aliens, is they can be any color or size!

Tie a ribbon or little scrap of cloth around its neck to give the head more shape, and you have a little sock alien.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of this, you can make them in different sizes and colors, and keep them on hands for gifts.

I like to stick to browns and grays for my traditional “aliens,” but I’ve learned these can look really cute in brighter colors. I’ve even modified this idea to make sock skeletons.

Go out and find a color that suits your aliens best, though. The socks are out there.

alien and calavera

See the alien’s “sister craft” on our site at Minion Feeding 101.

Originally ran in GeekMom on July 6, 2015.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Anna Atkins


Use solar print paper to take botanical art to the Jurassic age.

The Artist: Anna Atkins

Anna Atkins was a botanist and photographer, known for her photo prints of plants, algae, and other natural items.


Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes were both wonderful educational tools and beautiful works of art. Images: Wikicommons and public domain

Born in 1799, she is often credited in books on the history of photography as not only one of first the women photographers, but also the first person to create a publication with photographs as the illustration. Some sources say she was the first woman photographer, but others disagree and credit this milestone to a woman named Constance Talbot. Either way, Atkins was groundbreaking for women in both the fields of natural science and photography.

Atkins was raised by her father, British chemist and zoologist John George Children, as her mother died soon after her birth. She grew to love the natural world, and honed both her scientific and artistic tendencies by studying her country’s native plants and animals. She later created 250 detailed engravings for shells, which her father used to illustrate his translation of the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s book Genera of Shells.

Just as John James Audubon was known for images from the world of fauna with his drawings, Atkins was known on the other side of the Atlantic with plants. She was an avid collector of dried plant specimens, and was made member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839.

In 1841, she purchased a camera and began creating the works for which she is best known: cyanotype impressions. The process was created by a family friend, Sir John Herschel, and Atkins took full advantage of its potential. Discovering photography was an easy way of creating scientific illustrations. She used this process to create three volumes of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, and other botanical guides.

Only a few original copies of her British Algae books are still known to exist, with one volume selling for more than £220,000 in a 2004 auction. There are currently books which feature her work including Sun Gardens: Victorian Photograms and Anna Atkins: 250 Cyanotypes.

The Project: Jurassic Sun Prints and Faux Cyanotypes


Dino’s day in the park solar print used a plastic dinosaur, hollyhocks, and a yucca branch.

Cyanotype was a photo printing style using chemicals like ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide to produce a “cyan-blue” print. The process of copying drawings was both simple and inexpensive, spawning the term “blueprint.”

Atkins used this method to create beautiful plant specimen photography. Today, scientists and photographers can purchase commercial sun print paper, like Sunprint kits or other brands, at locations as common as educational and art supply stores.


Gathering and collecting for the solar prints.

This makes it easy to make prints of plants and animals… including those from the primeval world.

Arrange dinosaur image cutouts, small plastic dino toys, plant leaves (real or artificial), small rocks, feathers, and other small items on a piece of solar print paper in an area away from the sun.

The great thing about sun print paper, as opposed to photo paper, is indoor light won’t effect it as quickly. You can see what you are building, before taking it out to the sunlight. If you have mostly flat items, use a piece of clear glass or acrylic to hold the items in place. A piece of acrylic comes with many solar paper kits. Any thicker items like a figure can be placed on top. The flatter the item, the more clear the print.


The easy solar process…print, rinse and dry.

Now the fun part… carefully take the image outside and let it sit in direct sunlight for around five minutes. Then, rinse the paper gently in water. The blue particles in solar paper react to ultraviolet rays. Any part of the paper blocked will remain white. Simple science mixed with art mixed with geeky creativity. What could be more fun?

Making “Faux-to” Print

faux print

Spray painting over objects can create a nearly identical image to the solar print.

If you can’t find sun print paper, an easy way to create the look is by placing the same objects as you would a sun print on a thick piece of paper and lightly sponge blue washable paint over them. You can also use blue spray paint, but make sure you use it on objects you don’t mind getting permanently paint covered. Make sure the items are secured with a small amount of tape, so they don’t move or blow away in the painting process. If using spray paint, hold the can directly above the image and spray in light, short bursts.

For a fun variation, sponge or spray orange and yellow paint over items on black construction paper for an image that resembles a fossil specimen in amber.

amber art

Black paper with orange paint turns a faux sun print image into an amber-encased specimen.

Don’t feel like you are not really making art just because it isn’t a meticulous drawing of the scene. Atkins fully admitted how wonderful it is to have an easier way to capture images in her text in British Algae:

“The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects so minute as many of the Algae and Confervae has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves, which I have much pleasure in offering to my botanical friends,” she said.

Well put. Go and share these works with your own friends.

Originally ran July 3 in

A Look at Google Cardboard’s VR Devices

google cb

The Google Expeditions app, and the little cardboard view kit: virtual reality for as little as $20. Photos: Rick Tate


Originally ran in GeekMom on July 2.

When Google first announced their Google Cardboard VR (virtual reality) devices as an inexpensive means of obtaining the VR effect, my husband was thrilled at the prospect.

As a history and world geography teacher, he had been following the teaching potential—both at home and in the classroom—of Google’s free educational application, Google Expeditions. The program helps sends students on virtual field trips to from Paris, France to the surface of Mars.

The basic engineering of this item harkens back to the Victorian era stereoscopic (split screen) photograph viewers, on which today’s View-Master toys are based. The concept is to take two nearly identical photos side by side and, when viewed through lenses set a specific distance apart, it appears as one 3-D image.

Even today, most 3-D tech takes advantage of this simple idea, and tech behind Google Cardboard devices is no exception. There are several cardboard device designs available, as well as an easy template pattern to make one at home with upcycled cardboard. Most of the pre-made models range in price from $15 to $25, and we settled on the $19.99 I Am Cardboard version we purchased of Amazon. We even found images of viewers modifying vintage stereoscopes to use with the Google Expedition app. All of these are much more digestible prices for the home consumers, considering many high end VR devices will run well over $100, and sometimes into the thousands.


Make sure to stand up and move to get the full effect.

When we received our I AM Cardboard viewing kit, putting it together took less than ten minutes, even though it included just the bare minimum of instructions. We also had to learn how to properly use the device, which takes advantage of magnets on the side to help activate or control the features and interactive environments. The process is similar to clicking the little lever on the side of a View-Master, but not quite as easy. It takes a couple of tries sometimes to make it work.

By the end of the day, our entire family had gotten a chance to explore the surface of Mars, walk across London’s Tower Bridge (including the upper level walkway), swim in Great Barrier Reef, stroll through natural history, fine art, and air and space museums, do a barrel roll with pilots, and drive around the Top Gear test track with The Stig. Imagine how this type of experience could help excite students in a classroom situation.

Unlike traditional stereoscope images, the Google Expeditions options are 360 degree panoramic, and often explorable, scenes. The first scene I found was on the much-photographed grounds surrounding the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but through the Google Map street-view style application I was able to wander away from the tourist-heavy path, and by a secluded playground area in a nearby park, getting to see a slice of everyday life, as if I were there. That, I’ll admit, was really incredible.

Yes, there are plenty of 360 degree panoramic scenes people can explore with their smart phone and tablet devices, including photosphere camera apps to create your own scene, but looking at it via the I Am Cardboard device isolates viewers from the rest of the world, providing a little more feel of actual escape.

However, finding the escapes, especially those that can be crated in the stereoscope split screen suitable for Google Cardboard viewing, takes a some digging.

We found the biggest issue with this fun little gadget is gathering material suitable for use on the device.

The Google Cardboard application was at first introduced for Android devices, and although it is also available for iPhone and iPad, the viewing options are much slimmer. Android users have many more experiences from which to choose.


I AM Cardboard view kits.

After exploring the limited albeit extremely cool options readily available, my husband spent a considerable amount of time that afternoon surfing for other options available to use. We found plenty of panoramic and photosphere environments, but not all ready for stereoscopic viewing.

However, we didn’t come up empty. Some of the apps and websites that work well with Google Cardboard include Air Pano, the Littlstar app (not Littlestar; it’s a kids’ music app), 360cities, and the Roundme App. All these can be viewed in stereoscopic VR images.

Also, cardboard being cardboard, we had to reinforce the viewer with some clear packing tape after just one day of wear-and-tear from one family. This means, be wary of just throwing it into the eager grabby hands of an entire school classroom without strict supervision on using it. I also recommend a back up for those wanting to use it regularly in class.

The idea of this item is excellent, but if you want to jump into having a large library of items straight away, especially for non-Android users, I would suggest waiting a while until more content is available.

If you don’t mind hunting a little, there is usable content out there, that, although might not be completely hi-def or interactive.

Even with these limits, I really loved this small, foldable product that requires only smart phone to bring an entire world of learning, virtual travel, and fun into the classroom… or home.

Summer Artist-Inspired Projects: John Aududon


Send some fictional fowl back to what may be their natural “real world” habitats in this John Audubon-inspired project.

The Artist: John James Audubon

John James Audubon was born in 1785 as Jean-Jacques Audubon on the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today’s Haiti). He modified his name to John James when he immigrated to the United States in 1803 at age 18.


Images: Wikicommons

Despite growing up in the aftermath of the French Revolution and attending military school, Audubon’s interests were always nature walks and nature watching. He would make drawings of birds, nests, and other images of the natural world he loved. His first American home was a farm called Mill Grove in Pennsylvania, where the John James Audubon Center is located today.

While in the United States, his interest in birds and wildlife grew and grew. He mastered ornithological (bird centered) art, and his paintings considered by many conservationists to be as accurate as any photographic depiction of birds in their natural setting. He was known to replicate birds’ features, color, and mannerisms better than any artist at the time. His works included watercolors, oils, and engravings.

His most famous collection, Birds of America, contains 453 life-size paintings of North American bird species. Some copies of the original printing of the book have sold for millions of dollars. He also released a volume on North American mammals, as well.

Today, Audubon is remembered as much for his conservation efforts as his art, and, according to the John James Audubon Center’s biography of the artist, he performed the first recorded experiment of bird banding in the United States. His observations on bird anatomy and behavior are still considered vital to those studying birds, and he discovered 25 new species and 12 subspecies during his travels. The National Audubon Society conservation organization was created in his honor in 1905, and several parks, sanctuaries, schools, and other public places bear his name.

He has been so identified with conservation, the quote A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children is often attributed to him, yet there is no official record of him actually saying this.

The Project: Fictional Birds of America (and Other Places)


Big Bird might just be one huge canary.

Audubon documented hundreds of species of birds, and discovered several new ones. He was very keen on making sure they were often depicted in their natural habitat, with as much accuracy as possible.

In pop culture today, there are birds everywhere—Angry Birds, Donald Duck, mocking jays, Toucan Sam—just as a start. What would these animals look like in their natural habitat? Do some research on where real life versions of these bird species, or similar-looking birds might live, and put them in that environment.

For example, Big Bird appears to be a great big domestic canary-type bird. Canaries are named for their native lands, Canary Islands! Find some images of the birds in that habitat, give Big Bird a more natural home, and blend the “real” and “fictional” aspects of him.

Don’t feel you have to be as accurate and refined an artist as Audubon. Even he started out with more crudely sketched drawings before he honed his drawing and painting skills. Use any medium you want, including some of Audubon’s favorites, like watercolors. If doing some plein air (outdoors) painting, colored pencils work well, too.

Make sure to document the common name and “scientific” genus and species of the bird. If there isn’t one, make one up. Warner Brothers had fun doing this with their road runner cartoons. Remember seeing those freeze frames that said “Road Runner (Accelerati incredibilius)”? The real genus and species for the Greater roadrunner, by the way, is Geococcyx californianus, and they are actually related to the cuckoo.

Of course, also try honoring Audubon’s legacy by documenting and illustrating the birds of your own city, neighborhood, and backyard. Audubon himself found trying to capture even one aspect of the natural world to be quite an undertaking. He expressed his desire to fill pages upon pages with his drawings in a journal entry found in the book Audubon and His Journals (1897), edited by his granddaughter, Maria R. Audubon:

“I cannot write at all, but if I could how could I make a little book, when I have seen enough to make a dozen large books,” he asked.


Toucan Sam would enjoy returning to the rain forests of South America, while Warner Bros.’s Roadrunner would be happy in the Southwest United States.

Originally ran in GeekMom on June 28, 2015.