Art Experiences

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Heart In Sand

Since most of us are more relaxed in the summer and our brains are more receptive to new ideas, it is the perfect time to do activities that promote creativity. I have found these sand projects interesting, adaptable for all ages and very open ended – the best way to expand creative thinking skills.

If you are going to a beach this summer, you have the golden opportunity to create some unique art. Even if you are not fortunate enough to be at a beach, you can revel in some sand at home. Sand is such a wonderful art medium because of the infinite possibilities it holds as well as the unique tactile experiences it brings. Water is the key to working with sand so have a spray bottle and a bucket of water close by.

Sand Castles / Sand Sculptures – This is a fairly obvious idea, however if you have a few extra materials and knowledge, your kids (and you) may be captivated for days! Sand molds better when damp so keep your sand wet. The best ratio is half sand and half water. You can mix sand into water in a large bucket and use this mixture to create your sculpture. If you are at the beach, use sand that is from the shoreline or dig a hole down to the water table. Bring plenty of plastic cups and buckets of various sizes, shovels to dig and plastic knives to sculpt into the sand. The way to get height and stability is by stacking thick pancake like shapes on top of each other. Resist the urge to pound the sand, instead jiggle it into place gently. Pounding expels water; your sand will dry out and lose stability. For even more fun and gasps, connect towers together with small arches or form groups of towers. If you want to carve into the sculptures, carve from the top down and take off only small bits of sand. Kids especially love embellishing sculptures with sticks, shells, rocks, seaweed and other beach items. If you are not at a beach, you can find these types of items at your local craft store.

Sand Casting – This is an easy project that turns out really beautiful. You will need wet sand, items to “cast” such as shells, sticks, pieces of tile, pretty much anything three dimensional and fairly small. You’ll also need plaster of paris, clean water and a large bowl and large spoon you are willing to part with. You don’t have to dispose of these but you shouldn’t use them to eat out of. You can do the casting straight in the sand or in a disposable aluminum cake tin. Dig an area about 2 inches deep in the wet sand or pour a layer of wet sand into the tin with about 2 inches left on top. Now the fun part comes. Press your items into the wet sand, almost all the way down, leaving some of the item showing above the sand. Since casting works from the other side, if you need to, press your items into the sand upside down. For example if a piece of tile is colored on one side and plain on the other, press it into the sand colored side first. Keep your sand wet as you work, misting it if necessary. Arrange and rearrange your elements until you are happy. You can create a picture of something, a pattern or a random fun design. When you are ready to cast, mix up the plaster of paris with your large spoon and container. I used 2 cups of plaster mixed with 1 cup of water to cover one 8″ x 8″ aluminum cake tin. Plaster starts to harden quickly so pour it on top of your artwork as soon as it starts to thicken. Once it’s poured, leave it alone for a few hours. Never put plaster down a drain or sewer or in the ocean. If you have extra, let it harden and throw it in the trash. To unmold, carefully turn over the tin or pull the plaster from the sand. Use your hands and a paintbrush to brush most of the sand off the plaster. Nice!

Beach in a Bottle – Use those empty sports drink bottles to collect memories of your trip or create a beach scene at home. Sports drinks have wider tops but any type of plastic bottle or a clear plastic box with a lid will work. Remove the label if needed. Start with the sand, either use beach sand or colored sand you can buy at craft stores. Place a layer in the bottle. Now place a layer of something else on top, for example shells. Keep repeating layers of a single beach item until you fill the bottle about one third of the way. At this point you can solidify the contents by pouring glue into the bottle and letting it sit for a day, or leaving the items loose to float around. When ready, pour clean tap water into the the bottle, about halfway to the top, add food coloring if you like – remember the ocean can be any color! For even more fun, pour mineral oil or cooking oil into the bottle through a funnel. Keep at least one-fourth of the bottle unfilled. The oil and water will separate, creating interesting effects. If you like, add small plastic fish and sea creatures and maybe some glitter. Squeeze a little bit of glue on the bottle cap and close it tightly. You can wrap duct tape around the top if you want extra protection. These bottles keep small children fascinated for hours in the car or in a restaurant. Older children will love having their keepsake on a special shelf to shake up anytime.

If you are travelling this summer, take along a small sketchbook and be sure to give one to each of your kids. You will be surprised what your brain and hand can do when you are out of your regular element. Keep an eye out for interesting items that can be used for creating during the rest of the year. Often you can find things in small stores that you won’t find in the big craft chains. Most of all, delight in the moment and forget your worries, just for a little while.

The best way I have found to nurture my creativity is to hang out with preschoolers. They have a sense of wonder about the world that comes naturally because they haven’t been here very long and truly do wonder about pretty much everything. Just watch a small child play with his set of little cars. He will line them up all around the room, sort them in various ways, play out elaborate scenarios with them. Take a walk with a toddler and be prepared to stop every five steps to observe a bug on the ground, chase a squirrel or touch a flower. They see everything with fresh eyes. This is what being creative is all about – seeing the world in new ways.

It’s a lot to ask of an adult. We have seen our share of bugs, read this book a million times and just don’t have the patience to sit on the floor and put together more Legos. What to do? Slow down. Just spend an alloted time, an hour, even 15 minutes, and try hard to put yourself in the mindset of a 3 year old. Just for that short period of time, forget all your adult things – forget your errands list, your work troubles, your family issues. Turn off your technology. You can turn it back on in an hour. It’s hard, but just try. Then, take a very slow walk, noticing all the cracks in the sidewalk, colorful flowers and all the tiny things around you. Shop in a store and go slowly through the aisles, looking at all the colorful products and packages. Imagine things you could do with these cans or where you can go wearing those clothes. Consider how this thing got to where it is. If you have a small child or know someone who does, spend time just playing with them, and absorb yourself in it. It will feel boring at first, but do it anyway. If you really pretend you are a small child you will find the wonder. A renewed sense of wonder lifts both your mood and your creative thinking.

Buddhists call this mindfulness or being in the moment. Three year olds are always in the moment. They are not thinking about what is going to happen in the future, or even in an hour, they are just happy to be doing whatever they are doing right now. The adult compromise to this is mindfulness. We need not ignore our future, but we do need to appreciate the present much more than we do now. We need to not rush through our days only to get to the next fretful day. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, make that the most important thing right now. Really immerse yourself in it. Use all your senses to soak up the experience.

Say you are having lunch in a restaurant. Chew slowly. Savor and really taste your food. Feel your food go into your body, nourishing your organs. Watch the people around you. Observe them as if you are observing an alien race of creatures. Try to figure them out and imagine what kind of person they are and what they are saying. Listen to the conversations around you, or better yet, listen, really listen to the person you are with. Don’t think about what you are going to say next, or the workload this afternoon, or anything else that has to do with the future. Just listen, taste, smell, feel and look.

Do we want to be three year olds all the time? Of course not. We need to be adults, taking responsibility for our actions, staying safe, planning and preparing. Just try being a three year old for a few minutes every day. Eventually you will be able to incorporate the benefits of wonder into your adult life. Slow down, notice everything, be in the moment. Your mind will thank you for it.


Hi! I'm Susan Stein and of my many passions in life,
two of my biggest are art and children. In the process of teaching children art, I also teach them problem solving, brainstorming, inventive thinking, originality, working with others, hand eye coordination, and so much more. It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or not, everyone will benefit from experiencing art.

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