Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Enamel Paints and Crafting with Kids

We dropped our son off at camp on Sunday. Every summer he goes to Mt. Cross for a week of boy, boy, boy. They build forts, learn archery, swim, have cookouts under the stars and commune with nature. We arrived a little early this year, so we stopped at the park to let the kids play.  Since it was Father's Day, we let Dad have some fun too!

I used to get a little weepy after we dropped Aidan off, but this time was a lot easier. Grandma came with us and I bragged how the next week was going to be "easy-peesy-mac-n-cheesey... that I could manage one kid standing on my head." I hadn't realized that my daughter was at an age where she gets bored easily and wants constant attention.

It is Tuesday and I am already worn out. I don't mean that in a negative way. Eva is a joy and we will have a great week. I just needed to adjust my expectations yesterday. It was 10 AM and we had watched TV, colored, played cards and looked at books. She was bouncing off the walls with summer vacation energy and already bored, so I decided to set up a painting project.
I have been wanting to play with enamel paint for a while now. After I saw this post (below) on Pinterest, I bought some enamel paints at Michaels but had not used them yet. Now would be the perfect time to feel them out and determine if this would be a good activity to teach at summer camp.
The link and owner info for this great project doesn't work
A little background - Every year for the last 7 years I have taught art programs at summer camps. The first few years were actual workshops that came with prepared class kits and high-end supplies. This program was quite lucrative but it seemed silly to be sending my kids to one summer camp and then driving across town to teach at a different one. In the end, the money I made went to paying the tuition for the other.

Three years ago, upon completing my fellowship at the Institute for Innovation, I presented this program to St. Timothy's and I have been teaching there ever since. I only teach three hours, twice a week and in exchange, both kids get to go to camp all summer long, 5 days a week for free! It is a win-win-win because St. Timothy's summer camp is able to add a unique class to their camp description, the kids get two months of fun (and structure), and I am able to play with my kids and their friends without worrying about the carpet.
It is from my summer camp program that Create and Innovate was born, but that is another story.

Once I had the table set up and some slick rocks for us to paint on, Eva declared that "this is the best day ever!" and we began painting.  She had a little trouble at first because of the curves and small pits on the surface of the rock.

When you are used to painting on flat paper, it takes a little while to adjust to unexpected dips, even if they are very slight. 

Eventually she got the hang of it but it was an excellent bit of information for me to consider before teaching something like this to 6-12 year old kids.  

I found the enamel easy to work with but I did need to pull out my nice brushes.  Kid paint brushes did not work at all.  Maybe I wouldn't teach this at camp.  

Still, I wanted to explore the layering and texture capabilities of this medium.  I cannot imagine how the artist from the Pinterest photo made those perfectly round dots in consistent sizes.  I tried to carefully lay down the paint with some pretty fancy round brushes but I couldn't duplicate her work.  I know the tricks for larger polka dots but could not apply these techniques to small ones.  The only solution I could come up with was to use the Cricut to create the design, lay it over the rock, and use it as a stencil.  This way you would have both the consistency in size and the precise spacing.
When we were finished we put our rocks in the sun and Eva went on to build a fort.
Since she was occupied. I thought I'd paint a garden stone that my husband had poured but was suddenly distracted, leaving it to dry without a mosaic design.

First I wiped it clean, then covered it with a top coat of gesso, the let it dry for 30 minutes. Next I used masking tape to divide the shape into nine rectangles.  I thought creating a mosaic of painted "squares" would go well with the other mosaic garden stones.

Next I painted each "square" (I am calling them squares even though they a variety of shapes) with a different colored background.  I tried to mix colors like red and yellow to make orange and blue and red to make purple.  I found that these color combinations were flat and dirty.  The yellow and green did make a nice lime however.

Once the squares dried, I painted simple patterns over the top thus creating the first layer.

Then I removed the tape to reveal relatively clean edges around each square. I would clean up the wonky edges later in the project.
Above, you can see the orange (lower right), the pink and purple (middle left) and the lime green (middle right).
You will notice that when I pulled up the tape, some of the gesso came off (below the upper left square) which tells me that A) I should have let the gesso dry much longer, and B) I will need to investigate concrete specific primers for future concrete projects.

I just loved the look of the tape after I took it off and decided to hold onto it to use in a mixed media project.
Isn't it groovy?
Next, I painted frames around each of the squares to shrink the large white lines and to embellish the existing squares.  I also added additional details inside of each square.  I wanted to spread the color around as much as possible in following the the mosaic motif. This was layer 2.

I decided that the flat colors were not working so I walked down to Michaels, (Yes, just 1 block from my house - a blessing and a curse) and picked up an assortment of enamel mini pots for $2.89 regular price.  Once everything had dried, I started laying down a third layer on top of the existing designs.  I used all the colors I had to work with except the purple, pink and orange I had made earlier. I loaded my small pointed round brush with a good amount of paint, trying to duplicate the texture of the Pinterest rock. I still had trouble controlling the distribution of the paint but perhaps that is a personal problem.

After three more layers (totaling 6 in all) I put the paint brush down and declared myself finished.
If I wanted this design to last a little while, I was going to have to seal it.  There are a lot of sealing products out there. Many websites suggest using a concrete sealer that is made specifically to seal porous materials but these products are highly toxic, the fumes are overpowering and they only sell them in larger sizes for $25 + which would be fine as an investment except that the shelf life is only a year.  I did some research and decided to go with Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Acrylic Coating which prevents against UV light rays and is moisture resistant.  It probably won't protect the paint for a century, but it is bound to last a season.  I'll keep you posted on how it holds up.

The projects were entertaining and informative.  Eva had a lot of fun painting with mommy, she was very proud of her rocks and the project seemed to transition her to play independently for a long period of time. I decided not to paint rocks with enamel paint at camp. I do, however, want to paint more of the garden stones.  It will make a great family activity and I think both kids will enjoy creating their own designs in layers now that I am better equipped to instruct them.

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