Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Mark Kistler 3D Drawing Camp

Yesterday a dream of mine came true! I get to attend (with my boys) to a Drawing Camp with Emmy Award Winner, Mark Kistler. As a kid of the 80's, I use to watch "Captain Mark" on PBS as a member of his Imagination Station DRAW SQUAD! His enthusiasim and easy-going style helped me to become confident as a budding artist surrounded by a family of artists. I still don't consider myself a "great" artist, but look at what I drew yesterday as I attended the class:

This was what I worked on for a bit in the evening last night:

And today, at Camp Day 2, the fun continued as we explored an OCEAN theme.

Tomorrow is DINOSAURS and Friday will be MONSTERS, ALIENS, PENGUINS and whatever else we throw in.

What is even better about this experience is that Mark's Staff kindly offered us a FULL SCHOLARSHIP when they found out about all of Frank's surgeries, and his current preparations for yet another surgery. Parents and Grandparents are always welcome to attend, and for this camp, Jack has also been invited to sit in. As if that wasn't enough, Mark is welcoming us in two classes... so we attend for 2.5 hours each day this week full of drawing fun.

I'm loving the observations Frank is making. Things like "I noticed that Mr. Kistler doesn't use an eraser" or "as I'm sketching more, I'm getting faster." During the past month, as we've realized that Frank will be facing yet another surgery, we have been unable to get his mind off of the upcoming medical procedures (and their accompanying pain). This class has been just what he needed! He can't stop drawing! As if Frank didn't draw enough before this... now we just can't get him to put his pencil down... like when it's time to get out of the van or go to bed or anything, he's always got to "finish one more detail" on his drawing. Yeah PENCIL POWER!!!

My own excitement about drawing is over the top too! Seriously, yesterday, when I found out we would be attending I couldn't stop bouncing, screaming and getting shivers from head-to-toe. All this rekindled enthusiasm is probably just the kick in the pants my creativity inspiration source has been needing. I find things that I haven't done for years coming back to be easily to share with my sons. Today I explained to the boys that it is important to sketch first, then darken, which is like "whispering on the paper first, then increasing your voice and getting louder and louder." I think, perhaps, that using color is like YELLING at the paper.

One thing I've been intrigued by is all the different ways Mark offers to encourage a love of drawing: books, TV series, personal camps and assemblies, DVD's, and online art lessons (free and subscription services). If you'd like to get a feel for his fun-loving style, Mark offers a lot of free online lessons at his website:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tutorial - Sensory Blanket - Snuggie Remake

I have been doing a lot of reading lately on Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism and Asperger's. One of the things that really struck a cord is the characteristic of difficulty sleeping AND thrashing around during sleep. Both problems Frank has always had. I am forever wondering about his "rat's nest" of a bed... it's seriously like a small animal lair, with lots of trinket's and treasures tucked into the layers upon layers of bedding and pillows, with a small spot in the middle where he actually lays.

What I started noticing in my reading is that physical input is helpful, and by creating a cocoon or shell around the body, it can help with rest. One thing that can be done is to invest in a weighted blanket. Another idea is to sleep in a sleeping bag. We tried this with Frank, but he just slipped right out. So, I kept thinking and finally decided that perhaps modifying an existing item would work. I picked up a Snuggie (for under five dollars) at a Thrift Store. And in a few minutes, I refashioned it into something that Frank has found to be very functional and helpful for his sleep.

  • Snuggie type blanket
  • Sewing Machine (or hand held needle)
  • Pins & Scissors
  • 12" of elastic
  • Large Safety Pin or Bodkin (for threading elastic)

Photo from Snuggie website.


1 - Spread out the Snuggie, inside (seam side) up.

2 - Fold the sides over so that they overlap in the center and pin the top two layers (just the sides) from the bottom up.

3 - Stop pinning about 1/3 of the way from the top.

4 - Sew ONLY the side layers (now in the center front) together. You will have to push the back of the Snuggie out of your way. I just start at the top edge and scrunch the fabric up around my sewing machine as I go. Be patient and work the material smooth for about 10"-12" at a time. I find that my "three step" zig-zag holds up a little more on the stretchy knit, but a straight stitch of hand-stitch will work fine too.

5 - Lay the Snuggie out, and smooth the bottom edge. Center the seamed front, and pin the bottom edge.

6 - Starting about 8" in, sew across the bottom edge. Slow down and carefully work your way over the large lump in the center. Stop sewing about 8" from the other side.

7 - By leaving the two openings on the sides, you have created a double benefit... feet can stick out for walking, or just to get some cool air it gets a little warm.

8 - Look at the top hem. If it is closed, make a careful slit through one layer of the fleece, just large enough for the elastic to fit in.

9 - Using the bodkin or safety pin, feed the piece of elastic through the top hem.

10 - Secure the elastic at each edge of the top hem by stitching through all layers.

11 - Try it on for size. You may need to sew a little more (or less) of the front center closed, depending on how much wiggle room you like. My boys like there Snuggie's open about to their waist, which allows room to get in AND for air when they are a little warm.

At other times, they completely cover themselves, pulling the top edge over their heads.

My boys are in the four to five foot range of height, and this works well for them. If this were for someone taller and they want the ability to cover their head, a small piece of cloth may need to be attached to the top for a hood.

I have been quite delighted with this solution for my son. He has responded very well to his Snuggie, and is very protective of it... so much so that I had to make a second one for my youngest, because the eldest would never share his... at all. He even likes to wear it around during the day and will often bury himself on the couch in it. It provides him with an easy way to withdrawal when he needs some quiet time.

On a related note, we are currently working on creating a Weighted Blanket for my eldest... and I am sure that my youngest will then want one too. Of course, since my boys have grown up with fabrics and quilts, they want A LOT of fabrics in their blankets... so I think I will have to call ours Weighted Sensory Quilts. :D

As ever, please let me know if you try this project and how it works for you and yours.

Oh yes. And one other thing that has worked well for Frank is to sleep in a folding cot... without the inflatable insert. Again, it creates a restrictive, tight feeling around him. An idea I've had but have yet to implement is for him to sleep in a hammock... hung right in his room. I look forward to trying it for him. He just seems to sleep easier when he can bundle up tightly... but he is also warm-natured and doesn't want a lot of warmth, just restriction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Upcycle Project: Toy Couch out of Box

This past week, after a full day of doctor's appointments, the boys wanted to go to the mall. We were to tired that night, but went the next day. Of course, you know that "the Mall" is code for Build-A-Bear Workshop and Game Stop. While there, Jack decided he liked the fold-out couch.

Jack was considering saving up the $20 to purchase it. During the week, Jack made a bed out of a small pillow, an empty storage basket, and a few of his favorite Fat Quarters of fabric (sheet and “blanket”).

Still, Jack kept talking about the actual couch. I got the idea to repurpose a sturdy box, that was just the perfect “couch” shape. Tonight, we took this Crest box (18”w x 9”h x 6.5”d), and designed the cushions for Jack’s Teddy Bear, “Babi”.

We drew and discussed at least four different cushion options before Jack decided that two cushions (like our own couch) were best, so the bear can “build a fort” with them later.

Jack helped choose the fabrics out of his scrap bag, and insisted the cushions needed zippers. We even had some zippers in his favorite color Jack “had” to have at a recent fabric store excursion. Jack handed me fabrics and snipped threads… when he got bored and started cutting into the pieces, Tom took him out to the garage and they picked out a color to spray paint the outside of the box.

By the time they came inside, the first cushion was ready to be stuffed… which Tom and Jack did with a bag of old rags.

The cushions are both made with the same fabrics, but are different on top and bottom so that Jack can flip them over depending on what mood his bear is in. I thought it was very interesting that Jack's Bear's Favorite Colors are Red, White, and Blue (which are quite different than Jack's favorites of Red, Green, and Orange). Notice that some of Jack's favorite colors still made it into the cushions.

The only thing missing are the throw pillows that Jack insists Babi needs… perhaps we’ll make those tomorrow.

All in all, a fun project and I am so glad that I finished it within a day of thinking of it, and in just about 2.5 hours, start-to-finish of actual production time.