Sunday, October 02, 2011

Nothing Normal Art

"Dad, why can't you be normal?"

"He is normal. The word you're looking for is average."  

~Utah Phillips

I first learned about using hair dryers to melt crayons from MaryLea over on her outstanding blog Pink and Green Mama, but according to her it had been making the rounds all summer in the form of using the process to make melted crayon rainbows.

The basic idea is to glue an entire box of fresh crayons in a tidy row across the top of a canvas, lean it against a wall, then power up a hair dryer, which causes the crayons to melt and run down the canvas in rainbow stripes. We actually do have a box of fresh crayons, but we have an even bigger box into which I've dumped literally thousands of "junker" crayons over the years and, as I do with all these cool things I find on the internet, I asked myself, "How can the kids do this themselves?"

As you can see, many of the kids almost right away rejected my idea of white tag board, 
opting instead for construction paper from our journal table.

The mental experiment convinced me that it was unlikely that many of them would have the patience to do all that gluing, nor did I want to make them take turns with one big, single canvas, so I figured we'd scale the thing down. What we'd lose in a dramatic final product, we'd gain in participation and ownership.

They were also not at all inspired by my "demo" on which I'd arranged
6 crayons in a tidy row across the top, choosing instead to treat
this stage in the process as a creative one as well.

The basic idea was for the kids to count out the number of crayons they wanted to use, afix them with glue guns to a piece of tag board (because we can't afford canvases for each of them, although I am kicking myself for not remembering the pad of canvas paper in the storage room), which was attached to a clipboard, then take a turn with one of the inexpensive hair dryers I picked up at Goodwill.

In my mental experiment, the kids were wild about the project from the get-go, but in reality they were more than a little trepidatious. Many seemed uncomfortable with the sound and fury of those hair dryers and not at all impressed with the first minute or so of the process during which nothing obvious was happening, but we persevered, despite tripping the safety shut off on our power strip, causing us to spread the dryers out over several outlets in different parts of the room. 

We experimented with how and how far away to hold the hair dryers and soon we were seeing the wax liquify. If MaryLea mentioned this, I somehow missed it, but some of us were a little put off at first by the fact that our hot wax wasn't just running down the paper, but spattering as well. 

And I don't mean just a little bit of spattering. We were scraping it off counter tops and walls.

Of course, this may be something that could have been corrected for by turning the dryers down to "low," but where's the fun in that? Instead we learned how to direct the spatter by how we aimed our hair dryers.

As the process continued, as we started to understand how this worked, everyone got more comfortable, and what had started as a handful of individuals working in their own little worlds of hot air, glue guns, and melting wax, evolved into a community project as we began to talk with one another about what was going on, about our own experiences, giving advice, pointing things out and generally discussing what we were noticing about a process in which none of us had ever before engaged.

We just can't seem to do anything "normal" at Woodland Park. But we do know how to have fun.

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inspiredmontessori said...

Imaginative beyond words. What a delight for these children.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

What a lot of fun!
It appears that you and your children have a truly experimental spirit!

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

Tom- We had GREAT fun with this concept, but really adapted it -

We have also been blowing all kinds of other paints around with the blow dryer. I'm sure I'll have A LOT more to share when I come back from my blogging break :).

Gardenbug said...

Similar in some ways to your activity with a tool. 30 years ago I used a food warming tray (set on medium) and covered it with foil. My children drew pictures on the foil with odd old bits of crayon. Once these melted, (and this happens quickly) they placed a white sheet of paper, folded in half, on top of the marble colored goo, and produced a greeting card for Mom, Dad or friend.

I did this in a classroom with two teachers so that it was well supervised. The young kids came to the activity area one or two or three at a time as they completed other work.

Since then, my daughter has done the same activity with her kids.

pink and green mama MaryLea said...


You are The. Coolest. Preschool. Teacher. Mentor. Creativity - Facilitator. EVER.

My girls wish they went to your preschool, even "E" and she's in third grade!

Love they way you made this project even more kid friendly. : )

Pink and Green Mama,

Danielle in Vancouver said...

I had to laugh as I had also seen the images floating around Pintrest this summer, but felt that this would not be quite right for our Pre-Ks as it was unlike the art they typically create.

Last week, we asked the kids to pick crayons (in sets of two) and glue them onto "anyplace" on a large (2'x3') canvas. We then each took turns melting the wax of a set of crayons (not necessarily the ones they glued on).

It was a great group project. Thanks to this post, I am now going to follow up with a Crayon Splattering REVISITED in our class by giving them the option of making their own prints as you did with your kids.
As always, great idea!

Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks said...

I sat, listened, and shared many stories with Utah Philips in our home of Nevada City, CA.

What a great man, and great quote. Normal is a silly thing to strive for.

Keep up the amazing work Tom! :)

Your long distance admirer!

Unknown said...

I've seen many versions of this project over the past few months but I LOVE how you gave each child the chance to do it themselves. Their finished products are fabulous and I am sure they enjoyed doing it so much more than if you had done all the set up work so that it would look "pretty".

Great work (as usual)! :)
- Gina

Deborah said...

Love it Tom! I am planning to try this soon with our class but yours will be hard to beat:)

Juliet Robertson said...

Hey this looks fun, fun, fun!

I've also used surplus wax crayons as colourful dyes for making candles - the sort where you melt paraffin wax in a tin with the crayons and then dip the wick in repeatedly. Works wonderfully well on a cold day .

nobleruthii said...

i wish my kids went to your school. i wonder how i could recreate this without a hot glue gun?

Pepper said...

Tom, once again you've done it! Now I might actually try this. The mess factor will be a challenge in our setting but I can work that out.

I thought you might be interested - somewhere on the internet I read about putting peeled crayons directly through a glue gun. It might be worth testing out.

Alexis said...

Tom, I actually did this with my kids for Christmas gifts for parents. I got 5X7 Dollar Store canvases and we used rulers to hold the crayons down while the kids held the blow dryers. They LOVED it!! Especially shooting the crayons flying all off the tables....I ended up with lots of melted crayon on my clothes, everywhere!!

One of my little guys who does NOT like art spent at least 20 minutes at the table using all the blow dryers. His little canvas was completely covered. He was so proud of himself!!

Our local church has an art gallery and I have been collecting pieces of art so we can create a gallery showing in the Spring hopefully. For this, I used a 16X20? sized canvas and the kids have been adding more and more layers to them. It is fun to watch these artists as they purposely set out with a plan in mind and then the next day someone else adds color and then melts what was there before. These are amazing pieces!!

I love gathering your ideas....

Take care,

Joanna said...

glad to have found your site. I'd like to do this with an after school program I work with, but like you we can't afford canvases for everyone. I was looking for someone who did it on plain old paper. I think I'll give it a try maybe outside.

motorbike clothing said...

It is very amazing post for children.Good work.Keep it up

Mel said...

I'm going to try this outside this summer. I've been seeing it everywhere for months. What I want to do, is experiment with the sun melting the crayons. If we set it up, how long does it take for the sun to melt the wax? Does it even work via the heat from the sun? Thanks for the good info about the splattering too. Good stuff!