Monday, January 12, 2015

Crayon Sculpture Masters

This is one of those art activities that I'd thought of retiring. I mean, it's cool -- you melt crayons and pour the wax into molds you've made from playdough -- but it really hadn't engaged the kids over the past few years and it's a bit of a pain to prepare. In fact, we didn't even try it last year.

The first step in this process is to grab a chunk of playdough and to find something interesting with which to make an impression. We provided a collection of small toy figurines, game parts, toy cars, and other objects. 

Nearly twenty years ago, my extended family agreed to limit ourselves to $5 holiday gifts with an emphasis on handmade. The real gift of this agreement is that we spend far less time in stores over the holidays and far more making things at home. This year, as I browsed the school supplies aisle, I noted that boxes of 64 crayons cost about $4.50. Perfect. I decided to make melted crayon "sculptures" for my family and in the process do all the things I always imagined kids doing.

Meanwhile the crayons are melting. It's quicker and easier with a microwave, which is what I did at home, but in lieu of that, we used this rig: a hot plate with a pan of water we kept just at the boiling point. I and parent-teachers had striped and sorted the crayons by color in advance. I've had the kids do these steps in the past. It's not an easy or fast process unless you use a sharp blade (one too sharp for the kids to use) to cut the paper away. That left them to a tedious job that hurt your fingernails. This might be a big part of the reason why kids lost interest in the past few years. Having this step already completed got the kids immediately involved in making their sculptures.

I wish I'd taken photos of the things I made for my family, but I didn't. I just scoured the apartment for interesting objects that somehow connected me to each person. For instance, I gave my mother-in-law a multi-colored crayon re-creation of a table top puzzle her recently deceased husband once obsessed over for an entire evening, finally solving it with a joyful shout of, "It's symmetrical! The solution is symmetrical!" I gave these sculptures to everyone with the admonishment to use them as crayons. I don't want anyone to feel obliged to curate the things I give them. We all already have too much crap in our closets and drawers.

When the child is ready, we hand them their cup of melted crayon which they pour into their mold. Then we have to wait. Depending on how deep the impression is, this can take from 3-15 minutes.

Most of the kids overfill their molds. We just scrape up the excess with a spatula and return it to the melting pot.

One of the best things about doing this project over the course of an entire week is that the kids got to experiment. This princess figurine, for instance, has a very thin neck, which meant the sculpture was prone to break at the neck when we removed the playdough. It took several attempts before we made a deep enough impression that it didn't break. Children also figured out that smaller, less elaborate toys tended to result in the most satisfying sculptures.

I was so happy with the results that it inspired me to renew my efforts to introduce this process to the kids. 

Like I said, the last few times we trotted this project out, the kids mostly steered clear, and even those who did engage, tended to do so in a one-and-done fashion. Some were worried about mess, others about the hot wax. I don't think I did anything differently this time other than to be a bit more enthusiastic, and perhaps a bit less cautionary, due to my own recent successes. Maybe that's enough. Whatever the case, a good portion of our 4-5's class attempted to pour at least one mold, while several settled in for the day in an effort to perfect their techniques.

At the end of the first day, they asked if we could do it again the next day. At the end of the next day, they asked if we could do it the next . . . It's the first time in my 14 years at Woodland Park that we did the same art project for an entire week. And we now have a classroom full of melted crayon sculpture masters.

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Missing Mikayla said...

I soooooo want to try this with my Kinders!

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

Great twist on a tired old project.

Mommy, Papa and the 'Nuts said...

So awesome!