Advanced dragon egg building, Part 1

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Earlier this year, I built a smallish dragon egg, and chronicled the process. While I was quite happy with the result of that project, I always knew that was just a prototype, and that I wanted to try a bigger and more complicated version.

So, after wrapping up a busy touring and speaking schedule, I find myself with some studio time, and a bad cold to boot. That combination (I find it impossible to write when I’m this stuffed up) was enough to spurn me onto the bigger dragon egg project.

For the base of the egg, I used a plastic form that I bought at the local craft store over the Easter holidays. It came covered in glitter, so it was a bit of a chore to get all that off (and my wife says she’s still finding glitter on the front patio where I did the deed).

There is an unsightly seam in the egg, but I’m not too concerned about that; it’ll be unnoticeable after my sculpting and greebling.

The first step has been to try out my idea for adding ridges to the egg. For this part, I’m using plaster strips. It’s essentially the same material they use to build casts for broken limbs. I’ve been getting it to bond to the plastic shell by adding in some glue.

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I was fairly happy with the result, but I wanted to get a stronger inkling of what the final would look like. So I bejeweled a section of the egg and then coated the area with a thick layer of modgepodge; this has smoothed out the ridges slightly and helps hold the greebling in place.

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Everything looks good, so now it’s time to continue building ridges . . .

Putting our characters in a box

I recently wrapped up an artist-in-residence program where I helped teens develop characters through a series of prop-building projects. This was such a success that I decided to migrate a version of this project over to one of my creative writing classes that I teach through CWC.

In this class, the tween and teen students are writing individual novels over a twenty-week period. To help them better conceive their characters, I had them work on a complementary project, which was to create a miniature kit containing items that were crucial to their characters’ emotional journeys.

I’ve been delighted to see many of these items find their way into the students’ stories; they are now able to enrich their narrative with interesting items and—best of all—the authors know exactly what those items look like.

Here are just a few of the photos of the character kits . . . and, naturally, some of this project spilled over into building other props!

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Introducing the crew of the summer reading club 2016

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I spent the fall working on the visual designs for the characters that will populate this summer’s reading club that will be featured in libraries across British Columbia.

During that process, I naturally created stories and identities for each character. As an author, I’m used to writing those stories down, but in this case I needed to specifically concentrate on bringing the characters’ personalities alive with the pictures.

The theme for this year’s program is “Book a Trip” and the idea is that the characters embark on adventure via the wonder of a ship called The Portal Passport—it’s the book featured in the illustration at the top of this page. It has the power to chug through the air, submerge to the bottom of the seas, and rocket into space!

Well, this past week, my contact at the library, Cynthia Ford, asked if I would provide the specific biographies for each character. So I sat down to revisit my three critters for the first time in months, and am now pleased to present you with their official written backstories.

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Amelia Squirrelheart, a
 flying squirrel

As pilot of the portal passport, Amelia doesn’t mind getting her paws dirty.

She loves adventure, whether its soaring to the top of the highest peak or diving to the bottom of the deepest ocean.

Amelia has the heart of an explorer—she’s happy as long as she has her ship, her trusty sidekicks, and the wind in her whiskers.

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Caboodle Cogsworth, a travel bug

Often called “Cogs” by his friends, Caboodle is the navigator aboard the portal passport.

He is a rare species of insect known as the travel bug, which means he’s restless and can never stay in one place for long.

Unlike Amelia, he prefers to have a plan and is an expert in cartography, astronomy, and instrumentation.

He has many compasses, telescopes, and chronometers—some of them built-in—to help him keep the crew on course.

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Fixxer, a polar bear

This friendly polar bear is the crew’s bookwright—or, as you might think of him, an engineer.

He’s responsible for keeping the portal passport running at tip-top shape, so is always tinkering away with his gadgets and gizmos to coax more adventure from the ship.

In truth, Fixxer isn’t quite as daring as his friends, so he’s always glad when they have a moment to pause, rest, and enjoy a frothy mug of ice-cold chocolate milk.

By the way, the BC Library Association is hard at work on the official website for this year’s provincial reading program. I’ve been fortunate to have a sneak peak at the wonderful animation being prepared by the web designer, Shayne Letain—and I can’t wait to show it!

Soon. Very soon . . .

 

So you want to go to wizards’ school?

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I spent last week as writer-in-residence at Charlie Lake Elementary near Fort St. John in northern BC. I chronicled my time there during the week, but did not talk about my main project, which was all about magic schools.

To be honest, everything became a little frantic at the end of the week due to the wildfire situation. We had spent the whole week watching the tragedy of Fort MacMurray (roughly at the same latitude and with the same landscape) and so images of that town in an inferno was in everyone’s mind. Then, on Friday, the region just north of Charlie Lake Elementary was put on evacuation alert and many students had to leave to be with their families in case the worst happened.

That afternoon I was scheduled to sit with individual students to discuss their writing and projects. Many of them were quite distracted—who could blame them? It’s hard to worry about the magic school you created when your home is about to burn down. In one case, a student was distressed because the road to his home was shut down and he felt cut off from his family.

Well, I’m happy to report that the worst did NOT happen for the Charlie Lake students—no one lost homes that weekend and cooler weather helped ameliorate the fire situation. I’ve also heard from many of the students (and their teachers and parents) about how much impact my workshops had on them. So, feeling a bit better about the entire situation, I cheerfully present some of the students’ work below . . .

We began by imagining types of unusual schools, ones with magical aspects. There are many famous examples, of course: Hogwarts, Miss Cackle’s Academy from the Worst Witch series, Camp Half-Blood from Percy Jackson, and so forth. I also talked about books where wizards have mentored younger people, such as Merlin with Arthur in T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. I have a similar situation in one of my books, Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve, and this also helped the students connect to the idea of a magical tutelage.

The younger students jumped right into designing magical crests, while the older students did some initial brainstorming first:

 

The next task was to write an acceptance letter from the school to a character (or, in some cases, the students chose themselves!). The letters gave students a chance to build up the details of the school, providing a list of required textbooks and supplies. Many students chose to add illustrations. As you can imagine, we had all sorts of stories focused on creatures—unicorns (pink ones!), dragons, cats, and winged horses.

The final project involved designing and writing a story about one class in particular. I chose to make that a class on potions, because it also gave students the opportunity to make some prop potions and write a recipe to go along with it.

I’ve teach a very detailed potions class before in my classes in Vancouver that involves mixing and brewing, the idea being that it is a way to explore the five senses. However, it involves all sorts of specialized ingredients and can get VERY messy. Of course, I couldn’t transport mummy dust, goblin eyeballs, and the like on the plane, so I chose to create a “dry” version of this activity to take with me to Charlie Lake. The students still were able to create potions and imagine what sort of concoctions they were. Here are some of the photos of their props and brainstorming . . .

The students were allowed to make three miniature potion bottles, though, as you can see by the photos, many students were inspired to run home and construct more elaborate props. Best of all, many of them went home to write in detail about their magical schools.

This entire residency is thanks to the hard work and dedication of the librarian at Charlie Lake Elementary, Linda Haugen. She has been a staunch supporter of literacy and has done wonders with the kids at Charlie Lake. For the past several years, Linda has rolled up her sleeves and made sure that either myself or my friend and colleague Kallie George (author of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency series) have come to Charlie Lake to work with the kids. Now, after so many years I can really see the pay-off! Many of these kids I’ve known since kindergarten and they are demonstrating enriched creativity, a dedication to brainstorming, and a commitment to writing.

A museum of characters

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This week, I wrapped up my time at the Customized Learning Centre in Coquitlam as artist in residence, working with a group of fabulously creative and enthusiastic teens.

These kids attend CLC for a number reasons to do with anxiety and stress, and this workshop series was meant to give them a place where they could come and create in a safe and imaginative atmosphere.

For the past few months we’ve been designing and building all sorts of props to do with characters, as well, as imagining characters appearances by costuming mannequin heads. Yes, this is not how one traditionally imagines an art therapy classroom, but there is something wonderful about working with your hands and trying to figure out technical problems associated with the intricacies of prop-building.

We drilled, we sanded, we glued, we painted—and had a whole lot of fun.

I’ve posted several of these in the past, but am repeating some of them here, while also adding some of the latest shots. First, here are some of the props and character kits the students crafted:

 

And here are some of the final head designs. Of course, being teens, many of them are wired into The Walking Dead and stories of that ilk . . . hence the dark and sinister appearance of many of the character designs. BUT, as I look at it, better out of your subconscious than in it. Once again, I’ve posted some of these before, but I consider this kind of the final gallery . . .

I’ve been invited to return for another workshop series next year, but for now I’m going to miss my gang of awesomeness.

 

 

A fretful final day in the Peace River region

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I just finished wrapping up my week at Charlie Lake Elementary near Fort St. John in northern British Columbia. It ended up being a fairly eventful last day, since the school is right on the perimeter of a zone that is on alert for fire evacuation. All week long we’ve been watching the disheartening scenes of the blaze that has swept through the Fort McMurray area in neighbouring Alberta and caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of people; those images are etched firmly in our minds as we consider the threat in this region.

As the school day spiralled to a close today, we had many frantic announcements and kids scrambling to leave early so that they could be with their families in case of the sudden need to evacuate. The photo above shows the view yesterday of the fire that began in the area north of the school; this is the area that is now under evacuation alert.

These serious and imminent dangers seem to make my week of magical activities at the school feel a bit frivolous, so I’ll make a post about my main over-arching project at a future date. For now, I just hope this community escapes the threat unscathed.

Secret Doorways: designing mysterious portals to other worlds

Today was Day 4 as writer-in-residence at Charlie Lake Elementary in Fort St. John. Today I worked with the Grade 3s on a project to write stories based on the idea of a character discovering a secret doorway.

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The initial part of this project was to work on a brainstorming sheet so that the students could develop some ideas, including some designs for different doorways. I also designed the project so that the young authors have built in problems for their stories—as soon as their character goes through the secret doorway, it collapses or locks behind them, leaving them trapped in a strange new world.

Here are some photos of a few different brainstorming sheets. I love all the doorway designs!

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One more day to go! It’s hard to believe how quickly the week has gone by.