Character survival kits — almost complete!

Week 4 of my artist-in-residence/art therapy program at a local centre for teens is complete, and I have more photos to show of the character survival kits we’re building.

Most students are now concentrating on the insides of the boxes, adding a few extra odds and ends and figuring out who they want to actually store their items. I picked up some floral foam and, in many cases, we’re using that as a storage base. Some students, however, are using other means, like moss.

I’m really loving this project. Each of these is like a character’s life in a box . . . it’s easy to imagine stories springing forth from these.



Building a passport to adventure

Last fall I worked on a project to illustrate all of the marketing material for the summer reading club at British Columbian libraries. Now, as a follow up to that project, I’m excited to be going to visit local libraries to conduct follow up workshops with some of the summer club kids.

I decided that I’d really like to help kids build their own “portal passports.” This summer’s theme is “Book a Trip” and as part of my designs, I created a steampunk-style book that can transform into different vehicles, as is shown in my poster illustration:


This week, I started working on a prototype book that I can show to the workshop participants. It started with a simple notebook from the dollar store and then adding “greebles” to ornament it. I bought a lot of gears, beads, and clock handles from the craft store, but most of the other stuff is just “junk”, items I either cannibalized from old household appliances, or collected from the grab bins at Urban Source, a local art and craft store that specializes in recycled items. The stuff at Urban Source is perfect for the types of building projects I like to do.


I had to pre-paint a few items, including the notebook itself. Then it was just a matter of gluing and attaching. Mostly, I used tacks and hot glue. The big copper button is on a spring, so actually can be pressed, and the clock handle spins. The only thing I didn’t invest time in was the lightbulb—it doesn’t light up. Though, this probably could have been managed with a small LED light.


I love how the final project turned out, but I think this is going to be far too complicated for my kids in my short summer workshops. So, for now, I’m back to the building station to make a second prototype—one that is far less ambitious!


Character kits — the art of survival

Day 3 of my artist-in-residence/art therapy program at a local centre for teens is complete, and  it was a very gratifying day working with my students as they continued to construct their character survival kits.

Today, we did a lot of work on the kits themselves, in some cases adding extra decorative details and in other cases gouging them with my new toy (a dremel) to weather them.

As for the contents—well, I spent the last two weeks collecting treasures that would serve as the items that go inside the kits. During my last session, each student provided me with an individual material list. To be honest, some of the requests were pretty tricky, but I did a lot of hunting around craft stores and dollar stores and, when I got desperate, I turned to Etsy. Over the years, I have also collected a lot of “greebles” from a local store called Urban Source, which sells all kinds of strange and peculiar items cannibalized from here, there, and everywhere. So I brought in my greebles kit and that, combined with all the other stuff I recently bought, gave the students a vast treasure trove to draw upon as they began developing the small props that will go inside their character kits. 

The whole idea behind these kits is that they hold particular importance to a character that the student has developed. In many cases it’s pure physical survival (for example, one student is building a vampire survival kit), while in other cases, it’s emotional survival.

I think everything is looking spectacular, but my main joy is that the students are really embracing this project and having such a great time working in an emotionally-safe environment. (I would like to add that it’s also physically safe, despite the fact that we’re using a dremel, a hot knife, and hot glue guns . . . let’s just say that it’s so far, so good.)


Character kits, step 1

I just completed my second day at a local centre where I’m doing some art therapy work with a group of teens.

I’m breathing a sigh of relief that my participants have embraced our project to build and design characters through prop-building and costume design, which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly what you think about when you think of art therapy.

One of main projects is do design and “build” character kits. I showed photos of my own kit in a previous post, and below are some photos of the starts of my participants’ kits.

They may not seem that exciting yet, but I wanted to capture the different stages of the process, and step 1 is painting the kits themselves. Most of these aren’t completed yet—they still need to be weathered and decorated (or more so than they already are). It’s all part of a process . . . over the next few weeks, these will be transformed into vampire hunting kits, apocalypse survival kits, dream stealer kits, and you-name-it kits.

It’s so fun to see the students’ ideas coming to life in this form. I’m starting to think of this whole project as “art therapy through cosplay.”



Building an apprentice’s spell kit

I’m currently working as an artist in residence at a local centre, focusing on some art therapy projects with a group of teens. I don’t normally work with that age group (my books are for a lot younger kids), but the organizer was looking for something a little different and thought I would be a good fit.

Rather than working in the traditional fine arts (painting, sculpting, etc.), I’m leading the group in an exploration of characters through prop building and costume design. This is similar to a recent residency I did at an Elementary school, except this particular project involves fewer participants and some more elaborate projects.

One of things I want to do in particular is have each participant design a character survival kit. I was inspired to do this after a visit to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum on Jeju Island in Korea. There they had on display a “vampire killing kit.” At the time, my wife said building such a kit would make for a great class activity—and she was right!


So, I decided to build one myself to test out the project. My kit is for a character in a book I’m writing—the character in question is an apprentice wizard and her spell kit includes various items that are particularly important to her.

I found the box at the craft store, added some specific adornments and then painted it to look like it’s been through the wringer.


As for the stuff inside, well, I gathered it from all over the place and spent hours painting, concocting, and gluing. Once I was satisfied with the contents, I lined the box with floral foam and wedged everything inside. Here’s the result:


Of course, one of the fun parts of such a project is coming up for all the labels for each item in the box. Here’s a list of my contents:

1: Ring of Whispering
(for contacting the apprentice’s master)

2. Jellied Eye
(plucked from a Revellian monkey)

3. Key
(unlocks Master’s book of Charms & Spells ~ this is a duplicate, made in secret)

4. Fingernails (clipped from a Gresswydian girl, aged 12)

5. Blood (syphoned from an Allegrian princess)

6. Ash (scooped from the nest of a Morindian fire dragon)

7. Venom (extracted from a Snardassian ice snake)

8. Cursing Dust (stolen from the ancient tomb of a mummified queen of Dossandros)

9. Fang (taken from a Zelantean wolf)


* * *

I hope the participants will have as much fun making their kits as I did. I can imagine all sorts of kits being developed: Zombie Survival Kit, Steampunk Engineer Tool Kit, Robot Maintenance Kit . . . you name it!