The Unexpected Mummy: combining creative writing with art history

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I’m continuing to lead a series of workshops through CWC called Picture Perfect: Exploring Creative Writing through the Lens of Art History.

We started with prehistoric cave art and moved on to ancient Egyptian art. The students built miniature mummies out of clay. Then, after letting them dry for a week, they “embalmed” them with plaster and decorated them with paint and jewels.

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These props inspired the students to write short stories about characters who die unexpectedly and go through the mummification process. The hitch was that they had to write the story from the first person point of view, which meant describing what it feels like to die and enter the Egyptian afterlife.

Here are the final version of their props. In addition to many human mummies, we ended up with a falcon and a couple of cats. Some students chose to do mummies with luxurious decoration, while others took a more humble approach. It all depended on the character situation in the individual story.

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The dragon hatchery expands

I’m continuing my work as an artist-in-residence with a group of teens at a local specialized learning center. A key goal of the residency is to provide a safe and fun place where the participants can create and do some art therapy.

In the first few weeks, we worked on building and sculpting dragon scales. This quickly migrated into the creation of dragon eggs—a far more ambitious project, and one that requires a great deal of patience.

The students have shown that patience and have enjoyed coming up with the styles, textures, and shapes to go with their eggs. There are many different approaches to this project, as is shown in the photos below . . .

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Many of the students have ambitious ideas and plans for their eggs, so there has been a lot of problem-solving required. Depending on the student’s plan, I’ve had to go and fetch very specific materials or tools to help them achieve their vision. As part of this process, we’ve decided that we should now build “nests” for these eggs. That’s going to be tricky, since I’m sure everyone is going to have a completely different plan . . . but oh, well! That’s what I’m here for.

Just add water . . . ?

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This week, I rolled out one of my favorite classes as part of my CWC creative writing workshops: A Monster in a Bottle.

In this class, the students each assemble a prop that consists of a miniature glass bottle stuffed with monster parts: claws, fangs, eyes, fur, feathers and that sort of thing. I actually only let students pick from three different supply piles, as I feel this makes them a bit more creative and considerate.

The idea is that this bottle is something they can buy at a pet store. It then has to be “hatched” through a series of special instructions . . . which, of course, the students have to write.

Here’s some of the photos from the day’s activity. As always, I’m continually amazed at the ingenuity of the students! Some of them definitely thought outside the bottle . . .

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It’s a big world out there . . .

Last week, I taught a creative writing camp for the Creative Writing for Children Society on the theme of “Secret Worlds” with author Kallie George. We’ve both written books that involved secret settings, so it was a perfect fit for us to teach. In particular, we decided to focus the topics on characters who get miniaturized and have to survive in what is now a giant world.

We began by having the kids construct miniature peg figures and writing a short poem about being small. This was a great exercise because these peg figures served to be their scale models for the week. They never had to remember how big their characters were—they were right in front of them!

 

After this project, the students began writing stories about characters who discover a shrink ray machine and accidentally (or in some case, purposely!) get shrunk down. To help with this part, we built shrink ray props. So, now, everyone in the class had a miniaturized figure and a shrink ray gun. The kids were off to the races, writing their stories.

 

The next step was to have the students imagine a single room in the house as an epic landscape that their miniaturized characters had to cross. So, for example, a pile of dirty laundry became Mount Clothes, and that sort of thing. This was a fun way to get them to think about perspective.

Then, as the characters crossed this landscape we introduced the problem of an attack by a creature. The kids picked critters from a bag, receiving things such as spiders, cockroaches, and centipedes (these were plastic critters, of course, but there was still much screaming). We then had the students pick items from a second bag, and these were things that their characters might find on the floor and use to survive the creature. I call that particular workshop “Big Problem, Small Solution.”

Here are some photos of their brainstorming sheets, which the students used to figure out their plan of attacks against their critters.

 

As you can see by the photos,  items the characters had at their disposal included stamps, toothpicks, birthday candles, bottle camps, spools, and miniature cocktail decorations! The result was a lot of fun solutions.

A second major  project we had the students do at the camp was to take all their props and produce a short script and storyboard for a four-minute movie about how they themselves got shrunk down at camp and had to survive. They loved this creative process and, of course, they all had props ready to go.

Designing dragon scales

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I spent the last few weeks building a dragon egg prop. I had so much fun with this project, and I had enough material left over at the end of it, that I decided to experiment with making dragon scales.

I began by cutting shapes out of a plastic soda bottle, which had a natural curve well-suited for the shape of the scales. I decided that I wanted the scales to be heavy and sturdy, so experimented with different ways to achieve this.

For two of the scales, I shrouded the plastic base with a layer of plaster. For the third one, I glued a layer of leather on top. The leather one still seemed to flimsy, so I coated the back with plaster to give it extra weight.

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Once the plastering was done, I coated the scales in modpodge, which helped to smooth out any imperfections.

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For one of the plastered scales along with the leather one, I decided that I would just proceed to painting. For the third one however, I decided to texturize it with acrylic beads. After this was done, I gave it another coat of modpodge.

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Then it was time to paint!

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Here are the final scales. The gold one, which was just painted plaster, didn’t really turn out, but was kind of my base experiment anyway. I’m quite happy with the leathery (green) scale and the more armored (red) one. Into the museum of magical artifacts they go!

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Advanced dragon egg building ~ the finale

I finally completed my dragon egg prop! Ultimately, the whole project went a bit quicker than I thought it would, even with the many glitches and setbacks I experienced along the way.

Here are some final photos . . . the last one shows the new egg next to the first one that I built. (Which hopefully illustrates why I called this new one the “advanced” one!)

The egg is now on display in my studio, but will certainly make the rounds with me as I visit schools and libraries in the coming months!

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Advanced dragon egg building, part 3

I’m finally updating my progress on my dragon egg building. I call it “advanced” not because I’m doing anything that clever, but because this process is more advanced than the one I used for the previous prop I constructed.

After I finished bejeweling the surface, I coated the entire structure with mod podge.

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This took a whole day to dry and then I decided to spray paint the entire structure to provide a base color. This turned out to be a disaster. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have tested this paint out on some sample mod-podged jewels. For one thing, I didn’t like the color. I had picked the most metallic red I could find, but it came out too rose colored.

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I decided to paint over the whole egg with a burnt orange color. However, the acrylic paint just didn’t bond properly to the spray paint beneath, bubbling in certain areas. It’s hard to see in the photo, but I just wasn’t satisfied!

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So, as a solution, I mod podged the whole egg again and then decided I better restart with a dark base and build up color from there.

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This time, I painted the egg a dark metallic brown then started adding in different tones of red and metallic colors.

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This is always a tricky and time-consuming process. I’m not actually sure what I want the final color to be. What I do know is that I don’t want any flat colors—there needs to be many gradations and textures to bring visual interest to the surface. So now I’m in the phase of adding fine detail and dry-brushing detail.

Almost there . . .