Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

I spent the last few weeks as an artist-in-residence at a school for particularly awesome teens. It’s a specialized school with only fifty students and, since this is my third or fourth stint there, I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know the kids.

For this term, I decided to embrace the Halloween season and have the students imagine character through intensive costume and prop-building. As an instructor, this is a challenge because no one is doing the same thing. That means there’s not a lot of demonstrations on my part, but a whole lot of problem-solving.

This means finding the right type of material for each student’s individual project and then helping them build what’s in their imaginations.

The Theme

We loosely chose the theme of superheroes, though many students decided to lean towards a fantasy or steampunk design.

Over the last few weeks, they drew, painted, sculpted, and built!  Here’s some photos of some of the many projects they created.

Jewelry Design

One of the main projects I introduced was jewelry design and creation. Using glass cabochons and fingernail paint, the students came up with different designs. These make fantastic accoutrements for superheroes, wizards, magical thieves .  .  . you name it.

I think they are all beautiful, but I will admit I’m partial to the ones that look like dragon eyes!










Masks and Goggles

Every good superhero needs a mask, right? Many of the students chose to build masks or decorate goggles to help bring their characters to life.







Enchanted Bottles

I brought so many containers of supplies to the school that I wasn’t even sure what I had there half the time. But one of my students found the “bottle box” and from then on many of them became obsessed with building enchanted bottles. Using colored sand, acrylic gems, beads, moss, feathers, and other material, they created a veritable wizard’s den!





Wands and other magical props

Many of my students chose to build props that you can hold and carry.



One of my friends showed up at my house one day with a box of sticks that he had pruned from some trees on Vancouver Island. “I figure these will make great wands,” he said. (I guess I have a reputation as a prop-builder.)

I decided to share the sticks with my students, and many of them made some cool items with them.



Drawing, painting and multimedia

A significant part of the project was drawing, designing, and conceptualizing characters.




Many of my students combined these drawings and brainstorming notes with their props to submit final “character design” projects.


Wrapping up and saying good-bye

It’s always a bittersweet moment for me to wrap up a term at this school. These kids are so FABULOUS. They come to class each week, often thinking of themselves as less-than, and all I ever think is how I wish more people were like THEM: introspective, caring, creative, and community-minded.

We built a lot of amazing props over the course of the last nine weeks, but we hopefully we also built a lot more.

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 . . .











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.

Art therapy, dragon style


I’m currently working as an artist-in-residence with a group of very creative teens at a local specialized learning center. A key component of my program is to provide a safe and fun place to get creative—in other words, it’s a sort of art therapy program. (Though, for me personally, I rarely think of creating art as anything other than therapeutic.)

For my first few sessions, I decided to introduce a theme of dragons and magical creatures. I recently was able to roll out a workshop to build dragon scales in Korea and it worked so well, that I thought I would get these teens to try there hand at the same activity.












I knew the dragon scale project would serve as a nice warmup for us before we get into the more ambitious endeavor: dragon eggs.

Scale or egg, the process requires a lot of patience and attention to detail, but I have personally found it wonderfully cathartic.

We’re still finishing up the scales, but many of the students have now moved on to the egg building project. Along the way, we are sketching pictures of what will come out of the egg and we may even get to sculpt baby creatures as well.

Yep, we’ve got our own little hatchery going!










I’ll be sure to post more photos of these creations as they progress. So far, they are looking great.

A museum of characters


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.



Head’s up: modeling characters 3D style

Officially, my time has come to an end as the artist-in-residence at a local specialized learning center for teens. I’ve been asked to see if I can come back in for a few more sessions and I would love to, since I’ve enjoyed working with this group of students so much. It’s just a matter of fitting the days in amidst my writing and touring schedule this hectic spring.

But who wouldn’t want to go back? We’ve had so much fun designing and building characters through costumes and props. We’ve been drilling, sanding, carving, gluing, hair-cutting . . . you name it!

Here’s some of the most recent photos of the students’ creations . . .















Costuming characters ~ 3D style

In past workshops, I’ve done plenty of projects where kids design, sketch, and imagine the costumes the characters in their stories might wear. In some cases, I’ve even brought in fabric swatches for them to help imagine the process.

For the artist-in-residence/art therapy program  I’m doing for at a local centre for teens, I decided to take it up a notch. So we’ve spent our time building character survival kits, but most of the students have finished them and are now working on a new project: to costume a character using a mannequin head.

This is my first time trying out this project (as was the case with the character kids), and I can’t even begin to express how much the students love it. They seem very invested in these characters and I am really enjoying helping them whittle, drill, paint, and sculpt their way through this project.

First, here are two of the recently completed character kits:



Next are the mannequin heads. Many of these are in progress. Don’t blame me for how terrifying some of them are . . . these kids seem to all love The Walking Dead and everything zombie. Though, at the same time, they have spent their hours with me arguing over which is the best Disney movie. (Apparently, Atlantis is highly under rated and should be given a higher place in the echelon of animated films. Or, so they tell me.)

In any case, here are some of the character heads . . .


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.


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.”