Activities for Kids: Dragon egg building 201

Everyone is looking for fun home-based projects so I’m going to post some of the fun activities I roll out with my own family and the students in my creative writing and art programs.

I’ve already posted Dragon egg building 101, which involved a simple way to craft your own magical creature egg. This second approach is also pretty simple, but is better for older kids.

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Dragon Eggs: The Hot Glue Gun approach

Obviously, it’s the hot glue that makes this a poor fit for toddlers! It also requires more patience, since it requires waiting for the hot glue to dry. This is the method that I’ve rolled out at many schools and programs in Canada, Korea, and Thailand—I’ve probably overseen hundreds of these eggs being made!

What you will need:

  • Eggs (real, plastic, or cardboard)
  • A low-temperature hot glue gun
  • Black paint
  • Metallic or glitter paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Mod podge

I’ll repeat here what I said about eggs using the sticker approach. You can use plastic or cardboard ones, which are highly available at this time of year from your local dollar or art craft store.

You can also use real eggs. In this case, you need to poke a hole in both ends, blow out the yolk, rinse the insides with hot water, then bake them at 325 degrees for twenty minutes to “cure” them. Real eggs are obviously more delicate than using the plastic forms, but they will work.

Once you have the eggs prepared, follow these steps . . .

Step 1: Paint the egg black

After a lot of experimentation, I have found this produces the best final result. By painting the eggs a base color of black, you provide a rich base and makes whatever colors you apply over top to be more vivid and vibrant. Because I have often done projects at schools where we needed to build a hundred eggs over a week, I often mass spray-paint a batch in advance, but black acrylic paint works just as well.

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Step 2: Apply the hot glue

Once the egg has been given a base color, and the paint has dried, heat up the low-temperature glue gun and start applying it to the egg. You can almost paint it on with the nozzle of the gun, making different patterns and designs. I’ve tried swirls and wavy lines, but, honestly, you can apply it all kinds of random patterns because what you’re really trying to accomplish is make the egg look like it came from anything other than a normal bird!

You can see many of the different styles created by me and my students on this post. If you allow the glue to dry, you can start adding additional layers and build up certain features. I’ve even had students build horns and wings with the hot glue!

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Step 3: Paint with metallic paint

Once the black paint is dry, apply your chosen final colors. I find that metallic paints are the best, because they provide the eggs with a magical appearance.

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My main recommendation here is to paint lightly or to dry-brush the metallic paint on. This technique works especially well if you have pre-painted the base shell black (though, sometimes, my students apply so much glue, that there is no evidence of the original shell—which is okay, of course!).

You can also dry-brush on different layers or section of colors. If you don’t like the look of something, just paint over it and start again!

Step 4: Paint with mod podge

You can stop after Step 3, but I often like to seal the egg with a layer of mod podge, because it helps protect the paint and makes the egg more durable—which is important if, like my family, you want to plant them around your house or garden for a dragon egg hunt!

If you want your egg to be purely for display, you can always mount it on a base, such as a half-sphere styrofoam ball or, as one of my industrious students did, a cut plastic cup.

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If you’re looking for something extra to add to this project, well then there is plenty of storytelling and writing you can do. In my creative writing classes, I often ask my students to write care instructions. You can download the project sheet here.

WS-My Hatchling's Care Instructions

Activities for kids: Dragon egg building 101

Well, here we are, in the midst of the covid-19 crisis and my family is facing the same reality as everyone else—being stuck at home, climbing the walls, with no work or school. I work a lot at home (that’s the life of a writer), but I’ve also had many of my creative writing classes cancelled, which means all my students are stuck at home, too.

There is only so much Netflix to watch, so many books to read, so many games to play—so I want to introduce some fun hands-on activities to help keep hands and minds busy.

The first one is building dragon eggs (or, if you prefer, magical creature eggs). I’ve built tons of eggs over the years, ranging from very simple and small ones to ones that are giant and complicated. I build them as props to help me imagine key elements in my books, to help my creative writing kids to be inspired, or as for treasures to use in my family’s annual dragon egg hunt.

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I’ve also helped hundreds of kids build them as part of my creative writing classes, my art therapy classes for at-risk teens, and in my writer/artist residences in Canada, Korea, and Thailand.

There are two simple approaches to making dragon eggs that you can roll out with your kids, and, in this post, I’ll introduce the first one . . .

Dragon Eggs: The Sticker Approach

This is the style that you can use with the youngest of kids. My two-year-old, Hiro, even made one of these—admittedly, I did the painting, but he did do all the sticking.

What you will need:

  • Eggs (real, plastic, or cardboard)
  • Black paint
  • Gemstone stickers
  • Metallic or glitter paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Mod podge

First, let’s talk about the eggs. You can use plastic ones from your local dollar store (at this time of year, they are highly available), or cardboard ones (usually found at a higher end art supply or craft store), or actual eggs.

In the case of real eggs, you need to poke a hole in both ends, blow out the yolk, rinse the insides with hot water, then bake them at 325 degrees for twenty minutes to “cure” them. Real eggs are obviously more delicate than using the plastic forms, but they will work.

Once you have eggs sorted, follow these steps . . .

Step 1: Apply the stickers

Once the egg has been given a base color, apply the gemstone stickers. The only issue here is that if you apply the stickers, then change your mind and peel them off, they won’t stick as well upon reapplication, and you may need to use white glue to keep them down.

The great thing about the sticker application is that you can do it really randomly (like my two-year-old) and still produce an interesting pattern that makes the egg feel more magical.

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Step 2: Paint with mod podge

In truth, you can just paint the egg at this point with your metallic or glitter paint, but a coat of mod podge will really bind the gemstones to the egg form and ensure its durability.

Also, the mod podge works its way into all the cracks and crevices, filling them in and making the surface just a little less bumpy. Don’t worry, it will dry completely clear!

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Step 3: Paint black

After a lot of experimentation, I have found this produces the best final result. By painting the eggs black, you provide a rich base and makes whatever colors you apply over top to be more vivid and vibrant.

Step 4: Paint with your chosen colours

Once the black paint is dry, apply your chosen final colors. I find that metallic paints are the best, because they really make the eggs look distinctive or interesting—in other words, magical.

I often like to dry-brush the metallic paint on rather than glop it on because, once again, it allows a vibrant and interesting finish. But there are no rules here! Some students like to leave the acrylic gemstones gleaming through.

From our recent hatchling workshop at the kitchen table, this is Hiro’s egg:

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And this is mine:

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I actually think Hiro’s looks better, with the dispersion of bumps and shapes!

Step 5: Seal

This step is optional, but I usually like to add another coat of mod podge, just to ensure the paint or jewels don’t chip off. You can also simply spray with a finisher (you can buy these at any art store), but I find mod lodge does the job just as well.

What’s next?

If you’re looking for something extra to add to this project, well then there is plenty of storytelling and writing you can do. In my creative writing classes, I often ask my students to write care instructions. You can download the project sheet here.

WS-My Hatchling's Care Instructions

 

 

 

Door of the Day: The wyvern on the waves

Door of the Day: The wyvern on the waves

This is an exquisite dragon door I found in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Alas, I could not get the perfect photo because the light was awkward and the dragon itself was above my eye line.

I call it a wyvern in the headline because a wyvern is typically a dragon with no forearms—just wings, which is what seems to be the case with this creature. However, wyvern is a European word, and I’m sure there is a Japanese word to describe the specific dragon with wings (if you know, please make a comment below)!

Asian dragons, of course, are the opposite of European dragons, representing benign fortunes and positive notions. It’s not often you seem them depicted with wings.

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Kamakura is a magical realm where you can explore parks and temples, with many statues or carvings peeking out from the stands of bamboo or the gardens. I found a lot of inspiration in this place.

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Of course, Japan holds a special place in my heart because our son Hiro is from there. He was just a few months old when we explored the beautiful temples in the Kamakura area.

I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (pb-Jan28) & The Guardians of Zoone (Feb25)

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books can be found HERE.

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Door of the Day: Watch your fingers!

Door of the Day: Watch your fingers!

This is a cute dragon knocker I encountered in Chipping Campden, England, which is one of the quaint towns in the Cotswolds. I’m pretty sure this little guy puffs smoke when you knock! Either that, or he might snap at your hand!

ChippingCampden-dragondoorknocker

I visited Chipping Campden in 2015, and it offered us a treasure trove of doors, so there’ll be more photos coming from this town in future posts.

As the nexus of the multiverse, Zoone has many doors with creatures for door knockers. If this dragon were at Zoone, he’d not only blow smoke, but fire as well—either because he was excited that someone was visiting his door . . . or maybe as a warning to stay away from the world hidden behind it!

I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) and The Guardians of Zoone (February 25).

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books can be found HERE.

Zoonebooks-Bookshelf-basement

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

I had the joy of starting off the new year in a fun way: by leading a “Dragon Masters” camp for tweens.

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The camp was hosted by the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) and involved sculpting dragon scales, painting gemstones, drawing fantastical creatures, and—of course—writing about dragons, too!

One of the best aspects of this three-day camp is that I had only 15 students, which meant that we could really immerse ourselves in the activities and I had a lot of one-on-one time with each one of the kids. Many of them had worked with me in the past, so it was a fun way to reconnect with them.

“I Am” poetry

The first activity we worked on was a pair of point-of- view poems. Students brainstormed two characters, one a thief trying to steal something from a dragon’s lair, and the other a dragon who was being threatened by the theft. The students wrote one poem from each perspective.

To help with this activity, we sculpted our own dragon scales, prompting many of the students to choose this as the item that the thief would steal from the creature. Of course, the students had to come up with a reason for the theft and the response from the dragon.

One thing about sculpting, is that it’s good thinking time for writers! While the kids sculpted, they could work out some ideas for their writing. But, of course, the sculpting project in itself was a lot of fun.

Sculpting dragon scales

Here are some photos of the scales in progress. We started with plastic shapes cut from a soda bottle, then plastered them. Some students opted to sculpt ridges or shapes into their design; others decided to do a flat surface, leaving the detailing for the next phase.

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We actually had to let the scales dry overnight, but by the next morning they were ready for the students to add more detail by bejweling them (if they chose). By using acrylic gems, the students were able to add intricate detail and give their scales texture. By using the strips of acrylic gems (available at any dollar store), you can gain some uniformity, too.

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Afterwards, we painted the scales with mod podge, to help bind everything together.

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The last step was painting. I find that painting everything with a black base provides a rich undercoat; once this coat is dry, students can dry brush on a variety of metallic colors to help achieve that dragonish feel.

Of course, each student had a very specific idea for what their dragons looked like, or the type of environment they lived in, so their scales were design to match these concepts.

Here are a few of the completed projects:

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Developing a story

After the students had explored the point-of-view poems, I had them choose one of the points of view, either the dragon or the thief, and then develop that perspective into a longer, more conventional story.

The poems were more about capturing character emotion, but the story provided the students with an opportunity to flesh out a plot.

I led the students in some brainstorming exercises and provided them with some vocabulary words to help invigorate their stories. (Honestly, I’m tired of my students overusing the word “run” so we worked hard on developing a list of alternate ways to describe how characters such as dragons and thieves might move.)

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Gems of sorcery

One of the other projects that we worked on was painting glass cabochons to look like magical gems. The idea here was that these gems could be found in a dragon’s lair or a character could already be in possession of them and use them to train or communicate with a dragon.

The project is pretty simple; all you have to do is paint on the backside of the cabochons with fingernail paint. Abstract designs work well and are easy to do, though some of my students tried their hand at painting dragon eyes.

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Welcome to the Dragon Races

One of the challenges of teaching a camp is making sure students always have something to work on. Everyone creates at a different pace, and I like to have everyone work organically, which means instead of developing a checklist of projects that MUST be completed, I just have a cauldron of projects to choose from once we start getting close to the end.

For the final day of our camp, I brought in my own custom-made dragon eggs to inspire extra stories about dragon’s hatching.

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And, finally, for those students who had written, sculpted, and painted everything I had them finish off by imagining there was a dragon race coming up and had them illustrate posters.

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This turned out to be a really successful camp. I want to thank the organizers and my two assistants, Jamie and Chelsea, who helped the kids work on their art projects and did a lot of the clean up. Jamie and Chelsea have been students of mine in the past and it’s really gratifying to see them step into a different role.

Next step? We’ve collected all the students’ writing and drawings and we’ll be publishing them in a short anthology.

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

I have been building dragon eggs for a couple of years now, but I recently took on the challenge of crafting a giant one. I originally wanted to build an egg so that I could use it as reference in a book I’m working on (not the MAIN book I’m working on, but a side project).

I realized that my eggs were all too small—I wanted a model that would be the exact same size as the one my characters would have to deal with in the book.

So, I hunkered down over spring break and set to work . . . Here’s all the stages, starting with the raw materials: a giant plastic Easter egg shell, acrylic jewels, and plaster.

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I started by plastering. This is the same type of material that doctors use for casts, but you can buy it at most art stores. I cut the plaster sheets into manageable strips then begin forming designs on the shell.

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The plaster dries quickly, but can snap off if you’re not careful. A coat of mod-podge does wonders to keep it intact.

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Once I was done with the plastering, I began the bejeweling phase, using a variety of different sizes and colors—the color variation doesn’t actually matter, because everything gets painted over at the end.

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I like to start with a black coat of paint, then build up color afterwards.

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I chose metallic greens for the final color, so started dry-brushing over the black undercoat.

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Here’s the final product, sitting in my studio and shown next to an average hen’s egg, to show scale!

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And here’s four of my dragon eggs, showing the different sizes, colors, and patterns.

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The thief who coveted the dragon’s scale

The thief who coveted the dragon’s scale

As a middle-grade fantasy author, a big part of my personal process is bringing my worlds to life through prop-building. It’s also something I love bringing to the classroom.

A recent project I’ve worked on with two different creative writing classes for tweens and teens is something I call “The Dragon and the Thief.” In this series of workshops, we build dragon scales then write a series of pieces about two adversarial characters.

The first set of writing is a pair of poems. The first one, “I am a Thief,” is from the perspective of a character who wants to climb the mountain to snatch a dragon’s scale.  The second one, “I am a Dragon,” is from the perspective of the fantastical beast who is being pilfered. To get the students started, I have them work on a couple of brainstorming sheets.

Of course, some students choose to do their own brainstorming in their notebooks:

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Afterwards, the students choose the perspective that they feel most connected to, and write a short story.

And, of course, along the way, we build the scales themselves. These are fairly simple to craft, though they do demand some time and patience.

The first step is to cut out some basic scale shapes from soda bottles. Then it’s a matter of using plaster to “sculpt” around them. Depending on what you want, you can just simply leave the surface flat and smooth, or sculpt in ridges.

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This is where the patience comes in; after this stage, you just have to wait for them to dry! At this stage, the scales should look like the ones below, with a gentle curve (which you get naturally from the soda bottle).

cwchl2017-dragonscale01

The next stage is to texturize the scales by adding acrylic gems (though other materials could work, too). Once the gems are glued down, we then paint the scales with mod podge, which helps bind everything together.

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Then we need more patience, to let everything dry . . . but once that happens, then it’s just down to painting. I usually recommend painting the whole scale black for a base, then dry brushing metallic paint overtop to achieve the desired color and texture.

Here is a gallery of the scales that my students have produced. I think they look pretty darn amazing!

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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.

A Magical Morning in Old Shanghai

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After spending a week in Korea to teach a creative writing camp, my wife Marcie and I have arrived in Shanghai for a bit of R&R.

The_Adventures_of_Tintin_-_05_-_The_Blue_Lotus.jpgThis is our first time in this city, but it’s a place I’ve long wanted to visit. I’ve associated Shanghai with adventure since I was kid, which I think is largely thanks to Hergé’s graphic novel, Tintin and the Blue Lotus . . . not to mention the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Since Shanghai has been so romanticized in my imagination, it had a lot to live up to! Marcie knows how I’m wired, so she made sure to pre-book us a hotel just a few minutes away from Old Shanghai. This is a traditional section of the city, filled with beautiful architecture, history, and culture.

We headed over to Old Shanghai mere moments after dropping our luggage off in our room. This was mid-afternoon, and the place was teeming with tourists. We found the sights, sounds, and smells intoxicating. Incessant vendors were vying for our yuan, plying us with everything from cheap knock-off watches to luxurious jade necklaces. And, of course, everything in between.  We found that we were shoulder to shoulder in many of the quaint alleyways!

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The queues for the food stands were seemingly endless and there was a horde of people at the entrance to the famous Yuyuan Garden. Marcie and I looked at each other and knew at once what we needed to do: come back first thing in the morning.

We enacted our plan, arriving by 9am the following day. By comparison to our experience the previous day, we felt like we were ruling the old city. The avenues were clear, the lines absent.

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oldshanghai-pondpavilion

We headed straight for the Yuyuan Garden and at once stepped into a magical realm. I cannot express how much we love this place. Here is a perfect marriage between nature and human architecture, a harmony that is expressed through one scenic sight after another. Every time we turned a corner, we found ourselves gasping.

In one spot, a dragon swims across the top of a stone wall. In another, a spritely creature peers from the lip of a roof tile. Turn a corner and you find yourself glimpsing a lion state through a whimsically-shaped doorway. A walkway meanders across a serene pond where giant carp tipple near the surface. Rock formations with “spy holes” grant amazing perspectives of the pagodas and pavilions.

It’s hard to put into words, and the photos also barely do it justice. But, below, are a few images from our exploration . . .

First of all, I loved all the various doorways. I do not (yet) know the symbolism of the different shapes, but they were a variety of kinds. Aesthetically, my favourite one was what I call the “ice cream” doorway.

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Water is an important aspect of the garden’s balance. Many gates, bridges, and canals are featured throughout the space.

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Bats are a lucky symbol in Chinese architecture. You can find them on door latches, window shutters, and roof tiles.

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Throughout China (and the world, for that matter), you can find the pair of lion threshold guardians. The male has one paw raised and placed on a sphere. The female has her paw raised and placed on a cub on his back. I saw many of these on a previous trip to Beijing and there are many throughout Shanghai as well.

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Below are photos of a pair of stylized lions. They look different than the traditional ones, but the key elements (the sphere and the cub) are still there. The male represents the external world; the female, the internal.

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At one point during our explorations, I spotted Marcie sitting in a quaint pavilion . . . daydreaming, I suppose!

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I was quite intrigued by the holes through the rocks, which afforded interesting views of the garden architecture. So many children’s books feature items such as “seeing stones”, so I kept peeking through these natural windows to contemplate the garden details.

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I loved the sculptures that decorated the walls and roof tiles. I was especially enamoured with this dragon wall. You can imagine this magnificent creature oscillating along the wall. His claws are splayed, his maw is open, and below his beard is a delightful frog. This was my favourite place in the entire garden.

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Here is a traditional guardian figure decorating a roof. You can find these details throughout the garden.

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And, finally, here is our “selfie” in the garden, gazing into a mirror at once spot near the entrance of the garden.

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Of course, it goes without saying that we highly recommend this garden. Get up early to visit Old Shanghai and enjoy a magical morning!

 

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.

dragonscale01-form

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

dragonscale02-modpodging

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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