Friday, July 2, 2010

80s and 90s Kids’ Arts and Crafts Part 1

Upon further examination, it seems like I should have titled this feature “Craft Aids for the Talent-Impaired Child Artist.” Parents of young children in the 80s and 90s were coming around to the self-esteem movement--meaning they had to pretend everything we did was pure gold in in an effort to not damage our allegedly fragile child egos. It’s the reason we all think we’re so good at everything. Gen Xers may have been better off with their cynicism--by the time Gen Y rolled around, our every breath was an action worthy of praise.

Whatever the reason, an overwhelming number of art-themed items from our 80s and 90s childhoods required relatively little skill or talent of any kind. Whether through creativity-eliminating drawing guides or mistake-erasable drawing tablets, these crafts held very low expectations for our artistic ability. That’s either very kind or very depressing, depending on how you look at it.

There’s no chance I could sum up all of the nostalgic arts and crafts items I’ve come up with--I just spent about forty minutes oohing and aahing over memory-jogging Google images. This is destined to be a multi-part series, so feel free to reminisce about your own favorites in the comments section. If your memories are convincing enough, who knows? They might just end up in Part II. You can only hope.

Fashion Plates/Light-Up Tracing Desk

Here is the ultimate in talent-free artistic expression: simply rub over or, as technology improves, trace some mix-and-match designs onto your very own piece of paper. You could switch out the different plates to change outfits, faces, and shoes. Inspired by the plates used by actual fashion designers, these more primitive versions were marketed to children. I had the later update light-up desk, which yielded a similar result with the added bonus of some technology: a little lightbulb.


Introduced in the mid-60s, the Spirograph has long been a favorite of geometrically-minded children. Using some mysterious principle described by lengthy equations and assorted Greek letters in the Spirograph Wikipedia entry, the circular gears produce various patterns and symmetrical shapes when poked with a pen or pencil. Growing up, our local science museum had a giant Spirograph that held some half-hearted intention to teach us some math, but unsurprisingly most child patrons were only interested in taking home their personal tear-sheet drawing.

Etch-a-Sketch/Magnadoodle/Magic Memo Pad

These devices seem lumpable into a single category on the basis of their underlying theme of immediately disposable, mess-free art. It’s clear why these toys appealed to our parents--no muss, no fuss, no ugly pictures they felt obligated to display on the fridge with forced pride. Simply swipe, shake, or peel, and start again--endless renewable art fun.

Kid Pix

For the tech-savvy among us, the computer became a veritable playground of virtual painting. I was not actually lucky enough to own Kid Pix, but I did occasionally have the chance to observe its awesomeness with its stamping and sound effects at a friend’s house. On my own, I was relegated to playing with the gradient function on our ClarisWorks, but I spent most of my allotted computer time fuming about my lack of Kid Pix.

Paint by Numbers/Paint With Water

Paint-by-number sets were a popular and highly tedious exercise in futility. It took great resolve and concentration--attributes children do not generally possess--to get through one of these pictures. Once you get all the way up to matching all of the tiny little 14 spots to the number 14 color, several hours have elapsed. Bummer.

The Paint With Water Sets were far simpler, though they held a much greater novelty factor. Simply wet the colored part of the paper and it becomes drippy and messy and allegedly paintable. I actually had a several minutes-long discussion with my boyfriend regarding whether these mysterious sets actually existed or if I pulled the notion from the far expanses of my overactive imagination. Grueling Google searches conclude that they do in fact exist and thus I did not dream up a Muppet Babies-themed wonder featuring built in paper paint. Score one, me.


kat said...

OMG. I forgot all about Spirograph, which I thought was cool to the point of being magic and mystical when I was a child in the 80s.

Nic said...

I had THAT EXACT Rainbow Bright water colors book!!!! Loved it, too! I remember our fridge being covered in my masterpieces.

Does the Light Bright count as a craft? I always thought it was, b/c I'd come up with some brilliant scene made up of my multicolored pegs and then plug it and and watch it light up in all of it's light-bright glory, I'd of course want my mom to plug it up and display it in the living toom, and then I would stress when it came time to take it apart to start on my next creation.

Once, I even remember making my mom a "birthday card" on it. Complete with a cake and candles and a smiley face, if my memory serves me correctly.

Lil' Woman said...

I sweated my Fashion plates....I thought I was really something rubbing my colored pencils over my textured plastic.

Gracie Beth said...

I loved me some kid pix and my barbie fashion plates!

Anonymous said...

With the exception of Kid Pix, I had all of these, and adored every single one. I also loved me some Wooly Willy back in the day, although I'm not sure if it's considered an art project.

Bree said...

Oh my gosh, I loved the giant spirograph at the Science Museum! It was always so packed though, you were lucky to get a turn at it.

I think I had that exact Rainbow Brite paint book!

Marie Braden said...

The original Paint with Water books were actual watercolors that were embedded onto a strip, so you got to choose the colors. I DESPISE the later ones where it was just "slop water on a page and it's colored in for you".

Anonymous said...

My grandparents had a Barbie theme Fashion Plates toy. Loved it as a child.

Grandma also bought us plenty of the paint-with-water books.

Then there was the Light Bright. I still want one of those.

I had a Spirograph as a kid and found it endlessly fascinating.

I also had one of those paint spinner things where you put a postcard-size piece of paper in and it spun around, then you dripped paint on it from above. Fun, but messy.

From a girls-only perspective, I remember the looms with the elastic loops being quite popular. I don't remember why since the only thing you could really make were potholders.

Anonymous said...

Oh... And the little plastic rounds with pegs on either side that you could knit tubes from. You were supposed to be able to make scarves and flowers and and all sorts of tube-shaped things with it, but all I ever managed was a tube-dress for my Barbie.

Janna said...

Kid Pix was AWESOME. Definitely prepared me for Photoshop. :)

faster pussycat said...

OMG I totally had the Fashion Plates!

Dina said...

OMFG Fashion Plates! I had so many, even the travel ones...I still know exactly where they are in my basement. Wow!!! Love it

Maya said...

God how I loved Kid Pix....the sound effects were the best

Alison said...

I had all of these. Somewhere deep in my basement, Fashion Plates and the Spirograph are still hanging out.

I really sucked at Fashion Plates. No matter how hard I tried, my damn rubbings never looked like the pictures!

Jewels Diva® said...

I still have my spirograph in a trunk somewhere. I also loved the fashion plates and had a similar version.

Deathycat said...

I had all of those except Kid Pix (though I think my middle school had it). I loved my fashion plates. My brother lost my original ones but I found a set at a yard sale. :p

McDougall said...

A total stranger to you loves this post, as I had a moment of 80s inspired crafting today as well and 'fell into' your blog while searching for the u-tube video in my post:
Keep it up child o' the 90s, from a new fan!

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