Showing posts with label Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arts. Show all posts

Thursday, July 8, 2010

80s and 90s Kids’ Arts and Crafts, Part III

Welcome to the final installment of 80s and 90s Kids’ Arts and Crafts. For parts I and II, check here and here. Thanks again to everyone for your understanding on the intermittent posting over the next few weeks or so during my much-dreaded moving time. A psychology class once taught me that intermittent reinforcement is the most effective variety, so maybe my readership will consequently explode. All this time, I’ve been ringing my little Pavlovian nostalgia bell and bringing you to salivate for post reinforcement daily, when apparently you could have been twice as drooly had I only fed you memories a few times a week. Who knew?

This batch of crafts was especially contingent on reader suggestions, so thank you to everyone who contributed their misty water-and/or-crayon-colored memories of complicated kits and toys our parents used to shut us up for an hour or two. We may not have been creating great masterpieces, but they were at least enough to inspire temporary pride for minimal effort--the preferred combination for children with creative energy but little hopes of a professional future in the fine arts.

Lite Brite

I hadn’t previously considered this to be much of a craft, but after so many write-ins, it was clear it fits the bill. After all, if Magnadoodle and Etch-a-Sketch made the cut, there’s no reason to exclude the Lite-Brite on account of its transient nature. They weren’t lasting works of art, but they were sparkly ones.

The television commercials always showed children just like us creating elaborate patterns with the tiny bulbs, leading us to believe they held great artistic potential. When we got our very own Lite-Brite, however, it became clear most of them were working from the pre-made pattern punch-out sheets.

In case you haven’t yet gotten over the thrill of tediously placing tiny bulbs in pre-cut sockets, Hasbro online has a Lite Brite Simulator. Amazing, right? It’s just as painstakingly laborious as I remember, only in this version you have the option to print your works of virtual art. If you’ll please excuse me, I’m off to spend three hours clicking faux-lit dots into simulated slots.

Fantastic Flowers

As someone who owned this toy, allow me to attest to the fact it was exactly as fun as the commercial suggests. Using little-to-no artistic effort, you could punch out perfectly formed flowers, affix them to premade stems, and voila! Art. The paper it came with was scented, so your result were flowers that smelled like, well, scented paper. Pretty impressive nonetheless.

Craft Loops

In retrospect, these seem like a suspiciously-motivated ploy by parents to set up little potholder sweatshop operations in their very own homes. “Oh, here you go, Susie. Just take these loops and this little loom and weave Mommy some pot-holders. Unless you want to burn your fragile little hands on the tuna casserole dish next time. I know how you hated the blistering. So, you know, it’s pretty important you craft an 8 by 10 square from these little circles."


If this was still available through a simple TV offer in three easy payments of $9.99, you can bet I’d be dialing that 800-number and reciting my check or money order information. That commercial is incredibly convincing. Blouses! Belts! Boots! Denim jackets! If only I could find that denim baseball cap I bedazzled in my youth, my life could be complete. And sparkly!

This device was relatively simple to use, meaning that in the hands of the wrong person it could lead to some very dangerous non-industry regulated rhinestoning. While a mass-producing manufacturer of clothing realizes that 200 rhinestones on a single collar is a bit much, a bedazzler-crazed regular Josephina may think it’s a grand idea. Heavy, but grand. And, you know. Sparkly.

Shrinky Dinks

You cut ‘em, you bake ‘em, they shrink. Exciting, no?


Any of us who ever went to summer camp are more than familiar with lanyard craftsmanship. Literally the poor man’s friendship bracelet, these useless neon-colored heaps of flexible plastic served as keychains and nametag necklace holders.

We would take great pride in crafting a lanyard for a family member and then wonder why their grateful reaction seemed so strained. As adults, it’s clear to us now that it was because they knew that had to wear around this ugly piece of junk for at least a few weeks until we forgot we’d woven the eyesore.

Stained Glass/Suncatcher Kits

These things always seemed much cooler while still in their original packaging. The sample shown on the package was impeccable: a beautiful, uniformly sun-catching colored glass with excellent use of color. Our own work, however, was usually not quite so dazzling. It may have caught the sun, sure, but it blinded us with streaky, watered-down colored patches overflowing and bleeding into other areas on the suncatcher.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

80s and 90s Kids' Arts and Crafts Part II

Welcome back to another edition of 80s and 90s’ kids’ arts and crafts. For those of you in the States, I hope you had a nice long holiday weekend. To my international readers, I’m sorry you have to continually endure the assumptions that you care about the United States’ independence. My condolences.

Before we get to the good stuff, a quick note: You may notice the posts here at Children of the 90s becoming a bit more intermittent over the next couple of weeks. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. Well, actually the previous statement is completely false: I am going somewhere, though the move will take place in the real physical world instead of the virtual one. I’m in the midst of a housing to move to parts as of yet unknown and am thus fully consumed by the arduous task of hauling furniture and packing up boxes.

I’ve never been much for manual labor, so the inevitable strain on my delicate self is taking up valuable blogging time. For the next few weeks, I appreciate your understanding of our temporary on-again, off-again relationship. Believe you, it’s not you, it’s me. And my incredibly overstuffed apartment.

For now, though, let’s resume our stroll down memory lane into the world of 80s and 90s arts and crafts. Believe me, I would rather be doing any of these things--no matter how ultimately tedious--than packing up a few years worth of accumulated stuff. If I had a velvet poster to color in or a spin-art wheel to operate, you’d bet my progress would be slowed significantly. Not to mention my belongings would be far more paint-splattered, though be fair it would be in an artfully random pattern.

Based on your much-appreciated write-in suggestions, here are a few more of the vaguely arts and crafts-related activities that held our attention as children. There’s still a part 3 likely coming your way, so feel free to add additional suggestions to the comments section or by email at

Scratch Art

For those of us lucky enough to have parents willing to spring $4.99 or so for a packet of pre-made scratch sheets, we enjoyed the hassle free scraping of surprisingly colorful designs from a black background. Others among us didn’t fare quite as well, opting to create our own scratch boards from, well, scratch.

Doing so involved the arduous task of filling a full page with random colored patches and using an entire black Crayola crayon to do you color-cover bidding. Your hand and arm would be incredibly exhausted from the whole ordeal, but at least you were able to reap the reward of some sweet vibrant etching.

Velvet Coloring Posters

I passed one of these at CVS the other day and found myself fighting the urge to purchase it and customize my very own velvet portrait of a unicorn galloping whimsically across a full arch rainbow. Despite my knowledge as a grownup that these posters are extremely tacky, there’s something so tempting about embarking on an endless and time-consuming velvet poster coloring project. Plus they’re velvet. Velvet! That stuff comes across as pretty classy to a seven-year old.

Ironable Perler Beads

We spent many, many hours in my house tediously placing plastic beads a millimeter in diameter each onto flat bumpy molds. Whoever thought these up was either a genius or incredibly sadistic, depending on your views on occupying a child with a mindless task for multiple hours at a time.

The molds came in different shapes and could produce different designs using the multicolored beads. Simply cover, iron, and ta-da! A piece of useless junk. But hey, it was your piece of useless junk. There’s a difference.

Spin Art

Just in case you were looking for a way to make painting messier and more airborne, you’re in luck: someone else has already come up with it and mass-marketed it. There actually used to be a professional Spin-Art center at our local mall, but I’m guessing the availability of allegedly easy-to-use at-home kits put them out of business.

The process was simple but undeniably attractive to mess-hungry children. You put a piece of paper on the spinner, activated the motion, and squirted various paint colors in its general vicinity as it spun. It was like a maxed-out version of the Spirograph: no skill required, guaranteed to create interesting artful symmetry.

Friendship Bracelets
I recently caught an episode of How It’s Made featuring the hammock-making process that led me to believe I could someday take on a lucrative career as a hammock craftswoman. The reason? The countless hours I spent weaving embroidery floss into masterfully crafted bracelets and anklets. How else can we children of the 90s put to use our skill at creating patterns like tornado, chevron, and candy stripe?

If you have a solution, feel free to let me know--I’m actually in the market for a new career. I don’t have Friendship Bracelet Making as its own category on my resume, but I’m willing to work it in for the right professional macrame post. Really, let me know.

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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mr Sketch Scented Markers

There was nothing quite like fruit-scented marker sniffing to get the creative coloring time juices flowing. Sure, many of us ended up with an array of multicolored dots on the underside of our noses, but it was a minor price to pay for the sweet, sweet smell of cherries, lemons, and grapes. Our once neutral-smelling drawings were impressively transformed by Mr. Sketch, allowing us to create great aromatic works of art that bore olfactory resemblance to our supermarket produce sections. If you wanted to outline something in black, though, you had to be prepared to sniff at your own risk. Black licorice. Yech.

For a generation facing increasing concerns of huffing and household chemical abuse, it seems strange in retrospect that our parents and teachers once actively encouraged good old fashioned marker sniffing. Rubber cement and Sharpies were still no-nos, yet somehow these odoriferous drawing implements managed to fly quietly under the anxious anti-drug authority radar. Perhaps their non-toxicity played a role in their ubiquitous position on the parent-approved school supply list, but their addictive nature certainly likened them to the verboten.

There remains something sweetly (yes, sweetly--also pungently) naughty about inhaling these fruity marker smells. The markers held major kid appeal of color vibrancy alone, so the addition of a novel sensory stimulus was almost too much to handle. Imagine, you could now draw a lemon that smelled like a lemon. Was there no end to these incredible and undoubtedly necessary technological advances in school supplies? Forget pertinent socially conscious research on health and diseases--one sniff of these markers and I vowed to become a marker lab scientist.

The process of smellifying these markers remains a mystery to many of us former (excuse me, recovering) Mr. Sketch users. How exactly did this innovative marker producer squeeze that tantalizing aroma into this convenient tubular marker form? Is there some sort of fruit condensing machine? A scent extractor? While I still like to imagine a whimsical marker factory a la Dr. Seuss where colorfully-dressed workers load grapes and mangoes into shiny chrome machinery, from whose other end pops out perfectly apportioned scented markers.

In reality, the scentsational (scentsational! I'm on a roll!) smells of Mr. Sketch markers were purely chemical in nature. The giveaway? These art supplies smelled more strongly of fruit than actual fruit itself. It may not seem possible to get a more watermelony smell than that emanating from the fruit in the flesh (Flesh! Fruit! Puns!) but Mr. Sketch achieved the olfactorily impossible. Kudos, Mr. Sketch. You've out-fruited fruit.

Though not directly related to the quality of the fruity scents or ink quality, the name "Mr. Sketch" seems worth flagging as mildly suspicious. While it's clear the "Sketch" in "Mr. Sketch" refers to the art of drawing, the addition of the formal "Mr." title adds dubious implications about Mr. Sketch's credentials for spending long stretches of time with unsupervised children. Perhaps I'm just a cynic, but the name brings to mind images of disheveled trench-coat wearing men in windowless vans luring children from their playground activities with lollipops and Three Musketeers. While the unsavory (unsavory! These scent puns are out of control!) connotation is obviously not the intention of the Sanford company, it remains a bit troubling nonetheless. I don't have any children so perhaps I am not a reliable judge of caretaker quality, but I doubt I would let someone named "Mr. Sketch" interact with my children in their spare time. Just saying.

Fun-poking at the undeniably sketchy name aside, Mr. Sketch markers deserve recognition as a legitimate childhood phenomenon. These sets' ubiquitous presence in cubbies, art classrooms, backpacks, and playrooms made them a staple for the coloring-minded 90s child. Our parents and teachers knew these markers as veritable weapons in the war on our wavering attention spans; Mr. Sketch's deliciously fruity aroma could always occupy an otherwise cranky child in a pinch. Watermelon, lemon, cherries, and yes, even the ominously scented black licorice markers sufficiently won our limited juvenile focus.

Mr. Sketch allowed us to fixate on an unusual multitude of sensory stimuli: Sight, touch, smell, and for the not conventionally bright among us, taste. Thank goodness for non-toxicity. If our teachers, parents, and babysitters each had a nickel for every child who attempted to taste the fruity flavors of the rainbow by imprinting their tongues with the multi-hued slant tips of these markers, they would all be exceptionally rich individuals in their middle age. Instead, they will have to settle for the comforting knowledge that we at least did not poison ourselves with our curiosity. Not nickel per taste comforting, but it will have to do.

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