Archives for the month of: April, 2012

Ingredients: Old candles that are nearly run down, an old saucepan, a pretty teacup from a charity shop, some scented oil (I used lavender).

The Big Sell: Make a thrifty pretty thing for someone you love!

Strategy: This idea comes hot off the press from the recent Channel 4 programme ‘Super-scrimpers’ and was the only tip I was tempted to try out. I visited a nearby charity shop to pick up some pretty tea-cups and enlisted the help of my husband with the messy bits. It would be an ideal exercise to do with a teenager who wants to make a unique gift for a friend or relative.

1) Melt down some nearly-run-down candle stubs by placing them in an old bowl suspended over an old saucepan of simmering hot water. [TOP TIP: do use an old saucepan if you can, we used our everyday one and it was covered in splashed wax which took ages to clean off]

2) Take out the wick and glue this into place on the bottom of your tea cup with a little melted wax. [TOP TIP: If you don’t have enough wicks to make all the candles you want, cut off a length of a new candle the same length as you want to fill your tea cup and glue this to the bottom instead – we found this worked really well]

3) Once all the wax is melted, add a scent of your choice and pour the mix into your tea cup nearly to the top.

4) Leave to harden, add pretty wrapping paper, and give to someone special (in our case, our lovely Mums for Mothers’ Day).

The verdict: I love the fact that this gift looks very ‘of the moment’ and reuses something for which its hard to find another use. I think an enthusiastic teen could get a good production line going and make a ton of Christmas gifts for little cost and time, but with fantastic results.

Catchphrase: Rejoice for upcycling!

Left wanting more? Another arbitrary use for old candle ends is to create an old fashioned seal to adorn envelopes! Make your own stamp by carving into the end of a cork with a penknife, melt a blob of wax onto the envelope and dip in the stamp. Particularly effective with red candles and perfect for young boys obsessed with all things piratey!



For Stop-motion animation: Fuzzy felt kit / plasticine model / toy with moveable limbs that stands alone and a digital video camera;

For Flick books: paper, stapler, pens;

For Blue-screening: a computer with an artistic photographic / editing package (such as Photoshop or Pageplus) or internet access to a free online editing tool such as

The Big Sell: You know all those fancy special effects in the movies? Let’s work out how they do it!

Strategy: These beginner approaches to animation are great for demonstrating how movie magic blooms from hard work, concentration and imagination. Explaining the technology behind scarier fantasy images can also help children overcome fears and develop a savvy awareness of the media around them.

There are three approaches below which require varying degrees of technical equipment, so pick one which fits your means and the child’s concentration span.

Stop-motion: Set your child up with a digital video camera and a tripod (or tape it to a chair if you don’t have a tripod) and look through the toy box to find an appropriate model. It needs to be one which can stand alone and has moveable parts that will stay in fixed positions – we found a Wall:E robot was excellent as he has such quizzical expressions and is on wheels . Equally, if you are able to suspend your camera to shoot downwards on to a table, fuzzy felt shapes are brilliant for moving around. Of course, you can also encourage your child to make their own model (such as a plasticine Morph, as in my earlier blog ) or use as an array of household objects with sticky googly eyes attached (as in the brilliant CBBC show Ooglies)

Explain to your child the basic principle that the moving image is made up of many photos or ‘stills’, and that the smaller the movements between the stills, the smoother the moving image will appear. Check they can think and talk through the small steps that are needed to create the live action at the end.

You can introduce story-boarding in the planning stages (draw out rows of rectangles on a blank sheet and photocopy the page for ease of use) and the idea that strong storylines require a juicy beginning, middle, and end. Ask prompting questions, such as: Who is the hero of this story? What adversity do they need to overcome? What’s a good twist at the end? Will it be a tragedy or a comedy? How could you surprise your audience? Making references to some of their known favourite movies and working out what hooks them is also a good ideas generator.

Create a backdrop if you wish; keep it simple with a plain white tablecloth or make a stylized landscape using newspaper for skyscrapers. You could even incorporate background static toys, such as a garage with lift or a dolls house.

Now get going! Hold up a title up to camera if you wish (or add in post-production using movie editing software), and then show your child how to do the first handful of stills by setting the model in a pose, pressing the Record button and silently counting ‘one’ then quickly pressing pause, before re-modelling a small change in movement. Once they have the idea, leave them to it! They may get bored towards the end and rush it, but this all helps to learn the underlying film-making principles.

Check out our artspip test animation ‘The Crafty Spider’ HERE!

Flick Books

The simplest and cheapest option, great for confident drawers, is to make a flick book by gathering many small sheets of thick paper and asking the child to draw from the back page to the front, again making small changes on each page, before stapling together. Research how they work  and their historical origins in the Zoetrope. Once finished simply flick from back to front to see the story come alive.


Lastly, and especially for children who want to understand how film directors blend reality and fantasy, is to use a simple photo editing computer package to combine a variety of photos and effects to make a new image. We started by exploring the science behind such special effects for which DVD extras can be a useful resources as they often expose behind the scenes. I then used PagePlus with my son to turn him into Harry Potter. First we uploaded a normal photo of him holding his teddy. We then used various ‘paint’ functions to turn his blond hair dark, draw on a red scar and glasses, and paste an image of Dobby over his teddy and a menacing Troll in the background. This kind of experimental software play can reveal the endless possibilities of packages like Photoshop, and illustrates how the art of drawing can progress from pen and paper when they are ready to move on.

The verdict:

Basic animation is surprisingly simple if you have some home-movie technology at your fingertips and encourages important qualities in the budding artist, including patience, perseverance and forward planning. It can generate quite a spectacular end result for those children that are persistent and pushes those growing bored of 2D into the next realm of possibilities from a technological point of view. There are routes into literacy here for reluctant writers – by focusing on the visual importance of the dramatic arc, they are required to refine their story-telling skills for maximum impact. Ultimately, if your child is proud of their final movie, you can upload it to Youtube and share it with the world!

Catchphrase: Break out the popcorn … it’s Movie Night!

Left wanting more?

1) There are so many inspirational examples out there, including the fabulous ‘The Itch of the Golden Nit’, a record-breaking Tate Movie Project with Aardman animations. There are resources available here to create animations on their webpage or watch the ‘making of’ here.

2) Take a look at these websites for more ideas: