The Art of Darkness

Install a Fairy Door

December 5th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Fairy DoorOver on DesignSponge, blogger Kate Benbow relates a conversation with her small son about the source of mysterious noises in their house: Instead of mice, her son was convinced it was the Tooth Fairy.

Later that week, I found two inexpensive dollhouse doors and did a spot of secret crafting. Harry came down to breakfast the other morning and was astonished to discover the actual front door used by the tooth fairy, Santa‚Äôs elves and…well, who knows who else lives behind the door? We know for sure that someone lives there because they get mail and milk deliveries and are fond of leaving their boots outside the door when it rains.

She includes a simple tutorial for making doors of one’s own, plus suggestions for miniature accessories like mail and tiny flowerpots.

The “Santa’s elves” bit made me realize that with the holidays approaching this is a perfect time to surprise a child with the installation of a temporary “elf door” to let Santa’s helpers come and go as they please. Last weekend such an elf door appeared in Shadowboy’s bedroom. It was easy: Dollhouse accessories are widely available; I ordered the door, doorknob, knocker, and welcome mat online, and used some leftover housepaint to paint the door white. I had intended to further embellish the door with acrylic paint: Maybe candy-stripe it or hand-paint some holly or paint the inset panels red and green. After several false starts I realized I suck at painting and went back to white. These are Minimalist Elves.

Once the paint was dry, I used superglue to attach the doorknob and knocker. I put double-stick tape on the back of the frame (be sure to use tape rather than the thicker mounting foam, since the latter will leave a slight gap) and stuck it to the wall after Shadowboy went to sleep. The stepladder was a last-minute addition: Since there’s baseboard on all of the walls* I had intended to stick the door to the side of a bookcase–the tape is furniture-safe–but decided that it looked odd. I finally stuck it above the baseboard and filched a ladder from a set of Shadowboy’s Lincoln Logs. (Incidentally, the doorknob came with a ridiculously teensy little key; it’s hidden under the mat.) A bit closer to Christmas I may add a wreath to simulate elfin activity.

This kind of door could also be a longer-term decorative element, and could even be accessorized differently as the seasons change. And, of course, children aren’t the only ones who might enjoy a fairy door; I’m tempted to install one in my office to let the computer bugs come and go.

*It probably says something about my usual level of gung-hoedness, project-wise, that when my husband found me building the door he asked warily if I was planning to cut a piece out of the baseboard to let it sit flush with the wall. I honestly have no idea what he’d have done if I’d said yes.

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A Monster in Paris

November 12th, 2012 by Cobwebs

The fabulous Sisifo sent this my way, noting that it’s a fun, family-friendly movie. It’s a French movie which has been dubbed into English (and was posted by somebody in Vietnam, so nobody can say we’re not geographically diverse). The animation style is rather reminiscent of Pixar.

(Thanks, Sisifo!)

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Ruby Gloom

August 16th, 2012 by Cobwebs

I’m a mere six years late to the party on this–the series originally aired in 2006–but Shadowboy just discovered it whilst channel-surfing. Blame my eight-year-old for not being more timely.

Ruby Gloom is a little girl who always sees “the bright side of the dark side.” She’s got a pet cat named Doom Kitty and is friends with a huge-eyed cyclops named Iris (whose name makes me very happy), a skeleton named Skull Boy, and a walking disaster area named Misery. Minor characters include the raven trio Edgar, Allan, and Poe, and a ghost named Boo Boo. They all have sitcom-esque adventures which are perfect for baby bats. It’s cute.

Here’s the first episode:

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Woven-Paper Patterns

July 5th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Space InvaderMinico has a tutorial (which is almost too easy to deserve the name) for weaving paper strips into pixellated “Space Invaders.” They’re cute and certainly simple–and cheap!–to make.

Something else that translates well into pixels are cross-stitch patterns, with the single caveat being that this paper-weaving method only allows one color per line. Simple designs like skulls and spiders are readily adaptable, and you could either weave with a single color of paper or alternate colors on each line for an interesting striped effect.

These would add a decorative touch to all kinds of things; they’d be nice as a gift topper or homemade greeting card, or just frame a bunch for a quick and interesting accent. You could also use ribbon instead of paper strips, carefully iron the result onto a bit of fusible webbing, and use it for everything from decorating clothing to covering the lid on a jar of preserves. Varying the width of the strips will change the size of the finished piece, so you can make something as large or small as desired: You could, for example, use wide fabric strips to decorate the side of a tote bag and then do the same design with much narrower strips to make a matching wallet.

Making these would be a fun group activity, especially for kids, since the only real skill required is the ability to count.

(via Geek Crafts)

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Symphony of Science

June 12th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Auto-Tune is a piece of software that was originally designed to “disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies, allowing vocal tracks to be perfectly tuned despite originally being slightly off-key.” One of its first major uses was on Cher’s song “Believe,” but for every evil use there’s a good one. It can also be used to turn the spoken word into song, and John Boswell uses it to set the words of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and many others to music. His first effort was A Glorious Dawn, and his latest is this marvelous remix of Mr. Rogers.

You can also check out the Symphony of Science website, where you can view the videos, download the MP3s, and read the lyrics. Similar projects are forthcoming, so keep an eye on the site for future updates.

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Zombie-Based Learning

May 23rd, 2012 by Cobwebs

I know I gripe about the ubiquity of zombies in pop culture right now, but this is actually pretty cool. Middle-school teacher David Hunter is engaging his students in geography by teaching it in the context of surviving a zombie outbreak. He’s put up a Kickstarter project to help fund his curriculum design.

The narrative is what leads the learner through scenarios in the zombie apocalypse where geographic skills will need to be applied. This narrative has 5 different scenes:

Planning for the Outbreak
News of a zombie-like outbreak has reached your community. You are helping to plan in case the outbreak reaches your area.

Post Outbreak Survival
The outbreak has reached your area and chaos has followed. You use your skills to just try and survive and find other survivors.

Finding a Place to Settle
Through surviving you have met with other survivors, now you are trying to decide upon a safe place

Building a Community
With your group of survivors, you make decisions to build a safe and sustainable community.

Planning for the Future
Based on what you know about Geography, and based on a knowledge of the past, your community makes long term plans for survival and rebuilding a life.

I think this is a marvelous learning tool. One of the best ways to teach a subject is to help the students understand why it matters (even if the application to everyday life is somewhat…tenuous). Dry facts and figures are boring; information that’ll keep your face from being eaten off by zombies is something you’ll probably pay attention to.

This technique could be expanded to many other subjects and a wide variety of monstrous threats, from studying disease vectors in the context of vampirism to using Oceanography for finding R’lyeh. If you’ve got a kid who’s reluctant to study, this might be a useful way to engage their interest.

(via BoingBoing)

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“Pure Evil” Science Project

April 12th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Science ProjectBoingBoing recently featured a “mad science” display illustrating the “Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus,” and commenters helped identify it as the work of Allison Lonsdale, done for a display at the 2010 ConDor convention in San Francisco. There are photos of the whole exhibit here (first three images), plus a transcript of the signage text.

In particular I was amused by the first item under Protocols, “A sample of Pure Evil was obtained from the ruins of an exploded toaster in the south of England,” as a sly reference to the ending of Time Bandits. I also liked the dryly bland note about the fate of the experimental subject receiving a 1000ppm dosage; after developing dental hypertrophy, ocular luminescence, and extreme behavioral changes, “Subject was then euthanized with a sustained burst of automatic weapons fire.”

I love everything about this idea. Not only would this kind of science-fair display be a dynamite art project (a collection of stuffed-and-mounted monsters labeled with species names, for instance, or a survey of the relative efficacy of various vampire repellants), those of us with grade-school kids also have the opportunity to subvert an actual science fair project. I don’t believe there’s anything in the rules against investigating the feasibility of the reanimation of dead tissue via lightning bolt. The heck with baking-soda volcanoes; if Shadowboy’s first science fair doesn’t get the rules amended to specifically preclude me from suggesting future experiments, I’m doing it wrong.

Posted in Bittens | 3 Comments »

Plant Some “Magic” Seeds

January 19th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Magic SeedsOkay, in its raw form this idea has a Christmas theme, but there’s no reason it can’t be generalized to make any season magical. It’s an adorable project to do for small children.

Over at East Coast Mommy, the Elf on the Shelf (aka Santa’s Narc) arrived for Christmas duty with a packet of “magic” tree-shaped candy sprinkles and planting instructions from Santa (on official North Pole letterhead, which I thought was a nice touch). The sprinkles were planted in a bowl of sugar and somehow grew into tree-patterned cookie lollipops overnight.

Well, there are candy sprinkles in shapes beyond numbering, and plenty of cookie cutters. A child could receive a special package from the Great Pumpkin, the Solstice Hobgoblin, or simply the Fairy in Charge of Magical Botany. They could plant anything from dinosaurs to ghosts to bugs to autumn leaves, and appropriately-shaped cookie pops (or even regular lollipops) can magically “grow” when they aren’t looking.

No need to wait until next Christmas; this is a fun and super-easy way to make any day a little more whimsical.

(Hat tip to Empress Pam)

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Unique “Quiet Books” for Kids

November 17th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Vulcan SaluteI’ve always liked the idea of “quiet books”–soft cloth books with an activity for small hands on each page. Over at Julie’s Blog, the eponymous Julie has taken the concept well beyond felt clock hands and ribbon shoelaces. Her quiet books let you do things like give Worf his bat’leth and untie Leia from Jabba’s leash. My kids would never be able to get near these because I’d want to play with them all the time.

She’s got photos of each page of her Jedi Quiet Book and Star Trek Quiet Book up at her blog, and she also sells PDF patterns for them on Etsy.

Now, up to this point the subject matter has been somewhat more geeky than gothy, but according to her blog her next two quiet book projects will involve Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Awesome.

If you don’t want to wait for her to put them together, her clever idea might inspire you to make one of your own. I can envision activities like, “Help Aragorn Re-forge Narsil” and “Hatch the Dragon’s Egg.” (I also sort of like the idea of an “Unquiet Book” with activities like, “Put Dracula Back in His Coffin” or “Reattach the Zombie’s Limbs,” but that might just be me.)

Felt is a wonderfully forgiving material to work with, and there are lots of free patterns and instructions for quiet books (such as these and these) to help get you started. A custom book like this would be a lovely gift for a baby shower or for any small child of your acquaintance.

(via Blurgh)

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No-Bake Witch Hat Cookies

October 13th, 2011 by Cobwebs

Witch HatsI’ve been sort of peripherally aware of the idea of making “witch hats” by sticking a chocolate kiss on top of a chocolate-covered cookie, but I hadn’t given them much thought until the fantabulous Jessica sent me this photo of cookies with teensy icing buckles. That upped the Cuteness Factor by about 1000%, so I decided to monkey with the concept a little further.

You will need:

  • Cookies with at least one flat, chocolate-covered side; I used Keebler “Fudge Stripes” turned upside-down.
  • Chocolate kisses; I used plain Hershey’s kisses, but the striped “Hugs” would also be cute.
  • Frosting. You can make this from scratch, but that kind of defeats the whole “easy, no-bake” thing. Individual decorating tubes can be expensive; I just used white canned cake frosting and colored it with some gel food coloring I had on hand.
  • M&Ms or other little round chocolate candies, if you want to add spiders.

To make the hats, pipe a little frosting in the center of each cookie (if the cookie has a hole in the center, pipe around the hole). Stick a kiss in the middle; I like to use enough frosting that a little bit gooshes out around the edges to make a “hat band.” In its simplest form, you are now done.

If you want to get fancier, pipe two thin oval-ish shapes on the kiss and two lines on the hat to make a decorative bow. I found that the frosting tended to warm up after a while, making it thinner and harder to control, so I periodically stuck the piping bag in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it back up.

For extra decoration, add a spider by sticking an M&M to the hat brim with a little frosting and then piping on legs. Here’s where a very thin round tip would come in handy; I didn’t have one on hand, and just snipping the end off a disposable icing bag resulted in–depending on the size of the hole–legs that were either a bit too big or a bit too thin and ribbony for my taste. (Fortunately, even the mistakes taste just fine.)

These are super-easy to make, so they’re not only a quick and attractive addition to a Halloween party, they’re a great project for kids.

(Thanks to Jessica for the suggestion!)

Posted in Bittens, Doom It Yourself | 2 Comments »

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