Wand Works

wizard with wandOf everything in the Harry Potter universe, I must admit I find the wands most fascinating. Not just because they play an integral part of spell casting – they also reflect the unique personalities of their owners. Additionally, shouting in Latin is so much more exciting when waving a wand. We tried to capture a little of that magic at Wand Works, our Harry Potter event.

gray magic woodworking wand displayOriginally, the event was just going to be about wands, wand making, and wand testing. But then I started thinking about the other ways students prepare for Hogwarts. So we brought book bags, text books, and owls into the mix. And, while I’ve recreated an assortment of Hogwarts classes over the years (check out this boggart from Defense Against the Dark Arts), I’ve never managed to do Muggle Studies. We had to do something on Muggle Studies!

Here’s how our event worked. As kids entered the library, they were greeted by a table full of these awesome book bags:

accio books logo by Polly CarlsonThat beautiful Accio Books logo was designed by Polly Carlson. You can find it here, on her truly clever blog Pieces by Polly. She was kind enough to give us permission to use it for the event. Also at the table were a slew of Crayola metallic markers for bag customization:

book bag decoratingThose are 13.5″ x 14.5″ polypropylene totes from 4Imprint. Specifically, it’s the “Value Polypropylene Tote (item #103873). We tested a couple of polypropylene bags for this project, and 4Imprint’s held the Crayola metallic markers ink beautifully (it smeared on the others). Also, 4Imprint had the best prices and customer service, flat out.

Tucked inside each and every event bag was a color ticket, which lead the lucky witch or wizard to my favorite fictitious bookstore of all time:

flourish and blotts ticketsHere’s our Flourish & Blotts, staffed by Princeton junior Gabrielle Chen (she’s also the artist behind that fantastic sign)!

flourish and blottsBehind Gabrielle was a shelf stocked with copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the AgesHogwarts: A Cinematic Yearbook, and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay (alas, we missed the release of the text book version of Fantastic Beasts by mere weeks). There were also real quill pens with powdered ink packets, and some adorable Harry Potter Magical Creatures coloring kits.

stocked bookshelfThe tickets were color-coded with items on the shelves. Hand in your ticket, and receive the matching item! Just in case you’re wondering, we did sort and distribute the event bags by estimated age of the child. This was to insure that a 4 year-old received a Harry Potter coloring kit, not a copy of Fantastic Beasts.

Did you notice the little cauldron with the brooms sticking out of it in the above photo? Since we couldn’t buy books, quills, and coloring kits for everyone, the little brooms were the prize most frequently received by kids of all ages. But they are way cool because they are actually customized broom pens!

broom pensThese are “Personalized Witch’s Broom Pens” from Oriental Trading Company ($12 a dozen). For no extra fee, you can customize them with 1 line of text up to 16 characters in length. We went with “Nimbus 2000.” Everyone LOVED them! In fact, the whole table was a lot of fun. It was terrific to see kids, holding books (or quills, or coloring kits, or broom pens) with big grins on their faces.

fantastic beasts funElsewhere on the event floor was real-life wandmaker Lane O’Neil from Gray Magic Woodworking. You previously met Lane in this post. In person, his wands are even more beautiful, fantastic, and magical. His table was so swarmed. I couldn’t even get near it for the first hour of the event!

wands on display, gray magic woodworkingLane also displayed his lathe, tools, different types of wood, and wands in different stages of completion. He did demonstrations, showed slides, and answered questions throughout the entire event.

lane o'neil gray magic woodworkingNot far from Lane was our Muggle Artifact exhibit, curated by Princeton University sophomore Téa Wimer. The exhibit consisted of 45 Muggle objects complete with informative exhibit labels. Below, two attendees ponder a Cookie Slicer (which, amazingly, looks just like an old school photo enlarger).

muggle cookie slicerAnd here, two scholars consider a World Checker. Nearby is a rather puzzling object on a pedestal. Kids could write guesses as to what the Muggles use the object for. The full exhibit, as well as an interview with Curator Téa Wimer, is now online!

muggle world checkerOwls are another must for Hogwarts students, so we had a table where kids could make these awesome and super simple wrist owls.

wrist owl examplesAnd now we come to the main event – THE WANDS. After much searching and testing, we settled on wands made from cooking chopsticks, hot glue, and paint. They are, in fact, very much like the wands our kid tester made for her DIY Harry Potter party.

But there were problems. While these types of wands are wonderful in small batches, we needed hundreds. The event was recommended for kids ages 5-11. Would someone poke their eye out? Hot glue is used to create the texture of the wand. Would someone burn their fingers? The wands require paint. Would they dry sufficiently? And – how messy was this all going to get?

Turns out, we solved all these problems, and everything went beautifully.

First, we bought 2 kinds of cooking chopsticks on Amazon. 13″ pointy ones (4 pairs cost $7.40) and 10.5″ blunt ones (10 pairs cost $11). If you’d like to know the exact brands we used, e-mail me for the links.

wand chopsticksFor the event, we made trays out of box lids, separating the wands into blunt and pointy sections. This was primarily for the benefit of parents and caretakers. The pointy chopsticks were definitely the most popular, but we also had many adults who were very grateful for the blunt wands. There was even some quietly-switch-from-pointy-to-blunt-while-the-kid-is-distracted going on.

tray of wandsNext came the hot glue. While we would have loved for kids to make their own hot glue designs at the event, we knew that just wasn’t possible on a large scale. So we hot glued all the wands in advance. It took us a couple months of chipping away here and there, but in the end we had hundreds of wands, and no two were alike.

hot glued wandsNext, the paint! After testing a number of different paints, we settled on Michaels Craft’s in-store brand, CraftSmart. We used their satin acrylic paint because it was water-based, non-toxic, fast-drying, and there were lots of different shades of brown. The regular acrylic paint was too dull, but the satin left a really nice finish on the wand.

finished wands, both kindsAt the event, kids selected the wand they liked from the tray, and then picked the paint color they wanted. To make the color selection easier, we made several paint choice panels out of cake pads and jumbo craft sticks. The numbers below the paint samples corresponded to the name of the colors (which were written on the back of the panel for the table staff).

wand paint panel From left to right, the CraftSmart satin acrylic paint colors are khaki, golden brown, brown, burnt orange, and espresso. Burnt orange and espresso were definitely the most popular. But all the colors looked fantastic.

You need very little paint per wand. To keep the mess down and conserve paint, we gave each kid a 1.25oz plastic cup with a little bit of paint inside it, a paint brush, and a paper plate to work on. When the kid finished, his/her paint cup and brush could be used with another kid.

the painting of the wandsThis paint was extremely fast drying on the wood, even with multiple coats. The hot glue, however, was another story. In order to dry the wands faster, we put together a wand-drying chamber out of a piece of cardboard, jumbo binder clips held down with packing tape, and 2 box fans running on low.

wand drying chamberBelow you can see the wand drying chamber in action, with the wands inserted in the clips. At the event, kids wrote their names on little bits of paper, which were clipped with the corresponding wands. Depending on how many coats of paint were on the wand, it typically took 5 – 10 minutes for a wand to dry in the chamber (15 if there was a LOT of paint).

wands drying in chamberTo be clear – the wand drying chamber was tucked behind the event tables, away from the crowds. Only event staff had access to it for obvious reasons. However, if I was to do this event again, I would definitely add a designated “Wand Pick-Up Area” to make things run even more smoothly.

FINALLY, we had an activity that I only dared dream of, but Princeton University junior José M Rico made a reality. A virtual, interactive, wand-testing classroom. It was AMAZING. I teased a screen shot on our Instagram, but here’s a photo of Katie casting one mean Bombarda spell.

katie and bombardaAll the details of the game, as well as video and a free download, can be found here!

I’d like to thank everyone who made this event possible. Thank you Polly Carlson for graciously letting us use your Accio Wand design, student artist Gabrielle Chen for painting the awesome Flourish & Blotts sign, and Lane O’Neil for bringing his talent and wands to the event. A hearty round of applause to our incredibly creative Muggle Artifacts Curator Téa Wimer. Further applause to our wildly talented game designer Jose Rico, as well as artist Jeremy Gonclaves, who allowed us to his 3D game background.

A big shout out to our extensive team of wand hot gluers, Andrea Immel for swooping in to help at our owl table, and all the Princeton University students who volunteered their time to help at the event. Many, many thanks!

Mandrake Made Easy

mandrake made easy

Behold! An easy – but totally awesome – mandrake that even the littlest wizard or witch can repot. Katie and I created this project while planning a Harry Potter event. We were looking for something creative, simple, low mess, and appropriate for a wide age range. Ultimately, we decided to not do this mandrake craft at our event, but we definitely wanted to share it with you!

You’ll need:

  • Crayola Model Magic (we used the color terra cotta)
  • 1 small plastic cup (we used 1.25oz Solo cups)
  • Green construction paper
  • Clay sculpting tools (chopstick, paperclip, X-acto knife, pencil, etc.)
  • Scissors

Since this craft was going to take place in our carpeted gallery, we wanted zero mess. Model Magic is perfect for this purpose. It’s light, soft, spongy, non toxic, leaves no residue on the hands, and air dries beautifully. A 4oz package made 4 mandrakes.

First, take a chunk of Model Magic and form a root plug at the bottom, 2 arms, and a head. Gently twist the arms and head to make them appear gnarled and root-like.

twisting the arms and headUse sculpting tools and smaller bits of Model Magic to create the face. Then push the mandrake’s plug into a small clear plastic cup. Cut leaves from green construction paper, and gently pinch the Model Magic around the leaves to hold them in place. I love the expression and leaf placement on Katie’s mandrake:

mandrake with leavesYou can add a label to your pot if you’d like. Ours was a bit of manila paper adhered to the plastic cup with a glue stick. We went with the plant’s Latin genus name, Mandragora.

Also optional for this project: a pair earmuffs, charmed with extra soundproofing.

Let’s Do The Numbers

lets-do-the-numbersWelcome to the number mines of Digitopolis, the famous kingdom from The Phantom Tollbooth! This fall, we hosted a table at Princeton University’s annual Community & Staff Day event. Big crowds meant that we needed something simple, but we wanted to be creative too. Since we had successfully offered the number mines at a massive math event last spring (you can read about it here and here), we decided to bring them back for more numerical fun.

Alas, the original number mine (which was artfully constructed by the Arts Council of Princeton) wasn’t salvaged after the math event. This meant that Katie and I had to build our number mine from scratch. The first part of this post describes how we ran the event table. The second part describes how we build the mine.

At the event, kids would reach into the number mine and pull out a plain wooden number. I bought the numbers online from Woodcrafter, where they range in size, thickness, price, and font. I got the 4″ numbers that were 1/8th of an inch thick. Each number cost 56¢.

wooden-numbersWe found that 4″ was a great size for decorating, but if 56¢ per piece is outside your budget, you can go smaller. A 1″ number of the same thickness, for example, costs 23¢. Or, if you want to go even cheaper, skip the wood and print your numbers on white card stock. We loaded the numbers into the mine, and the kids “dug” them out with their hands.

reaching-in-1Once kids found a number they liked (7 and 8 were very popular), they went over to the number decorating area, which was stocked with metallic makers, glitter markers, small gemstones, and glue. We had a relevant quote from the book on display too. Kids really got into decorating. One little girl spent 25 minutes working on her number!

decorating-the-numbersNote! If you use squeeze glue (as opposed to hot glue) make sure to have paper towels or small paper plates handy so families can safely transport their numbers home. Hand wipes are also a good idea for sticky fingers and tabletops. Katie and I dressed for the occasion in miner’s helmets and safety vests.

dr-dana-and-katie-number-minesSo, that’s our event table…now for constructing the mine! You certainly don’t have to get as elaborate as we did. You can create a mine by covering a box with grey paper. Cut a hole in the box’s lid, throw some numbers in there, and have kids reach into the box! Or you could skip the mine altogether and just do the number decorating part of the project. But if you do want to build a mine, here’s how we did it.


STEP 1

Find a big, flat box that isn’t too deep. You don’t want kids to have to reach too far down for the numbers – especially the little ones. We used a 34″ x 54″ inch box lid, and then attached 6 photo storage boxes to the bottom using hot glue and packing tape. This resulted in a mine that was 5″ deep. Here’s a shot of the underside.

number-mine-step-1Since the box lid didn’t reach all the way to the bottom of the photo storage boxes, we closed the gap by attaching big strips of corrugated cardboard to 3 sides of the mine. We left it the mine open in the back so we could restock numbers during the event.


STEP 2

Cut holes in the top of the box. We found it helpful to draw the holes before we started cutting. That way, we could be sure we weren’t cutting into any of the support boxes and we knew that the numbers would fit through the holes.

number-mine-step-2


STEP 3

Create the rocky, craggy landscape of your mine. We bunched up big pieces of black bulletin board paper and attached them to the box with masking tape (you might recognize that texture from this Instagram pic).

number-mine-step-3


STEP 4

Now for the really, really messy part. Papier-mâché. We don’t have a sink in our work space, and the nearest bathroom is far, far away. So we wanted to create the smallest mess possible. In other words, we didn’t want to cook, mix, or blend any sort of papier-mâché paste (or dilute any glue). After a little research, we settled on liquid starch.

Below are our tools – 2 enormous jugs of liquid starch, 2 plastic roller trays, and 4 paint brushes (the bristle brushes worked better than the foam ones). Oh, and we also put a plastic tarp under the mine so we wouldn’t ruin the table.

number-mine-toolsSince we had a lot of area to cover, we used big, 6″ x 16.5″ pieces of newspaper. Occasionally, we use a smaller strip for edges or crevices, but mostly we stuck with the big ones.

number-mine-step-4_1The liquid starch held up well! It did coat our hands with sticky residue that required multiple rounds of soap and scrubbing to remove, but it wasn’t too bad. Honestly, the worst thing about the liquid starch was the fact that it was scented. “Mountain Fresh” scent to be exact. Hoo boy. You could smell the mountains the minute you took the cap off. After a couple minutes, the fragrance was looming in the room like a big, ominous fog. Katie put together a little graphic to convey the overpowering Mountain Freshness.

mountain-fresh-freakoutWe left the first layer to dry overnight. For the second layer, we got a little experimental. While researching liquid starch, we learned that some people absolutely rave about using white paper towels and computer printer paper for papier-mâché projects, especially if the projects are going to be painted later. So we decided to give it a try. We papier-mâchéd the bottom of the mine with paper towels, and the top portion with computer printer paper.

number-mine-step-4_2Wow, did the paper towels suck up the liquid starch! The printer paper needed much less. But the printer paper was so stiff, it created unwanted gaps like this one:

stiff-gap-problemThe solution was to drape a liquid starch-soaked paper towel over it. Below is that same gap with the paper towel over it. As you can see, the soft paper towel completely obscures the gap. I didn’t officially test this, but I believe newspaper would obscure gaps as well, perhaps even better than the paper towels.

stiff-gap-problem-solvedI was a little worried the paper towels were too transparent. But overnight, they magically dried to solid white.

number-mine-step-4_3In the above photo, you can see there were still wet patches in crevices where the liquid starch had pooled. Katie hit those with a hair dryer, no problem. And we should add that, even now, things were still smelling quite Mountain Fresh.


STEP 5

Time to paint! We used this awesome textured-stone effects spray paint by Valspar. It’s fun, but pricey ($10 a can at Lowe’s). Our mine required 3 cans.

stone-spray-paintA cheaper option would be to use gray paint to cover the mine, then dab on darker gray  with a piece of sponge. This will get you a textured surface, without the hefty spray paint price. Once the spray paint had dried (which, we might add, finally dissipated the Mountain Fresh fragrance), we decorated some numbers and attached them to the mines with hot glue. We hot glued some large plastic gems on as well – purchased from the wedding favor aisle at Michaels Craft Store.

number-mine-step-5And this, dear readers, is when we discovered the fatal flaws in regards to paper towels:

  1. When dry and spray painted, paper towels become incredibly brittle. I poked a hole right thorough one section while merely tapping on it (we eventually covered the hole with the number 8).
  2. The texture of the paper towel absolutely comes through in the end. So if your paper towels have little hearts embossed on them, you’re going to see little hearts under the paint.
  3. The edges of the paper towels are clearly defined. Unlike the newspaper and the printer paper, you can definitely see the edges of the paper towel under the paint. So our rocky surface looked like, well, draped paper towels. You could even see the dotted perforations that separate the paper towels.

paper-towels-not-goodThe printer paper, on the other hand, was much sturdier and the edges were hidden under the paint. The lesson? DON’T use paper towels for papier-mâché projects. Use newspaper and printer paper instead. In fact, I highly recommend printer paper for the second layer of painted papier-mâché projects. Very sturdy, holds paint very well.

However, paper towels are what we used and their brittle weakness made me and Katie very, very nervous. We were positive that kids were going to put their hands right through the mine as they leaned in to select numbers.

reaching-in-2Anticipating trouble, we brought duct tape and a couple of step stools to the event. The stools elevated the kids right up to table level, allowing them to keep their weight mostly on the stools and not on their hands. So the paper towels held, but there were a couple time you could see them bending. Katie and I would brace ourselves for a tearing, crunching, breaking sound. Thankfully, it never happened. Whew!