One Amazing Airbrush

super sprayerA kit that turns a regular marker into an airbrush? What is this insanity!?! The moment I spotted the Crayola Marker Airbrush, I just knew that Hope, our kid tester, had to try it…

I’m back, everyone! The Crayola Marker Airbrush is a product that has always kept me wondering. It looked awesome…but would it work? So, when I learned that Dr. Dana wanted me to test it, I was ecstatic!!!!  The purpose of this product is to turn a regular Crayola marker into an airbrush, or paint sprayer. Dr. Dana, Katie and I were a little skeptical about this, and decided to work as a team to test the product. Together, we opened the box.

crayola airbrushInside, there was an 11” tall air tank with a hand pump at the top and 29” of clear plastic tubing protruding from it (to me, it looked like a detonator made of blue and green plastic). Attached to other end of the plastic tubing was the airbrush. It looked like a green glue gun with a little gray cone extending from its tip. Later, I learned this was called the “nozzle.” The nozzle was open at the top, which allows a marker to be inserted in it.

airbrush kit contentsAlso in the box: 20 blank paper sheets, two packages of markers (4 neon fabric markers and 8 washable markers), 4 stencil sheets, 20 blank paper sheets, and a small set of directions. We extracted the materials and looked at the directions.

Houston? Come in, Houston, we have a problem.

Step 1 was titled “Twist it!” and showed a marker stuck inside the airbrush nozzle. But Step 2 was titled “Inset it!” with a picture of the marker hovering above the cavity intended for the marker.  Umm…shouldn’t that happen before you twist it?

directionsConfused, we decided to put the rules of logic and practicality to good use, and “Insert it!” first, and then “Twist it!” Katie set to work doing the third direction, “Pump it!” Grabbing the air pump handle, she pulled up, pressed down, pulled up, pressed down, until the air pressure made it too hard to pump anymore. We taped a piece of white poster board to a door, I pulled the trigger, and…


A spurt of air could be heard escaping, but no ink came out!!!

Thinking that maybe the paper needed to be horizontal to work, Dr. Dana and I moved the poster board face down on a table, where we sprayed at close range, trying unsuccessfully to get a speck of ink onto it. We took the marker out, and tested it by coloring on a piece of paper. It definitely wasn’t out of ink. We put the marker back in the airbrush. Nothing. We switched markers. Nothing. We switched to a fabric marker.

pink splatterFinally! A few drips of bright pink ink!!!  But that was all. Just a small splatter on the empty tundra of a poster. Confused, we tried every method we could think of, including using the troubleshooting section of the direction sheet. Nothing worked. Eventually, I said, “Hey! How about calling Crayola? Their products sometimes have quality warranties. Maybe we could get help.” So I called.

A nice lady answered the phone. She asked for the product number and name. She looked it up and then she said, “Okay, what’s your problem?” So I told her about the lack of marker spray. She said “Did you hear the two clicks when you put the marker inside the handheld sprayer?” Whaaaaat? I was confused. The directions never mentioned “two clicks!” I replied that no, I did not even know I was supposed to hear two clicks, thanked her for her help, and hung up.

Returning to the poster board and the markers, Dr. Dana and I teamed up to shove a marker into the nozzle, determined to try until we heard two clicks. After much pushing, we heard a magical CLICK click! I pulled the trigger…AND I SPRAYED INK ALL OVER THE POSTER BOARD!

spraying“AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It wasn’t a TV marketing hoax!” I thought.  We started spraying onto the poster. It was amazingly entertaining! It was, in essence, a paint sprayer! I could spray ANYTHING onto the poster board! The airbrush was easy to hold and aim. There were no limits!

canvas 3canvas 2We decided to take advantage of the stencils included in the kit. They were fun to use. Each Stencil had a “theme”.  One was space themed, one sea themed, and the other two were fantasy/random. Cool! But the ink usually “leaked” out of the stencil, giving the resulting picture a blobby look.

stencilDr. Dana suggested that we use a stencil on my arm so we could see what would happen if a kid sprayed ink on their arm. They came out blobby/blurry. But they washed off super easy! I ran my arm underwater and they practically melted away! So no worries if some WASHABLE marker gets on your kid!

airbrush tattooBy the way, when we got out the stencils, we flipped through the paper sheets too. Inside, mixed with the paper, was another set of instructions! These instructions had the marker loading directions in the right order, which was nice. However, they didn’t mention the key two clicks. Without the clicks, the product is a total wash!

There were problems with this kit. Sometimes the ink would bubble and clog the nozzle. This was fixed by pulling out the marker and swabbing the inside with a paper towel.

pooled inkAlso, the marker could unpredictably pool, clog or change consistency as it was spraying onto to the paper (getting my hand green, purple, red, or whatever color happened to clog it). The fabric markers also seemed to run out of ink way faster than the regular markers and they splattered too.  As I mentioned above, the stencils had leaky edges. On some of the stencils, it looked cool (lightning bolt), on others, it looked messy (crab).

crabAnd then there was the pump. The pump turned out to be an Aggravating Annoyance of Frustrating Proportions. I had to stop painting in order to pump every 15-20 seconds, or ask someone to constantly pump to keep the ink going. The job befell Katie. She had to hunch over a table behind me, pumping and pumping, and wheezing, and pausing, and…getting…tired. Needless to say, the pump gave us some good exercise. But when Katie wasn’t there, I had to spray, and then pump for a while, and then spray, and pump. Spray and pump, spray and pump! UUGH! It was enough to make anyone want to explode!

pumpingTo be fair, Crayola does make a similar product for ages 3+. It’s called the “Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Airbrush” The pump is battery operated, so it’s better for younger kids. So if you don’t want to worry about the pumping issue, maybe you should order the battery powered version.

So there was a lot of starting, stopping, wiping, pumping, and starting up again, heaving, wheezing, and arm fatigue. Or, as Dr. Dana wryly noted, you definitely have to “troubleshoot as you go”.

Overall, this product was super fun and satisfying, but the pump gave a bit of a workout, and the directions seemed to be out of order. Also, this product was recommended for ages 6+!!! I think that’s a bit young! Maybe 6+ with Adult Supervision or 8+ with Adult Supervision, but 6+? Come on! It took Dr. Dana, Katie, a phone call to the company, and me to get the product to work!

I think we have the ratings…

Crayola Marker Airbrush

Pros: Fun, Cool, Entertaining, satisfying, endless ways to use, fascinating.

Cons: Hard to use because of constant pumping, bulky, confusing directions, constant troubleshooting, bad recommended age.

Score: 4 stars out of 5!

By the way, if you’re wondering how we made the “spray the camera” photo that begins this post, Hope gets all the credit for that! She suggested we spray a piece of clear plastic with the airbrush, then shoot the image through it. Looks awesome, eh?

Get It Together

get it togetherYou are gazing at the most recent addition to my crafting toolbox. Plastic envelopes! Or, to get technical, poly string envelopes from OfficeMax (the ones pictured above are the “check” size at 5.5″ x 10″). A pack of 5 costs $10.

I love these things. Why?

Our projects often involve little bits and pieces we prep in advance. During story time, as we progress through the project, we have to continually pause to hand out the little pieces. This can take precious time away from crafting (especially when you have large crowds to navigate through). So I started putting all the little pieces together in envelopes and handing an envelope to each kid at the start of the project. Here’s an envelope in action a taxi cab story time:

taxi envelopeI’ve used the envelope system on a number of projects (this mouse clock, this beekeeping set, this bottle airplane, this paint set, this bed tray, and this wooly mammoth, for example). Since the envelopes are plastic, it’s very easy to wipe off stray marker and/or glue. If you don’t have paper or plastic envelopes handy, you can always drop the small pieces into cheap plastic cups (like I did at this candy factory story time).

And while we’re on the topic of organization, I definitely recommend art caddies for keeping your tabletop supplies in check! I bought mine from Discount School Supply. A set of 4 colors cost $25. They are “classroom grade” and practically indestructible.

art caddyHowever, when it came time to put together a home art studio for my kids, I went with a cheaper $4 version from Michals craft store. The plastic is thinner and the carrying handle isn’t quite as comfortable, but all in all, they’ve held up pretty well!

As you can probably guess, I like to be organized. Way organized. In fact, I’ve turned organization into a super power. The way I see it, I don’t want to spend time hunting for my scissors. I want to spend as much time as possible being creative. If I know exactly where my scissors are, I don’t have to give it another thought. Apply this principal on a larger scale and you get my library’s art supply cabinet:

art cabinetHere, supplies are sorted into plastic bins, dish tubs, copy paper boxes, salvaged paper trays…you name it! For oddly sized or bulky objects (like pom-poms), I use plain old plastic storage bags with zipper closures. I also have a neat-o scissor rack I wrote about in this post.

You would think I would be tidy while crafting, but no. During the process of creating a project or piece of art, I make a total mess. I spread out everywhere, tossing things right and left, gently shedding curls of paper and sticking bits of tape to my pants. Just look at the crafting carnage that was generated during the building of this haunted house.

tremendous messBut when the job is done, everything goes back in its proper place. I cannot leave my office a mess at the end of the day. And I can’t start a project with a messy office either. It’s weird, but somehow I make this organization/creation contradiction work for me.

One final tip! Since I don’t have any counters or spare table space in my program area, I work off an old book truck. All the supplies are prepped and ready to go, and I just roll it right into the workshop area during the program. It also doubles as a portable hot glue station.

book truckSometimes, however, even this humble book truck has its moments of glory…

horse and riders

Nifty Neon

nifty neonTime for another post from our kid tester, Hope! Today she will be reviewing the Neon Light Writer by Thames & Kosmos. It’s intended for kids ages 8 and up, and retails for about $20.

Hello, Readers!! Upon opening the box for the Neon Light Writer, I was surprised to discover that what looked like a chic pegboard on the front of the box was really just black, 20” x 8” piece of cardboard with holes punched in it! I fished for the other items in the box and found a coil of wire, a plastic battery holder attached to the wire that had a little switch on it, a collection of 25 black plastic pegs, and a manual. I opened up the manual and saw the “Kit Contents” list. Double checking to make sure I had everything I needed, I turned the page.

kit contentsAfter reading the handy dandy instructions, I learned that the concept of the project was to insert the plastic pegs in the pegboard in a certain pattern, then thread the wire through the pegs to spell out a word. Cool! was my immediate thought.

I decided to follow the instructions and try my hand at writing the word “GEEK” as a first attempt. As I put the pegs into the cardboard, I noticed that the peg holes were a little small for the pegs. The manual said that the sign is supposed to hang from nails, though there was no kind of hanging device mounted on the back, or any nails included within the rest of the kit.

Maybe because the nails were supposed to be inside the peg holes the holes were small? It’s also a possibility that the holes were small so the pegs didn’t fall out while the sign was hanging up. It was annoying because small holes meant that the pegs had to be forced into the board. Since the pegboard was flimsy cardboard, I was afraid I would rip it.

When I was finally through painstakingly pressing in pegs, I unwound the little bundle of wire and started threading it through the pegs, which had little notches in them.

notched pegs close upIf I thought putting the pegs in was bad, then this was a pain in the tush! The wire was flexible, but moderately thick compared to the size of the peg notches. In some places, it was necessary to double the wire over because of the shape of the letters. This made it even harder to thread through the peg notches.  Another challenge was that the wire would bunch up between each peg if I didn’t keep it pulled taut as I threaded it through. If I tried to straighten it after I had put it through a peg, the peg would come out of the board. This was frustrating, as pegs popped out of the board quite a few times!

working with wireWhen it was finally finished, I turned on the little battery holder box button. The light was faint inside the bright room, so I moved to a darker room to test the magic. There we were, Katie, Dr. Dana, and I, cramped in the gallery’s storage closet, better known as “The Black Hole.” As I clicked the button the wire became illuminated with neon blue light. I said, “EPIC!! It actually works!!!” In the dark, we noticed that the blue light was sort of flecked, in a way that made it look like the wire was malfunctioning or something (more on the fleckiness later).

flecksNext, I decided to make a word of my own (“Zap!”). Instead of using paper, tape, and marker as suggested, I used the letter chart in the manual. The chart was super helpful. The letter chart showed the pegboard as a diagram, and showed you where to place pegs for each letter in the alphabet. Here’s the finished word:

zap set upWe went back into “The Black Hole,” and there were still flecks in the wire. We checked the manual (and the box) and discovered that the wire was real EL wire (Electroluminescent wire)! The manual listed the different components of EL wire (copper core, phosphor, copper wire, PVC plastic sleeve, colored outer PVC plastic sleeve, AC power source) and how it works. I thought it was very considerate to include all of the cool bonus information! That was definitely one of the best parts about the product.

Though I was excited to know I was using real EL wire, the manual didn’t “shed any light” on the whole fleckiness issue.

So, a few days later, I decided to call the company, Thames & Kosmos, and find out what was up. I talked to a very kind man, named John. He asked me to describe my issue. I informed him about the flecks in the wire. He told me that that was NOT natural! He even offered to send me a replacement wire! Great customer service! Hats off to John! He asked for my email, name, and address so he could inform me of any problems with shipping.

He told me it should arrive in 2-3 days, so I started waiting for the wire. I waited. And waited, and waited. And it wasn’t there a week and a half later! So I called John’s personal extension. I was told that the wire wasn’t in stock when they went to ship it, so they had to wait for a new order to come in. They were evidently shipping it that day. They should have emailed me! I thought.

Finally(!), the wire arrived three days later! I set up the new wire and clicked it on. Voila! A wire with no flecks, a stream of fluorescent (haha, phosphorescent!) blue! The new wire was beautiful. It was a feast for the eyes compared to the old flecky wire!

wire 1 vs wire 2All in all, this product was pretty fun, but it has its faults.

First, the directions called for extra items I didn’t actually use. Two sheets of white paper, markers, and tape. Those items were to help you write your word and place the pegs in their proper places on the board for the wire, but they were not necessary. Unless you wanted to write in cursive, or some other kind of script, you could use one of the handy letter guides inside the manual.

Also, the instructions called for black tape to cover the part of the wire between the letters. I don’t know about you, but I don’t own any black tape. Thankfully, Dr. Dana had some black masking tape handy.

The company’s customer service was excellent! However, I felt that I should have received an email about the delay of my replacement wire. That left me a bit frustrated.

Additionally, the cardboard was pretty flimsy. I mean, who wants to pay $20 for a piece of cardboard that’s supposed to be a pegboard!? The box calls the cardboard a “pegboard,” so I was expecting a sturdier base for the project. And why would you want to buy a product, not knowing how many extra materials you would need? (I checked the outside of the box for the product, but it mentions only two of the six other things you need!)

Oh, and this brings me to another pet peeve about products and books: the recommended age.

neon light writer age 8 plusThe recommended age for this product is 8+. Considering the frustration I had at age 12 signals to me that maybe the product should either A) note that adult assistance is needed, or B) it should be recommended for ages 10+.

This product was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed how it actually lit up! I was really skeptical about that! I loved how you could use the switch on the battery box to change the light mode to “Fast Blinking” or “Slow Blinking.” It was definitely a project I would recommend for science lovers or engineers-to-be!


Pros: Fun, cool that it actually lit up, educational information in manual, great customer service/friendly and helpful staff, lovely new replacement wire.

Cons: Frustrating at times, wire hard to use, pegboard a bit low quality, no email about shipping delay.


Though this product had some faults, most products do. Overall, it was a super fun little project that could double as a science lesson!