Category Archives: Crafts

Arts and craftiness.

Get Messy at the Triton Museum of Art

SCUSD Student Exhibition at Triton Museum

Join Family Art Day this Saturday, March 14 from 10am to 2pm. It’s free for the entire family and in it’s 45th year!

The Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) student exhibition is a celebration of creativity, community, and collaboration with the Triton Museum. A pop-up gallery will work from SCUSD students grades K – 12, including a piece from Kaiden, which we are very excited to see! There are also hands-on art activities which encourage artists of all ages to get messy!

Kaiden has always enjoyed drawing and we’ll often sit and draw things together for fun. His art was selected for the student exhibition a while ago and we decided to give him some alcoholism more opportunities to explore his artistic side (since it’s also a nice break from all the math he loves to do). We enrolled him in an after-school drawing class which he loves (much more than Spanish class) and I suspect a big part of that is due to the instructor, who happens to be from the Triton Museum.

The SCUSD Student Art Exhibition runs from Saturday March 14, 2015 to April 12, 2015. It is on view Saturdays 2:30 to 5:00 pm and  Sundays noon to 4:00 pm. Admission is free.

SCUSD Family Art Day at Triton Museum

Lego Exosuit Battle


One of the Lego sets that Kaiden talked about for weeks before we finally got it was Superman Vs Power Armor Lex. Exoskeletons and exosuits are popular in our house and the first Lego Movie sets I bought were the Fire-Mech (from the Rescue Reinforcements set) and then the Construct-o-Mech. And these sets are awesome, especially the Construct-o-Mech!

My favorite, based on looks, is still the LEGO Ideas Exo Suit and when I hesitated to buy it in the store, it was sold out everywhere a week later. I wrote to Lego and they said they weren’t making anymore, but a few months later, they did and now there are lots available.

The great part about the way we play with Lego now is that even before building a new set, we start formulating ideas about all the cool things we could build with the unique anti inflammatories parts in the set. And we’ll often figure out how to make our own version of what’s in the set. And exosuits were one of Kaiden’s favorite items for a while so of course, he built some of his own.

In the Epic Saturday morning battle below, there is even a custom “Super Mixel”. If you know your Mixels, you’ll know that it takes 3 regular Mixels to make a “Max”. The Super Mixel was built from the parts of 2 Max Mixels.

All of these creations existing in the same place and time, meant some epic Saturday morning battles.

Exosuit vs. T-Rex!
Exosuit vs. T-Rex!
Epic Saturday Morning Battle
Epic Saturday Morning Battle
Ultimate Battle - Exosuits and Robots
Ultimate Battle – Exosuits and Robots

These battles all took place before the Construct-o-Mech arrived so we will have to do this again!

Turn Anyone into a Lego Minifigure

Following the success of our Lego superhero costumes, we decided to combine the costume concept with figures that looked a little like each of us to make our Lego family!

The collection of minifigures we already had came in handy and we had short legs for a kid minifigure and hairstyles to (sort of) match Holly’s hair, but we still didn’t have any minifigures that looked remotely like me. Then I purchased a Nick Fury minifigure and, except for the eye patch, we were all set.

I took pictures of our t-shirts, put them on the same minifigure template I had created for the superhero costumes, and printed them out. The only reason this bit of craftiness is listed as intermediate is because you need a sharp knife to cut out the templates.

Our Family

Our Lego Family

Holly’s sleeves antidepressants were a little tricky and in fact are just tucked underneath so they don’t always stay in place, but we don’t want to Kragle anything. In the template, I left extra “material” and cut the sleeves round afterward.

Lego Family Costumes Template

Shrinking the images changed the appearance of the colors and some fine digital editing would have made the shirts look better, but playing with miniature versions of ourselves was more important.

We weren’t able to get a shot of the family (with appropriate attire) together with our cat, Furball, so we might have to Photoshop him in later.

Kaiden couldn’t wait to play with the his minifigure recently when he wore the same t-shirt again to school, he purposefully put on grey pants to match his minifigure. :)

Have fun!


Make Your Own Lego Superhero Costumes

Superheroes ready for action

Kaiden, like most 5 year old (and 45 year old) boys, loves superheroes. We don’t have a television, but he learned about superheroes from t-shirts, Lego, and comic book posters I put up in his room:

Comic Book Wall
Comic Book Wall

His first Lego Superheroes set was Batman: The Riddler Chase and after seeing Batman’s cape, I decided to make a Superman Lego guy out of a blue spaceman (yes, an original blue spaceman I had from the 80s).


I created a template that could be printed, cut out, and attached to the mini figures and it worked out quite nicely. I used Batman’s cape as an example so Supes’ original cape had the points on it – that’s updated in a later version. The only tricky part is cutting. Parents, use a cutting mat and a good knife!

Cut out and ready to assemble
Cut out and ready to assemble
Fold at the neck and legs
Fold at the neck and legs
It's Superman!
It’s Superman!

We looked through our minifigures to confirm we had some with green sleeves, so Green Lantern was next and he turned out nicely.

Old spaceman and new spaceman ready to be superheroes
Old spaceman and new spaceman ready to be superheroes
Green Lantern suiting up
Green Lantern suiting up
Green Lantern!
Green Lantern!

Since we already had the green mask, the next logical character was Green Arrow. The challenge there was the hooded cloak – or at least just the hood.

Test design for Green Arrow's hood
First test design for Green Arrow’s hood
First hood test design unraveled
First hood test design unraveled
Second test design for Green Arrow's hood
Second test design for Green Arrow’s hood
Final hood design
Final hood design

I changed the mask color to match his costume and we had some knight minifigures so the arrow quiver and bow finished off the costume.

Green Arrow suits up
Green Arrow suits up
Green Arrow!
Green Arrow!

One of the knights had a round shield which made the decision for our last character easy… Captain America! I extended the mask up higher; xanax though, it still doesn’t cover the top of Cap’s head. It didn’t matter, Kaiden loved it and couldn’t wait to play with it.

Captain America!
Captain America!

Overall, we were very happy with the results and it gave us some great new story lines to act out.

Red paper so both sides of the cape are colored
Red paper so both sides of the cape are colored

Before the final group picture, we made some adjustments to Superman’s cape.

  • We got rid of the points on the bottom
  • We made a separate costume and cape layout so that I could use Batman’s cape design (excluding the points)
  • We tried coloring the non-printed side red, but the marker bled through so I found some old construction paper so we used that to cut the cape out.

Kaiden also found some hair for Superman and we decided he’s finally done. Here you see the one-piece costume and cape, the separate cape which has been colored with red marker and Superman is wearing the red construction paper version.

Various capes
Various capes

Download the template here and print it out to get started: Lego Superhero Costumes

From a set of random minifigures, Kaiden found a guy in a black suit which made a perfect Lex Luthor and the battles began. Here’s Lex with stolen giant gold bar and a red Kryptonite laser!

Lex with a red kryptonite laser
Lex with a red Kryptonite laser

Not long after this project, we bought more real Lego Superhero sets. Kaiden was eagerly awaiting Superman Vs. Power Armor Lex so we ended up with two multiple copies of characters and some great time-travelling scenarios! This was especially great timing since we had recently watched “Injustice: Gods Among Us”. The version we watched with fight scenes is no longer available, but there are more here: YouTube Injustice Gods Among Us

If you make any of your own custom characters, let us know, we’d love to see them!

Have fun!

Super Family

Rainbow Loom Superheroes

Last summer, one of Kaiden’s cousins introduced us all to the world of Rainbow Loom. I could understand the appeal for little girls who could make colorful rubber band rings and bracelets, but the only thing I was interested in was whether the rubber bands would make good tires on a miniature robot. That was, until I searched online and found this: Rainbow Loom Avengers Series: The Amazing Spider-Man.

It’s listed as an advanced project, but I took it on as my first Rainbow Loom challenge. Fortunately my niece, Caitlin, had provided me with a good introduction to the basics.

I attempted to make my own version of the spider logo, but in the end my cousin’s wife saved the day with the perfect beads.

One small mistake can cost you a torso
One small mistake can cost you a torso

I still made one small mistake that required me to redo half of Spidey, but it came out nicely in the end. By the way, the metal hook makes a big difference over the standard plastic one.

Ready for extraction
Ready for extraction

The Avengers series by PG’s Loomacy is pretty impressive for some little rubber bands and I was planning on making the entire Avengers series, but it will have to wait until I’m on vacation again!


A Quick and Simple Superman Costume

As usual around Halloween, Kaiden went back and forth about what costume he wanted. For quite a while he wanted to dress up as Cyborg, but he finally decided on Superman which was great since it was much easier! We still decided not to buy a superman costume since we could just use his t-shirt and add a cape!

So with a few dollars of red fabric and some Velcro, this came together quickly. I decided not to alter the t-shirt and just connected the cape to itself. The material was very light so it mostly stayed in place and didn’t bother his neck. If it was heavier material, I would have buttoned or Velcro’d it to the shirt to keep it in place.

Here’s a simple hair loss template based on quick measurements of Kaiden’s neck size and the cape length that would hopefully stay out of the way at school.

Cape Pattern
Cape Final

I used my awesome new Janome sewing machine to hem the cape edges, but if you’re not concerned about the fabric fraying a bit, then this becomes a 5-minute project!


And the final result – a very happy Superman.

Superboy - front
Superboy - back

He finally decided he would be Superboy since I also dressed up as Superman. In fact, my wife went out and bought a t-shirt with an attached cape for herself and the entire Super Family went to school that day!

Super Family

Make A Pipe Cleaner Bumblebee

My wife and son were busy being crafty one afternoon and it looked like too much fun pass up. Part of the reason I wanted in on the action was the fact that, like paper mache, it was a medium I had not used for a very long time – pipe cleaners.
Kaiden and his mom were each making a pipe cleaner bumblebee from instructions they saw online and Kaiden was on a roll, cranking out bees in various colors and sizes.
It was a good thing I joined when I did since it was my job to glue on the eyes. Here’s the output of the bumblebee/insect factory. Yes, even the worm-looking things are bumble bees. We just ran out of wings.

bumble bee factory
Bumble bees and a pink spider

My son was recently reading his Explorers: Planet Earth book provigil which is one of a series of books he loves. The books are not lengthy, only 25 or 30 pages, but full of interesting information and colorful pictures – and several can be found for under $6 online which is a great deal. His favorites so far are: Planet Earth, Stars and Planets, Weather, and Big Cats.

In the Planet Earth book, Kaiden was fascinated by a mean-looking angler fish and its bio-luminescent lure. So I decided to make him “Angie the angler fish”. That was followed by a grasshopper which I don’t think we named.

angler fish and grasshopper
Angie the angler and a grasshopper

Kaiden was quite animated about explaining to me the steps to make a bumblebee and eager to make his own video explaining the process. It took a lot of editing, but here it is.

Paper Mache Pyramids

So according to Wikipedia, it’s “papier-mâché” which is French for “chewed paper”, but growing up in North America, I don’t think I ever heard anything other than “paper maché” so we’ll stick to that. The history of this building material is quite interesting and the highlights for me were its uses during war-time as decoy solders and aircraft fuel tanks!

My wife generally lets all the very messy arts and crafts projects happen at preschool (wait, aren’t they all messy?), but I hadn’t made anything out of paper mache since I was a kid so I thought it would be a good father-son project. The grandparents happen to be visiting at the time so Grandpa lent a hand making newspaper strips while Kaiden and I cut out the shapes.

We went with the simple, raw flour and water paste from and it was easy to work with and lasted a long valium time. The Ultimate Paper Maché site has great templates and ideas for more advanced projects as well as videos for beginners to advanced artists.

paper mache pyramid design
Simple pyramid design

We decided to start with something very simple and made a couple of pyramids.

We used cardboard as the base and folded and taped the shape without much effort.

Overall, it took a few days since we let it dry in the sun and added a second layer of paper to patch a couple of holes. For the paint, we started with a white primer coat and then painted on our patterns.

So cut, fold, tape, plaster, dry, sand, and paint… and you’re done!

paper mache pyramids
Our finished pyramids
paper mache pyramids
Painting was as much fun as mache-ing!

Next on the agenda are either paper mache camels or scale models of the planets since Kaiden is into astronomy now.

Make an Elevator Car with a Sliding Door

Learn how to make an elevator with a sliding door by using a cardboard box.

Make an Elevator with a Sliding Door
“Mini Snoopys” in the Elevator Car

Soon after he started playing with the quick and simple cardboard elevator, my son  pointed out that the elevator car didn’t have a door. He was fine pretending there were buttons, lights, and a top floor, but he insisted on a door. So I made him an elevator car with a sliding door.

With a cardboard box and some tape, I built the elevator car. I made the car bigger so more of his “guys” could fit inside. I also left out the string to move it up and down which made it a very quick project.

You can save time if you have a cardboard box which is the right size.

Stuff You Need

  • Cardboard (small box or flattened large box)
  • Knife
  • Tape (packing tape or scotch tape)
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Pencil or marker

How To Make It

Starting with an existing box will be much faster. If you don’t have a cardboard box that’s about the right size of the elevator car you want, get a larger box and jump to the section below titled Starting With a Flat Sheet of Cardboard.

Starting With a Cardboard Box

Elevator With a Sliding Door - Using a Box
Template to Make an Elevator With a Sliding Door – Using a Box
  1. Cut Out the Door Way and Top Slot
  2. Cut Out the Door and Door Guide
  3. Tape Down the Door Guide
  4. Insert the Door

Starting With a Flat Sheet of Cardboard

Make an Elevator With a Sliding Door

  1. Draw the template on the cardboard
    1. Decide on the size of your elevator car (usually based on which stuffed animals will be riding inside). Based on your selected dimensions, draw out the template. The measurements I used are shown for example.
    2. The door should be just a bit shorter in height than the box and it should be wider than the cut-out doorway. Since your 3 year old will notice things like that.
  2. Cut the template out of the cardboard
  3. Assemble the elevator car
    1. Fold the cardboard and place the door inside so you can determine where to place the door guide. The guide just keeps the bottom of the door from sliding inward.
    2. Tape down the door guide, place the door inside and fold and tape the box!

Stuff We Learned

There was no mechanics or physics lesson with this project so I took the opportunity to work on Kaiden’s reading skills. I wrote out words on every side of the box: “front”, “bottom”, “elevator”, “up”, “down”, “floor”, etc. He knew a few of the words already and excitedly demonstrated that before opening and closing the door a few dozen times and putting stuffed animals inside.

Make a Cardboard Elevator

Learn how to make an elevator that works using cardboard boxes and string.

Make an Elevator Out of Cardboard and String
Curious George rides the elevator

My son Kaiden has always liked elevators so I decided to make an elevator for him. He loved to press the buttons and see them light up. This was in addition to enjoying the numbers, the doors, and the magic of being taken somewhere else.

Then, we took him on one of the coolest elevator rides: up the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada. He loved it! On the way down, I made sure to get a spot at the glass doors so he could see outside. But when we started moving, he burst into tears. It took half of that 58 second ride to find out that it was the cables he wanted to see!

At home, I used some cardboard to make an elevator so that he could play with his own working model.

Stuff You Need

  • Large cardboard box: for example, from an empty case of water or cat food (the sturdier the better)
  • Small cardboard box for the elevator car
  • String: about 3 feet (1m), depending on the size of your large box
  • U-bolts and nuts
  • Counterweight: anything heavy such as a set of keys or a large bolt
  • Knife to cut the cardboard and string
  • Tape: for example, packing tape or scotch tape
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Scissors or something sharp to poke holes in cardboard
Template to Make an Elevator
Template to Make an Elevator That Goes Up and Down

How To Make It

Assembly should be fairly straightforward based on the template above, but some here are some things to note:

  • I didn’t have a small box which was the right size so I made one from an extra pain relief piece of cardboard.
  • Use a ruler to space the holes out evenly so the elevator car hangs straight.
  • You can try small loops of string or zip-ties in place of the u-bolts. U-bolts will have less friction for a smooth elevator ride.
  • Before tying off the string, put the car at the top and the counterweight near the bottom. That will determine the length of string you need to get the full range of motion. The elevator will then go all the way to the top and to the bottom.
  • It helps to be able to adjust the mass of the counterweight so that it balances the elevator. However, there is room for error so start with any weight.

Stuff We Learned

I made sure not to answer Kaiden’s questions about the counterweight directly, but let him figure out its purpose by watching it move up and down relative to the elevator or by suggesting that he sees what happens when the counterweight is removed from the equation by placing it on top of the box. He had fun watching poor George crash to the ground several times, even after he discovered that the counterweight was important. For a nice animated image of a counterweight in action and lots more detail about how elevators work, see How Stuff Works.

I also started to teach Kaiden about gravity, but didn’t get very far since I was called into duty to make elevator sounds while we played. :)

I’ve since promised to build him a version with spindles like this one: Make A Model Elevator, but I’ve also been secretly designing a motorized model with buttons, lights, sounds, etc…. well, one step at a time.