At your fingertips

Did you ever wonder if the way you hold your pen for writing is the most efficient way? This might surprise you, but there are at least four equally efficient ways to hold a pen. This is according to health reviewers Gregory Minnis and Rebecca Joy Stanborough, in a HealthLine article from 2019: A Gripping Tale: How to Hold a Pencil.

In it, dynamic and lateral tripod, and dynamic and lateral quadrupod grips are described as equally practical for writing. Their article includes simple exercises that will help toddlers progress, from a more primitive grip to one just mentioned. It also notably brings up the fact that other holding techniques are suitable for drawing, and that when it comes to drawing, one is well-advised to get creative with grip styles.

If you would like to take an art history tour of hands holding writing devices, have a look at the many examples in Howard Oakley’s Paintings of Writing 1 & 2 on his Eclectic Light Company website.

Proper way to hold a pen. The Popular Educator, Vol. 1., 1888. By John Cassell. Source: Wikimedia, 9 October 2022.

If it be your quill

A craft activity is a great way to convey a history lesson. A history lesson should be an opportunity to contemplate what has been long gone, as well as parts of the past that still persists in our time.

If you ever consider making a quill with your child, we suggest that you begin with the word processor in your computer. Have a close look at the many fonts available, and see if you and your child can differentiate the old looking ones from the newer ones. You will be quick to find Old English, Palatino, New Roman, Garamond, and the likes. They are the ones with stylish serifs.

Then, ask the child to gather as many different handwriting devices as possible at home. You might have ballpoint pens, felt pens, pencils, crayons, chalks. You might even have a metal quill. Ask the child to write the alphabet with each and compare the results. If you have one, use a magnifier to have a closer look. Make sure to observe the variations in the thickness of lines, as well as the presence or absence of serifs.

At this point, proceed with your quill making, to find out whether a quill will make writing in old style fonts easier. A good guide to use is one posted by the Rhode Island School of Design, aka RISD Museum on Instructible. You might also like the very detailed one by Liralen Li on this old Flick page, or one of the many videos online.

Whichever way you go about it, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, hygiene. If you take feathers directly from a farm, make sure to clean, sanitize and dry it thoroughly before you handle them with bare hands or before cutting carefully. Second, safety. For best results, the carving requires a short, sharp blade that gives maximum control. Use more than one feather, because your first attempt might fail, or you might want to try different carvings. Once your quill is ready, get some ink and write for fun, your own secret recipe for a magic potion. Try different kinds of paper, and hang on to the one that best suits your quill.

In the end, take the time with your child to browse books or the web, and see if you can find old style fonts. One fantastic recent book about fonts is The Eternal Letter (MIT Press, 2015) edited by Paul Shaw.

Trimmed and sharpened quill. Photo: RISD Museum. Source:, 19 August 2022.

Pupils on holidays

Optical illusions are so much fun. When there is a new one in town, it is time for an optical excursion. Give your dilating and contracting pupils a well deserved vacation right where you are.

Recently, three researchers have published their article The eye pupil adjusts to illusory expanding holes, in which they uncovered the new optical illusion pictured below. Bruno Laeng and Shoaib Nabil, both from the department of psychology at the University of Oslo, and Akiyoshi Kitaoka, from the same at Ritsumeikan University (Japan), “found that participants varied considerably in their perceptions of subjective expansion.” Among many other interesting observations, their study shows that pupils tend to react more to black “holes” than colored ones, in the test images. What about that? The dark side always has such an appeal it seems.

What is your favorite optical illusion? Did you know that there is a Museum of Illusions in Toronto, and in Paris and Lyon as well? Book lovers, get The new book of optical illusions, by Georg Ruschemeyer at Firefly Books.

The « expanding hole» by Dr Akiyoshi Kitaoka, Ritsumeikan University.

Interview with Roger Clark Miller

Musician, composer, conceptual artist Roger Clark Miller shared with us a drawing that he made in 1966, at fourteen. We are lucky that he is a conservationist and thankful he could show it to us and tell its story.

He calls it a GROB and considers it borderline appropriate. Indeed it feels juvenile in a full mid-teens sense, and it remains so to this day, according to the Urban Dictionary. However, little did I suspect before preparing this post, that GROB was not only the name of a German aircraft company, but also a funky philanthropic legal term (Gift with Reservation Of Benefit), as explained by lawyer Sian Davies at Co-op Legal Services in the United Kingdom. How appropriate! We are after all a registered charity. Please donate a GROB, or other gifts as you wish.

Interview with Roger Clark Miller. Source: CDIC-CIDE Youtube channel, 10 July 2022

The fun challenge of continuous line drawing

It is the kind of thing that you cannot fully appreciate until you try it. One line or continuous line drawing is usually known for being at once simple in appearance and stylish. Hidden behind its projected ease and expressive flow, is the intense visualization of its author. Making a figurative drawing with only one line, without lifting the pen, pencil or marker off the page, brings many surprises, and helps to explore new creative horizons. It can be as rewarding as it is challenging.

For inspiration, discover the touching story of artist Dane Khy who found comfort in drawing, after the loss of his canine companion. On his WOL (With One Line) website, we see how his large scale murals integrate the continuous line approach and also how well the technique mixes with colors and portraiture.

One of the best how-to lessons and video, is by Matt Fussell, The Virtual Instructor. Matt breaks it all down into four simple rules and clear exercises. His advice to “embrace the imperfections” that bring character is right on.

Let’s end this post with the ultimate vintage, low tech continuous line drawings. Those are made with Etch A Sketch toy by American artist Jane Labowitch, a.k.a. PrincessEtch herself. See her playful, uplifting selection for sale on Etsy. She is also a prolific illustrator and web designer.

Etch A Sketch toy. By Spin Master. Source:, 8 March 2022.


Explore mandalas and you will find one of the most versatile family craft activities you can think of. From a modest pencil circle from which you scribble spontaneously, to an intricate meticulously drawn and harmoniously colored mandala, you will find the one for you, by you. You might only want to pick one ready for coloring, or put together a few found objects, for an ephemeral mandala.

The tradition of the mandala has transcended cultures, spiritualities and now is even found in our pop consumer world. Profound and superficial all at once, that is how wide and deep the mandala’s reach is. There is no way around its mesmerizing beauty and the joy it brings. Individually or collectively, making mandalas is a way to deepen our sense of patience, connection, and introspection.

Read Joshua J. Mark‘s richly illustrated and well researched article on the subject, published by the much praised World History Encyclopedia. Several artists have made mandalas their trademark, so to speak. Thaneeya McArdle interviewed mandala artist Stephanie Smith for her Art is Fun blog. The perogies mandala looks savory. See also the artisan products by Jamie Lockeart. The meditation benches are awesome. As for “Mandalaland“. Well, it is a festive online mandala for coloring bookstore in Bogota, Columbia.

Kalachakra thangka painted in Sera Monastery, Tibet. Photo by Kosi Gramatikoff. Exploration of esoteric dreams of the Himalayas. Source: ResearchGate, 23 February, 2022.

A clothing line starts here

Recent posts discussed miniature art and paper dolls. It seems fitting that we talk about clothing design that children and teenagers can indulge in.

We begin with two simple consumer products that will appeal to younger children and inspire them to create, express themselves and develop their dexterity. We found two companies that sell complete miniature kits. MasterMind Toys offers several kits including, clothing, knitting, tie dye, handbags and more. At Earth Song, you can buy a fashion design studio kit which includes a 30 cm mannequin.

There is also a lot of drawing and family fun to have with online seller Picture This Clothing. This company lets kids use their own images and turn them into wearable personalized items. Also worth a visit is DesignX. There, we find camps and courses that will appeal to children of all ages. Their captivating programs include textile design, toy design and upcycling. Have fun on the runway!

Collage in yellow. Yvon, c1965. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

The not so flat world of paper dolls

We may be way beyond the golden age of paper dolls, but their enduring presence over centuries does not lie. They are fun, engaging for toddlers, and usually affordable for parents. Today, we owe their survival more to book publishers and artisans than toy makers. It can be tricky to navigate through what is on the market, if you are mindful of stereotypes, diversity and body image issues that can arise. In our opinion, Dansereau by Dominique Dansereau and Paper Thin Personas by Rachel Cohen offer the best commercial options.

Better yet, say Kelly Burstow of Be A Fun Mom, make your own, from family photos. Use your photo cutout to draw a silhouette and create a paper wardrobe. Drawing them is also so simple. Making a paper doll brings a fine opportunity to draw, cut and manipulate images and to stimulate imagination for family story telling.

There is of course the long history of paper dolls and a vast vintage market out there, for history buffs and collectors. Paper dolls and the fashion industry are inseparable. For this reason, like their 3D cousins, paper dolls too carry a long history of woman’s body representation and gender roles. For a brief women’s perspective on the history of this “innocent” toy, see this documented articles published in 2016 on the (American) National Women’s History Museum website.

On the contemporary arts scene for grownups, it is impossible to ignore the life size realistic works by New York artist October Lane. The Paper Doll Project makes you think and will serve as an excellent helper to parents with teens.

Clothing in color sample. Source:, 23 Janurary 2022.

Miniature art, big time!

With the successive imposition of lockdowns and access restrictions during the pandemic, artists and other creative people are rediscovering the charms of tiny art. Reports about free little galleries or FLAG, have proliferated in the past year. The Seattle Met, the Washington Post (twice), TimeOut, Urbanicity, the CBC, the Toronto Star, even the Smithsonian Magazine have all showed interest in little galleries.

According to these reports, FLAGs are already thriving across the United States in Seattle, Portland, Austin, Oakland, Phoenix Atlanta, Washington D.C., Brooklyn, Hyattsville, as well as in Edmonton and more recently Hamilton, Canada. Artist and self-proclaimed FLAG tracker Elaine Luther has spotted some in Sweden, Polan and Mexico. She created a website to help us follow the expansion of the empire.

This growing phenomenon is good news for artists. It provides a much needed outlet for their works and also a way to reach out to a diverse audience, both locally and online. It is also good news for kids and for community spirit, because it is inclusive of all sorts of works, as long as it fits the space, and everyone can leave or take a piece of their art. It is the same exchange system as the well-known free little library network.

Washington State artists are definitely leading the trend. Stacy Milrani was one of the first to launch and now seemingly has one of the busiest FLAG. Sculptor Jennyfer McNeely took the adventure to new dimensions with the creation of fictional curator Margaret Supperfield, a doll with her own Instagram account. As for long time professional doll maker, Katy Strutz, the appeal of free little galleries was irresistible.

Interestingly, this newly found passion in miniature art comes at a time when, at the supersize end of the spectrum, so called immersive art is also taking off. Now attracting renowned large museum institutions, immersive shows of images by Van Gogh, Klimt, Schiele, Klee and also contemporary artists are scheduled in places likes Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Bordeau, Dubai, Shangai, Macao and Tokyo. These events use new technologies to attract new audiences to visual arts and boost tourism. Bea Mitchell’s top 11 list in her Blooloop article is enough to appreciate the contrast this is compared to miniature art.

Miniature art has long been part of major historical collections. It also never left the contemporary art scene, even if it had not been considered blockbuster by large institutions, with big buildings. The Biennale Internationale d’Art Miniature (BIAM) has presented miniature works in the small northern town of Ville-Marie, Quebec for 30 years. More than 10 countries were represented last summer. Across the pond, in Paris, visitors have a few more days to visit the Small is Beautiful exhibition. At this event by Encore Productions and Fever, 20 artists present their miniature works, and children can take part in miniature art workshops.

Pictured below is the latest free little gallery that just opened its tiny door in Hamilton, Canada. As I visited it with a limited edition contribution of my own, a local artist was already there with her own contribution. An initiative by art teacher Matt Coleman, the Mappleside Museum of Miniature Art (MMoMA) is however a bit of a misnomer. We get the pun of the acronym, but a museum usually has a collection conservation mandate, as well as educational programs, while a gallery shows art for trading purpose. The MMoMA is actually a free little gallery.

The color of my snow

Winter has arrived all over the northern hemisphere. Now is a good time to reconsider how we draw or paint our snow. Sure your snow may still be white, but which white exactly? And why not another color? Time to step outside or dig into what art history has to teach.

Start with a safe palette of shades of the same color. John Hulsey and Ann Trusty of Hulsey Trusty Designs have the perfect to-the-point advices in this short article on Artists Network. Observation and an adventurous spirit are key. The pair have their own business at Artist’s Road. See their detailed how-to article Painting Winter: Exploring the winter landscape, and see what real plein air painting aficionados do.

Even scientists love winter landscapes. See some more paintings with their corresponding palettes in this fun blurb at the University Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) website.

Snowman, gouache on paper, c1963. By Yvon. Source: CDIC-CIDE.
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