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.

No small matter

Children’s drawings can be a lot of fun and will, more often than not, bring a smile to the adult who encounters them. There is however one thing that experts seem to agree on, and it is that these images are not to be taken lightly, most of all when it comes to sharing with a child. As children reveal themselves candidly, it is everyone’s responsibility to welcome self-expression in a safe and supportive environment.

We share this video presentation recorded in October 2020, and produced by the Discovery Museum (Boston), in which Dr. Ellen Winner, Professor of Psychology at Boston College and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education, shares her findings on the subject.

The Psychology of Artistic Behavior in Children. By Discovery Museum. Source: Youtube, 2022.

TEDx Talks also has a few short conferences on children’s drawings. This lively one, The Power of Children’s Art, by Dr Martha Skogen, designer, researcher, with a Phd is in Visual Communication from NTNU, has also a lot to show and to think about.

Pet portraits

For many people with domestic animals at home, having an artful portrait of them made and proudly hung on the wall, is just one more fun thing to do with their pets. Others might instead wonder “Pet portraits, what in the world is going on?”

No matter which of those tribes you belong to, and whatever the size of your household, with or without a pet, take a moment to consider the impact domestic animals may have or have had in your life. It is true that nowadays, pet “parenting” has been largely promoted by commercial interests by what has become a huge business. At the same time, it is also true that genuine environmental concerns have impacted our way to relate to the entire animal kingdom, including species living under our roofs. As our way to relate to the natural world evolves, so does the perception of ourselves and how we relate to one another.

If you are interested in issues of lifestyle, domestic life, or parenting, we found a research paper filled with fascinating observations and conclusions about the emotional attachment with pets during childhood: “Spotlight on the psychological basis of childhood pet attachment and its implications“. In this research, published in Psychology research and behavior management (vol. 12 469-479. 28 Jun. 2019), the five authors clearly examine the notion of emotional attachment. While they confirm the benefits pets can bring to children and the whole family, in terms of teaching moments and mutual care experiences, the authors provide key insights about important factors such as the size of the family and the timing of integrating pets to the family dynamic. They do not fail to remind us that emotional attachment can also come with potentially problematic fear of loss.

On a lighter note, there is a plethora of artists available for pet portraiture. Three of them have caught our attention for you: Zann Hemphill of PawsbyZann, Astrid Colton of PetPortraitsCanada, and Lisa Howarth of TheLonelyPixel. Google Arts and Culture also offer a mobile application to make your how digital pet art. Furry, feathery, or scaly… grab your pencils and brushes and have fun.

animal, cat, pencil, paper, 2020s
Pete the cat. Pencil on paper. By Sahana, 2020. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

See you at Imagine in the Park Festival – June 4th

For two years, we have longed for the moment when public health authorities would allow large gatherings and community events. The time has come and we will be so glad to meet you at the popular Gage Park, in Hamilton (Canada), on June 4th. We are proud to call Imagine in the Park our Collection Partner. We are grateful for their hospitality.

Come join the fun and visit us in person at our information table. Oh, and bring some art to contribute to the Collection!

A special thanks to BannerBuzz, for their kind support for the occasion.

Beautiful pysanka

We pay tribute to an Ukrainian folk tradition that goes back thousands of years: the pysanka. Join us in encouraging everyone to learn about the beautifully dyed eggs, with bright geometric shapes, strong contrasts, fine motifs and familiar images.

Your homemade pysanka can be an Easter egg, but it does not have to. The tradition predates the arrival of Christianity in Ukraine. Floral, animal, agricultural and celestial imagery are all part of the long tradition. The pysanky are sometimes free of any figurative representation and simply made of symmetrical, repetitive lines and shapes. As long as you keep strong contrasts and symmetry in mind, your pysanka will shine. According to the best documented website, pysanky.info, the symbolism of the imagery varied greatly throughout the ages. So, the joy it brings is more important than matching any predetermined meanings. Feel free to personalize your pysanka and to include elements inspired by your immediate surroundings and experience. After all, bee wax and eggs predate humanity.

The world’s largest pysanka is nearly 40 meters high and located in Alberta, Canada. We found that out from the Parliament of Canada’s Library, where gorgeous wooden pysanky of great symbolic significance are preserved.

We have seen crafty pysanky made with regular crayons and food coloring found at home. The kistka is the special tool for applying hot wax between dips in liquid dye. For a list of supplies, see this how-to article on MyModernMet. It shows where to find an electrical kistka, and there is also a way to make your own. Bunny eggs are optional.

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: SpinMaster.com, 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.

Drawing child abuse

Just a year ago, Frontiers in Psychology journal published a revealing article by Limor Goldner, Rachel Lev-Wiesel and Bussakorn Binson: Perceptions of child abuse as manifested in drawings and narrations by children and adolescents. Their study will not fail to captivate school and family psychologists, art therapists and researchers in this domain.

In their preamble, the three scholars begin by reminding us that “child abuse is an underreported phenomenon despite its high global prevalence.” Studies such as theirs are pointing in the right direction, for clinicians certainly, but also for parents and citizens to become better equipped in recognizing signs of child abuse and making reporting more prevalent.

This is by no means a large scale study. A mere 97 Israeli children and adolescents aged 6–17 participated. The authors judiciously gathered and analyzed the narratives which accompanied the drawings. The perceptions of both physical and emotional or psychological abuses are under scrutiny. There are brief comments about the differences between children and parents in their perceptions of abuse.

The results become quite interesting with the presentation of dissociative techniques used by children in their drawings. This can be expressed through a discrepancy between the image and the narrative, or going as far as refusing to conform to the task at hand. Dissociation may result in a colorful image with no visible negative element. That is to say, an innocent looking drawing may in fact shield emotions difficult to express or provide a coping mechanism. This is a reminder that the simple act of drawing have an intrinsic powerful impact on our thoughts and emotions. The high prevalence of such mechanism found in the study is a lot to think about.

Perceptions of child abuse as manifested in drawings and narratives by children and adolescents. An example of drawing and narrative of parent-child abuse drawn by a child. ©2021 Goldner, Lev-Wiesel and Binson. Source: Frontiers in Psychology, 13 February 2022.

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: Dansereau.co, 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.

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