An Old School Project with a GeekMom Twist

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to present a food-based craft you can do with your kids. This gives the Geek Mom a plethora of opportunities for teaching moments. Food-based art is nothing new. Painting with vegetables is an old activity that I remember doing years ago (many years ago…) in kindergarten. But Geek Moms can resurrect a very old craft project and use it as a spring board for whole new experiences. You can cover the basics of the color wheel, cross-sectioning, plant biology, the Socratic method, the science of taste buds, flavor exploration, tactile recognition, screen printing, and print-making all in one go. This is an opportunity to merge art with science, chemistry with biology. You need a few basic items to begin with.

  • Acrylic paint
  • Glycerin
  • Drawing or watercolor paper
  • Newspaper to cover the work surface (I know this is on all the lists of crafts, but I’m serious this time.  This project is a touch messier than most.)

Notice there is no need for paint brushes. That’s because this is actually a study on print-making more than painting. In basic print-making you apply ink (in our case, paint) to a surface and then apply it to paper like a stamp. In the most traditional form of print-making (i.e., Gutenberg and his first printing press) the paper was actually moved to the stationary press surface and then pressed to leave not only the ink but an impression of the letter or picture, but since the advent of movable type-face the ink plates are moved to stationary paper.

In place of paint brushes you will need a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and foods.

There are a couple of routes you can take on this, depending on your budget, your sense of adventure, and the age of your kiddos. After the project all foods used will be rendered inedible so you’ll want to keep that in mind.

For the budget conscious and those with particularly young children, raid your crisper. Some suggestions:

  • Apples
  • Peppers (Not jalapenos, you’ll need to be able to handle them safely.  Jalapenos burn.  Specifically the capsaicin in jalapenos, but that’s semantics…)
  • Onions
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Cucumbers
  • Oranges
  • Broccoli

Since you really only NEED a portion of the fruits and veggies, you can use the remainders as a healthy snack for after the pressing. You’ll want to cut up the food into different sized and shaped pieces. Try to get various profiles or cross-sections of the the items. For instance, don’t just wedge the apple up, cut the top off clean. This will give you really nice die to use.  For fruits and veggies with inedible skins (like the orange) you’ll still be able to eat the whole fruit after the project, so if you have a pineapple or coconut lying around toss those in too.

For the more adventurous:

Head straight for the local ethnic market. If you don’t have one, the fresh produce aisle for you. Look for unique shapes, textures, and foods. This is useful on a couple of levels. Not only is the ethnic market quite an experience for any kid, but you can have a taste test of new and interesting foods that your kids (and maybe even you) have never tried. Some suggestions:

  • Bitter Melon
  • Fresh Dill
  • Pomegranate
  • Bush Berries (Blackberries, Raspberries, etc)
  • Red Cabbage
  • Edamame
  • Jackfruit
  • Brocoflower
  • Finochio
  • Kale
  • Ochra

If your kids are older and you feel they can handle the knife, have them help you hack these things apart in various ways. Remember to taste liberally before getting down to the art part. If you’d like to cover the basics of taste here, visit TasteScience.com. It is a wonderful site! Some of these items will be rather juicy, so after you create your die (or stamp) you’ll want to lay these juicier bits on newspaper or paper towels to absorb some of the the fluid. Remember to keep the chunks in graspable sizes. You don’t want them too terribly small. You can always cut them smaller later if you’d like a new shape.

Now on to the art. Combine about two drops of glycerin for every two tablespoons of acrylic paint. This isn’t an exact science. Close enough counts this time. All the glycerin does is extend the drying time. It makes the paint stay moist longer. Now take your mixture and slather across your fruit and veggies. Use your cross sections, outside, inside, anything.  Now stamp, roll, press, crush, and smear across the drawing paper. Experiment with different techniques, patterns, and textures.

Let your kids get creative with how to apply the paint to the food and then the food to the paper. It’s actually quite surprising how some things turn out.

Pictures Using the Stamp Method
A Picture Using the Stamp Method

Ask questions at every step. What shape do you think this will make? Which item do you think will work best? Do some foods absorb more paint then others? Do you get the shape you think you are going to before placing it on the paper? Why is that? Does the amount of paint affect the pattern created? Does rolling create a different pattern than stamping? Why?

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Questions are the key in all explorations. Enjoy yourself. For those Geek Moms like me who shrivel at the potential of a great giant mess, prepare yourself and let go the reservations. This one is messy and there is no getting around it. Enjoy yourself! And watch your kids explore. (That’s the best part for me…)

The GeekMom blog is captained by Jenny Bristol and Corrina Lawson, and supported by a brilliant team of writers. Since launching in 2010, we’ve created a robust community of writers, readers, and media geeks, dedicated to the vision of creating a smart, savvy, social online experience for geek parents everywhere.