Spring Break Projects: Toy Box Fine Art Photos

Marooned Jack
Toy box fine art is a great way to not only encourage an interest in famous works of art, but offers a good excuse for straightening up those toys. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

One of my weird bucket list items has always been to capture on film the beautiful balance of my favorite M.C. Escher illustration, Three Worlds.

The illustration is one of Escher’s gentler pictures, depicting “worlds” below, on the surface of, and above the water of Woodland Lake. I had been constantly scoping out the perfect setting, time of day, and year to capture this scene, but it has just never fallen together exactly right. I eventually decided to take matters in my own hands—and camera—and create my own, with the help of whatever household items I had available.

This was the result:

three worlds
“My Three Worlds,” based on M.C. Escher’s Three Worlds. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

Here is what it actually was:

My “worlds” in an ice bucket. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

This is the inspiration of the next spring break-long project of creating a “toy box” photo exhibit based on famous paintings.

Gather whatever odds and ends you can find around the home to build your portrait. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

The idea and process is quite simple. Find a painting or illustration that catches your fancy, and recreate it using toys and found objects around the house. Use action figures, dolls, and stuffed animals for portraits, scarves and blankets for background and costumes, and any other item you find that captures the work in your own unique way.

Part of the fun for kids, besides that unavoidable urge to play with cameras, is being able to look over some classic pieces of art and see what moves them. This is a chance to bust out any old art history text books, sit down with a pile of catalogs and magazines, or search the web for some great museum or art print sites. A few of our favorites to peruse are Art.com‘s poster and print site, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Tate galleries in London, the Smithsonian Institution’s site, The Guggenheim museums, the Lourvre in Paris, and the all-purpose print and poster site Allposters.com.

Another added bonus is getting kids to help clean up their rooms and closets looking for the right figure or prop for their masterpiece.

These don’t have to be exact copies, but should be able to be recognizable as at least a tribute or parody of the painting. It’s okay to play around with easy photo editing and filters to add any finishing touches. Snapseed and Pixlr are both free and easy to use.

“The Groot With the Pearl Earring,” based on The Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

Work on these throughout the week, and gather your favorite results for a family art unveiling. This is something everyone in the family can work on together for fun or they can work individually for their own “secret” project. Once the week is up, hold a Saturday or Sunday afternoon art show for family and friends or have a guessing game to see who is best able to name all the works.

“Marooning Jack,” based on Marooned by Howard Pyle. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.
“Monsters,” based on Raphael’s Cherubs. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

One side effect is kids might be pretty proud of these and want to display them year-round, so either clear out some wall space and stock up on printer ink and photo paper, or print them small enough to handle.

Don’t be surprised if you see your kids spontaneously working on these throughout the year. It might be a good time to invest in a fun little point-and-shoot camera as a gift… or hand over your own, as this has the ability to fire up an interest in art history, photography, or set and prop design—or all three.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.