How Artists Played as Kids: Making Stuff

I was thrilled to find that, like me, many people were maybe just the tiniest bit obsessed (in a good way) with making things, no matter whether we had any art supplies or not. Lois’ comment especially resonated with me: “I made stuff from anything at hand. Some days I would go a bit crazy, literally pacing the floor until I could make something. I would tell my mom I just had to make something. Paper chains, paint by number kits, making shadow boxes out of Pyrex laundry soap bottles. As I grew older I made Easter eggs, doll houses, things from seashells… I [. . .] wrote in a journal from high school on but I always made stuff and even, in the summer, set up a store in my parent’s garage to sell my stuff to other kids.” I never sold anything, and in truth almost all of the stuff I made was pretty much crap (think empty toilet paper rolls, worn-out rubber bands, pipe cleaners, Coke bottle tops), but it didn’t matter: I *had* to make stuff. I’m happy to know I wasn’t alone, even though it seemed like it back then.

Lynne says, “I rearranged my shoes and pretended they were cars for those Barbies and cut out old socks to make dresses before I could sew. I made a little sink to hold water and had a little bookshelf with REAL little books,” and Patricia says, “I spent a lot of time making my own paper dolls. I still spend a lot of time making dolls and illustrating the figure.” Some of us were like Dee and really enjoyed everything we did by ourselves, from drawing to making up stories, and hated it when we were forced to play regular games with other kids. She says, “Mom used to force me to go play with my rough and tumble sister and her friends which I hated.”


Becki, whose studio is a wonderland of carefully curated collections she uses in her work, says, “Played alone a lot then, like to work alone now. Loved playing with dolls, playing “kitchen,” collecting all kinds of things (rocks, shells, bottle caps)–still do!, remember making a doll patio, laying/gluing flat rocks inside a box lid with little shrubs, a Popsicle stick fence . . ., swinging, climbing trees, jacks, coloring, jumping rope.” Cody says, “I used to make houses and villages for my hot wheels car using boxes, cardboard and found objects. We were rather low income. My grandmother taught me how to sew. So I made rag dolls and stuffed toys for my brother from old cloths and fabric scraps. All hand sewn.” Sharon wrote, “I remember drawing on the sidewalk with ice cubes (we couldn’t afford chalk), or when I did have chalk, I would grid out the back door of the garage and tell myself a story while illustrating it at the same time. My mom would draw us paperdolls, then bring home wallpaper sample books for us to draw our own clothes for them. She also brought home end rolls of newspaper print paper for us to draw on, because she could get them for free. So, lots of creative time spend doing my own thing.” By the way, you can still get the ends of rolls of newsprint for free in some cities. Guess how I know this? It’s fabulous for working out patterns and doing preliminary sketches, so check with your local newspaper office.

Kari says, “Loved to create anything from nothing. Played with friends a lot. Most if my friends though were not creative in making treasures. Liked Barbie Dolls. Loved to make china and silverware from air dry clay and paint them with patterns. Made rugs, curtains, bedding for my dolls. Painted with oils and acrylics. Laced moccasin kits and made beaded jewelry. The jewelry I gave to girlfriends.”


I love knowing so many people were out there making stuff, and I hope there are kids today who sometimes escape the digital world and get down on the floor or in the dirt and use their hands to make something out of nothing. No matter how it turns out, there’s really nothing better on a summer afternoon.

On Friday we’ll hear from artists who are doing work that they can trace back to childhood play, which is really, really cool. Join us!

Collage CoutureFor more about creative play and harking back to your childhood, try the Collage Couture eBook by Julie Nutting.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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