At 24 years old the simple cardboard box has never lost its appeal for me. With my noble partner-in-creation duck tape and sometimes associates, gaffa, sello and duct (for the pedants), anything is possible. Fortunately most kids seem to feel the same way. So, here are some tips for anyone whose ever felt a little intimidated by the possibilities or pressures (“can we make a dinosaur submarine robot with fairy wings!?” etc.) of junk modelling!
A man stands holding a large water pistol wearing a space helmet and shoulder suit made of cardboard, bubble wrap and tape
1.Break what you want to make down into key shapes. Then take the biggest of those and start there, this can almost always be a simple box shape! For example if you’re making a rocket you’ll maybe start with a tall box shape and then add fins, cones, fire etc. It’s much easier to work this way and if you’re working with a group of kids you can then ask what they’d like to add. But always start big and work out to the smaller parts. You’ll end up with something sturdier and the composite parts will be made to purpose.
2. Work with the shapes already in the materials. In most piles of junk you will find cardboard with ready made corners and folds. Don’t cut these up to create new corners and folds, figure out how you can incorporate existing ones into your model. You’ll make something sturdier with less sweating and suppressing swearing.
3.Glue OR Tape. It’s time to make a choice folks. That is all I’ll say.
4.Paint/decorate after- always build the structure first- or risk compromising its integrity
5.Let go and let the kids ultimately lead the way. The joy of junk modelling is the short cycle of creation and destruction! Embrace it and have fun, you can always tidy up later.
This is an alien giraffe. The kid who made it said it was an alien giraffe, so that’s what it is, and it’s perfect.
And for a bit of inspiration, check out this kid and his creations.
Welcome to the first in a series of “Play Diaries” I shall be writing and sharing on this site. I do many, many things, but my favourite is being a playworker at The Yard Adventure centre in Edinburgh. The Yard is a fantastic and wonderful place; primarily it’s a play service for young disabled people and/or young people with additional needs. We also run a public opening session every Sunday which i’m involved in the planning and running of. Here expect to find many messy, surreal and playful tales from the Yard and beyond!
Photo of silent-movie actor Buster Keaton dressed as “the cameraman”. He is dressed n a shabby suit, bow tie and cap and is clinging to the tripod of his camera, legs off the ground looking stone faced into the distance.
Photo of a Camera made from a cardboard box, some cardboard tubes and cardboard reels with “Kodak” written on them. Its held together with bright yellow duct tape. Its pretty damn cool
The life of a cardboard creation is difficult to predict. If something I make is still kicking about after a week or so and looking anything like how it started I’m not impressed. I’m not one for sentimentality or preciousness about the things I make, I want each cardboard, duct-taped, painted and glittered creation to go to hell and back again. Anything I add to the play environment is simply a starting point; a nudge for a kid with a paintbrush, an idea, a joke or a creative destructive streak, to pick up and run with. So i’m happy to say these cardboard cameras didn’t last the week.
On Sunday I wondered about an incredibly busy playground dressed in a long black coat, baseball cap and bow tie, a silent but purposeful Spielberg-Keaton mash-up (at least in my rather niche imagination.) I carried two cardboard cameras, one more modern attempt with a large tube to use as a handle and one 1920’s style box camera on a dodgy bamboo cane tripod. Several times I’d set up and start to ‘film’ scenes or action shots. Something really great about this tact was all the different ways kids could get involved. They could watch the scene from a distance, simply enjoying it for what is was, maybe it would spark an idea for their own play. They could step in front of the camera and become performers or they could come ask me what I was doing and become directors, idea makers and set creators. All these things started to happen as it became less my play and more theirs.
Photo of a hand holding out a cardboard film camera, it has a long cardboard tube “lens” sticking out of the side and two cardboard reels attached with yellow duct tape.
photo of a box shaped camera with a cardboard tube lens through the middle. It is held together with yellow duct tape.
photo take through the long cardboard lens of the camera. A small circle of light is visible.
computer painted image of a character wearing a bright pink shirt, black bow tie and coat, they have glasses, a wee smile and cap. The background is a colourful mix of yellows, greens and blues. “the cameraman” is scrawled across the bottom of the image.
Later in the week at an evening teen club they were strapped to trikes and bikes and zoomed around the playground, first as speed cameras and then as news cameras. A team assembled with a cameraman and presenter as interviews were conducted and vital footage shot. Watching this take place it was wonderful to see other kids drifting in and out of the play as it was carried forward by the core couple of kids/news team. Eventually this turned into a junk modelling session as everyone wanted to make their own cameras, and had ideas on how to improve on mine (moving parts of course!).
Its interesting to me that had I been walking around that Sunday with a real film camera the play may have looked very different. Not less or bad, just different. I feel that the temporary and imaginative nature of the cardboard cameras allowed for self-consciousness to dissipate and silliness to flourish. And what more could a play worker want?
Check out my workplace The Yard and find out a bit more about what we do. It’s a fantastic organisation and place! Or find us on Facebook here!