Tonawanda News

February 4, 2013

Building a love for the artsy-craftsy stuff ... or not

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I drove home from the craft store with the item in my possession, eager to show my children.

This was a flashback to youth for me, in a way. I hadn’t purchased this particular item in decades, with no need for it as an adult. But I had a project in mind, and a fringe benefit would be a lot of leftovers with which to play with my sons.

When we had a moment, I called them over, telling them that Mommy had something neat. “A toy?” they asked. “Candy?”

Nope. Better.

As they leaned over to see what was in my hands, I cracked the package open, relishing the heft, and the crisp smell, of a freshly opened package of multi-colored construction paper.

The 8-year-old immediately lost interest. He wandered off to play with his toys, or find his father (who wasn’t interested either) or listen to music. The 4-year-old was intrigued. He named the colors and pointed them out, then looked at me curiously.

“But what are going to DO with it?”

Oh, the possibilities, I wanted to tell him.

Art was my favorite subject as a child. I eagerly awaited the day in question, when my class would troop off to that room at Franklinville Elementary School, that place that always smelt of old crayons, dried glue and, yes, fresh construction paper. I thought we created magic in that room. In a way, I suppose we did.

I cut. I pasted. I drew and I painted. We made collages and talked about artists and perspective and the mixing of colors.

We used all the aforementioned stuff, plus the old-faithful elements of Popsicle sticks, tissue paper and buttons. My fondness for using found objects in creations remains to this day. We made presents for our parents and grandparents, artwork for the school hallways, illustrations for our classroom writings (I loved this). 

When many of my friends lost that fondness for art class that so often comes with the approach of middle school, I remained. I even won a few poster contests in my day. As a teenager, I helped with crafts at a children’s group and worked as a craft director at a local camp. I found that as much as I liked creating things, I liked helping others create things just as much. 

Unfortunately, my art skills never really matured much past junior high. So much for that planned career as a children’s book author and illustrator. Still, I had kids now. I could share it with them.

That evening, I got out the crayons and the markers and the glue and the child-safe scissors, setting up places at our dining room table for each of us.

Elder child remained uninterested, his roll of the eyes downright teenager-like. The younger one was enthused. (But then, the younger one is enthused over most anything.) He bounced over and sat down, studying the tools and the massive stack of paper with relish. “What are we going to make?”

“Whatever you want,” I told him, sitting down opposite him. “Go ahead.”

Thoughtfully, he rummaged through the paper, selecting a piece the color of the summer sky, then selecting a few markers. I bent my head to study my tools, starting work on the project that lead to the paper purchase in the first place.

About 10 minutes later, he was done, proudly displaying an elaborate hand-drawn portrait of our family on vacation. I applauded, promised to put it on the refrigerator (or Gallery Keppeler) and told him to start something new whenever he wanted, then returned to my own work.

A moment later, I realized he wasn’t moving, and looked up to see an unhappy 4-year-old visage, put-upon and mournful ... and bored.

“Moooom, can I go play?”

What do you say? “Sure,” I told him, then watched him bounce off across the room, looking for his bean-bag game, deciding whether or not to go find (and bother) his brother. 

It used to be that, given the set-up with which I presented my kids that day, I would be sitting at the table for hours, creating drawing after drawing, project after project. 

Yet again, I remind myself that my kids are not small, male, copies of myself. Nor should they be.

I still have most of a stack of construction paper left. I’m sure it will be used, even if the boys don’t greet it with the same sense of creative glee I did.

And that’s OK.

I bet we can make some pretty cool paper airplanes.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at