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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lite-Brite Art

When I was growing up, I remember always being an artistic kind of kid.  I very rarely played sports, and I wasn’t really into building castles made of sand in the playground sandbox (though I did attempt to bury a nasty little kid who was mean to me in the said sandbox...and I would have gotten away with it too had the teacher kept her back turned).

Honestly, if you had just given me a package of coloured pencils, a 64 count of Crayola crayons, washable or scented markers, or even an assortment of finger paints, I was the happiest child you could ever see.

I suppose part of the reason why I was such a creative child (and for that matter, a creative adult) was because it was really the only way that I had to express myself.  I didn’t really have a powerful voice when I was a kid.  Oh sure, my parents always exclaimed that as far as tone went, I didn’t have a problem, as people in the back row of an auditorium could hear me.  But when it came down to using my voice to engage in conversations with other kids, teachers, or even guests who came around to visit classrooms, I kept mostly silent.  I didn’t think anyone really had any interest in what I had to say, so I just kept quiet.

But when art class rolled around, I was able to channel all of that stored-up energy into some of the craftiest and most daring art projects ever.  I wasn’t a very good artist when I started school, but by the eighth grade, my creativity had matured, and I ended up getting some of the higher art marks in my class.

Of course, one thing that I refused to do in art class was conform to all the other kids.  Yeah, I suppose that most frogs are green and brown, but as far as I was concerned, one could have a frog that was purple with blue and pink polka dots all over them.  I mean, if the Care Bears could come in every possible colour of the rainbow, surely a frog could be any colour I saw fit, right?

I think that’s what my ultimate goal was in life...using my artwork and my creativity to stand out in a crowd.  Let’s face was painfully obvious that when I was a kid, I certainly wasn’t going to do it with my talents of congeniality and outspokenness.  Art class was all I had.

So, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to draw a sailboat sailing on a sea of orange and red.  All that I had to say was that it was a fireproof boat cascading down a sea of lava.  And, I thought that it was fantastic to grind my lemon yellow, sky magenta, and emerald green pencil crayons down to nubs in order to create the brightest coloured construction paper based Easter egg for my reading buddy while I was in the sixth grade.  My egg was so bright and shiny that when the student teacher held it up to the class, some of my classmates needed shades! 

(Well, okay, it wasn’t that bad...but it was nice to get positive attention in class, at least.)

Though, I had a bit of a hard time convincing my first grade teacher that I had purposely coloured my fish bright red because it was actually a Jell-O fish (not to be confused with jellyfish).  But, I didn’t care for the woman anyway, so who cared what she thought?  I LOVED my red fish!

And, when it came to a particular toy that I played with, I totally broke the rules as well when it came to colour selection.

I purposely coloured the snowman pictures in red and green to make them more Christmas like, even though the colour scheme called for mostly white and pink.  I used double the amount of purple that I was supposed to on my train picture because purple was my favourite colour.  Oh, and the reason for Mr. Potato Head being yellow instead of orange?  Well, I didn’t have a reason.  I just did it to rebel!

Now, you may be thinking that I am talking about one of those Paint-by-Numbers books where 1=red, 2=orange, and 3=chartreuse with crimson stripes.  I am not.

Instead, I’m talking about this fun creation.

How many of you had a Lite-Brite growing up?  I certainly did.  And, it was with this Lite-Brite that I ended up rebelling against what the guide told me to use and did my own thing anyway!  And, I LOVED IT!

Lite-Brite was a creation by Milton Bradley (now manufactured by Hasbro), first introduced in 1967.  And, it was a toy that was quite ahead of its time in many ways.

Lite-Brite worked like this.  You had a little metal box that sort of resembled a cross between a space heater and an Easy-Bake Oven.  At the front of the box was a little grid that was filled with tiny holes, and at the back of the box was a small light bulb (well, the earlier versions were anyway...current versions now use LED technology run on battery power).  By using sheets of black construction paper as well as the large assortment of coloured pegs that came with the Lite-Brite, you could make a wide variety of pictures by sticking the pegs into the holes through the black paper.  Then when the light was flicked on inside the box, the lights would glow brightly and your wonderful picture would be bathed in light, making the coloured pegs even more beautiful. 

The pegs came in eight different colours...Blue, Green, Orange, Pink, Red, Violet, White (Clear), and Yellow And, in case any of your pegs were lost, accidentally thrown away, or ended up being embedded into somebody’s bare foot (a common occurrence at my house, given that I almost always forgot to pick up my Lite-Brite pegs when I was finished using them), there were replacement packages of Lite-Brite pegs that could be purchased at most toy and department stores.

The Lite-Brite would come with several sheets of black construction paper to make an array of pictures and designs.  On most of the pieces of black paper were pre-drawn pictures of clown faces, lemonade signs, and boats.  Each one was designed in such a way that each of the drawings was made with letters.  The letters corresponded with the colour of peg that was supposed to go in each slot.  And, how did you tell which peg went where?  Easy.  Just look at the first letter of the colour, and go from there (B for Blue, V for Violet, P for Pink, etc).

But there were also some blank canvases included with the Lite-Brite.  And, these blank pieces of black construction paper were my favourites because you could really let your creativity shine.  Sure, putting together the pre-drawn pictures was a lot of fun, but being able to create your own designs was most excellent.

Mind you, my idea of creativity was drawing my name in all eight different colours...though I also used Lite-Brite as a really unique way to play tic-tac-toe and connect the dots.

TIP:  If you are going to play connect the dots with Lite-Brite, use one colour for the dots, and another colour for the lines...and make sure that you plan out your drawing first so it doesn’t look like a multicoloured blob.

Still, some of the designs that I have seen online have been extraordinary.  There’s a lot of creativity that people have exhibited with Lite-Brite technology.  Why, you could make a beach scene...

...a volcano...


(Now, that last Lite-Brite design is incredibly impressive.  I wonder how long it took to make?)

My Lite-Brite is long gone now.  I think the bulb finally exploded in it when I left it on for too long.  Luckily, it didn’t cause a fire, but my parents decided to get rid of it shortly after that.  But, what is interesting about Lite-Brite is that it still lives on today in sleeker, more modern forms.  Lite-Brite now comes in a flat screen version, as well as a three-dimensional cube, where kids can now create four different designs at the same time on each face!  As well, there was also a Lite-Brite that spun around and played music, but that model is sadly discontinued.

And, the best part is that a Lite-Brite is still fairly affordable.  Depending on what type you buy, it costs as little as $10, but no higher than $25.  Not a bad price.

In fact, I’m even enclosing a link to an online version of Lite-Brite so that you guys and gals can remember the fun that it brought.  It’s not quite the same as actually having a Lite-Brite in front of you, but give it a whirl anyway.  Just make sure your Java is updated, or else it will not work.

(Apparently, you can also get a Lite-Brite App for your iPhone, if you have one.)

That’s about all that I have to say on the Lite-Brite...but to close this blog entry off, I have one more thing I have to say.

I loved art class as a kid.  As I said before, not only did I excel in it, but it was really one of the few things in my entire school experience that allowed me to showcase who I really was without fear of repercussions.  It was a carefree experience for me, and I got a lot out of it.  So, when I hear schools threatening to cut art funds to balance school budgets, it drives me insane. 

I am one of those people who will fight tooth and nail to keep the arts in our schools.  And, if I ever am lucky enough to have children of my own, I will make sure that they at least have the option to pursue art at their school if they so choose it.  Art helps people express themselves and I don’t want to see it taken away from anyone.

*stepping down from his soapbox that is bedazzled with green, orange, and purple Lite-Brite pegs*

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