Art lesson resource: Split pin characters

Here is an extended task to go with the animation project we normally do with Year 7. This is actually suitable (with adaptation) for Year 5 or 6. Some of this is fairly straight forward but does require some technical know-how. I will include an example character resource below.

What you will need

  • Cereal boxes or thin white card
  • Scissors
  • Choice of colour technique; paint, felt tips etc.
  • Split pins (essential)
  • Green cloth
  • Camera
  • Computer to create final cartoon


Still image from Ivor the Engine

To accompany the many types and methods of animation, it is worth showing students Oliver Postgate’s work, especially Ivor the Engine.

The story behind the artist and Smallfilms:


There are many templates for split pin characters (here is a split pin model free resource), however, for Year 7 we like to get students to develop their own ideas in a sketchbook. These can be story related or based on characters by Sjors Vervoort like ours. Here you can see development of my example character; a cheeky fox.


Next transfer the character outline to card (use thin card like cardboard cereal boxes as easier to cut with scissors). Use an appropriate method to add colour but remember to separate arms, legs and head or any moveable parts!


Cut out each part carefully. Make a pilot hole using a compass at each split pin position. Attach the split pin carefully. As you can see from the example, I painted the tops of each split pin to match the background colour.


Photograph against your green cloth in a well lit room. Change positions of limbs etc to suggest movement in each frame/photo. Transfer the set of images into the movie editor of your choice or use an app like Doink on iOS.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 09.59.21

I used iMovie and followed this simple green screen tutorial. I have added a bit of music and sound effects just for fun but this is only supposed to be a screen test. The real fun is getting the students to make their own!




Eco T-shirts review – cotton & the rest


I occasionally dip my blogging toe into eco-design especially as I think that we should be teaching about technology that should improve design and vice-versa. I have previously reviewed shoes made from recycled materials, super-durable boots and low energy technology. In this post I turn my attention to the humble t-shirt.

What is an eco-design t-shirt?

I’ve been buying ‘ecology’ shirts since they were first available on the green marketplace back in the ’80s. I know you’ll say in the ’60s and ’70s the hippy kids were wearing hand-knitted reclaimed wool t-shirts (!) and self-made potato print designs but I was that kid too and I still have the scars. Initially I’d say eco-design shirts were predominantly of the protest/message variety. I had a “Plant a tree in ’73” when I was small which was probably a freebie and dated to maybe 1978. The first one I remember selecting for myself was after joining Greenpeace and featured a very arty illustration of a blue whale in full colour on a white cotton shirt. This was pre-Katharine Hamnett’s typography laden designs of the mid-80s with their associations of Madonna and Wham.


This was also an era before the widespread availability of unbleached and organic cotton. This has become relatively cheap to use now but how about other textiles with equally green credentials such as bamboo and hemp? How do the designs fare and what about wearability and durability? Here’s the top 5 in reverse order…

5. Patagonia Logo T-shirt


This hard wearing, durable and comfortable shirt features a prominent logo and says: ‘eco-warrior’ all over it. Made from organic and sustainable cotton with phthalate-free inks. Added bonus is that Patagonia donate 1% of sales to sustainable non-profit organisations around the world.

Comfortable and surprisingly long lasting, you’ll get sick of the logo before the shirt.

4. Friends of the Earth Crowd Pleaser

Organic cotton (Soil Association verified) with PVC free inks. Bonus: made from renewable energy from wind and solar power. Certified by the Carbon Trust, these t-shirts have achieved 90% reduction using a combination of low-impact organic farming, efficiency in manufacturing and transportation and the use of renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel based grid electricity. A single Earth Positive t-shirt saves around 7kg of CO2 in its production. – See more at:

3. Braintree Hemp Plain
A relaxed, basic and down to earth plain T-shirt essential for summer dressing. A mix of 55% hemp 45% organic cotton jersey.

Pro: plain and logo less.

Con: slightly itchy material. It’s hemp, what did you expect?

Added bonus: if you’re hot and sweaty don’t wear through airports as you smell like you’ve been on visit to the Body Shop or worse, to a Dutch cafe.

2. Papanui

The perfect casual t-shirt for people who appreciate quality. There’s also a little secret in the fabric: the wicking, temperature regulating performance & antibacterial properties of bamboo t-shirts make them popular as high performance athletic base layers.

Also available without the logo.

1. Vivienne Westwood ‘Save the Arctic’ shirt

Vivienne Westwood continues to communicate the threat of climate change. “The status quo will kill us. People don’t realise how quickly we are marching towards a possible mass extinction. Once the global temperature goes up beyond two degrees, you can’t stop it. Current predictions are that we will see a rise of more like 4C or 6C, which would mean that everything below Paris would become uninhabitable.”

Profits from the ‘Save the Arctic’ t-shirt sales are donated to Greenpeace. They are made of organic, unbleached cotton (white is the natural colour as it grows) from a 20 year old cooperative in Peru. All the growing, processing and production of the t-shirts is fully certified by G.O.T.S. (Global Organic Textile Standard). Bonus: proper fashion.


‘Disruptive surfaces’ & virtual invisibility fashion

Unlike trompe l’oeil paintings and optical illusions, we use pattern and texture as part of our fashion sense to make us stand out rather than blend into our surroundings. This post gathers together info on the intersection of British camouflage pattern (more properly known as Disruptive Pattern Material/DPM) and technological developments as inspiration for design.

The Wikipedia page on DPM goes some way to explain the military use and development of abstract patterns printed on uniforms for camouflage effect. Interesting also that DPM is being phased out by the British military in favour of Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP) that is deemed more effective in various terrain scenarios. Use of DPM in fashion can be credited to designer, Hardy Blechman of the maharishi company named streetwear designer of the year in 2000 by the British Fashion Council. Blechman’s background was in designing for DPM and his definitive book on DPM design can be previewed here.

Image: Transworld Business

maharishi’s latest collaboration with Casio is the GA110HM-7A watch aka maharishi G-Shock. I have written elsewhere on this site about Casio watch design especially retro styling and utility vs eco friendly. This particular design uses a DPM named ‘Bambazzle’ from first world war battle ships; a predominantly black and white pattern used to confuse torpedo operators. Out of context on the G-Shock watch we see a rugged and tough design that does nothing to blend in to it’s surrounding. The DPM is eye-catching and dazzling but perhaps not to everyone’s taste! A far cry from original use (see below):

What of the use of technology to create disruptive surfaces and invisibility? Many of the more recent camouflage patterns for military use have employed digital construction (you can see the pixels rather than organic shapes) and maharishi as a ‘peaceful’ and anti-war company include Pagodas, Yin/Yang symbols and Buddhas integrated into the design. Digital printing can be applied to many surfaces including this used by BMW to disguise prototype designs (see below):

Image: World of Cars

It is the details of the vehicle that are camouflaged by this psychedelic design. Finally, the use of reflective surfaces and projection systems. This method of ‘virtual invisibility’ has been developed by Toyama Prefectural University¹.

The principle is of a special lens that reflects no light, similarly, this invisible cloak refers to an object that has a void in the center. Now when a plane electromagnetic wave with a frequency is thrown on this object, the wave goes around the void and reaches behind the object. The electromagnetic wave front becomes planar after passing through the object. The amplitude and the phase of the resultant plane wave also completely coincide with those of the wavefront obtained when there is no object. Thus to say, the cloak has no reflection or phase delay at all, making it a perfect “invisible cloak”.

Perhaps we will see similar use of light distributing fabric to highlight our presence in the way that the G-Shock employs DPM? A representation of our online avatar triggered by nigh club lens systems or on a smaller scale, IDs referencing our online selves (Facebook pages, social entries)?



Tech review: Casio retro watch improved

An ideal and affordable eco-friendly watch for the discerning educational professional.

So this time we find a review of a retro watch on the site; why? For one excellent reason and this is the superb quality of the product. The Casio F-91w has been my watch of choice for very nearly the last 20 years (they were first available in the UK in 1991) and now some exciting developments are coming to the design and some scary subtexts too!

As I began my first school placement, I bought the cheapest digital watch I could find so I could keep a track of lesson timings and still get up to my elbows in gunk (teaching art: this means papier mache, clay, powder paint etc). That particular model cost just £4.99 and lasted the next 3 years! To be honest, it was only the strap that went but it was so easy to pop into Argos (other stores ell them too – £8.99 at the time of writing) and get a new one. Okay, so it may be a bit of an anti-fashion statement to keep wearing cheap black rubber strapped watches but the F-91w is a really trusty timepiece: water-resistant, extremely durable and accurate to within 30 seconds a month. I have had six F-91w watches so far and only one has taken a bash strong enough to break the screen and none have been faulty timepieces.

Its design has not changed since it was first brought out 20 years ago. It is a “modest masterpiece”, says design critic Stephen Bayley, one of the founders of the Design Museum in London.¹ It’s the classic Casio shape that is also available in a metallic version known as the A168WA, with three buttons on the side to use its stopwatch, second timer, alarm and the option of an hourly time “beep”. Youngsters are still buying them too with emphasis on the ‘vintage cool’ looks. This has been duly noticed by the design team at Casio who have released the watch in four ’80s inspired vibrant coloured cases (Amazon link – £13.04 to £19.99) including orange, pink, blue and green and a not so vibrant grey.

Now for the scary subtext as promised above. Leaked US Intelligence documents reportedly advised interrogation experts at Guantanamo Bay that possession of the F-91w could be a link to bombing by al-Qaeda. The Guardian, which obtained the leaked files, reports that wearing one has been a contributing factor to the continued detention of some prisoners, with more than 50 detainee reports referring to the watch.² Surely it’s due to the durability and affordability of the product rather than some presumed underground ‘gear-queer‘ fetish. Nor is it inverted snobbery – it’s pure practicality and the fact that the F-91w embodies a nice paradoxical conflict which adds an extra dimension of value and humour. My current F-91w is a non-threatening vivid orange.