Marker Mitzvah: Making Liquid Watercolors

“do not dink or you will die”

In conjunction with our big, ongoing Marker Mitzvah program—where we collect the school’s dead markers and ship them for conversion into diesel fuel—we keep some dry markers for use in the art room.

What do we do with dead markers? We make mezuzah cases (which I’ve written about here) and we make FREE, gorgeous liquid watercolors. Even the driest of dry marker will leach plenty of color into a bottle of water.

Store-bought liquid watercolors are about 4 bucks per color. Our bottles are bigger and they are free. We saved our school more than 40 bucks, easy.

we love squeeze droppers

we love squeeze droppers

We think of this as an extension of the project’s Bal Tascheet frame, but you could also throw in a Hiddur Mitzvah. We are not destroying / wasting and we are beautifying a mitzvah.

Students absolutely love marker disassembly. They twist free the bottom plug with pliers, remove the wadding with tweezers, yank out the ink tip, and then sort by color. (We keep a colored cap in each sort bowl, because sometimes the color of wadding is hard to identify.)
All our markers are the big Crayola conical tip kind. (Other brands might need different deconstruction techniques.)

marker disassembly

marker disassembly

Here’s what the table looked like when they came into class. I have these students first period, so if they walk in early they just pick up the tools and start. Apparently, the invitation to take apart markers is irresistible. It feels transgressive.

Disassembly station

Disassembly station

Prep:
I collected empty Gatorade bottles from a sporting event. I like these bottles because they are thick, stable, and the lids are easy to operate.
I also collected take-out containers so we’d have one bowl per color when we sort the dried wadding and tips.

The Students:
•Decided which colors of paint would be the best to make. They chose 10.
•Took markers of these colors and disassembled, sorting by color.
•Put at least 6 wadding tubes into each bottle and filled with water.
•Added rubbing alcohol with a squeeze dropper (a teaspoon or so).
•Tested paints and added more wadding if too pale.
•Labelled each bottle “do not drink” and the color name.

plug removal

plug removal

Exploring watercolors:
I wondered when was the last time these students used any watercolors. Even in my own kid’s fabulous day school, they only get art once a week. And in my own Sunday School classes, we don’t use every medium every year. So, we did a quick review of solid watercolors on nice paper, and then an exploration with our homemade liquid version. We dripped, poured, brushed and messed about, noticing what happened when the colors were wet and when they dried.

And then, for the last few minutes, I whipped out my hand-cranked Spin Art machine. OH MY GOSH. Some had never heard of such a thing. They loved it. I keep my phone timer going so everyone got two full turns (so to speak).
Now, honestly, spin art works best with bright, opaque, fast-drying paint like poster or acrylic. But the watercolor was gorgeous in its own way. They played with where to drip the color and how much. Too much ended up a uniform gray. Just a bit ended up a funky spiral.
(Our spin art canvases were white card stock I’d cut into 4″ squares, but watercolor paper would have been more absorbent.)

liquid watercolor exploration: spin art

liquid watercolor exploration: spin art

Tool Tips: Figure out which pliers will work best. Our favorite by far was a pair of adjustable joint pliers. DO NOT use any type of “cutting” pliers. Too dangerous!

In lieu of pliers, you can use a butter knife: wedge the dull blade between the plug and the marker body, then wiggle a gap wider while the marker is resting on a table. Do not hold it up in the air! (Too dangerous. The knife can whip out and hit someone.) Then, grasp the plug with fingers and twist and pull at the same time.
My original Marker Mezuzah page has pics of this process.

Marker Mitzvah Display

Marker Mitzvah Display

Safety: Note the “do not drink” sign on each bottle. Because other classes might be using our homemade paints, and because the paint is in obvious Gatorade bottles, we wanted to be sure NO ONE would take a sip. The liquid is technically non-toxic, but does contain a smidge of rubbing alcohol.
Great opportunity to learn how to draw a skull and crossbones.

More Safety: Remember, NO “CUTTING PLIERS.” You, the grownup, need to experiment with plug removal before you show your students. See above tips about pliers and butter knives.

See the intro post about MARKER MITZVAH PROJECT: CONVERTING CRAYOLA.

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