For the bored, locked-down and lonely

Activity Double Feature: Draw a portrait, write a haiku

I’m so sorry, Bowie

We’ve got a couple of quick and fun ideas for whiling away an hour or two today!

Flash portrait drawing

This is a pretty hysterical way to pass the time and get creative! You can do this with a live person, or even using a photo of someone as a reference. 

-Get a pencil, a pen, or a piece of charcoal, and sheet of paper. 

-Set a timer (1 minute is good, but it can be longer or shorter, just try it out). 

-Pick up the pencil, start the timer, stare deep into the eyes of your subject, and start drawing the portrait. BUT, you’re not allowed to look down at the sheet of paper for the duration of the timer.

– Once the timer rings, look down at your work of art. Your subject is bound to feel deeply flattered.

Try this with a friend taking it in turns to do the drawing, and see whether your art changes each time you create a new portrait! Do you get used to the time constraint? Do you find yourself focusing on specific features or techniques as you get more practice? How does your portrait differ when you change the time limit to 2 or 5 minutes?

Writing prompt: Write a haiku

Haiku poems are very simple: three lines of seven, five and seven syllables. They don’t even have to rhyme.

You can challenge yourself to try and express your mood in a haiku, or describe an activity you’ve done in the day.

It’s also a fun game with a friend, partner or family member. Pick a topic, like, for example: Corona. 

Then, you all write a haiku around that topic, and read the results out to each other:

Pandemic? Please don’t panic.

Instead, write Haiku.

That’s good shit to do. 

Activity: Make pixel art art

The finished product

Pixel art is charming, retro and kinda goofy, and I see no reason whatsoever to restrict it purely to the realm of the computer monitor. I want pixel art I can enjoy in an analogue setting; I need pixel art on my walls; I demand pixel art in my kitchen. And since I’m sure you feel exactly the same way, let’s make some pixel art art together.

You will need:

  • An image editing/painting application such as Photoshop, MS Paint or GIMP
  • Some paper and coloured pencils, a canvas and paint or a medium of your preference (perhaps even cross-stitch kit!)
  1. Set up your digital canvas

A good real-life pixel size is about 1cm square. With this in mind, you need to measure your canvas and figure out the dimensions of your digital canvas. I actually had a couple of cheap canvases lying around so I took this mini one and measured it – it was 20x20cm, meaning that I can work on a digital canvas 20×20 pixels in size. Create a new artwork in your art software with those dimensions and fill the canvas with the principal background colour you want. Then, obviously, zoom right in so you can see what you’re doing.

A 20 by 20 pixel canvas in photoshop

2. Lay out your foundational shape

Rather than drawing an outline like we might in traditional art, pixel art is easiest (I find) when starting with a silhouette. Pick a colour that is common in the object you want to portray, and then draw its rough shape. I decided to paint an apple, since this is going to go in my kitchen – and still-life-style I’m going to use a real apple as a reference. The silhouette doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate; pixel art is more like a cartoon, focusing on the recognisability of an artistic subject.

The silhouette of an apple drawn in a rosy red colour

3. Add in the other base colours

Old-school pixel art for games consoles and ancient computers had serious limitations, one of which being that you only had a small number of colours to work with. We don’t have to worry about these restrictions anymore (unless you want to do pixel art in hard mode) but it’s still worth picking out the base colours in the image and blocking them out on your silhouette to give you a structure to build upon for the next steps.

Now the apple has a green side and a red side
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Activity: Make your daily walks something to look forward to

Simply paying attention to the shapes and colours you notice can give your daily walk some spice

Are you having trouble getting motivated to get out of bed? Or even out of the house? Are you only going outside to walk to the corner shop for milk, or to get to your car or to catch a bus to go to work? 

Going for a walk does not have to be something you have to do, but something you want to do because it can be fun and purposeful! You might even notice things on your walk that you never saw before. 

These scavenger hunts will help you look up, look around, take notice, be curious, connect more with your surroundings, and maybe even learn something new! If you use a sketchbook or camera, you might even produce a wonderful collection of artwork and photos to create your own journal or e-book to give to a niece or nephew, a parent, or a friend who could use some cheering up. 

Click the links below to download our scavenger hunt sheets which you can print out and use/reuse to turn your walk into an adventure! Shake things up by repeating the same scavenger hunt with different conditions or in a different setting – once in a rural landscape setting, and once in an urban town setting.

Finding colours out and about

Find one thing that begins with each letter of the alphabet

Find 2D and 3D shapes in your environment

If you’re still bored, create your own scavenger hunt as a community project as a fun way to get outdoors to learn about historic landmarks, identify trees planted in local parks or to take part in wildlife sightings or conservation projects such as:

https://bighedgehogmap.org/holes-for-hedgehogs-home/map-hedgehog-sighting

https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/safeguarding-species/swiftmapper/

https://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/

And if you’re feeling absolutely soaked in the milk of human kindness, share your self-made scavenger hunts with us so that we can publish them to help people around the world make the most of their walks!

Activity: Finally learn to play that one song

A close-up of someone playing the guitar

Lockdown is the perfect time to pick up the guitar that has been gathering dust in the corner of your room for months. With an unlimited amount of time at your disposal there are no more excuses not to learn that one song you couldn’t quite figure out the last time you tried.This short guide wants to help you get up to speed.

What you’ll need:

  • An MP3 file of that one song you’ve always wanted to learn
  • A guitar, bass, ukulele, whatever floats your boat
  • The free version of Capo (a wonderful music learning app, unfortunately currently only available for Mac/iPhone) – available here
  • A few minutes of free time to practise every day.

What you’ll do:

Step 1: Find a tab for your song

A guitar tab is a set of easy-to-understand instructions on how to play a song. Instead of using traditional musical notation, tabs simply tell you where to put your fingers on the fretboard (you still have to figure out which finger to use for which note). They are a great way to learn new songs when you can’t read music.

There are a ton of websites out there that offer free tabs. My favourite is Ultimate Guitar. Chances are, they’ll have the song you are looking for. Give their search function a try – if that doesn’t work out you can always use Google.

A screenshot of guitar tabs

Step 2: Import your song’s MP3 file into Capo

Once you have found a tab for the song you want to learn, it is time to open its MP3 file with Capo.

Capo is an Mac/iPhone app that wants to make it easier for musicians (and by that definition YOU) to learn new songs. It can do all kinds of neat things (tempo and chord detection) but we are only interested in two features: Slowing a song down without changing its pitch and looping through the same part of a song over and over again. Let’s start with a loop.

Step 3: Add a region and make it loop.

Move Capo’s playhead to the part of the song you want to focus on. You are going to turn it into a looping region.

Keep in mind that you want the loop to match the songs structure so you can play the same part over and over again. Time to listen closely. It shouldn’t sound like a skipping record. So vary the length of your region until you get it right.
It is easier than it sounds – simply use drag and drop like this:

a gif showing the audio wave, selecting the desired section

Once you’ve added a region you can highlight it with a single click. After you’ve done that Capo knows that you want to focus your practise on it and will automatically loop it until it is deselected. Press the spacebar and practise begins. Neat!

an animated gif of capo looping the selected audio section

Step 4: Slow down and practise.

When you first start learning a song it may be too difficult to play at its original speed. Capo has you covered.

Press Control+5 and you’ll see the tempo slider appear at the bottom of Capo’s window. 50% is a good tempo to start out with – especially while simultaneously cross-referencing a guitar tab. You can go even slower if you have a hard time with the tab – sometimes it just takes time to figure out which finger goes where when.

a gif showing how to increase or decrease the speed of the loop in capo

Practise until you make it through your loop multiple times without making any mistakes. Increase the tempo and repeat!
That’s it. Good luck with that song!

Thanks so very much to Jonathan Muth for this fantastic activity! You can follow him on Twitter here.

Activity: Make bird feeder cupcakes to support local wildlife

In the cold months of the year, our local birds need plenty of help to stay toasty and healthy until spring rolls around. Bird feeder balls from mainstream shops often contain cheap or questionable ingredients like palm oil. Much better to make your own and treat your local chirpy friends to some really delicious, energy-dense winter sustenance!

Keep your birds happy with these bird food cupcakes!

What you will need:

A cupcake tin

A microwave proof bowl or large saucepan

Cupcake cases

Vegetable suet, lard or coconut oil

Wild bird seed

You can also add: crushed eggshells, currants, raisins, sunflower hearts, unsalted peanuts, uncooked oats

Do not add: salted seeds or nuts, dried rice or beans that could swell once ingested, bacon rinds, cooked oatmeal (clogs birds beaks), desiccated coconut, avocado, crisps, chocolate, stale, mouldy or dried bread, polyunsaturated fats like margarine.

Birds need good quality fats in their diet. Fats that are solid at room temperature are the best. Coconut fat is high in saturated fats and would be suitable for making vegetarian cupcakes for wild birds.

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