Interview: Family Crafts with Monica Mackey

 

 

I don’t know what holds a family together. Blood? Guilt? Some dissolve while others flourish. A strange mechanism keeps us together, or falters and we drift apart.

At times the universe speaks of family in late birthday cards and reunions with strangers.

My wife and I are expecting our first child. A daughter. It’s exciting and joyful but I wonder — as time passes, what will keep us together?

When my daughter is all grown up, an adult, what will make her want to be around us? There are quite a few theories, but what I’ve seen in practice that works goes something like this — ‘the family that plays together stays together.’

Monica Mackey is a good friend of ours, and her family is simply incredible to be around. Monica and her husband Eric have three amazing daughters — ten year-old Hannah, eight year-old Elisa, and the newest in the bunch, eight month-old Lucy.

Most visits to the Mackey house involves everyone around the table playing games, drawing, or smushing clay around. Hannah and Elisa aren’t just fun kids, they’re fun people. This has a lot to do with who they are, which has a lot do with their parents. Hannah and Elisa love to create and craft and both Monica and Eric are right there with them.

When I started to think about the daughter I’m going to have and the ways we’ll play as a family, I immediately thought of Monica and the Mackeys and all the arts and crafts they do.

There’s something wonderful about creating an ornament or a pencil holder with a bunch of kids. They don’t worry about marketing it or making money — if the craft doesn’t actually pan out, it’s not a big deal. It was just fun to do it.

I turned to Monica to ask how she keeps crafts, and just creativity flowing with her kids.

Turns out the answer has a lot to do with glitter and glue.

 

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The Mackey's, in ornament form.

The Mackey’s, in ornament form.

 

ET: There’s something very inspiring in how you have managed to have arts and crafts such a part of your family’s day to day life. You are always making something with your daughters, and your husband gets in on it too.

Was there any prodding on your part or did everyone immediately enjoy doing crafts together?

MM: Doing crafts has always been something we just do. It was always part of my childhood, and now I’m happy to say my family unit embraces it as well. Our family is definitely creatively inclined, from crafts and drawing to music and writing.

When it comes to a family craft the girls are always on board, and Eric is an all around family man who loves to do things with me and the girls. He is definitely the ring leader in the kitchen and we all love to get messy in there from time to time.

The girls each like to come up with art and craft ideas that they can lead, usually a drawing lesson of some kind, and other times they love breaking out the clay or even my fabric stash.

You know, with my own little girl on the way I’m going to try to introduce her to crafts – or really for me the main idea is to spark the idea that you can make anything you want. What are good projects to start with that can involve the littlest of little ones?

Once the littles have stopped trying to put everything in their mouths some simple crafts we have enjoyed are things that are enjoyably messy. Scribbling and gluing chunky beads on paper are fun and easy, same with squishing clay, but some of the first crafts (versus arts of ‘arts and crafts’) I remember doing as a child with my family are the same with my family now: Christmas ornaments!

My mom made salt dough and my brother and I shaped them with cookie cutters, baked them, then painted them. She still hangs them on her tree every year! The first ornaments we made in the Mackey home were pretzel wreaths and snowman globes. The kids did the gluing and I did the ribbon winding for the wreaths.

A ‘snowman globe’ consists of an upturned glass bowl with a bit of a lip/neck on it (like the carnival game where you try to win a fish), a ribbon for the scarf, a plastic top hat, and a small strand of lights to go inside the head.

For the snowman globes, the girls did the sponge painting on the outside of the bowl with white paint, and the gluing, I did the … well, not much because that’s about all there is to it. Painting with a sponge Isn’t too difficult for tiny hands, and the end result is pretty impressive.

 

Crafting away.

Crafting away.

 

Have you tried any crafts that just didn’t work out, either because of a lack of interest or the idea behind it didn’t quick work?

I wouldn’t say that everything works out exactly as planned every time, but we always make it work somehow. There are times when an original plan doesn’t quite pan out, but we roll with it. That’s one of the best things about art and crafting, is that it’s virtually error free and ‘mistakes’ can actually be stepping stones for a new direction or being more creative.

It doesn’t always feel that way when I am painting or drawing alone, but when the family is involved we tend to find ways to make things work.

For example, this past Mother’s Day, the plan was to make tiny clay pots for succulent plants and I was going to teach the girls the coil method for making a pot. The clay we used was not down to be coiled successfully, so instead the girls came up with their own techniques and produced some amazing and unique pieces. So much for my ‘technique.’ I LOVE the results they came up with, so unique, inspiring, and creative.

You’ve always been creative and have painted like crazy. Painting can be solitary work. Do you still try and make time for yourself for personal projects, or is it mostly family oriented?

I can’t say that I have made the time to paint solo lately, but it is still very much on my mind. If I do sit down to paint, I need at least a couple of hours at a time, and that is pretty difficult time to come by these days. With my responsibilities as mom, wife, and office worker, solo extracurriculars are not on the top of my to-do list. HOWEVER, I do find it important to make the time for the things that I enjoy.

Right now, Lucy is very hands on, and by that I mean she wants to put her hands on most everything I am holding (and then test it out in her mouth), so I will wait until she is occupied with sleeping. Projects that can be broken into mini sessions work the best, i.e. crocheting and sketching, especially if they can be done in dim light so I can be near her.

Because I do some of these projects almost in the dark, and admittedly lying down on the couch or in bed, they can have some unusual results in colors and perspective.

What are some of your daughter’s favorite crafts? Have they wowed you and come up with any of their own?

We rarely repeat crafts, even when they are successful (this also stands true when I have successes in the kitchen!), but I asked the girls if they had any favorites that we have done. Hannah’s favorite craft was one we crafted for Christmas gifts — snow globes.

Using a clear jar with a lid, we painted the inside of the lid white with a waterproof  paint, glued a small toy to the dried lid, added some glitter and then filled the jar with baby oil (makes the glitter flutter, instead of water which would make it clump and sink).

Elisa’s favorite family craft is paper crafting. Originally, we started with printouts from websites that offer free downloads for 3-dimensional paper crafts (like Scout Creative). These are things that take 1-3 pieces of paper usually, you cut out the pieces, tape/glue them together and you end up with a super cool cat in a swimming pool, or a Halloween totem pole, or a hot dog stand. Super neat dimensional objects.

I even found a chameleon project online and crafted it together for Elisa’s Christmas present last year.  We bought her a tank for a real reptile, and that was the stand-in, until she picked out the live pet. Now, Elisa will make her very own 3-dimensional characters without a guide, and often makes them as gifts for family and friends.

 

The homemade werewolf costume. Sorry, I mean Were-Elisa costume.

The homemade werewolf costume. Sorry, I mean Were-Elisa costume.

 

When it comes to creativity and imagination I’d like to think everyone has both of these inside of them, but sometimes they get forgotten. People tend to get deterred by their skill-level. Wanting to draw is different than actually drawing well. It can be heartbreaking.

Your daughters are incredibly imaginative and willing to try new games and creative outlets. How do you foster that quality in them? As a dad to be it’s on the brain – how do you foster something like creativity without going overboard with it?

Having a ridiculous amount of art and craft supplies on hand has made it part of our normal activity routine. If one of the girls says they want to do ‘something,’ but they can’t think of what to do on their own, after I say there is always cleaning to be done, the craft drawers are a typical go-to. I think the availability of markers, crayons, beads, hot glue, fabric scraps, clay, GLITTER, and other bits and things in our house fosters creativity.

Just the other day, Elisa decided to get crafty and started designing her own variety of dragons, complete with behavior characteristics, dietary needs, and likes/dislikes. She sketched them, named them, wrote out their information and then took orders from family members for hand stitched plush versions of them. She is consistently and constantly blowing my mind!

I don’t think I need to worry about over-encouraging my girls to the point of squelching their creativity. They come up with very clever and unique artwork and it’s inspiring to see what they come up with.

I think as young children they are more uninhibited when it comes to being creative. As they get older, I have noticed some urgency to do something ‘right’ or more structured than in younger years, but I think that as long as we continue to express our creativity together and in an appreciative manner, the girls will continue to stretch their imaginations and see that art and being crafty is a good thing.

I also make sure to tell them that making mistakes is part of life. I do not want to give them a false sense of everything being amazing and set them up for unexpected disappointments.

If something doesn’t work out as planned, we try to find a way to make it better or different instead of giving up or sulking in the moment of a disaster; which is really hard to do when I have a solo project. This is something I have to use on myself. When I see amazing work by other artists that are more experienced, talented, and/or getting paid, it can be discouraging sometimes. I have to take it as inspiration for improvement and new direction. Not always easy, but definitely a way to continue to grow.

 

Hannah and Elisa -- Halloween time!

Hannah and Elisa — Halloween time!

 

You have a serious business woman career and an awesome family, which is like having two full time jobs. You’ve had your Painted Pisces Etsy shop since 2010 and have a Painted Pisces blog chronicling your crafts. With so much going on in your life that is probably a higher priority than art, how do you find the time to fit your creative work time?

With anything you love, or just plain want to do, I say that you need to just make the time.  The time won’t find you; you won’t be discovered by someone saying, ‘wow, you look like you could use some free time and money to do the creative things you want, even though I have never seen you do anything.  I can feel it!’ I wish that were the case. I would have to say I make time for most creative things in the late evenings.

I am writing this out in the dim light of television in bed actually. I have to do these creative things to feel good and feel like me, so if I go too long without a creative outlet, I feel a little pent up.

Most recently, for my 10th wedding anniversary, I crafted some dramatic floral hair clips for myself, the girls, and the moms around midnight a couple days before our anniversary celebration. Even though I feel exhausted, this tends to be one of my familiar creative times. I have made dresses, costumes, tribute paintings, plush toys on super late night (self-imposed) deadlines while the girls sleep, and sometimes Eric makes me awesome late night cheesy munchies.

At other times, when it is a family craft, there is a lot of team work with someone occupying Lucy’s attention while the others get fun and busy, then SWITCH!

 

Monica, Anne M, Eva, & Hannah making tamales.

Monica, Anne M, Eva, & Hannah making tamales.

 

Your crafting seems to flourish during the holidays. What holiday inspires the most creative crafts? Halloween? Christmas? Arbor Day?

As you may have noticed in the above answers, Christmas is a very crafty holiday for the family.  I think this is because my mom’s favorite holiday is Christmas and she is a huge inspiration to me.  She and my dad made childhood fun for my brother and I. Mom encouraged our creativity, our uniqueness, our individuality.

Every year, for well over 20 year now I think, she has hosted a large Christmas Eve party at home and loves to decorate as much of the house as possible, fill the house with family and friends, and great food (traditionally tamales).

The tree has always been filled to the brim with a few store bought ornaments and a plethora of hand made crafty ornaments we did together as a family. One year, though, she wanted to go pure fancy with what I called the Martha Stewart tree. I really don’t mean to diss Martha Stewart, because she definitely has a way with decor (and many many other things), but the tree was too ‘perfect.’

There were gold berries, and gold twine ribbon and gold leaves. I love gold, but it seemed so manufactured and what I love about that holiday is the hand-made touch of family.I hope I wasn’t too much of a brat when I let my mom know I wanted the old tree ornaments back!

Now, the tree has both types of ornaments. I can live with that, as long as the half eaten salt dough ornaments from 30 years ago are there. While Christmas is a crafty time of year, Halloween is my favorite and I like to make decorations for the home as well as costumes for the girls. That was another thing my mom did for me. One year I was a toddler lady gladiator, another time I had to be something called a Fob from Teddy Ruxpin and my mom whipped them up. She is definitely awe inspiring and had a big part in fostering my creativity.

What’s the best way to find crafts to do? Do you just look through your junk drawers and try to make something out of what you already have, or do you buy crafting books and look online for ideas? How much preparation goes into it?

The internet is one way to find things to do, blogs and such, but sometimes it can be overwhelming (hello Pinterest!). I do have a handful of crafting books, but I find I use them as a guide and not a rule book. Generally, a seedling of an idea seems to sprout on its own and then its a process of trial and error, mixed with my budget and what things I can find in my stash.

So I would say it’s a combination of all of those things. I don’t like to spend too much time in preparation mode, because then I feel overwhelmed with the options available. Once the idea is sprouting, I try to go in that direction.

 

Monica Mackey's Halloween Wreath

Monica Mackey’s Halloween Wreath

 

For example, last Halloween I made a wreath. I didn’t really have any spare parts for this, so I went to the craft store for inspiration. This is where I can either get carried away or overwhelmed with options. Luckily I found some feather boas and a cool little owl that did the trick. The wreath foundations were a ridiculous price (in my eyes), so I cut up a cardboard box instead. Simple, easy, awesome.

I can see it being easy and fun to gather kids around a table and make masks out of paper plates – but what about adults? Have you had any luck introducing the fun and whimsy of crafting to jaded and cynical adults?

Hah! I don’t really hang out with jaded and cynical adults, so I don’t have a good experience lined up for this one. I did try to foster a seedling of an idea to exchange hand-decorated sweaters at the Christmas Eve party instead of store bought gifts last year, and that idea was shot down in peals of laughter… I think I will try again this next year…

Wait! I do remember at Elisa’s 4th birthday party we had a table set up for crafts including a box of foam dinosaur stickers. You and Megan were there, and Megan made a super inventive piece of art she called ‘Dinosplosion’ using only the non-dinosaur bits.  It was so awesome! I wouldn’t really call Megan jaded or cynical though…

Ha! I remember that. Megan doesn’t craft unless you’re around! Do you have different projects for when it’s sunny and everyone wants to be outside or when it’s cold and rainy and no one wants to leave the house? Have you come up with any crafts or games to keep kids entertained on long car rides?

Unfortunately I don’t have sunny versus rainy day activities, and most of our crafts are indoor types of things. This has definitely made me think more about finding outdoor only crafts.

I remember finding dried leaves and bits of nature outside to glue on paper for a collage type of picture when I was little. Maybe something to try with the family this weekend! I have made fairy houses with the girls in our yards though. You just take found items in the yard: sticks, leaves, dirt, rocks, and build tiny shelters for the fairies to use. Super cute.

Crafts for car rides are tricky. Glue, beads, glitter and scissors don’t usually do well in a moving vehicle, but crocheting and bits of needlework could be possible though. Sometimes we will do a family drawing where we each start with a doodle, add our own bits, then pass it to the next person. The end results are never what anyone expects or intends in the beginning. I’ll have to try that out next time in the car. You have definitely given me more to think about in expanding our crafting world. Thanks for the inspiration!

 

Baby Monica and her brother Charlie as Raggedy Andy & Raggedy Ann

Baby Monica and her brother Charlie as Raggedy Andy & Raggedy Ann

 


 

 

Goofing off and creating something with your own hands is an amazing way to spend time, and it will be awesome if my daughter has an interest in art and crafts, but if not that’s okay. There’s sports and games. Music. Gardening. Kicking rocks.

I’ll just keep introducing her to new ways to play, new ways to enjoy her time. Hopefully there will be something that we can all do together, so when she gets older and becomes an adult she has those memories, those connections to me and her mom.

Big thanks to Monica for playing along and giving me a starting point for family craft time. It won’t be the last time I go to her for craft ideas.

Below are a few places I’ve checked out for crafty stuff. Anyone have a good ideas go ahead and share ’em!

Spoonful Dot Com

Disney Crafts for Kids

The Crafty Crow

Scout Creative on Etsy

 

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One thought on “Interview: Family Crafts with Monica Mackey

  1. Absolutely loved this article!! Monica is my best friend, and I too find her, Eric and the girls to be incredible as a family unit!! thank you for sharing!!

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