Virtual Family Day: Reset

What have you made with your hands in the last year? What possibilities for the new year do you hold in your hands? Explore these questions with artist Anna Showers-Cruser as they demonstrate how to make homemade playdough sculptures in this hands-on, all-ages livestream.

What have you made with your hands in the last year? What possibilities for the new year do you hold in your hands? Explore these questions with artist Anna Showers-Cruser as they demonstrate how to make homemade playdough sculptures in this hands-on, all-ages livestream.


WOMAN: (SINGING) My darling you know my love is all—

GRACE: Good morning and welcome to our MCA Chicago family activity. My name is Grace. I use they or she pronouns. And I manage youth and family programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

We’re here every second Saturday of the month with activities for families, led by amazing Chicago artists. Today we have MCA artist guide and Anna Showers-Cruser, who will be leading us through a workshop about honoring what we make with our hands.

We’ll be looking at some art together. And we’re going to be using some Play-Doh today, which I’m very excited about. So during this activity, [AUDIO OUT] using the Facebook chat to ask you questions. Go ahead and practice now. Let us know who in your family is watching today and where in the [AUDIO OUT] watching from.

We will also be making some artwork. So this is a great time if you happen to have Play-Doh around— I’ve got mine here— you can go and grab it now. We will be showing you how to make your own homemade Play-Doh during this activity. So you can make it afterwords to do the art making activity later today.

All of the instructions for this activity are available on our website in this PDF of Anna’s activity. So you can reference them any time and make Play-Doh whenever you want. So without further ado, I will hand it over to Anna to get us started.

ANN SHOWERS-CRUSER: Hi, everybody. Hi, Grace. I’m so excited to be here today. As Grace said, my name is Anna. They/them pronouns. I am an artist here in Chicago and I’m also an artist guide with the MCA.

Today we are going to talk a little bit about a couple of artworks that are in the MCA collection. And we’re also going to, as Grace said, make some things with our hands. As Grace also said, you can follow along with the directions on Facebook and on the website. And we will talk to you a little bit more about the resources that you can find there too.

So the first thing that I would love for you all to do is get together, make sure you can all see the screen. And we are going to look at a couple of works that relate to what we’re doing today. So the first image we’re going to look at is a fantastic artwork by the French artist, Annette Messager. And if you want to follow along with me, let’s practice that name, Annette Messager, perfect.

This artist is known for making all kinds of different artwork, sculptures, prints, drawings. What do you think this is made out of? So this artwork here has a lot of different materials. There’s even some colored pencil.

You might take a moment here to really do some close looking, as much as we can over Zoom, and play a little game of I Spy. We’re going to do this with both our artworks today.

So perhaps you hold up your own palm. And for this, I’m going to bring Grace back in so we can look at both of ours together.


ANN SHOWERS-CRUSER: Hey. So when we look at both of our palms, you’ll see that we might have lines just like Annette Messager’s piece, yeah. So now you can see, it’s kind of hard to turn her hands upside down like that, huh? See if you at home can make your hands look like that too. We have to go upside down.

GRACE: That is hard. But it makes my hands make different kinds of lines if I try to go upside down.

ANN SHOWERS-CRUSER: It’s true, yeah. So if you’re following along, see how different the lines in your hand look and if you can make it like Annette Messager’s. She’s got lots of lines going on, cool.

You might even notice, at the very tip of those fingers, there are a few little faces lurking inside. Sometimes, folks, maybe you have imagined that they’re little characters in your hands, or that your hands can do something they can’t normally do. But our hands can do a lot, right? Perfect.

So when we look at this piece, you’ll notice there are different little things hiding. Maybe you see, if we can get just that piece big again, that would be awesome. You might see that there are little pictures. Maybe there’s a little person inside.

Maybe you see— perfect, thank you. Maybe you see— what do you see, Grace? I think I see an envelope.

GRACE: I was looking at that envelope too. I have some mail to send, so it reminded me of that.

ANN SHOWERS-CRUSER: Me too, actually. I got some thank you cards from the holidays.

GRACE: Yeah.


GRACE: It makes me think— I was thinking when I was looking at your hands and looking at mine that they look kind of [INAUDIBLE] or maybe roads, so thinking about sending messages along roads to other people, or maybe telephone wires. I don’t know.

PRESENTER: Yeah, exactly. And nowadays so many of us aren’t going out to the places we usually go to. We’re spending more time at home. So think about the ways that you’ve been communicating with people, right? I know that I sometimes send video messages to my papa and nana in Virginia, way, way far from Chicago. So I like to imagine that maybe my messages traveling along those wires and those lines, right? Very cool.

Let’s look at another work by another artist in MCA collection. This artist is named Sanford Biggers. And you can find information on them in the chat and on the website too. And Sanford Biggers is also known for making so many different types of art. But one really cool thing that you might notice here is that Sanford Bickers used materials that he found in his own life and around his house.

You even might eye spy some little things in here that remind you of objects you have or you use in your own apartment or house. Perhaps you see shapes, right? That was the first thing I noticed when I saw this piece. It was like how pow, all kinds of different colors and shapes. So now let’s take a minute, and just like we did with [INAUDIBLE], look a little bit closer.

Can you zoom in a little bit? Excellent. Wow, it looks totally different now that it’s up close like this. What do you all notice now that you can see it so closely? I’m seeing a lot of different shapes. You might notice that some of the shapes are kind of like your friend next door. You see him a lot, right? You might see some squares.

Tell us what shape you see. Maybe you notice a lot of lines and drips. And maybe you notice some shapes that don’t really follow the rules, right? You might see some shapes that are kind of flowing. Maybe we can pretend to be some of these shapes. Look on the left. You see those black shapes against the white background? Can you make your hands into some of those shapes? Hmm. Some of them look like thumbs to me. Or flowers.


Very cool. And now you might begin to notice that the squares that you see in the background there are actually sewn together pieces of fabric. So let’s take a minute to look around us and see if we can imagine what feeling this quilt, this piece of all different kinds of fabric stitched together, might feel like.

Or if you have looked at different kinds of artworks before, you might notice that stitching things together can also be called a collage. And maybe some of you all, if not all of you all, have done that. Grace, maybe you have done that at home before. Or at school, or with your friends. Taking different things and putting them together.

So let’s imagine that we are teeny, teeny, tiny little ants, and we’re going to travel very slowly over the surface of this quilt. In fact, maybe we don’t even have to imagine. Maybe we can use something around us. We have fabric probably on us, right? Maybe you have something to your left that you can use. Let’s look over there. Maybe up top. Maybe you’re and a blanket fort right now. Maybe to the side. Maybe beneath you. I see a rug beneath me that has shapes, so that could work too.

So take a minute and pretend you’re that teeny tiny ant and close your eyes, and just feel very slowly. Imagine you’re just crawling like a little ant across that fabric just like the lines in our hands. What kind of lines can you feel? How does the texture feel? Is it soft? Is it bumpy? Maybe you’re wearing something covered in sequins. How does that feel? Great.

So even if we were in the museum looking at this piece, we still couldn’t touch it, right? Because that wouldn’t be part of our museum manners. We want the work to be able to be seen by tons of kids for a very long time. But what we can do is visit the website and look at things like this. Look very closely and then pretend to be a little ant and travel across, right? Awesome.

One more question about this. I wonder if you were going to make something like this in your own house, what would you use? I know that I have a really, really, really messy apron that I’ve used in the studio for a very long time, and it kind of looks like this. It has drips of paint all over it.

Maybe you have something like that. An old shirt that you wore as a smock. Maybe you could do a project where you cut that up and make a quilt. But all of those things would be something that you do with your very own hands. And Sanford Biggers wants us to kind of look through here and almost read a story through this piece. What can we learn from the lines, right?

So now we’re going to think about how exciting it is to make something with our hands, and actually do it. So for this I’m going to invite Grace back on, and we’re going to do our homemade Play-Doh activity that perhaps some of you have been able to make the Play-Doh for so far. But that’s totally OK if you haven’t been able to. Hey, Grace.

If folks haven’t been able to make any Play-Doh, they could totally use any kind of Play-Doh or slime or anything you have around you. And if you don’t have any of that, here’s a secret for you. You can just use a piece of paper too. What happens if you print that paper up, right? You could still almost pretend like this is clay, and follow along with us.

All right, so the image that you see below here is the image that we include to show you the ingredients that you’re going to need. And this is all in the resource as well. And they’re pretty common ingredients, right, Grace? People tend to have them around the house. And if not, you can just find them at the local coroner store. Doesn’t have to be a big fancy grocery store to go to.

You’ll see there is some cornstarch. There’s some baking soda. And baking soda, you might use to clean, if you help your parents clean. Which you do, right? Or maybe you use baking soda to make a science project. You’ve ever seen a volcano science project and the lava is forming over? A lot of times people use baking soda for that. Have you ever done that, Grace?

GRACE: Not for a long time, but I would love to make another volcano one day.


TEACHER: The other things that you need are super basic. Just some kind of pot that you can put on the stove with an adult’s help. And a measuring cup and something to stir it with. The last thing that you’ll need, if you would like to, you could incorporate some dye. So if you have any food coloring— that’s what I use just basic food coloring— that works great.

Maybe you’ll get a little bit on your hands when you’re folding the dough, but guess what? That just tells the story of what you’ve been doing, right? So all these ingredients are things that you can help your grown up get together, and then we’re going to show you three gifts, or little moving images that will show you the process. Fantastic. There we go. Yeah.

All right, it’s so fun to see it happen. This is a lot easier than having you all perched on my stove. A lot safer. So these three steps, you’ll see, happen after you will have gotten your ingredients, and just mix them together. And it’s cornstarch, baking soda, and a little bit of water. You’re going to mix them together really well. And then, again, a grown up is going to help you have them on the stove. Any kind of stove.

You’re going to put it over medium heat, and then you’re going to start to mix. And maybe if you’re a kid, you could stand on a little step stool and peek over and help the grown up notice when you think your Play-Doh will be ready. But it’s cooking. So in the middle you see it’s cooking. You’re stirring it at all around and it starts to almost look like cake batter or something.

So if you’ve ever made cookies or a cake with your family, maybe you’ve done that and you’ve talked to each other about your day. You could also do this when you’re making the Play-Doh. Take a moment and share with each other, learn about how your grandma’s feeling. Learn about if they ever made an activity like this when they were little.

So once you stir and it gets nice and thi— yeah, go ahead.

GRACE: Oh, sorry. I was just going to say, I was so surprised at how easy this was. It’s been a long time since I’ve made Play-Doh. But while I was doing it, and I saw someone asked for us just to say how much of each ingredient. So just a cup of baking soda, which is a lot of baking soda because I’m used to using just a tiny little bit when you’re baking things to eat. But it’s a whole cup of baking soda and then 3/4 of a cup of cornstarch.

No, sorry. A half a cup of cornstarch, cup of baking soda cornstarch, and 3/4 of a cup of water. And that’s it. And it was so smooth. I was sort of expecting there to be flour, something like that in it, but there wasn’t. And I think that’s what helps it have that really silky texture.

TEACHER: Yeah. And we’re going to show you all what that looks like too. So in the chat they went ahead and put the link to the instructions. But I will note that the recipe— and I say on there— but the recipe is for a yield or an amount that’s big enough that multiple members of your family could do this. So for me today, I just went ahead and made enough Play-Doh for me. So you can cut that recipe in half if it’s just going to be for one or two people.

GRACE: And this is with the recipe?

TEACHER: Yeah, that’s the whole recipe.

GRACE: When I did it, it was this much, which is a lot of Play-Doh.

TEACHER: Yeah. And it’s enough where you could do maybe two adults and two kids, and have enough there. Good question. Or you could make even more than that. Get a big pot and you feed the whole family, you know? Depending on how many folks are in your home.

So once you have cooked it up real good, it’s going to start sticking to itself and it’s going to naturally want to make kind of a ball. And then, you’re going to want to get some wax paper. Or parchment paper is what I have pictured here. Just get a little piece of that. Enough so that you’ll have some room. Maybe use a baking sheet if you like, to give you enough room there.

And you’re just going to wait until that Play-Doh is cool enough to move it with your hands. But you can take the wax paper and fold it over to scooch it together into a ball if you would like. Once it’s out of the pot or pan and onto your wax paper— or you could even put it on plastic wrap or aluminum foil if you don’t have parchment paper.

You can think about adding in your color. So you don’t have to wait for it to be totally cool to add in your color, but you do want to put just a drop to start with. Dot, dot, not a lot. You can always add more. And then once it’s cool enough, you and your adult— make sure you ask your grown up if it’s cool enough— you can start to pick it up in your hands and just fold it over and kneed it like dough, which is really the fun part because it means squishing and rolling and smacking it, right?

Just like you would with normal clay. Maybe you’ve done something like this before in school. Maybe you’ve made a pinch pot. Or maybe at home you’ve been trying some air dry clay. Model Magic is a Crayola product that you can use that’s pretty fun that is air dry clay.

So once you have your clay cool enough and you’ve added your dye if you want to— I did pink. Pink as my theme today, I think. I’m feeling very rosy. You can start to take off a piece and just roll enough of it around in your hand, but it’s going to fit in your hand. So if your hand is this big, you don’t need more than what fits in your palm. Yeah. So you’re going to roll it, roll it, feel it. Grace described it as feeling silky. What do you all think it feels like?

If you have made it before. Or if not, what do you think it would feel like? Maybe you can try later and let us know how it turns out. And if you are using something like paper, it might seem silly, but it’s pretty cool to imagine the feeling of paper compared to the feeling of some soft dough. And there’s so many different ways to make Play-Doh, by the way. If you have another recipe, let us know what works.

So I like to use most all my senses. We’re not going to eat it, but I can examine it. It almost looks sparkly to me. I wonder if that’s because I added the dye. Does yours look sparkly at all, Grace?

GRACE: It does look a little sparkly.


GRACE: I don’t know what part of that.

TEACHER: I didn’t notice that before.

GRACE: That’s cool, yeah.

TEACHER: All right, if you’re a chemist hit us up. Let us know. Why is it sparkly? Maybe it’s to do with the baking soda. Very cool. It’s almost like a snowball. All right.

So I like to listen to it, too. What is this sound like? What does the paper sound like? And kind of compare. OK. And you’re also going to notice that as it dries, it starts to have little cracks just like our hands, especially now it’s winter time, right?

So if you’re in the Chicago area, you might be like this Play-Dough and need a little bit of lotion. Cool. So now that you have enough to fit in your palm, make sure it’s as smooth as possible. There we go. And here’s the fun part. Are you ready?

We are going to squish. But we’re not going to squish super fast. We’re going to squish like we’re in slow motion, Grace. There we go. Slow, eh. It feels so squishy.

So squeeze it almost as hard as you can, but not quite. And then we’re going to hold it there. Can count in multiple languages if you want. I’m going to count in French. You count English. Ready? Count to three. Un.





GRACE: Three.

TEACHER: Or uno, dos, tres. All right, so now we’re going to very, very slowly unpeel it. Ah. There we go. All right. What weird thing did you make, Grace? Let’s see. Oh my gosh.

This one’s different. I’ve done this so many times. And this one has way bigger caverns than I’ve done before. Whoa, look at yours. It got so lacy at the top. Let’s compare.

GRACE: Yeah. This whole area where it kind of like jumbled up and then this big squishy outy parts.

TEACHER: Y’all, what do you think Grace’s looks like? Can put that in the chat. Someone’s mother is a chemist. That’s great. You have to ask them about why the baking soda is so sparkly. Cool.

And now we could look at mine and see what is mine remind y’all of? Maybe you can tell, turn to each other and see what you think. Mine has this big tongue at the end.

GRACE: Yeah, it does look kind of like a tongue.

TEACHER: Or a thumb.

GRACE: Mm-hmm. And then it looks kind of like— yeah, I think thinking a little bit about— I don’t know. It looks almost a fish. And in the other direction, it looks a little bit like coral. Yeah.

TEACHER: I almost feel like this is an animal from the side. It looks like a bizarre kind of shark or whale. And then from this side, I feel like it’s just like a monster or a shell with these little caverns. I like to imagine maybe this could be like an architectural model, maybe this is some building someone would make at some point in the future.

And there could be little tiny people crawling in here. Yours reminds me— someone said it looks like a tree or coral. Yeah, totally.

GRACE: This part reminds me of a tree. I’m remembering the when we were squishing our hands like this, those lines turned into these lines.


GRACE: Which were like [INAUDIBLE] to me.

TEACHER: Yeah, exactly. So if you hold up your palm, you can try and match. Oh yeah, look at that. You can see where my hand was. So it almost— it reminds me a little bit of how when we experience something, it’s almost like a portrait of where I am right now, and who I am right now, right?

Because if I do this maybe 30 years in the future, it might look different. Or if I did this with a little kid, or even my dog, which I’ve done it with my dog’s paw, which is fun. I’ll have to put a photo of it.

Maybe it would look different, too. Cool. Yours actually reminds me of an iceberg.

GRACE: Like how it goes down like that?

TEACHER: Someone said— Laura says it looks like a snail in a sea shell. That’s so cool. A snail is perfect. I was thinking about, OK. That actually reminds me.

So let’s now do what we did when we looked at the artworks, and when we felt our clothing. And let’s close our eyes, put it in one of your palms, like this. And with the other hand, pretend we’re a little slug. So I’m going to close my eyes.

It’s kind of scary because I don’t want to drop it. But we can do it. Trust yourself. Close your eyes, and just with one finger, very gently start to feel. See what you can learn about this object just by feel, just by touch.

You might notice a different kind of texture than you were expecting. All these little nooks and crannies. Awesome. Now something else that’s exciting is if you did this with your non-dominant hand, meaning the hand you don’t usually write with, or draw with, and I did that. And it looked totally different.

You can see here, also this one’s cooled down. The temperature changed. But I have my different shapes here. And when I put them together, they kind of look like clouds.

Just like clouds, different people see different things in clouds, right? So it’s almost like the word that it would be, Grace, for when something isn’t exactly like what you would call it in the world is abstract, right? Sometimes art is abstract, which means you can really make it what you want to. Very cool.

GRACE: I think these are really fun, and it makes me think in the beginning, when we were looking at the [INAUDIBLE] work, thinking about communicating with people who are far away. And it’s been a really long time since I’ve been able to like hold hands with some of my favors, or give them a hug. And something about these shapes make me think of these like little hugs that you could send us.

If I wanted to let them cool, and then I don’t know maybe send it to my aunt and uncle, or my cousins who live in another state, could I do that? Would it survive the trip.

TEACHER: Oh, that’s a great question. So in order to keep your sculpture that you’ve made nice and hearty and be able to send it somewhere, you can protect it just by using— maybe you have some artist painting medium. If you’re really into art, you might have a gel medium. But you can also just use glue, good old glue, and a little bit of water.

And I say that on the instructions as well. But you’re just going to very carefully coat your sculpture with that glue, little bit of clear drying glue, if that’s important to you. Or you can totally paint this. So if you have any paint, I would use or I would suggest acrylic paint.

Or you could even spray paint it. Just make sure it’s completely dry. So when it’s completely dry, it will be room temperature. So right now this one is cold because it’s about a couple of hours old, and this one’s warm because I just made. So you want to wait until it’s room temp, and then you can coat it.

And then it should be OK with a little bit of bubble wrap love to be able to make it to your family member. And what’s super cute is maybe when it comes around to the holidays again, you could even use these as ornaments. You could put a hole in them and hang them up.

Or you wouldn’t need to do the holidays. You could just use them and hang them in your room, or your window. Or my favorite thing is to just rest it on the counter and look at them as portraits, like abstract portraits. So I have one for my partner that’s bigger because their hand is bigger.

One for me, and my hand’s kind of medium. And then I have a tiny one that’s a dog plant that my dog did. So maybe you can— if you’re doing this at home with your kids, put them all together and kind of compare what they look like. And paint them custom if you want to.

Awesome. So once they’re dry, and you’re really able to explore with them, you might maybe put them aside, forget about them a little bit. And then maybe when you come back to them they will have changed a little. That’s totally OK. Sometimes, Grace I think you know this too, when we make art work, it might not turn out how we expect.

Or maybe when we come back to it later it’s changed a little bit. Maybe it’s cracked a little bit. And that’s OK. There might be a happy accident there. And even if this were to fall apart, what’s really neat is that this is such an easy, quick activity that I’m sure you could make a different one in the future. And if you’re not happy with it, guess what? Smoosh. You can smoosh it again.

I think I’m going to smoosh mine between my palms now, as hard as I can, and then peel it away. It’s almost like a tortoise shell. Oh, grace can you see the lines a little bit from my hand?

GRACE: It’s a little hard to see on yours, but I can see it on mine. Oh there, yeah. I can see a little bit. And I can see them on mine as well. Again, those lines that we saw in the first one we looked at.

TEACHER: Yeah. You can find it in lots of ways. Now something that would be really fun and funky is trying this with your foot. So talk to your grown ups, see maybe you could place it down on some wax paper on your floor, and see what it looks like with your toes. Plus you know, I bet a lot of people here in Chicago wish they could just go to the beach right now.

It is January. So maybe you can escape and have a little mini-vacation by digging your toes in. All right? So now that we know how to make our super fabulous Play-Dough squish objects, I want us to remember that we are just as much artists as these artists that we looked at in the MCA. Thank you, Grace, for trying this with me. I’m really excited to see yours.

GRACE: Thank for having me do it.


GRACE: Yeah. I’m excited. I have this other bit of Play-Dough to get my family to make it.

TEACHER: That would be great.

GRACE: Make portraits.

TEACHER: Totally. So you all can keep experimenting with all different types of materials. What happens if you put little beads inside of these, right? And feel that texture. What happens if you use, dare I say, glitter you could even try. You might want to coat that with the glue actor so it doesn’t go everywhere.

But you all can trail different materials. Now that you’ve made something, you might see something new when we look back at the artwork. So Grace, let’s look back at the artwork that we were looking at earlier. Here’s Sanford Biggers again, and wow now that I’ve been making something and thinking so closely about what that’s like to make something with my hand, I can kind of discover different things from this artwork. Do you notice anything new in this piece?

GRACE: Sure. One thing that I’m thinking about that I wasn’t thinking about before was how there’s that silhouette of a person. It’s almost like the negative space of our hands. This sort of portrait of the space between things, which I hadn’t thought about before. But this idea of what is an outline feel like versus what is the thing itself?

TEACHER: Absolutely. How does an outline feel like? Yeah, yeah. And you know, lines are all around us, right? Like even my cats overlapping on my sweater here remind me of what I’m seeing here in the Sanford Biggers piece, with the black geometric lines that sort of look like robots up in the upper right corner to me. That just reminds me of robots for some reason.

Or the more fluid, organic, those kind of funky, wonky shapes that we see in the background with that black pattern. So maybe for those of you who are younger folks at home, that might be a good vocab word to learn about when different shapes repeat. Right?

And that’s a pattern. And I wonder, too, if you notice a pattern of shapes happening in your project. Is it scoop, ridge, scoop, ridge, scoop, ridge? So you might notice those, too.

And Sanford Biggers is really telling a story here. I might see a different story than you do. But you can start to follow along and really notice how important it is to use things around you to make your artwork. And that if it teaches us anything, too, it can be that you don’t have to have tons of money in order to be creative.

You can just use what’s around you, right? Very neat. So if you have found other ways of making artwork with things just around you, please let us know in the chat. Maybe you’ve made things from old magazines. Maybe you’ve, like I said earlier, maybe you have an old apron, or smock, or something that you could come up and work with. So if you’ve done any other projects like that, let us know.

But what’s really neat is if you weren’t an artist before, now you are. You don’t need my permission. But I hereby bequeath you, if I was the Queen Of Art, I would say you’ve done it. You are an artist. Claim your identity.

Squish your clay and know that you can return to the MCA and see these artworks in person, once it’s safe. But you can always look at them and a lot of other artworks where artists have used what they have around them, just by visiting the website. And I fully encourage you all to do that with each other, and to take a little time to look at each other’s hands, and to really learn about what you’ve been doing, and where you’re going. And just like some folks might use their hands to communicate every day in American Sign Language, or in sign language across the globe, they can be really great communicators, too. So let us know what you’ve learned.

And I can’t wait to see your work in the museum someday. Who knows? Let us know what is the next thing that you’re going to make with your hands. That’s my final question to you all.

GRACE: Thank you—

TEACHER: I’m going to— yeah, I think I’m going to go play with the clay some more.

GRACE: Yeah, me too. Thank you all so much for joining us and for experimenting and exploring some art together today. Our live stream portion of Family Day is coming to a close. But our Family Day continues with a whole bunch of artist-made resources for you to explore.

So please check out our newsletter for all of the resources that we made for you all this month. You can also find our picture foundation store. So we have a chosen picture book every month to go with our themes and activities, and please do subscribe to our newsletter to get updates for next month’s Family Day. And you can do that at this link that’s coming into the chat now. So thank you all again, and see you next month.