day 37 – shadow play

Shadows are great, and spontaneous shadow fun can erupt in lots of places almost anytime. With the help of a bed lamp, or a torch if you’re camping, your hands can make shadow animals on the wall. This was a popular activity before the advent of electric light so look for old illustrations to give you ideas, and involve kids by shaping their hands or letting them hold the light source. Not too scary, though, if it’s bedtime.

You can also create shadow puppets by cutting out cardboard figures and gluing them to straws. These can even have movable limbs. Place the light and the puppets behind a sheet to enact a shadow play. The Three Little Pigs is a good candidate. Everyone knows the story so kids can easily be involved. Playing with kids is not about making great art but copy the animal shapes from a storybook if you need to. This is great if you’re camping: audience outside the tent, puppeteers and light source inside.

Your bodies can become shadow puppets outside in the sunlight, especially if you hold other objects to create monstrous shapes. This works better at certain times of the day, and varies at different times of the year – you want your shadow to look like the puppet, and the summer sun at midday produces blob shadows. It’s fun to do this with plastic animals or small figurines too: place them on paper and draw the shadows as neatly as possible. Work fast because otherwise – science alert – the earth is moving and shadows can change before you’re finished. This is also great to do with plant shadows.

You can also use a mobile phone camera to produce interesting black and white photos. Draw from these images afterwards if you want. You can’t catch a shadow no matter how you try but you can have fun sneaking up on them.

Published by Dr Toni Risson

Dr Toni Risson is a storyteller and a cultural historian who has penned everything from children’s picture books to a PhD on the Magic of Lollies. An expert on the Greek cafe phenomenon, Toni curated Meet Me at the Paragon for the State Library of Queensland, and her latest book, Brisbane’s Greek Cafes: A Million Malted Milks, was a finalist in the 2019 Queensland Literary Awards. Having encountered the elegant Paragon Cafe in Katoomba as a child, Toni developed a fascination with silky oak panelling, bevelled mirrors and Art Deco wall lights long before she understood the stories behind Australia's iconic Greek cafe. She continues to document our lost café culture.

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