DIY

Meet Jimmy June, My Tin Can Robot

When I was 10 years old, my family and I drove to Arkansas to visit my great aunt. About ten years later, my mom, sister and I flew out to visit again, and then when my cousin and her husband moved out there, we tried to make our visits more regular.

Four or five years ago, my great aunt was moved into an assisted living facility where she would live for the remainder of her life, and so when we went to visit, we could no longer stay at her house. As a result, we often stayed with Jim and June, close friends of both my great aunt and my late grandparents—who we called Grammie and Papa.

When my great aunt got sick and eventually reached a point where she didn’t recognize us, and would often sleep through most of our visits, Jim and June (and my cousins! 😊) were the reason that our trips were still full of light and laughter. They are the reason why, when people ask about my favorite places in the world, I immediately think of their living room, curled up in one of their chairs, watching the sun set off the front porch. I think of simple drives to the store, or sitting down at one of their favorite restaurants, always giggling and talking and feeling happy and relaxed for what always seemed like the first time in a long time.

On one trip, while walking into a restaurant just before the sun started to set, I saw this tin can robot hanging on a hook and I immediately fell in love with it.

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“Do you think I could make this?” I asked my sister as I snapped a picture of it.

She and my mom agreed that I could try, and we decided to start saving cans as soon as we got home.

In the first or second week of this quarantine, I found that stack of cans, patiently waiting to be upcycled.  It was almost 11:00 p.m. but I couldn’t help it, I sat down, spread them out, and got to work. While the state of the world would prevent us from traveling anywhere anyway, we had recently found out that Jim and June moved to Texas to be closer to their family. It was the right move, a move that we supported and encouraged in our last few visits, but it made me sad to think that I would no longer find myself in that Arkansas house, walking around their property on a humid summer afternoon to go see the neighbor’s horses, or continually trying to photograph the house in a way that would show people the way it made me feel. And so, I decided it was about time I made my robot—to re-find that feeling.

While the original is screwed together with nuts and bolts, I worked with what I had (and avoided any trips to the hospital due to possible clumsiness with the drill) and I hot-glued him together. I also found some washers I could use for eyes, and an extra allen wrench to give him a smile.

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Call me crazy, but I have now fallen in love with two tin can robots in my life.

One is probably still hanging outside that restaurant we visited on almost every trip, where the five of us always ordered the same thing and talked about what we were going to have for dessert before we even finished our meal. And one is now sitting, smiling, in my house, reminding me about every time we pulled into that driveway, primed to hear stories about the neighborhood cats, and every time we pulled out of that driveway, praying there would be a next time.

I still hope there will be. Maybe this time in Texas.

Until then, I have this robot, who I named “Jimmy June” to remind me of who I consider to be my third set of grandparents, and of all the times we spent sitting on the couch, watching the sky go purple in a thunderstorm, and drinking margaritas until all hours of the night, giggling and plotting what mischief we could get into the next day.

How to Recreate the Princess Diaries Painting

This is Mia Thermopolis:

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In 2001, during a casual visit from her grandma, she learned she was the heir to the throne of Genovia. Some things happened, Mia got a makeover and made her grandma try a hot dog, and then she made out with her best friend’s brother at a royal ball.

Amidst all these intense life changes, Mia and her mom did one of the greatest art projects of all time, and this past weekend, my friends and I aimed to recreate it.

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First order of business, we needed a location. Unlike Mia and her mother, I, like many others, don’t live in an old firehouse, meaning I don’t have a corner of said firehouse to drape drop cloths over and start going to town. Also, I’m pretty sure “dart painting” isn’t covered in any sort of renter’s insurance. So, I turned to my parents who not only support my crazy ideas, but also tend to have a few of their own, and they were gracious enough to offer up their backyard. My dad set up two EZ-up shades, hung three tarps, and lay one big patch of canvas on the ground, giving us shelter from the sun and the yard shelter from collateral paint splatter.

Speaking of paint, how the hell do you get paint in balloons? 

We tried a few different techniques, with varying levels of success, but all in all this was the best:

Next was the issue of hanging the canvas. In the movie, Mia and her mom have a huge canvas propped up against an easel. But when I first looked into this project, I almost immediately nixed the idea of doing the piece to size. I was thinking more a series of smaller, wrapped canvases. If you’ve ever worked with wrapped canvas, however, you’ll know that it’s relatively thin. So if we were to simply prop it up on an easel and throw darts at it, we would almost certainly end up with a ripped canvas and a dart in the sliding glass door, neither of which I was interested in.

In my research to combat this, I read a few different suggestions including cardboard and styrofoam backings, and while I’m sure they are completely viable options, I think the real key here is to have a machinist father. After getting wind of this project, my dad’s mind went to work creating and calculating a simple setup. Long story short, it ain’t that simple. Well, it is but more in the way that fractions are simple when you see your teacher do them in class and you assume you can just go home and do them no problem. Or, in this case, when you suggest that wood might be a good backer for the canvas and then your dad casually creates a six foot high apparatus with perfectly sized wood cutouts and detachable tabs to lock your canvas in place.

Note: the following picture was taken after we’d done a few rounds, but please just take a second to appreciate mastermind dad-stermind of this thing: 

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I realize I’m a terrible DIY-er because I don’t have a tutorial on how to make this wood apparatus, but I feel like the only way to truly explain how this was done would be to give you my dad’s brain and I just don’t feel like diving into the black market at this point. Apologies.

Besides I’m sure there are a lot of different ways this can be done, and I encourage you to pursue any and all of them because once you get the setup out of the way, LIFE. GETS. EXCITING.

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I swear to you, after you throw your first dart, every problem besides hitting a balloon with that dart immediately melts away.  My friends and I were standing out there in the 90 degree heat, literally dripping sweat and probably teetering on dehydration, but nothing and I mean NOTHING was going to stop us from popping those damn balloons. And it never got boring. With every successful hit, we cheered just as long and loud as if it were the first. It was essentially two straight hours of this:

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As an added bonus, after doing a few canvases we noticed that the splash zone on the ground below provided it’s own template of sorts. So every time we hung a new canvas on the wall, we also placed one on the floor to collect some residual splatter, which gave us pieces like these:

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Overall, we probably made about 12 different pieces (my dad found a really good deal on canvases here) which allowed everyone to take home their favorite. On the last piece, we had a few stubborn balloons that none of us could seem to hit, so we teamed up and fired at will.

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I would recommend this project to anyone and everyone. It’s the perfect way to feel 12 years old again, except this time you get to drink beer and listen to music with the occasional explicit lyric and aren’t crippled by the awkwardness of puberty. It’s a win win win win.

If I were to sum this up DIY-blogger style, I’d give you this list of ingredients:

  • canvases (we used 16×20)
  • water balloons
  • push pins
  • any kind of paint (we used acrylic & satin)
  • water bottles with spouts (see above video)
  • a dad-stermind wood apparatus or acceptable equivalent
  • beer or an acceptably refreshing equivalent
  • a good group of people
  • patience
  • good music

Then I’d leave you with this last image of a few of our masterpieces to stir up a healthy combination of jealousy and inspiration inside you:

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But seeing as I’m not really known for my DIY blogging, I’m instead going to close with this picture, which is the aftermath of my sister hitting a sizable balloon dead-on and turning around to show us a near perfect square of paint that shot out and landed on her lip. I think it better captures the theme of the whole day which was quite simply: anything is a canvas. By the end of our day, alongside our 12 canvases, we’d also painted the detachable wooden tabs, we’d marveled at the colors on the drop cloths, and we’d laughed at the paint all over our hands and feet. Throughout the project, everything had become art, including us, and I walked away feeling inspired to create more. I encourage you to do the same, be it with water balloons full of paint or anything else you can get your hands, eyes, or feet on. Just get out there and get dirty! …with inspiration! …you know what I mean.