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Summer Solstice Sun Prints

A summer solstice sun print being made

Happy Summer Solstice! What better way to celebrate than creating art with sunlight? Follow along and harness the power of the sun to create your own sun prints using objects found in nature, construction paper, and sunlight.

Astronomically, the June solstice marks the first day of summer for the Northern Hemisphere, but many cultures consider this event to signal midsummer. This year, solstice occurs at 2:34 p.m. PDT on Saturday, June 20, 2020, which is the exact moment that the Earth’s North Pole is leaning most toward the sun.

The materials for a sun print laid out

Materials:
Construction paper
Nature objects

Optional:
Saran wrap
Plexiglass
Tape
Scissors

  1. Place object(s) on construction paper. If your object is heavy, like a rock, move on to step two! If it is lighter, like a feather or leaf, you may want to tape it down (masking tape works best), or put a piece of saran wrap or plexiglass over the paper (glass won’t work because it will block the UV rays from the sun, which we need to make our prints). You can also cut paper into shapes and tape them to your construction paper.
  2. Place paper under the sun. Since we’re doing this on the solstice, we’ll have many hours of daylight — more than any other day of the year! Hopefully we also have sunny skies with few clouds, which will make our project go faster. If not, however, that’s okay. Just leave your paper out longer. Give your project at least two hours in the sun. Place your paper on the ground and make sure everything is secure so that the wind won’t blow anything away.
  3. Remove objects and enjoy your artwork! Why do you think the sun changed the color of the paper? Why did the paper not change color where the objects were placed?
A small collection of sun prints

Post by Marisa

Sourgrass Natural Dye Video Tutorial

There’s more to sourgrass than its lip-puckering powers. Dig a little deeper with this natural dye video tutorial.

Sourgrass (Oxalis sp.) is a plant of extremes: children love its strong flavor, pollinators gorge on its abundant nectar, many adore its ability to overwhelm a field when in bloom, and many still detest the invasive qualities of some of its species. Oxalis pes-caprae, native to South Africa, has made itself comfortably at home in California, forming dense mats that outcompete native plant species for light and space.

Whether you love it or can’t stand it, sourgrass has an interesting hidden quality that is both useful and exciting: it dyes fabric a vibrant, neon, highlighter-yellow color. Watch our video tutorial to learn how to play with its pigment and explore more resources below:

Post by Marisa

Science Illustration Prompt: Sequential Observations

Explore science illustration with artists featured in our annual exhibit, The Art of Nature, and get tips for how to make your own science illustrations at home. This post is from Megan Gnekow, recipient of the Museum’s 2019 Laura Hecox Naturalist Award.

A watercolor of a bird of prey feeding a chick

I make scientific illustrations because I want to inspire folks to look closely at the world around them. I want to make complexities and relationships more clear, helping people understand that all organisms are connected to each other. — Megan Gnekow

Prompt: Sequential Observations

There are so many great ways to use a nature journaling project to connect to your local habitat(s). One of my favorites is sequential observations — making notes and sketches about an organism you observe over time. Spring is a great time to do this because there are so many visible changes happening in our environments.

Choose an organism that you can observe regularly over a period of time (the period of shelter-in-place is a good place to start!). Observe the organism you have chosen as frequently as you are able to and make notes and sketches about what you observe. Note date, time, location (macro-habitat and micro-habitat). Use as many of your senses as you can and record what you learn!

Recording your observations over time gives you insights into an organism and the environment in which it lives. Hopefully this plants a seed for further observations and exploration. Don’t worry about making beautiful drawings. Just sketch and/or note what you observe! 

If you can’t get outside or have other limitations to observing organisms, there are plenty of webcams available to inspire you — I would suggest a bird camera hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the falcon cam at UC Berkeley.

Read more about Megan Gnekow here and visit her website here. Explore all of her illustrations from this peregrine falcon series here.

Natural Pigments

Sourgrass with bright yellow blooms
Sourgrass produces a bright yellow color

Experiment with creating art from nature! Many plants and rocks have pigments inside of them that you can paint or draw with. You can even go one step further and try making your own paint brush from found natural materials! 

How to find materials

Look in sidewalk cracks for leaves or flowers and look in dirt patches for different types of rocks. Look on bushes or trees for berries, flowers, and leaves. My favorite is oxalis, more commonly known as sourgrass (pictured to the right). It is a yellow flower that is common in Santa Cruz and makes a highlighter yellow color when used as natural paint. Bonus: this plant is invasive and is often considered a weed that you could completely remove.

A cluster of blueberries
Look in your kitchen for pigment materials!

On the other hand if you want to create art from nature but want to stay inside you can do that too! Some of your food can be used to paint and draw. For example, you can use colorful spices such as turmeric or paprika to create paint by mixing the powder with water. Beets, purple cabbage, and berries will also work – they often turn my cutting board different colors when I am chopping them! If you have a fireplace you can even use the small pieces of burnt wood that are left behind to draw with or you can grind it up and mix with water to create black paint. 

Collecting plants

  • Be respectful of the plants you collect
  • Only take what you need or take less than 10% of a plant (If there are 10 leaves on the plant, take only 1 and find other plants to pick from if you need more)
  • Collect with permission on private property and do not collect in State Parks
  • Stay away from harmful plants such as poison oak and stinging nettle

Creating Paint

  • Use your hands or a spoon to grind up the plants or rocks 
  • Try adding water or soaking items in warm water to soften them
  • Be patient, making your own paint is an experiment and it will often give you interesting surprises! See what happens if you add baking soda or vinegar- sometimes this will change the color of a paint!

Questions to ponder

  • What colors do you predict will be created from your items?
  • Did any of the colors surprise you? Why?
  • How did the colors change over time?
  • How did the colors change when you added different things (like baking soda or vinegar)?

Post by Elise

Solo Beach Cleanup

Beach cleanups are a way we can all enjoy the outdoors while serving our community. Whenever you’re walking along a beach, river, or other waterway, you can help keep it clean. While there’s a lot we can all do with reducing our own waste, cleanups can prevent some of it from going into our oceans. (As with all activities, remember to practice good social distancing!) Here’s what you need to know about conducting your own beach cleanup:

Four pictures: Natalie and her beach cleanup kit, a warning against picking up syringes and other sharps, an elephant seal resting on a dock, a pile of microplastic debris in the sand
  1. Never touch anything with your bare hands. Be sure you’re wearing gloves. As for me, I use gardening gloves. The best thing is that they are washable, so I can keep reusing them. I also recommend close toed shoes.
  2. I use a bucket instead of a plastic bag to reduce my waste. A reusable shopping bag is also effective. Here’s me with all of my beach cleanup regalia.
  3. Do not touch anything sharp or organic. If you find dead animals or waste (poop), just leave it. If you find a biohazard, like a syringe, do not pick it up. If you want, you can call the police and tell them exactly where the biohazard is located, but you are not obligated to.
  4. If you see any living wildlife, give it plenty of space and do not disturb it. Even if that elephant seal is sitting right on top of a piece of plastic, let it be. Also, remember that all Marine Mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Act.
  5. Both the city and the county of Santa Cruz have specific but different criteria for what constitutes trash or recycling. I highly recommend you take a look at those before you start your cleanup:
  6. Pay attention to microplastics, or plastics that are smaller than 5 mm. Microplastics are by far the majority of the plastics that make it into our oceans. Just like larger pieces of plastics, any microplastic that gets ingested can’t be digested. And that’s not just for ocean animals. It’s estimated that we humans eat about a credit card’s size worth of plastic every week. Learn more here! 
  7. Take data! This will help researchers implement policies to reduce plastic pollution worldwide. I recommend you either download the Save Our Shores Marine Debris App or use the Save Our Shores data card. If you use a data card, you can take a picture of it and send it to us at volunteer@santacruzmuseum.org.

And lastly, remember to have a good time. Take a moment to enjoy the waves and the fresh air. We are so lucky to live in a place with gorgeous forests, a healthy ocean, and, most of all, with wonderful people. Thank you so much for being part of our community, and we look forward to seeing you sometime at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

Post by: Natalie

Observing Clouds Activity

Learn about different types of clouds, recording daily observations of clouds on your cloud chart, making weather predictions, and an experiment to make your own cloud at home!

What are clouds?

Clouds are made up of water droplets or ice crystals that float in the sky. We can learn a lot about the weather by looking at clouds.

Types of Clouds 

Types of clouds, including contrails, cumulus, cumulonimbus, cirrocumulus, nimbostratus, altostratus, cirrostratus, stratocumulus, fog, cirrus, altocumulus, and stratus clouds

Go outside and observe the clouds. Based on the diagram above, which clouds do you see today? If there are no clouds in the sky think about why that might be. Identify your clouds using this NASA Cloud Chart (Guía de las Nubes en español), and learn more about each type of cloud here

Each day go outside and observe the clouds for one week and record your observations in this downloadable cloud chart. Make weather predictions based on what you have learned about different types of clouds. At the end of the week you can look back on your weather predictions and reflect on if they were correct or not. Use your data to see which clouds were most common during that week. 


Download and print this worksheet to aid in your observations — or make your own!

Guiding Questions for Cloud Observations

  • Are they high, middle, or low clouds?
  • What do they remind you of? Do you notice any familiar shapes in the clouds today?
  • Are the clouds blocking the sun or moon?

Optional: Pair this with our Weather Observation Activity

Try This: Make a Cloud in a Jar! 

Materials: a jar, water, lid, and hairspray. 
Kid-friendly instructions for making your own cloud: https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2015/03/make-cloud-jar-kitchen-science.html

Post by: Elise

Tree Canopy Activity | 4-5 grade

Learn how to explore the habitats around you by measuring tree canopy cover. This activity is adapted from the Museum’s Nature Rangers school program.

Download and print this worksheet to aid in your observations — or make your own!

Explore more resources about trees and plants in our Online Museum Store.

Post by: Natalie