For many years I gave an assignment to my 3D students that involved using found and available materials to create a place setting for a famous person. I had them select an artist, hero, literary character or historic figure and then design a place setting for that person who be a guest at dinner.
This was a take home exam and since art supplies were not in every home it was imperative to be creative with what was available. The key was not to spend money. Sometimes the offerings determined who was coming to dinner, sometimes the selected guest provided guidance for what to look for.
One example was Popeye- the place mat was two pieces of contact paper enclosing wavy strips of blue paper cut from magazines to simulate the sea with rows of beach sand in between. Around the edge was nautical rope with sailor knots in the corners. A plastic plate was decorated to look like a porthole and the drinking cup was a tin can with the lid bent up with a spinach label still attached. The fork was made from wire to look like an anchor. Let us not forget the corn cob pipe. The student dried a real corn cob, cut it to shape and then stuck a straw in the end, Voila’ or should I say Ahoy’, the spoon. A piece of fish netting was folded across the plate as a napkin. On the plate there were tangles of green yarn (spinach), little round green beads (Swea’Pea’s) and next to it a small cruet with the label Olive Oyl. The name card was 3D, folded and painted to look like an old scrub of a boat. It read simply, ”I Yam what I Yam”. Clearly it was a place setting for visual effect and not necessarily for practical use.
I was reminded of this lesson, because I have been invited by not one, but two organizations to create a table scape of my book Nature’s Royal Tea Party. One event, The Fairy Tale Ball, is a fund-raiser for the Connecticut Children’s Museum in Niantic to be held at the Sonalists studios in Waterford. The other is a Children’s Tea to honor the 10th Anniversary of the Tassy Walden Awards for children’s literature sponsored by the Shoreline Arts Alliance. This will be the ultimate in creating a design for more than one character and for a table that people will actually sit down and eat at. I will be including my students in this undertaking. I trust their instincts although I dare say we will not be using tin cans for drinking glasses. Admittedly, I am excited about this process, which includes sketching out a plan that has flexibility and can be set up quickly. I’ll be documenting the process and sharing more as I go along.
Your challenge is to make your dining a visual experience. Whether it be a special occasion or any other day. It may simply be garnishing your plate for aesthetic appeal. One of my friends, a master chef, also became a potter for the singular purpose of creating dishes that would go with the vision of specific meals he prepared . You need not go to that extreme, but you can go to your own extreme. Make a list of ways you can make a meal visually fun and see how your creativity expands and grows. Step outside the box of the usual. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, what does your table say about gratitude? Those of us in the North might find the first snowfall to be inspiration. If you’re hooked on a TV show and gather with friends each week to watch, how can the snack table be inspired by the theme or characters for the show? I also have a theory, that if we spend time on the visual appeal of our meals, we might also be inspired to improve the quality of the foods we choose. Just a thought.