Arts & Culture

Shrinky Dinks becomes a serious art medium. Who knew?

The first time artist Heather Bauer played with Shrinky Dinks, a craft toy popular in the 1970s, she was a kid.

“I loved them,” she says. “You watched them bake and it was cool.”

Now, adult Heather is playing with Shrinky Dinks technology again — this time as a professional artist.

“It’s addicting,” she says. “I’ve started working with it more and more.”

Several Treasure Valley artists feel that way after Surel’s Place executive director Rebecca Mitchell Kelada decided to hold a Shrinky Dinks art auction as a fundraiser. “The Greatest Shrinky Dinks Show and Auction on Earth” will happen this weekend at Surel’s Place, the former home of artist Surel Mitchell, who died in 2011. Mitchell’s daughter transformed her live-work artist studio and home into an artist residency where people from across the country come to create art, music, dance, literature and other artworks.

Kelada got the idea for the whimsical event when she lived in Seattle and frequented Cafe Zeitgeist, which had a Shrinky Dinks gallery.

You’ll find Surel’s Place transformed into a fantastical carnival by scenic designer Michael Baltzell. On May 8, the adults-only preview party will include bawdy burlesque and aerial performers, beer from Payette and Crooked Fence breweries and wine from Cinder Wines. May 9 will offer magic and puppet shows, circus food and carnival games for kids of all ages.

Kelada contacted the Shrinky Dinks company and it donated 500 sheets of blank Shrinky Dinks paper.

In 1973, two Cub Scout troop moms discovered that they could make ornaments out of plastic cup lids by coloring them and heating them in the oven. The lids shrank and became a hard plastic. The kids went nuts and Shrinky Dinks were born. Their discovery turned into a cultural phenomenon, as kids colored in the precut designs and baked them into toys, jewelry and other items. Several years ago, the company started making blank sheets of the plastic paper, opening up a door for artists to be inventive. You’ll see a huge variety of work — from sculpture to paintings to wearable art — at Surel’s Place.

“It’s kitschy, it’s cool and in the hands of the right person, you get amazing results,” Kelada says. “And it’s a fun way to showcase creativity. I want people to know that Surel’s Place is a serious arts organization, but we also have a sense of humor.”

Many of the area’s best-known artists — all friends of Mitchell’s — jumped at the chance to experiment with something different. They threw Shrinky Dinks parties to figure out how to stretch what the medium can do. You can use a variety of pens, pencils and paints on the rough side of the plastic paper. You can play with heat and manipulate its shape and texture. The other side is smooth and shiny. That’s what gives the end product its glass-like quality.

“What’s so cool is that when you bake it, the line quality is enhanced, the colors are more saturated and the process improves the image,” Bauer says. “You’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh! That’s amazing.’ ”

Boise fiber artist Betty Hayzlett started working with Shrinky Dinks for this show. It’s now taking her other artistic pursuits in a new direction.

“It was a real change for me,” Hayzlett says. “I’d totally forgotten about Shrinky Dinks and I didn’t really know them from before. The first time I sat down with them, I went with shape, flow and patterns. It came out with such a different vibrancy than I usually have in my work. I think it’s going to become a real influence.”