Aaron Sikes has been digging about in the garbage for years — in fact, since he was a child, when his parents taught him of the wondrous things that can be created from such an endeavor.
“Growing up, my sister and I had some great costumes because Mom and Dad made time to invent and create for our enjoyment,” he said recently, when discussing the genesis of his children’s book “The Obtainium Fairies.” “They used whatever was at hand instead of buying something new, so I grew up not only with art and creativity all around me, but also parents who encouraged an appreciation for recycling, reusing, and making what we needed or fixing things before spending money on something new.”
“The Obtainium Fairies” is a children’s book that Sikes has written to share the experience of his childhood, where parents and kids invented their own fun together using obtainium (whatever they could find or had at hand).
“ ‘The Obtainium Fairies’ is a tribute to creative play, with parents and children working together to enjoy childhood now and encourage children to care for the future,” he said, recalling how he, his wife Belinda, and twin 3-year-old daughters Margaret and Charlotte have had some of their most delightful moments digging together in the trash, then making something together from their finds.
In “The Obtainium Fairies,” a girl’s favorite book goes missing and she finds a fairy shadow on the bookshelf instead. The girl, her twin sister, and their father go on an adventure to the land of Obtainia, where they meet the Obtainium Fairies and learn how to invent their own fun with reused found objects.
“The Obtainium Fairies” were born when Sikes needed a clever way to encourage his daughters to put their toys and books away, and figured what better way to do it than to make it a game the whole family could play. He made silhouettes of fairies from patterns his father used to make the fairies he would hide around the garden for Aaron and his sister as children. Aaron’s fairy silhouettes show up in place of a picture or a mirror for his twins to discover, but they also entice his kids to keep the house clean.
“Now and then the Obtainium Fairies visit our house and make off with a toy or book, so together we make sure the toys and books are all put away before the girls go to bed,” he said with a laugh.
For parents who want to tap into that creative part of themselves, Sikes reminds them that it is easier — and closer — than they think.
“Part of being creative is just letting yourself do things differently. If a child is asking for fun, for playtime of some kind, the creative approach is to explore possibility rather than turn on the television or a video game,” he said. “It’s letting the child’s request for playtime attention take priority and letting yourself be a kid again.
“Sit in a cardboard box and sail the Seven Seas across the front-room carpet. Just watch out for the pirates.”
Sikes is excited about how creative play between parents and children can combine with instilling a sense of responsibility for the planet.
“The freedom to engage in creative expression in childhood helps us develop problem-solving skills and perseverance, and that can help us learn how to use or fix something instead of throwing it away,” he said. “We as a global society need to encourage the younger generations toward reusing and repurposing.”
Sikes is in the process of getting his book published, using an innovative approach called Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform for creative projects. Since the website’s launch in 2009, more than $350 million has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people, funding 30,000-plus creative projects.
Each project is independently crafted by the person behind it, then launched on the website with their project’s funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen.
To check out “The Obtainium Fairies” Kickstarter website, go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/1923212044/the-obtainium-fairies-a-steampunk-childrens-story?ref=home_location.
Sikes loves living in Davis, a community full of obtainium miners.
“Gleaning and Dumpster diving is a time-honored tradition in this town,” he said. “All you have to do is look around on graduation weekend in June, and then again around Labor Day, to know that is true. You’ll see us out there with our trucks, trailers and bike baskets full to the absolute brim.”
For those who aren’t yet obtainium miners but want to be, Sikes advises looking at things in a new way. That is what he did recently when he noticed construction crews doing a renovation at an apartment complex near Peregrine Nursery School, which his kids attend. For months, the workers dumped old redwood in a trash trailer.
“I pulled out easily $500 worth of 2×12 redwood planks, all covered in old paint and with dry rot down one edge,” he explained. “A few passes through my planer and a rip along my table saw and I had the makings of two 5-foot-long garden benches for Peregrine School.”
The process with the redwood benches will be the subject of a photo-essay type of book, which will be for sale on Amazon.com, most likely next spring. All proceeds from sales of that book will go to benefit Peregrine School.
“Somebody saw trash. I saw benches and a way to maybe make some money for the school,” Sikes said. “That’s the real beauty of obtainium.”