OK, disclaimer, I do make money by renting carnival games, but honestly, there are very good reasons why you should stop killing yourself to make those cute DIY carnival games you see on Pinterest and just rent the stuff. Or buy it, even.
I’m a crafty person - I like to make stuff. I like to paint, and modge podge, and shop at Michaels, and just generally be creative without actually being talented. And as you can see from my blog, I occasionally post how-to instructions for DIY games, and I do spend a lot of time looking on Pinterest for ideas that I can implement here at Kidsmart. But if you are not a crafty person who truly enjoys moonlight modge-podging, there aren’t a lot of compelling reasons to put yourself through a DIY crash course for your school carnival or birthday party.
To save money? That’s probably where we all start. But let’s look at the facts. I’ll use my latest game, and true Pinterest Fail, as an example. I wanted to make a cool, themed ring toss that I could use in an eye-catching carnival booth. I had bought some really cute, white ceramic milk bottles a while back for a small ring toss, but wasn’t really using it and wanted to re-purpose them. So I came up with the idea to do a milk bottle ring toss - lots and lots of milk bottles in crates, with a cow theme. I had it all pictured in my head and it was going to look super cute. It was going to be all white, with a cow print.
Except I couldn’t find more ceramic milk bottles. And then I couldn’t even find white milk bottles. But Pinterest was full of painted bottles that looked great. So I figured I’d just take some clear milk bottles from the craft store and paint them. Easy peasy. I have never painted bottles, but I saw Youtube videos and lots of Pins where it looked simple enough. Just pour the paint in, swirl it around, and then you have a beautiful bottle painted from the inside.
So….step 1. Pour paint into bottles and swirl around until coverage is complete. One person said to mix the paint with a little water. But no one said WHAT paint to use. House, chalk, milk, acrylic, oil? So I used what I had; General Finishes Milk Paint - which is not real milk paint, but looks like it, and is my go-to paint for everything. I tried it by itself and poured some into a bottle. I swirled it around…or not. It didn’t swirl at all. Just slowly dripped and then just stuck. Too thick.
So I mixed in some water. Now it swirled better, but not great. It took 10 minutes to get it over most of one small bottle. So I added more water, against my better judgment, but it did swirl better. I coated several bottles. It was requiring a LOT of paint to cover the bottles, because even with water the paint was thick. And GF is not cheap, so I wasn’t too thrilled about using nearly a whole pint of it on just a few bottles.
So I put the bottles aside to dry, wanting to see how they looked dry before investing more time and paint.
So far so good....
Next morning was not pretty. The paint had dried and crusted around the edges of the bottle and peeled away in big chunks from the insides. The left over paint had slowly settled to the bottom of the bottles overnight, and when I moved them it all pulled away from the bottom in one crusted mess. I had crusty, splotchy bottles. (Just to be clear, I am not dissing General Finishes. I LOVE General Finishes. It doesn't go inside a milk bottle.)
So I tried again - I used the same bottles and just added more paint and less water, hoping it would stick to the areas that were now bare. I painstakingly scraped away the crusted mess from the tops of the bottles. Then I covered the outsides and tops and about an inch down into the bottle with painter’s tape. It was not fun.
The next morning the bottles were slightly better, but still had some splotches and still had caked half-dry gobs of paint on the bottom that wouldn’t come out but also wouldn’t dry anytime soon. The painter’s tape hadn’t helped except to keep the paint off the outsides of the bottles. The insides were still a mess.
So I swirled again - this time I tried some special glass paint - and left them for another night - this time turning the bottles upside down on napkins so that the paint would drip out instead of down.
Next morning I had most of the blotches gone (but not all), but the tops of the bottles were still crusted messes. Again I scraped them clean. I had to scrape down about an inch of the bottle neck, because the jars had wide tops and the dried paint looked gobby and crusty and I didn’t want it to show.
I had four bottles that looked passable, and another twelve to go. I had used an entire pint of GF and two bottles of glass paint, and neither had worked very well. And I didn’t want to waste any more expensive paint. So I went to the craft store and bought the largest, cheapest bottle of acrylic paint I could get, and tried some more swirling.
It was magical. The cheap paint was thin enough to swirl easily and then pour back out. I let it dry upside down, and it didn’t get crusty at the top at all. I didn’t even need the whole bottle of it, and finished the milk bottles in very little time. They looked just as good the next day - no blotches, no crusting. Easy peasy. AFTER three full days of swirling, scraping, and cursing, and a pint of GF Milk Paint ($22.00), two bottles of glass paint ($12.00) and half a bottle of the cheapest craft paint at A.C. Moore ($4.00).
Now add in the cost of supplies to make the game - ceramic milk bottles - $16.00, glass milk bottles - $32.00, crates - $50.00, and the total cost of this game was three days of hell and $144.00 + tax.
Sure, if I’d done it right the first time I would have saved myself 2 days and $42.00, but I’ve done a lot of DIY in my life, and I almost never get it right the first time. There always seems to be some crucial piece of information missing from those beautiful DIY blogs. And don’t even get me started on trying to take a good picture! That’s a whole other blog post.
So while this DIY ring toss is one of the easiest things you can make for a carnival, easy is relative. If you have the experience and equipment to do it right the first time, this entire game costs about $100.00 and about one day. (Or you can rent it for $45.00.)
For those who really want to make it, here are the instructions for painting milk jars with, I hope, no crucial pieces of information missing:
1. Get a big container of some cheap acrylic paint from the craft store. I used Nicole’s brand.
2. The painter's tape is optional - it didn’t really do anything, except to keep the outsides of the twist tops cleaner.
3. Don’t add water to the paint. Pour the paint into the bottle and swirl it around. If it doesn’t swirl pretty easily, try adding water at your own risk. You might need cheaper paint.
5. After coating the whole inside of the bottle with the paint, turn the bottle upside down in a plastic cup and leave it to dry.
6. When the bottle is mostly dry (about 30 minutes), check it and make sure there is no crusting happening around the rim. You can wipe any excess paint off the rim pretty easily at that point because it isn’t totally dry.
7. You’re done. Unless I left out something critical, in which case, try again or…. check out Cowabunga on our games page! Only $45.00 a day, and no painting, cursing, or scraping involved.