Monthly Archives: January 2011

Field Trip: Newport Art Museum

Recently, two exhibits opened at the Newport Art Museum that I really wanted to see, so on a cold Sunday afternoon, we went to visit.

It being a weekend, my husband could come along with us, which certainly helps in the toddler department. For those of you who wonder how to get kids interested in visiting art museums, I have no big secrets. My oldest didn’t want to go and, at first, decided he’d sit on a bench and read his book, thank you very much. He was drawn in in spite of himself.

The first exhibit was Collage Paintings by William Klenk. (I couldn’t find an artist site for him, just his bio on the URI website.) I find collage really exciting because of the possibilities. Incorporating so many bits of found material in so many ways–just fabulously inspiring to me, and I wanted the boys to see the possibilities of collage.

My six-year-old wanted to know how the artist might have cut out the pieces he used, since they were so exact. (My guess is an x-acto knife or other blade of some sort.) Looking very closely, it was possible to discern the order in which pieces were applied to the canvas. For instance, on the collage pictured on the museum’s website, you could see the outline of the red snake under the picture of George Washington. How exciting to get a glimpse into the process of creating the art.

Many collages featured a sort of striping with acrylic.

We talked about how much planning would have gone into these works, so that the layers were exactly as the artist desired. We also identified, pretty early on, motifs that appeared again and again: birds, boats, fish, balls, butterflies–we found them throughout the gallery. It became like a treasure hunt: Look! Another butterfly! Three in just this one collage! G enjoyed pointing out all the fish. We looked at the collages from a distance and noticed how some images seemed to float in front of the background more when viewed from farther away. You notice different things with a longer view.

I can’t wait to collage with the boys!

The second exhibit we went to see was Artist Books and Etchings by Marian O’Connell. I would be very happy in a life that involved making handmade books all day. I began to try some here and there and then had G, but I plan to get back to it, and this exhibit, too, was very inspiring. As I wandered around the small gallery I marveled at all the hours of work that was surely represented there. Just making a simple bound book used to take me enough time that I haven’t even attempted it since G was born. Time like that, I can’t foresee having anytime soon.

Isn’t that gorgeous? And it wasn’t the most impressive piece there–I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. As I looked more closely at a book containing snow-related images, I surmised that the artists’ children are all grown, and when I went to her website, I realized her youngest is about my age. This is also inspiring–I’ve always felt that it was okay to fit my own creative needs into the corners of my life, around my children, while they’re young, because there would be an opening later on. And look, here’s Ms. O’Connell’s example!

The boys, meanwhile, also really liked the books. We share a fascination with blank books and manipulating paper–perhaps it’s genetic? The etchings from the books were also displayed on the walls, which was nice, because it can be hard to see all the artwork in a book you can’t touch.

After visiting those two exhibits, we walked through the rest of the galleries. We probably spent between an hour and an hour and a half altogether, which is just about right with three kids including a toddler. Enough time to enjoy the museum, and not so much time that it becomes overwhelming. This was my first visit to this museum, but I suspect we’ll be back for future exhibits.

Tape Drawing

Materials: Paper, colored tape

G has been enjoying her tape so much (and so often!), but she was willing to share it. So on a recent snow day I asked the boys if they’d like to do some tape drawings.

“How can you draw with tape?” they asked when I mentioned the idea. “The tape is the line,” I told them, “instead of a crayon or a marker… you use the tape.” N wanted to know how to make a circle with tape, because it’s straight, so I sketched a curve made up of short straight lines. “Ohhhhh….”

I threw out some ideas. “You could draw a landscape or an animal or a building or a scene in outer space or an ocean scene…” For close to an hour and a half they worked. At the beginning, my oldest went to get a pencil and began sketching out shapes. “No,” I said, “put that pencil away.” (He looked affronted.) I explained that the tape was the line, that we weren’t using it to fill in a drawing, we were using it to make [eta: and then fill in!] the drawing. And at the end, I complimented him on the way he stepped out of his comfort zone and got used to a new material. Drawing with tape presents some different challenges, and we had to accept that it wasn’t going to look just like a line drawing, because it’s not.

My oldest received a DVD set of Looney Tunes cartoons for Christmas, and the boys recently saw Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century. A little bit of obsession with Planet X has ensued, and both boys asked for black paper so they could create outer space scenes.

At some point they requested clear tape, too, which accounts for the shiny bits.

An hour and a half. Interested, engaged, involved, and creating.

And yes, I tried this activity too.

I think I am tired of snow…

Squirty Paint!

G has painted snow a few more times, and since she enjoys squeezing those bottles so much I asked if she’d like to squirt some paint inside, too. Oh yes, she definitely wanted to!

Materials: Squirt bottles, tempera paint (it’s slightly watered down), watercolor paper (you definitely need a paper with some heft here); I have the paper on some cardboard, but you could put the whole thing in a plastic bin, too, if you were really concerned about splatter.

She asked for green and purple paint. Those are the colors she requested to paint snow earlier that day, too. I guess she had a theme going!

Once she had big puddles of paint on the paper, I asked her (inspired by this article) if she’d like to run a car through the paint. Can you see the sly delighted smile on her face? I don’t think she was sure I meant it at first.

Don’t those streaks look really cool? We still had so much paint on that paper I asked her if she’d like to make a print on another piece of paper, like we did with the plastic box. It was really fun to watch the paint spoosh out the edge as we pressed on the paper.

You really need a close-up of the veiny effect we ended up with:

When she was done, she asked to paint at her easel. I was rinsing out the empty bottles and washing the Lego car and I could hear her chanting, “Up and down, up and down.” And this is what she’d painted:

Up and down!

Storing Artwork

My sister asked me this week, “What do you do with all the artwork? Because you do a lot more than we do, and I already don’t know what to do with it all.” Fair question, and one I don’t have a perfect answer to, but it’s worth discussing.

I have a big portfolio envelope for each of my children (two now for my oldest). You can find these at art supply stores but also at craft stores, including the ones that have weekly 40% off coupons–which is helpful if you’re going to be buying for more than one child.

I try to label the back of the piece with the child’s name and the date the artwork was done (usually just the month and year) before it goes into the envelope, but that hasn’t always happened. I noticed there’s a couple-year period there after my second was born during which very little got labeled, but I’m impressed, in retrospect, that anyone was doing any artwork at all and I managed to save any of it.

So, what goes into the envelope? I lean towards the sentimental when it comes to my children, so I put quite a bit in there. It’s easier to start with what doesn’t go in there. The seemingly millions of crayon creations on computer paper do not always find their way in there. Many of those go into the boys’ “special paper” boxes, which also helps with their own decision making. (Sort of. They’re both pack rats.) My six-year-old has his own pads of drawing paper, which helps keep the drawings in one spot for him. He can sit and draw in his room for hours, and these are his notebooks. The piles of paper that build up at the play table often get recycled once they’re filled front and back with crayon by my toddler.

When I Googled this topic to see what others had written (I include links at the end of this post), I was amused how so many mentioned the endless stream of artwork that comes home from school. We don’t have this issue. I don’t know what happens to the projects my kids do in art class–I don’t see much of it. (Yup, this bugs me.) My first-grader’s teacher makes a good effort to include art in the daily classroom, and those pieces come home, often folded, and often with his name written by somebody else on the front. This pains me. WE DO NOT FOLD A CHILD’S ARTWORK. WE DO NOT WRITE ON IT. (Don’t even get me started on CUTTING it.)

When a larger piece comes home from school, the first thing I’m usually doing is putting it under some heavy books to try and get out the fold line. Then I often pin it up on the big bulletin board in the kitchen for display, and after a while I rotate those, with the older pieces going into the envelope.

If my older son is any guide, the art work coming home from school is going to decrease sharply when my first grader goes to second grade.

We also have artwork from the art classes my six-year-old has taken. Many of these have been framed and are hanging in his room.

Those are not the only pieces of child art that are framed and hanging in my house. For years this frame (which is an inexpensive box frame) held a construction paper collage tree my oldest had made as a toddler/preschooler. When he brought home this painting in second grade, I replaced it.

(There’s more, but I’m guessing  you don’t need to see all their framed work…)

The three-dimensional pieces are a bit harder to store. My oldest took pottery classes through a local town’s recreation department for quite a while. He started at age five, so we have quite a variety in quality and usability. I have many pieces out, and I have many many more packed into several boxes in my closet.

I suggested he could give some to relatives as Christmas or Mother’s Day presents, but he didn’t really like that idea. My children are quite willing to give away the crafts they make (as long as we make one of whatever it is for ourselves, too), but they are extremely resistant to giving away their artwork.

As for the pieces we create at home, often I hang those up on the studio wall to serve as reminders of what we’ve done and what we can do, as well as inspiration. Actually, it’s about time I clear some into the portfolio envelopes to make some more room on the walls. I also hang some pieces up on the bulletin board in the kitchen (you might recognize some of our projects in that photo of the bulletin board up there!). I admit to keeping every single easel painting G has done so far. (I have her brothers’ too! Including a series N did when he was about four or five, exploring tints and shades of various colors.)

I’m not sure what I’ll eventually do with all the pieces in the envelopes. When I organized them recently (with an eye towards neatening so I could start filing new pieces away, not with an eye towards winnowing), my oldest was delighted to see the things he’d made when he was his sister’s age, as well as pieces he remembered creating.

“You’re not the type of mother,” he said, “who would just recycle stuff like this.”

Nope. I’m sure at one point we might need to talk about culling the collection, but we’re not there yet. I sort of see myself as the curator of my children’s childhoods. What they choose to do with it later on is up to them.


Here are some articles I found that talk about this topic (although they don’t necessarily all match my own philosophy):

Storing Children’s Artwork on The Savvy Source
Sorting and Storing Your Child’s Artwork on Real Simple
What to Do With All This Artwork? on Ask Kiddio

Have you found a solution that works for you? Please share in the comments!

Scribble Resist

Materials: Oil pastels (we really like Crayola), although regular wax crayons should also work; liquid watercolors; paper (we started with Artagain, but watercolor paper worked a little better)

When is the last time you scribbled? (Adults, I’m talking to you here!) It’s fun. It’s very freeing and physical. We don’t say, “It’s just a scribble” here. That makes “scribble” sound like an insult, doesn’t it? We also don’t leave scribbling to the toddler. You could do all sorts of fancy projects with the pastel (or crayon) and watercolor resist method. Or you could just scribble and paint, line and color, watching how cool it is when the watercolor slides off the colored lines.

(Mine above, G’s on the bottom.)

The method couldn’t be simpler. Draw. Paint. That’s it.

(V’s, age nine. First one on top, second on the bottom.)

What happens when you use the same color paint as pastel? Let’s try it out! You like how your brother painted stripes? Give it a try!

(N’s, age six. First one on top, second one, inspired by his brother’s stripes, on the bottom.)

Scribble. Paint. Why leave all the fun to the toddlers?

Paint Prints

(Inspired by this post at Littlest Birds Studio.)

Materials: Acrylic box (the kind you get with a box frame), tempera paint, cotton swab (or something else that will make marks in the paint–I bet older kids could come up with all sorts of ideas), paper that’s larger than the box

G’s favorite thing to do is paint at her easel, and any time we’re in the studio, she fits in some painting time. The other day, before she painted at the easel, I convinced her to try something new.

I explained that she was going to paint on the clear plastic and then we’d press the paper on top before peeling it off to see what the paper looked like. I asked her what color she’d like, and she asked for black. “Any other color with your black?” Nope, just black.

“Polka dots,” she said as she jabbed the brush onto the plastic.

The next step is to make some marks in the paint with the cotton swab.

Then we lay a piece of paper over the top of the paint and G helped me smooth it down. I have no photos of this process because I was busy! When we peeled the paper off, we had a print:

How cool is that? After three prints,

G was ready to paint on her easel. She requested I draw the smiley face, by the way. Smiles! Painting is so much fun!

Shadow Drawings

(Inspired by my first assignment in intro to design in college.)

Materials: Paper, pencil, objects that your kids think might cast interesting shadows, desk lamp

The idea here is to use objects to cast a shadow on  your paper, then trace that shadow in order to fill the paper with an interesting design.

Colanders make very interesting shadows. Shortly after he began working, V, age nine, observed, “Depending on different perspectives of shadow, some things appear bigger and some appear smaller.”

I showed the boys my series of assignments from 1997 (I even knew right where to find them! crazy, I know), but that didn’t necessarily help them envision the process. My six-year-old got very frustrated at first. Instead of adjusting the lamp and object to cast a strong shadow to trace, he instead held up the object and drew what he thought the shadow should look like rather than the shadow itself.

So we stepped back a bit and I demonstrated by positioning an object–in this case one of the structures I built with wood shapes the other day–so that its shadow was clearly cast on the paper. I pointed out how the shadow didn’t look anything like what I’d expect, given the shape of the object, and then I traced it. I moved the paper and the object and traced again, and again, and again.

So sorry that photo is hard to see–but you get the idea that eventually, the paper is filled with abstract lines and shapes. After I did this, and we switched to smaller paper, N had an easier time and quite liked the process.

N’s is to the left, V’s to the right. When we were done, N and I began to add some color to our designs. With all those shapes, that’s quite a long process, and as I type, he’s not done yet, but mine is below, to give you an idea of it all.

I think we’ll revisit this activity, now that the boys have had a first attempt at it. I remember my very first attempt was terrible, a clump of shapes in the middle of the paper, but after a while, something clicked and I began to see how shape and line worked across the space.

It’s a very freeing activity, in a way, because part of it is clearly defined–you’re not coming up with something out of your head, you’re using the shadows you see right in front of you. And yet depending upon the object, whether you repeat one object or mix objects, and how you move the lamp and paper, the possibilities are endless.

Paint Snow

Thoroughly uninterested in her brothers’ snowball fight, yesterday my toddler requested to “paint snow.” She knows a canvas when she sees one.

Materials: Water, food coloring, squirt bottles–and, of course, snow, which Mother Nature provided in, er, excess (if you ask me!)

By the time the two bottles were empty, she was ready to go inside, where it was warmer and snow doesn’t blow in your face. (Also, lucky thing she’s light. When I sunk into the snow it was about up to my knees in places!)

More of our snow day activities in the next post…

Wood + Glue + Paper + Wire

(Partially inspired by this post at Acorn Pies.)

Materials: Wooden shapes (found at the craft store), Tacky Glue (for the wood), paper scraps, wire, Mod Podge (for the paper scraps), acrylic paint (turns out we needed some of that, too!)

Presented with a variety of materials, what shall we do?

Make sure to tell the kids to hold the pieces together for a minute or two after applying glue. The tacky glue holds the wood together surprisingly well.

We can string shapes on wire. Some of them have holes that go all the way through.

G asked for her pink paper, black paint, and a “wheel” with which to move the paint around. She also built some sculptures with wood, glue, and paper, below.

V, age nine, built a few structures and then connected two of them with wire.

N’s structures:

He also wanted to make a necklace, and he wanted to paint the pieces first. I rigged up each “bead” on a piece of wire so he could easily paint all the sides:

Then I hung the beads, still on their wires, on the laundry room clothesline until they dried. The finished necklace:

Given a variety of materials–enough to be interesting, but not so much as to be overwhelming–what might you and your kids come up with?

New Additions to the Studio

Just one major one, really: a chalkboard.

Eventually that wall is going to be orange, like the rest of the walls, and there will be a full frame around the blackboard, and it and the ledge at the bottom will be painted purple. We also need to tilt the ledge a bit, because the chalk rolls off. (We made due with what we found in the edging section at Home Depot.)

To be honest, it’s making a heck of a mess at the moment, but it’s in the studio, so it’s not really a big deal. I scooped G up and set her on the step stool to wash the chalk off her hands (and face!), and later I noticed little chalky footprints on the step stool. Made me smile.

And a little addition… pink paper. Card stock, really.

The other day I was picking up some sewing notions and G declared that she needed some pink paper. The closest we could find was a package of card stock that included pink. G held onto that package of pink card stock in the car and told me when we got home, we needed to bring the pink paper downstairs and she would stick tape onto it. She had a plan, she had a clear need and desire, and she felt strongly about it. And she was pleased with her creation, so pleased she brought it upstairs and put it on the play table and kept it nearby.

She’s right, too. Our studio was lacking in pink paper. This was an easy request to say yes to. I try to say YES as often as I can. This is fairly easy with a toddler, given the attention span. I know when she asks to paint, she’ll be painting for, usually, fewer than fifteen minutes. I can set her up in the time it takes me to switch a load of laundry.

Art activities, especially at this age, do not have to be Big Productions–this can seem overwhelming to the adult, and halt a lot of exploration before it can get started. In our house, we have crayons and colored pencils easily accessible upstairs as well as downstairs. Down in the art studio, G knows that oil pastels, pencils, tape, and paint are all readily available. The easel has paint cups set up; I just need to pull down a fresh sheet of paper and gather the paintbrushes while she takes off the paint covers. She likes to put the brushes in the paint cups herself. When she’s done, she can cover the paint back up while I rinse the brushes.

If at all possible, if space at all permits, it’s worth it to have a corner where some basic supplies are handy and accessible. It makes it so much easier to say YES.