The Importance of Repetition

Most of the time G and I are in the studio during the day (when her brothers are in school), I don’t post about it. Why? Because she’s painting, nothing flashy, nothing complicated. But maybe, oh, four or five days a week–sometimes less, sometimes more–she asks to paint, and we do. Sometimes she paints on the easel with tempera paints, and, in fact, this is so common that I couldn’t find any recent pictures of her doing it.

We set up and clean up the easel together. I rip off the latest painting (I leave them there to dry until the next time she paints) and pull through a clean sheet of paper. She takes the covers off the paint cups, I hand her the paintbrushes, and she puts them in. She lets me know if she needs a refill on any of the colors. When she’s done, she hands me the paintbrushes, I rinse them off, and we put the covers back on.

Other days, she asks to paint at the table, usually with liquid watercolors. She lets me know what colors she needs that day, and I check if she wants watercolor paper or colored paper and if so, what color.

Sometimes I’m puttering about in the studio nearby, organizing or working on my own project in bits and pieces, but usually G and I talk about what she’s doing. She tells me if she needs more water or paint. If I talk about the painting itself, it’s to say something like, “Wow, look at that thick line you just made.” G will sometimes tell me what she’s painting, but this is fluid.

For a while, the painting above was a dog. Another day, she was painting a dinosaur: “Me make dinosaur. ROAR!” I don’t look for representational anything in her paintings. That’s not what a toddler is up to, and it’s not for adults to try to impose it. I thought this was fairly obvious advice when I read it in Susan Striker’s Young at Art (which has excellent advice on how, and how not, to talk to kids about their artwork), and then I observed a well-meaning adult attempt to pick out something identifiable in one of my children’s paintings, when his focus had been on mixing tints and shades and exploring what happened on the paper, not on painting any “thing” in particular.

(When G says she’s painting a dog or a dinosaur, she is trying on an idea, perhaps mimicking the way she’s heard her brothers talk. It’s much the same way a young child will mark up a piece of paper with a crayon and come to tell you what is on the note he’s written. Tomorrow, his note may say something completely different, and we don’t hold him to his original interpretation. In the same way, G is in charge of what she’s painting, or not painting, and tomorrow it may well be a picture of a mountain or a cat or a mango. The important bit is the act of painting itself.)

For a long time, G puddled all her paint on one section of the paper, but lately, she’s been very intent on covering every last bit of paper with the paint. The paper with thick lines eventually became this:

The painting that, for a while, was a dog eventually became this:

And as she’s explored the paint more and more, she’s been interested in what happens when she puts one color on top of another:

Books and blogs provide an irresistible menu of activities to do with kids, especially toddlers. I have a list in my head of open-ended, process-oriented activities that I’d like to make available to G. I haven’t gotten to most of them, and that’s okay. She paints almost every day, something I didn’t manage to do when either of her brothers, who are spaced closer together, were her age. (We did lots of interesting things, but we didn’t paint regularly. My resources were simply allocated differently.)

And as she does so, I can see her gaining the language of the paint, how it works, what she can do with it. I see how her grip on the paintbrush has changed and how she handles it with more and more control and precision, and I expect the physical act of writing, when it’s time, will not be too much of a challenge for her. I see her delight when she makes pink and the realization that it was the white and the red that did it. Over and over she asks to paint, and so that is what we do most. And it’s good!

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Repetition

  1. donna lee

    I love what you said about not trying to interpret children’s art for them. I always hated it when someone would look at one of the girls’ paintings and say what it was. It was almost never what they thought it was. G is gaining such a confidence with her materials. She is going to be an awesome craftwoman one day. She won’t be afraid to try anything which is such a gift.

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