Monthly Archives: March 2011

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!

Watercolor Tape Resist

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, painter’s tape; my original tape resist post is here, and another version is on Kidoinfo here

Over break, V wanted to make another tape resist, but we had no canvases. No problem! He used watercolor paper and liquid watercolors. The method is the same.

Apply the tape:

Paint. V chose the colors he wanted:

When the paint is dry, peel off the tape to reveal the finished piece:

Easy peasey, and very adaptable to what we had on hand. My boys seem fascinated with resist methods of all sorts, so I’ll be looking for more methods. If you have some ideas, please share them in the comments!

Art to Stamp: A Parent-Child Collaboration

Materials: Child’s original artwork; Speedball Speedy Carve block; linoleum cutting set (which I found at a craft store, so I could use a 55% off coupon!)

An alternate title to this post could be Mamas Need Inspiration, Too! I decided upon a focus for this blog–open-ended art experiences for kids–and because I try to stick to it, I really don’t share my own compulsion to make things. But I do make things, as often as I can. Often this is by knitting, since it’s easiest to fit around the edges of my mama gig; clearing out time and space to sew on the machine is much harder. I have a long list of projects and techniques I plan to tackle when I get a bit more time, and I fit what I can into the time I have. Recently, I ordered Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects, and I love love love it. I want to print on paper and fabric and, quite possibly, my children, if they stay still long enough.

Meanwhile, V had an assignment to create a “project representation” for his report on the explorer La Salle, and he chose to make a game. I started asking him some questions to help him to think about what he wanted, and then we went “shopping” in the craft area for supplies. Having just gotten the book and itching to try carving a stamp, I asked him what he was thinking of putting on the back of his question cards. (I know, most parents would be more concerned with the questions themselves; I’m thinking design.) Because, I said, we could make a stamp.

Really? he said.


He decided on a ship, so we found this picture of one of La Salle’s ships, I gave him a piece of paper roughly the size the finished stamp needed to be to fit on the cards, and he drew the ship. I told him it had to be relatively simple, with enough space between the lines for me to carve. (I found Speedy Carve blocks in the 4×6 size and just cut it down to size using a utility knife.)

Then, we darkened the lines of his drawing with pencil, flipped it face down onto the carving block, and I burnished the back with a bone folder, which transferred the pencil lines to the block. This ensures that the finished stamp will match the drawing and not be reversed.

His original drawing is at the top, the stamp in the middle, then the image produced by the stamp at the bottom. At first, carving the stamp was much harder than the book had led me to believe it would be, especially using linoleum tools on a soft block. Then I figured out how to use the tools properly, and it was a piece o’ cake–not that this stamp is particularly lovely to look at. It’s a bit hacked. But it is my first one.

Not only did he stamp all his question cards, he also decided to use the corner punch to round the edges. A boy after my own heart.

I don’t consider this helping with his project, really, since nobody expected him to carve a stamp anyway. If he didn’t have a mother who was a bit obsessed with making things, we’d have gone to the craft store and bought a generic stamp of a ship or a compass rose or something equally suitable. This way, though, he drew the ship himself–and it’s La Salle’s ship, even.

And I got to learn how to carve stamps!

Painting Stars

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors

After painting hearts and snowflakes, my two youngest naturally wanted to paint stars next, but on watercolor paper this time. I cut out the stars for them. A slight digression: N gets frustrated trying to draw stars. They’re hard! I agree with him. Then one night last week, as I opened one of his choices for before-bed stories, Eric Carle’s Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, this is what we saw on the endpaper:

Take a good look at those stars–click to make the picture larger if you need to. They’re not perfect, either. They’re lopsided and uneven and unique. I pointed out to N, These are stars created by an adult and a famous illustrator and artist. His stars aren’t perfect either! And thank goodness for that. See how they seem to dance along the page? They’re so vibrant. Try to picture uniform, perfect stars instead. Not the same at all, is it?

A second digression: Do you pay attention to the endpapers of the picture books? How about the illustrations? Most of the newer books even tell you how the illustrations were made–look on the title page, with the publishing information. I’m partial to watercolors and collage, myself. Currently I’m reading Flora’s Very Windy Day (over and over) and every time, I find myself admiring the illustrations (ink, watercolors, and pastels). I love the leaves. I also really like Jon J. Muth’s illustrations–he uses watercolors, too. And Leo Lionni, with the collage! I could go on and on.

Back to the stars. As per usual, I let the kids choose the colors of paint they wanted, and N chose primaries, so G did, too.

N was interested in blending the colors in specific ways. G made purple.

They’re hanging in the window now, with the hearts and snowflakes. I don’t see them coming down anytime soon, especially since we’ve still got the crepe paper streamers up from G’s birthday several months ago. (She likes them!) I’ll have to figure it out by the time it’s window-opening weather, though.


What children’s book(s) do you especially enjoy because of the illustrations?

Painting Like Monet

(Inspired by Monet, of course, and Linnea in Monet’s Garden.)

Materials: Watercolor paper, tempera cakes and/or liquid watercolors, brushes of various sizes

What with all our looking and reading and visiting, N was keen to try to paint with dabs, like the Impressionists. So we opened the Art Book for Children (Book One) to the picture of Monet’s Waterlily Pond to inspire us, set ourselves up with tempera cakes and paper, and got started.

There are various lesson plans online for teaching children how to paint like the Impressionists, but my admittedly quick look only found lessons that had a specific end point, and you may have figured out by now that that’s not often how we approach things in the studio! N wanted to experiment, and so he did, producing a picture with various elements, where he’d tried different things.

Later in the week, N decided to make another picture using dabs and splotches, this time using liquid watercolors.

Although we have a full set, I don’t put all the colors out at once; I ask the kids what colors they want to use. N almost always asks for red, blue, and yellow because, he says, “I like primary colors because I can make any color I want with them.” And so he did.

While he was working, he asked me why Monet’s bridge is so famous, anyway. “Because he painted it,” I said. I watched him turn that over in his mind and realize that an artist has the ability to make his subject famous simply through his own interest. Powerful, isn’t it?

N wanted to know if we could visit Giverny, and I explained that it’s in Europe, but if we ever get to France as a family, we’ll make sure to visit Monet’s Gardens, too. “But remember you want to go,” I told him, “because if you get to Europe someday on your own when you’re older, you should have a list of things you want to see while you’re there.”

When I visited Europe over 15 years ago, I didn’t have Giverny on my list. Hopefully I’ll get back with N, but if not, I bet he’ll send me postcards. Are there any art-related items on your list of places you hope to visit?