Category Archives: color

Reading, Doing, Making, not Blogging

I’ve sort of neglected this space this month. Partly it’s that I’ve been reading and researching, trying things out, making things (more talismans, mainly), preparing and teaching, and by the time I get to the end of the day I never get around to sharing. Partly it’s the January-almost-February doldrums…despite what I’ve just listed, most days it feels like I haven’t actually accomplished anything, or finished anything. This feeling is, I’m sure, exacerbated by the continuing limbo of not having sold our house yet. There are some things I’d like to plan and such and they really do need to wait until we are where we’re going to be. Doldrum-y limbo, that’s uncertainty in January all right.

Anyway, some photos of some things, in reverse order of occurrence.

watercolor and ink mandala at

A mandala, completed this week, first doodled in ink and then colored with watercolor. A very soothing thing to do.

Last weekend I decided my earrings needed to be out of crowded jewelry box and somewhere I could see them. After finding this on Pinterest, I decided to keep my decorative metal sheet whole and hang it on the wall as is. My earrings would never fit in an 8×10 frame.

earring holder at

I might still space them out a bit–I have the room. I also have room to add more. Let me tell you about me and earrings–before I had kids, I wore earrings every day. I really liked them, and while I never wore overmuch makeup or jewelry, earrings were a part of my outfit. Then I had kids and years and years of small people understandably attracted to shiny dangling things, perched on my hip within grabbing distance, so I stopped wearing them. So many years of this that I thought my holes had closed up. But no! A couple of years ago I decided to reclaim my earrings and even buy more. It’s a small way of getting back to that pre-mother Amy and I enjoy them. My kids do, too, because, as my daughter said, when they’re not sure what to get me for Mother’s Day or my birthday, they can always pick out earrings. My mother-in-law has given me some gorgeous pairs as well. Liking earrings makes it easy on gift-givers! It’s a win-win.

On to teaching… I’d love to have a studio/classroom space of my own one day where I could offer classes. At our last class (we didn’t have one this week because Monday was not a school day), we talked about different types of line and Piet Mondrian. When I showed a Mondrian and asked what sort of feeling it gave them, one girl said “quiet.” Yes, I feel that way about his paintings too. The orderly frame of lines, the limited palette–soothing. Then we made tape-resist paintings using primaries and black (ie, Mondrian’s palette). I showed them several examples of tape-resist paintings. One I’d done as “inspired by” Mondrian. Another, my son had used the tape as roads on a map. Another showed an abstract design made by the tape. I told them they could be inspired by Mondrian but they could also do their own thing entirely, because it’s their project. I’m very clear on this: I’m not out for cookie-cutter projects. And they all had ideas. One boy wanted to recreate the Union Jack, so he got an atlas to consult, used the tape to form the lines, painted blue, then filled in the tape lines (after peeling) with red. Another girl placed four pieces of tape vertically, painted the whole paper black, and ended up with a striking and minimalist black and white painting. I am always impressed with kids’ ideas, always.

These are my kids’ paintings, which I can share here. G was Mondrian inspired but in many directions.

tape-resist in Mondrian's palette at

N did his the next day, since he’s on duty as a helper (and an excellent one) during class time.

tape resist using Mondrian's palette at

He painted white on white, too, which might be observable if you click right on the photo–I’m not sure. It’s quite an effect in person.

So, that’s more or less what I’ve been up to. I run when I can to try to combat the irritability that seems to be cropping up (see: doldrum-y limbo). I’m reading books on all sorts of topics for the next issue. I’m getting ready for a quick scouting trip down to Maryland. I’m driving kids to school and appointments and activities and feeding them all the time. You know. The usual.

Postcard Idea: Color Collage

color theme postcards copy

This week, in support of the Summer Mail Art Swap, we’re sharing the simple idea of making a color collage postcard. The first thing to do is choose a couple of main colors to focus on and gather materials. We have a cigar box of small paper scraps and an expanding file folder of larger scraps and collage papers that are more or less sorted by color. That makes gathering colored papers easier.

I chose red and yellow, so I looked through our papers and chose some I liked. I used a 4×6″ piece of prepared cereal box as my substrate.

Go ahead and gather more paper than you'll need. It's good to have choices as you work.

Go ahead and gather more paper than you’ll need. It’s good to have choices as you work.

My son chose orange and green, and my daughter chose blue and pink. Each selected the papers they wanted to use and arranged them–without gluing–onto their postcard until they were happy. I glued some things down while still arranging. Work in whatever way suits you. We glued our pieces down using gel medium and an old paintbrush. I brushed a final coat of gel medium over all my pieces to seal them down. Make sure all the edges are secure so nothing gets caught in the mail sorting machinery.

color theme postcards

My daughter’s blue and pink postcard is on the top left, my yellow and red one is on the top right, and my son’s green and orange one is on the bottom. This is also a fun way to experiment with different and perhaps unusual color combinations.

There’s still plenty of time to join in with the mail art swap. All the details are here.

Other posts in this series:
Postcard Substrates: What to Use
Postcard Idea: Found Poetry
Postcard Q + A

Postcard Idea: Found Poetry

Postcard Idea: Found Poetry at

Suppose you want to participate in the summer postcard swap but you’re not sure what to do artistically? You could do something with words instead–such as found poetry.

To do this, first we looked through magazines, newspapers, and old books (the ones we have set aside for collage purposes) for interesting phrases that we liked. This is obviously easier for kids who can read, but my 5yo really wanted to join in, so I read phrases aloud to her and she cut out ones that she liked. But otherwise, let kids choose phrases they like themselves, with no in-between.

found poetry postcard at

Background: Liquid watercolors.

When we had phrases, we created the backgrounds. These can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Most of the ones here just use watercolors.

found poetry postcard at

Background: Ink doodles colored in with colored pencils.

I like to collect the phrases first and then arrange something from what I have, but my 12yo looked for phrases for a specific idea. There are no hard and fast rules here. The fun is in combining words that you didn’t find together to begin with.

found poetry postcard at

Background: Watercolor, with Sharpie pictures added after words were glued down.

My 5yo had me read all her cut-out phrases to her and then she arranged them according to some internal 5yo order. It came out sounding a bit like the Giant’s story in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales–which is also a pretty fun outcome.

We used a glue stick to adhere our words to our postcards. The ones with watercolor backgrounds are on watercolor paper, and the one with a colored pencil background is on Bristol board. You could do this on a solid color background, too…use whatever is on hand.

Have you started working on postcards yet? Share your thoughts/ideas in the comments, or add photos in progress to the Art Together Flickr group. And don’t forget to spread the word about the swap–the more the merrier!

Working My Way Through Paint Lab

{Jen has a review and giveaway of Art Together Issue Four: Mixed Media. Leave her a comment by Saturday for a chance to win–and go check out what she has to say!}

I bought myself a present recently–my own copy (versus the library copy) of Paint Lab: 52 Exercises Inspired by Artists, Materials, Time, Place, and Method, by Deborah Forman. I have some other books in the Lab Series, but this one has so many exercises I want to try that I decided to make a list and work my way through them. I’m not going in order–I’ll go back to skipped ones when I get the materials I’m lacking. For instance, Lab 4 requires glazing medium, and I don’t have any.

I’ve completed two and started a third, though, and I’m enjoying the exercise-ness of them. They remind me of art class assignments. It’s very much just working things out. I think maybe framing something as an exercise lets me sink into it in a different way. Sometimes I am playing around with technique or method while I’m art-making. Sometimes I’m trying to achieve a specific design or image. And with exercises it’s a bit of problem-solving within a framework. These different ways of working engage different parts of my brain. I remember enjoying my design class exercises in college, and these remind me of those in some ways.

Paint Lab #1 at

Paint Lab #1

This is layers of watercolor. All those dots? Pretty meditative. Not boring to do at all.

For Lab #5, Forman suggested doing the same design (created by collage first, then transferred) in two different color schemes. I also used two different types of paint and paper. The results are very different. In this first version, I used acrylic paint on canvas paper. I decided to use red, yellow, white, and green. Red and yellow are both warm colors, and green is red’s complement (it lies across it on the color wheel).

Paint Lab #5 at

Paint Lab #5, version 1.

For the second version, I used watercolors on watercolor paper. I used the analagous colors of blue, blue-green, and green, with orange, which is blue’s complement.

Paint Lab #5 at

Paint Lab #5 version 2.

I’ll keep posting these exercises as I do them. If anybody else has a copy of Paint Lab and wants to join in, please feel free to share links to posts or photos. It would be pretty cool to find others who have or who are working their way through the book, too.

Circles: Sketchbook Page Inspired by G

Saturday morning, while not-waking-us-up-early, my 5yo drew a page of “Thomas wheels” (as in Thomas the Tank Engine).

5yo's page of circles at

I love them. I love the vibrant color, the repetition of a theme, the way they’re all a little different. I love the way that, because she’s five, she doesn’t stress herself out to the point of paralysis with the idea that the circles should be perfectly circular. When I got a chance, I sat down with my sketchbook and drew some circles to color in, too. I told her she had inspired me.

circle sketchbook page at

These were so much fun to draw and color. I like the equality that goes on, artwise, in my house. Ideas and techniques don’t just flow in one direction, from adult to children. We inspire each other. It’s a fabulous, natural way to nurture confidence and a willingness to try new things.

(I’ve added a few more sketchbook pages to my flickr sketchbook set.)

How To: Postcard Backgrounds

After my last post, Lisa asked what I meant by “collaging Bristol board” and if I could explain it with pictures, too. Yes, I can! This is a really loose, open-ended type of thing, with no right or wrong way to do it, so I’m not sure I should even call it a tutorial. It’s more of, “Come peek over my shoulder while I do this.”

Materials: Bristol board, which is heavier than card stock but thinner than, say, cereal box cardboard; gel medium and a brush, although you can experiment with other adhesives; an assortment of papers; paint (optional)

The first thing I do is select some papers, generally around some focus. I chose warm colors for this collage.

selection of papers

I have an expandable file folder where I have papers I’ve collected, sorted by color. You can see that it includes some pre-painted book pages, too. The orange is a paper bag, and the ketchup is cut from a calendar. The rest are odds and ends of decorative papers.

I chose a few and began tearing and arranging. Then I glued the first one down.

first piece glued on

Just play with your papers. This one sheet of Bristol board is going to get cut into four pieces in the end anyway, so there’s not a lot of pressure here.

3 pieces glued on

all papers glued on

After I’d covered the sheet completely, I decided that the top part needed a little bit more, because it was a big space with mainly just that one paper. I thought that after I cut the sheet into fours, the cards cut from that section would be a little boring. So I decided to print over it using one of these foam texture plates the kids and I found on clearance (the whole pack for $1.99!) in a craft store last week. They were in the craft foam section, intended for cut-and-glue kids’ crafts, but my 9yo and I looked at them and immediately said, Printmaking!

foam texture plates

Aren’t they so cool? And they’re washable, so we can re-use them. I chose the smaller bumps (you can barely see it in this picture; it’s the darkest blue in the middle there) and added some prints to my collage using acrylic paint.

finished sheet

Better. Then I cut it into four equal rectangles, which are each 4.5 x 6″.

four individual cards

I think the one on the bottom right is my favorite. I really like creating something like this and then cutting it up–I always think the smaller compositions that result are interesting. And if they’re not, I can do something on them individually. I’ll probably add some cut-out images to these before mailing them.

So, that’s about it. I’m not great with creating collages as artwork–I find it challenging. But I like doing this for postcards. It’s play, and sometimes it’s just the thing to give myself a little break during the day, too.

Color Round-Up

(I’ve announced the winner on the giveaway post and emailed her. Thanks to all who entered, and if you still want a chance to win a copy, head over to Jen’s…her giveaway is open through Thursday!)

Issue One of the Art Together e-zine is all about color, and I love color. Playing with color makes me very happy! As you might guess, we have plenty of activities on the blog exploring color as well; I wanted to gather some of the best in one place as an extra resource.

Make A Simple Color Wheel from the Art Together series: We do this two ways, using circles of watercolor and using acrylics (shown to the left).

Preschool Color Mixing Using Colored Water: There’s nothing quite like watching colors mix yourself at this age. It’s magical, and the best way to learn about color mixing is doing it.

Preschool Color Mixing Using Tempera Paint: This activity incorporates squeeze bottles, experimentation, and stirring. It’s a winner for preschoolers.

Tints and Shades from the Art Together series: This activity uses one shade of color plus white and black to make monochromatic paintings.

O’Keeffe Leaves: Using Autumn leaves for inspiration, we drew really big leaves and filled them in with color.

colored eggExperiments with Natural Dyes: One Easter we did just that to color our Easter eggs (left), getting some really interesting colors.

Experimenting with Bleeding Tissue Paper: This type of tissue paper “bleeds” out its color when it touches water, which can be an interesting way to play with color blending, make prints, and investigate.

Tissue Paper Painting: Using Eric Carle’s method, we painted tissue paper with brightly colored designs.

Color and Texture: Using primary colored paint and a variety of textured objects, we created our own bright decorative papers.

You don’t need to buy the zine in order to join the Flickr group and share work by you and your kids–New Flickr makes my eyes hurt but I promise to be over there more often; I’d love to see what everybody is working on!

Announcing Art Together E-Zine and a Giveaway

I’m really excited to announce and share with you the first issue of the Art Together E-Zine. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while now and working on this issue over the summer. My plan is to offer a quarterly magazine, each with a focus; Autumn’s issue investigates color. Each issue will include a Featured Material and an Artist Spotlight, as well as plenty of resources, activities, and ideas. The two book lists–one on color and the other on van Gogh, the subject of this issue’s Artist Spotlight–are annotated, which means I give some information on each book to help you decide if it sounds right for you and your children. You’ll also find plenty of encouragement and, hopefully, inspiration within these pages.

You will not, however, find craft projects. The activities within firmly support my belief in the importance of open-ended, process-oriented art. Because there is no right or wrong way to do these activities, you and the children you’re working with can approach them from wherever you are right now. The only necessary quality is a willingness to explore and experiment. My hope is that artists of all ages will find something within these pages.

My 9yo working on an activity from Issue One.

I wrote this for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, babysitters–anyone looking to explore art with children they care about. The idea of art together–parents and children side by side–is so important to me because, for a long time, that was the only way I could find time in my day for my own creative outlets. If you’ve always thought you couldn’t “do art;” if someone along the way made you feel shamed or less-than when it came to art or creativity; if you’ve always kind of wanted to try something artsy but thought it wasn’t for you; if your child loves art and you’re just not confident in your ability to sit down with him or her–I especially wrote this for you. Playing and experimenting with art is for everybody (yes, you too). Whether or not you buy the zine, I hope you hear me whispering encouragement to you, because I am really passionate about helping people gain confidence in their creativity. (Encouragement is always free of charge. Email me anytime!)

Drawn and painted still life, acrylics, 11-year-old.

You can find all the details about this first issue, including the “buy now” button, here. This issue is 27 pages and $5, but because it’s my birthday on Saturday, you can use the code BIRTHDAY for 20% through the end of September. And because the best way to celebrate is by giving, I’m offering a free copy to a reader. Just leave a comment on this post letting me know you’re interested (make sure to include your email address in that field in the comment form). This giveaway is open to anyone, worldwide–aren’t digital giveaways so easy that way?! Comments will be open until midnight EST on my 40th birthday, Saturday, September 21. And stay tuned–a few other bloggers will be hosting giveaways over the next couple of weeks as well.

I had a great time creating this magazine, and I hope you enjoy it too.

**Drawing results: Random number generator brought up Jen as the winner. Congratulations, Jen!

Drawing Eggplant

Last week at the supermarket I was agog at the colors of the eggplant. It was a tough choice between bringing home fairy eggplant or Japanese, but the kids were unanimous on Japanese, so that’s what I bought. I posed them for a portrait:

Aren’t the colors gorgeous? I wanted to draw them and paint them, and I will let the kids have a chance, too, but Monday afternoon, I stole some quiet creative time to myself with the eggplant out on the deck. After I photographed them, I sketched them with pencil.

Then I tried an Inktense pencil and water brush, followed by watercolor pencils. I was both playing with materials (I am slowly getting better with watercolor pencils) and getting to know the eggplant. The more you draw something, you know…the better you see it. Here’s one of the watercolor pencil drawings.

In this final photograph, the Inktense sketch is on the top left, and another watercolor pencil sketch–possibly my favorite–is on the bottom right.

I’m sure we’ll eat these eventually–or I will, anyway, since my kids aren’t too fond of eggplant. But either way, they had to come home with us. When one finds inspiration in the supermarket, of all places, one must act.

What vegetable would you like to draw, photograph, or paint?

{Art Together} Choosing Projects

(Apologies for posting a day late with this series this week. The events in Boston, a favorite city of ours and one that is so close to home, left me shaken.)

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“Crafts have a value, of course…But such activities shouldn’t be called ‘art’ and shouldn’t substitute for an art program…I make my own distinction between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ by asking how much participation by an adult is needed once I have presented materials.” –Bev Bos, don’t move the muffin tins

Choosing to focus on art as a process, rather than on a finished product, can feel uncomfortable. We are surrounded by images of adorable kid-made crafts: in magazines, in blogs, all over Pinterest. Part of us maybe wants to show what our kids can do too. Or maybe we want an activity that seems to have a beginning, middle, and end. Or perhaps—and this isn’t uncommon in my house—we see something that we think one of our kids would really like to make. How can we embark on an activity with a product outcome yet still emphasize the process?

Firstly, I admit, I don’t look to Pinterest for many ideas, and this is mainly because if we’re going to do something more directed, I’d rather it be directed by my children’s desires, not my own. We often look to books (I am working on a book list to share). We all can look through books and if something catches our eye, we’ll do it. The other benefit to books is that I’m mostly the one choosing the books to bring into the house, so I can control whether they are more product-oriented or process-oriented.

I like art books that offer direction for a technique and some inspiration, but serve mainly as a starting point without dictating the end point. This goes for adult art and craft books, too. I don’t want to follow step-by-step instructions to re-create someone else’s vision; I want to be given the tools to create my OWN vision. What I want for myself, I want for my kids. And just like we share all the materials, we share the books too. Some of our best activities and process-based explorations have been prompted by books aimed for an adult audience.

Sometimes, though, in my internet travels, I come across an idea, or am reminded of a resource we already have, and I think it might be a fun activity for us. In that case, I ask the kids. “Hey, look at this, do you want to try something like this?” I’m careful about trying not to show them finished products. If we embark on activities that result in a finished “thing,” it’s going to be an activity that has room for everybody’s finished thing to look different. This week, to try to show you how this works for us, I’m sharing our accordion books with you.

Volume Twelve of Alphabet Glue features an accordion book project, and Dawn blogged about it. When I saw it, I thought, Hmm, that looks like fun. While I have a copy of Alphabet Glue, I also have Esther K. Smith’s How to Make Books. (I highly recommend it.)  I showed the directions in the book to the kids and asked if they were interested. We decided to buy big watercolor paper—18×24”—and make good-sized books.

More decisions followed: Do you want to paint the paper before we fold it? Do you want to fold it and paint it before cutting? After cutting? What sort of paint? Everybody’s answers were different, because each of us has different ideas. My daughter didn’t want to paint at all. She had me make the book for her (the watercolor paper at that size is fairly thick and hard for small hands to fold) and then she sat and wrote letters on each page.

She thinks maybe she’ll add crayon decorations around the edges later.

My older son folded his, I cut it (with the x-acto knife), and then he began painting. He chose liquid watercolors and various techniques, including tape resist and salt, to add interest. He has these techniques in his mental catalog of ideas because we’ve played with them in the past.

My younger son had me fold but not cut his, and he added color to all the blocks before cutting. He also chose liquid watercolors and eventually decided to add some salt as well. The colors of the liquid watercolors are so vibrant.

I decided to fold but not cut and filled in all my blocks on both sides using tempera cake paint. I plan to doodle with a black Sharpie on my pages. I’m not sure what the boys will do in theirs. This project occupied my kids for more than two hours. They were all working at the same table, making their own decisions, sharing materials, and thoroughly engaged in their work. This is how we approach anything that seems more directed: by giving ownership to the individual.

Further Resources

I’ve written about the importance of process-based art here, here, and here.

If you just can’t keep away from Pinterest for ideas, try checking out Lori Pickert’s authentic art board.

Take it Further

Some other posts in which we’ve attempted to balance product and process:
Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner
Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns
Process to Product: Bookmarks for Teacher Gifts

Share Your Work

Reminder, if you have any photos of art-making going on at your house that you’d like to share, feel free to join the Flickr group.