Category Archives: color

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.

{Art Together} Make A Simple Color Wheel

Make A Simple Color Wheel

Materials: Paint (our samples include gouache, watercolor, and acrylic), heavy paper, brushes; compass and protractor (optional)

This isn’t an open-ended activity, but a color wheel can be a useful tool to have hanging on the wall of your art area, and making one is much more fun (and instructive) than buying one or printing one out. Any sort of paint can be used for this, but it’ll be more useful if you mix the colors yourself.

My 4yo and I used watercolor; this is simplest for the youngest artists because you can mix the colors right on the paper. My 8yo chose to use gouache, and my 11yo used acrylics; they both began with the primaries and mixed the secondary colors on their palettes.

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. You can’t mix these yourself; that’s why they’re primary. From them, you can mix the secondary colors: orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (red + blue). We’ll talk a little more about the colors when we have them in a wheel.

My 11yo decided he wanted to make a color wheel with wedges like a pie, so he used a compass to draw a circle and a protractor to divide it into six equal slices.

11yo's color wheel in progress.

11yo’s color wheel in progress.

The rest of us used simple dots arranged in a circle. (If it helps, you can draw the circle, or draw three lines intersecting in the center and place a dot of color at the end of each line.)

Regard your circle as a clock and place a dot of red at the 12-o’clock position, yellow at the 4-o’clock position, and blue at the 8-o’clock position. If you are mixing your secondary colors on a palette, put your dot of orange at 2-o’clock, green at 6-o’clock, and purple at 10-o’clock.

If you’re mixing right on the paper with watercolors, you’ll mix your red and yellow to get orange; your blue and yellow to get green; and red and blue to make purple. My daughter and I did this by putting two circles of each color together and then going back to overlap.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Note, though, that purple can be really hard to mix. Most likely you’ll feel your purple is a little too red or a little too blue. Try to be okay with this; I’ve had a professional artist/teacher in a class advise me to buy purple rather than try to mix it myself. (But I’m cheap, so I mixed it myself anyway.) Start with just a little red and a little blue and mix gradually and don’t get hung up on perfection.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Once you have your complete color wheel, take a closer look at it.

Acrylic color wheel

Colors that are opposite each other are known as complementary colors. See how red is opposite green? Green is made from the two primary colors other than red (ie, blue and yellow). That’s why they are complements—they complete each other. (That’s how I remember it, anyway!) Yellow and purple are complements, and blue and orange as well. Complementary colors are said to “pop” when used together. Try it out and see what you think.

My 8yo decided to take his color wheel one step farther and tried to include tertiary colors, which are secondary colors mixed with a bit more of the primary color next to it (ie, yellow-green, yellow-orange, etc; you can see a labeled one here).

Tertiary color wheel attempt

But if you’ve never made a color wheel before, a simple one with the primary and secondary colors is plenty enough to start. Hang it near your art area to remind yourself which colors contrast strongly. Are there any colors you avoid? When I was in kindergarten my purple crayon stayed sharp all year because I refused to use it. For some reason I thought purple was a scary color when I was five! Try using just a little bit of that color that overwhelms you with its complement and see what happens.

Further Resources

The MoMA Color Play Coloring Book is a large-format book designed to be painted in, with prompts for color mixing. We own it; we haven’t used it yet. But it might be just the thing if you’re a little wary of delving into color mixing without some guidelines.

You might want to also explore color through story books with a younger child. Apartment Therapy has a nice list of 20 Kids’ Books About Color. I say “also” because listening to a book or watching a show about color mixing can be a nice addition, but it doesn’t replace the actual experience of creating and observing the magic in real life. When a child has a chance to discover and experience color mixing while being in charge of it, the knowledge is real and theirs. It’s magical.

Take it Further

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using colored water

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using tempera paint

Consider adding a color wheel to your sketchbook using whatever materials you might take with you on a sketching excursion. For this, you wouldn’t necessarily be mixing; use the colors that come with your watercolor pencil or colored pencil set and draw yourself a color wheel to use as reference.

Share Your Work

A reminder that a Flickr group is available if you’d like to share photos! Just click the request to join.

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)

DSC02778My first preschool color-mixing activity post continues to be well read, and no wonder: color mixing is so much fun, and preschoolers love it. I’m facilitating a process-oriented preschool art class at our homeschool co-op this session, and when the kids said they’d like to do some more painting, I once again turned to Ann Pelo’s book The Language of Art for inspiration.

This time I chose her “tempera paints” activity in the “Exploring Color” section as my guide. It has all the ingredients sure to please preschoolers: tempera paint in squeeze bottles, mixing colors, “seeing what happens,” and, of course, painting.

Materials: Red, yellow, blue, and white tempera paint in condiment-style squeeze bottles (I pick up the condiment bottles when I see them during cookout season); mixing cups (I used yogurt cups; Pelo suggests glass jars with lids so you can save the colors); craft sticks for mixing; paper and paintbrushes–enough brushes for each color

DSC02773

I began by explaining to the kids that we would be mixing our own colors today before painting with them. I held up the containers of blue, red, and yellow paint and explained that these colors are the primary colors, and with them, we can mix any other color we want. I demonstrated by mixing some colors, taking the kids’ suggestions. I showed how to squeeze the paint out of the bottle into the cup, add another color, and mix it up with the stick. I told the kids they were going to be scientists AND artists–and then they got to work mixing colors. I didn’t impose many rules here, but I did try to reflect their process back to them.

DSC02769

My daughter, squeezing some blue paint into her mixing cup.

For instance, when I observed a child mixing up a color, I might say, “That’s a really bright pink. What did you mix to get that color?” This naturally led to the kids telling me what they were doing and what they’d concocted. I had four kids in class this day, and they shared the bottles extremely well, asking for what they needed and passing it along to each other. At one point, one child asked if he could use another child’s paint color. She didn’t agree, but she did agree to tell him how she’d made it so he could make himself a batch.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

When kids were done mixing colors, they were ready to paint. This didn’t happen at the same time for everybody. Two girls were most interested in the squeezing and mixing and kept with that part for more than half the class. In the photo above, one child is showing another the painting he created of two dinosaurs. In the photo below, a child has decided to experiment with the mixing stick as a paint-application tool.

DSC02780

The clean-up was very easy, as well. I had a shallow bucket in which to put paintbrushes to soak, and I covered the tables with shower curtain liners, found at the dollar store. Any paint spills wipe right off while we’re working (so it doesn’t get on sleeves and such), and I don’t have to worry about the tables in the co-op classroom getting too messy for easy clean-up.

Anytime squeeze bottles can be incorporated into an activity for this age, it is guaranteed to be a success. Add in mixing and experimenting…and it’s just a fabulous time!

{Art Together} Tints and Shades

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

4yo's painting using tints and shades of red.

4yo’s painting using tints and shades of red.

Color theory is a huge subject, and if you even begin to dip a toe into exploring it, you may start to feel completely overwhelmed, and rightly so. Like anything taught as “theory,” it’s hard to make sense of without practical experience. It’s like the difference between reading about how children develop and living with your own child and watching it happen every day. Reading about color theory might be helpful once you’ve played with color on your own, but trying to understand what you’re reading without experiencing it yourself can get extremely confusing. I’m going to share some color play activities over the next few weeks, and perhaps some of them will speak to you.

Tints and shades describe a color mixed with white (tints) and black (shades). If you mix white and black, you will get gray, yes? If you mix white with blue, you will get tints of blue; if you mix black with blue, you will get shades of blue; and you can mix all three and get various gray-blues (tones). This article tells me that funky things can happen to color if you mix it with black (although I do it anyway). But maybe you’ll like what happens; you won’t know if you don’t try.

For this activity, my kids and I each picked a color and I set up a palette for them with the color, white, and black.

Using a take-out container cover as a palette.

Using a take-out container cover as a palette.

The younger two kids used tempera paint on Bristol board, and my oldest and I used Liquitex Basics acrylics on canvas paper (because I’ve been wanting to try it). With a toddler or preschooler, I’d do this at an easel if you have one, or hang a piece of large paper on the wall (protect the wall first though). I was the only one who tried to do a representational painting using my tints and shades; the younger kids just mixed colors right on the paper to see what happened.

4yo's painting in progress.

4yo’s painting in progress.

My oldest struggled with this activity, and I asked him if I could share about it here, because I think it might be helpful to some. Different people have different personalities, and people are going to struggle with different things. He had a very hard time with the loose nature of this. He’s fine with mixing paint colors when it feels more controlled. But simply having three different paints on his palette and no way to control the mixing, to keep it precise and neat, felt much too loose to him. He didn’t like the idea of his mixed colors mixing. He had trouble even explaining what was bothering him so much. I let him know he didn’t have to do it at all; but eventually he took another stab at it. I ended up very specifically telling him how to mix one tint and one shade:

  • Take a paintbrush and scoop up some of your red and put it somewhere else on your palette. Do that again.
  • Take a different paintbrush and scoop some white and mix it in one of the smaller dabs of red.
  • Take another paintbrush, scoop some black, and mix it with the other dab of red.
A photo of my palette, with separate paintbrushes for mixing.

A photo of my palette, with separate paintbrushes for mixing.

Using different paintbrushes helps keep the tints and shades separate, if that’s important. It didn’t matter to my younger kids—they just rinsed their brushes. My older son and I used different brushes as well as rinse water. He eventually covered his paper, but I’m not sure he truly enjoyed it.

11yo persevering.

11yo persevering.

I told him sticking to something that was so uncomfortable for him, and seeing it through to the end, was an impressive quality. I wouldn’t have forced him to, though; if something isn’t working for your child, take a break or shelve that activity for a different day or year, even. Sometimes things don’t click. Some nights my kids tell me they LOVE green beans, and other nights they won’t touch them. I don’t force the green beans, either. Art and food and most things, really, should not be tied up with stress and unhappiness, either for your child or for you.

My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory, it is based on observation, on feeling, on the experience of my sensibility.

Henri Matisse

Take it Further:

  • Try this activity with just white and black paint. How many grays can you make? Try adding white paint to black and black to white; how is it different?
  • Try doing this more than once using a different color each time.
  • Try making a painting that is all tints. How about one that’s all shades?

You could explore just this one bit of color mixing for a very long time!

Share Your Work:

Reminder, the {Art Together} Flickr group is available if you’d like to post pictures, and that’s where I’ve added photos of our finished work.

I’m skipping next week since we’ll be busy with Easter things this weekend…so the next {Art Together} post will be on April 10 and will deal with more color activities. See you then!

{Art Together} Experimenting With Watercolors

DSC02728{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

I suspect watercolor paints are one of the most common art supplies offered to kids, because they seem fairly tidy. The colors are contained in their little trays, the drips are easily wiped up, everything closes up shut at the end and stores neatly. But I think watercolors have the potential to be one of the most frustrating mediums, especially for kids who are trying to paint something specific but don’t quite know how to control the paint. Watercolors depend on water, and water is so runny! It flows everywhere. How do you get more pigment? Add more water to your brush? But then the color is even runnier on the paper… and if you try to paint with wet paint next to paint that hasn’t dried yet, it’s all going to bleed together into a frustrating, tear-inducing mess.

Now, you know I don’t like to micromanage my kids’ art experiences. We’re not going to sit down and “create” step-by-step to all produce the same thing. I value the individual vision, but I also want them to have the tools necessary to execute that vision, which means we need time and space to experiment with different materials to see what they can do, before we try to use them in a specific project. I was an adult, taking an art class in college, before I realized that watercolor existed outside of those little plastic trays. (Tubes! It comes in tubes!) I vividly remember walking into the art supply store in the city, supply list in hand, feeling like an impostor.  Truly, going into that store knowing nothing and needing so much was an act of bravery. Nowadays, I’d just search it online and know exactly what I was looking for, but back then, the list may as well have been written in Greek. I was so confused. To hopefully save you from similar confusion, I’ve updated the Materials page with more specific information about watercolor options.

Whatever watercolor you choose, before you sit down to try to paint something specific, take time to just play and explore the material. When I get a new-to-me art supply, the first thing I do is play with it. Doodle, draw, scribble, if it’s a marker or pencil; dab, swirl, smear, if it’s a paint. What can it do? Watercolor behaves differently from acrylic. If we—meaning you, me, and our kids—want to be able to execute our idea, we need to know which medium is best for the job. What effect do we want? How do we know, if we haven’t played with a whole bunch of stuff? The more we experiment, the larger art vocabulary we have.

A quick word on paper: I usually use a cold press, thus slightly toothed, watercolor paper. Regular printer paper or drawing paper isn’t heavy enough to support the wetness of paint. Tooth means the paper has a bit of roughness to it. That’s helpful with watercolor, since it absorbs the paint better than a slick surface would.

DSC02719

Watercolor pads I found hanging around my studio.

For this session, my kids and I browsed through Water, Paper, Paint by Heather Smith Jones and chose some prompts as our starting point. My younger two kids and I liked the idea of painting circles and adding colors to them while wet. My oldest wanted to painted a checkerboard pattern, letting the first color of squares dry before painting next to them with the second color. We used pan watercolors and began to experiment. I can tell you that wet paint on wet paint will bleed together, and you can tell your kids, but it’s better for everybody if you sit down and do it yourself. Then you will know it.

Wet paint on wet paint runs together a bit.

Wet paint on wet paint runs together a bit.

Sometimes that’s exactly the effect you’ll want in your painting. Other times you’ll want more detail and a sharper edge. What happens when you brush wet paint next to dry? What kind of an edge do you get then?

11yo's painting: The blue paint was dry before he began painting with red. He used a set of Van Gogh pan watercolors.

11yo’s painting: The blue paint was dry before he began painting with red. He used a set of Van Gogh pan watercolors.

Which is a better way to mix colors right on the paper—wet on wet or wet on dry? Do they both work? What’s the difference? Only by experimenting in this way and observing what happens yourself will you really begin to understand what you can do with the medium. Plus, it’s just plain fun to make designs on the paper without any real plan in mind. It’s like doodling with paint.

8yo's layers of color, wet on wet. He was using Reeves pan watercolors.

8yo’s layers of color, wet on wet. He was using Reeves pan watercolors.

My 8yo, 4yo, and I played with wet colors into wet colors.

4yo's painting: Purple dots painted onto a wet turquoise circle, using Crayola pan watercolors.

4yo’s painting: Purple dots painted onto a wet turquoise circle, using Crayola pan watercolors.

It’s just fun to lay down some color and “see what happens.” When you go into it with the idea that you’re experimenting, there are no mistakes, just unexpected outcomes. When my 8yo layered white on top of a color he thought was dry but the white looked muddy, we talked about it. Was the white paint itself muddied in the tray? Let’s wipe it off and try again. He experimented with having black as the first color—would anything at all show up on it? This is knowledge he’ll take with him the next time he paints. This is how we get to know a material so that we don’t try to make it do something it just can’t do.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

–Vincent van Gogh

Further Resources:

I often turn to books for adults to use with my kids. Techniques are techniques, and we all use the same materials and try the same things. I really like Water Paper Paint as a resource for techniques and ideas, as well as specific information on materials.

A Waldorf-specific method of wet-on-wet watercolor painting can be found here at The Magic Onions.

Take it Further:

All my previous posts that include watercolors can be found here.

Lori shares a post on watercolor techniques over at the Camp Creek blog, with some specific instructions on guiding your kids and yourself through some experiments with watercolors.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, you can share photos in the {Art Together} Flickr group, and that’s where I’ve posted photos of our finished watercolor paintings.

O’Keeffe Leaves

(Inspired by “Gorgeous Gigantic Flowers” in What’s the Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo.)

Materials: Watercolor paper (or other paper that can handle paint); paint (we used tempera cakes); pencil; permanent marker (we used Sharpies); leaves for looking at

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a straight-up art activity! My daughter said she wanted to make a painting using one of our Art Explorers books, so I told her to go ahead and pick one out. She chose the activity inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, but when I looked at the materials list I realized we didn’t have any fresh flowers on hand.

However, a suggested alternate was leaves–and it being October in New England, we have leaves a-plenty. We headed outside to collect some. When we came back indoors, I took my O’Keeffe book off the shelf and showed my daughter some more flower paintings and the way they took up the entire canvas.

G wanted to follow the suggested process exactly, so after choosing a leaf for inspiration, she drew with her pencil and then traced over those lines with a black Sharpie. Then it was time to add color. We both used the tempera cakes. I quietly noticed a couple of things–her ability to trace over a line, and the fact that she is old enough (and so experienced with art supplies) to remember to rinse her brush between colors.

There is such joy in observing her growing up in this aspect as well–she is so confident in the art room, so comfortable, so sure of her decisions and what she needs for her artwork. Here is her finished piece along with the leaf that inspired it.

She decided she wanted to use all the colors, and she enjoyed mixing them. (The tempera cakes are the primaries plus white, black, and green.) She enjoyed the movement of her line, as well.

I also did this activity–I am grateful for the time and space to draw and paint and this activity was challenging for me. I also tried to follow the suggested directions and make the leaf spill off the page, as O’Keeffe’s flowers do. I discovered that it was easiest to do this if I started from the center, with the veins of the leaf. Here’s my finished page, with the leaf that inspired it.

I’m sure I’ll be trying this again. (We have lots of leaves, did I mention?!) I like, too, the idea of taking something so well known–O’Keeffe’s flowers–and translating it to our own landscape. I think I will be using this activity in the art class I lead at our co-op, too. There are a couple of kids who tend to draw small, and I’ve been looking for ways to encourage them to go bigger; I think this is a good activity for that.

I enjoy following G’s lead. When she is in charge of the day (or at least part of it), we tend to do fun things. I had no idea we’d be using autumn leaves to inspire a painting…now I can’t wait to do it again!