Category Archives: color

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Sticky Notes and Washi-Style Tape

I will, at some point, get myself together enough to write about our typical day, but at the moment, my body is protesting the dual demands of getting one child up and off to school and then homeschooling the other two by getting sick. The days are long. Not long as in tiresome and dragging, but in the sense of beginning early and ending late. So I have a nasty head cold.

Meanwhile, I have been reminded daily–hourly, sometimes–that eight years old is still squarely in “early childhood.” My almost-four-year-old and my eight-year-old enjoy many of the same activities, and my son is, I think, getting a chance to recoup some of that lost time from last year. Among other things, they’ve been enjoying the washi tape stash. I admit, after a bit I removed my own authentic washi tape that I ordered in small quantities from Etsy, but the less expensive version from Target is all theirs. (Thank you, Target. You can find this in the office supply section, about $5 for packs of four rolls.) After we bought some square sticky notes from Job Lot, my son decided to combine them.

It’s hanging in my kitchen, brightening the (very early) mornings. (And lunch times, and snack times, and dinner times…I spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen.) My daughter eventually combined sticky notes with washi-style tape, as well as with stickers and drawing, but I don’t have any more photos because, quite frankly, my head is clogged and I forgot.

Experiments With Natural Dyes

Dyed with onion skins (with some sticker resist)

Last year we painted wooden eggs for Easter, but my youngest has since outgrown her egg allergy, so we were back to decorating real eggs this year. However, I wanted to get away from the fluorescent, fake colors. I’m the one who eats most of the eggs, and the food coloring dye that leaks onto the egg white always gives me pause. So this year we experimented with natural dyes.

Way back when, in the dark times before the Internet, I experimented with natural dyes while working at a summer day camp. A group of kids and I tie-dyed t-shirts using dye made from beets and blueberries. (We’d been learning about local Native American tribes, so I’m thinking, but am not positive, that I found these dye suggestions in my research, which would have taken place in the library, with books.)

So that’s where I began with Easter egg dye, and I added in onion skins after reading this post. That blogger boiled the eggs along with the onion skins, but I was a little hesitant to give my three-year-old a raw egg to wrap, so I decided to make the dyes separately and dip already-boiled eggs into the dye. There are lots of tutorials on this–such as here (via KiwiCrate) and here (via Craft)–but it looks like many dyes need a long soak, even overnight. I wanted something the kids could see working rather quickly.

The two orange eggs were dyed in onion skin dye. The reddish one at the front is from beets, and the bluish one at the back is from blueberries. The blueberry dye and beet dye looked almost exactly the same in liquid form, but as the blueberry-dyed eggs dried, they became bluer. For all of these, I boiled and then steeped the dyeing agent, then strained the liquid through a wire mesh strainer and added a splash of vinegar as a mordant.

Dyed with blueberry dye

A couple of days later we tried spinach and red cabbage as well. These weren’t as successful. I think the red cabbage would have required an overnight soak, and something interesting happened when I added vinegar to the strained spinach dye. First off, I didn’t need to-spinach contains its own acid, oxalic acid, which is strong enough to act as a mordant all on its own. When I added the vinegar, the liquid, which was a dark green-gold color, lightened into the color of lemonade–and had no effect on the color of the eggs. I’ve been searching for an explanation (what reacted with what?) and haven’t found one yet, so if you know, please tell me!

The Easter Bunny usually leaves my kids little rhyming clues as to where their baskets are hidden. This year, my oldest mentioned he hoped his clue was in code.

Cracking the code

I used a simple number/letter substitution, but I began at “N” as “1.” I helped him work through the first word, which was three letters, using logic to figure out where the vowel probably was (in the middle) and going from there. Then he was off and running. Every year, the Easter Bunny has to get a little smarter…

Have you experimented with natural dyes? What worked best for you?

Ready for the Art Show

Both my boys wanted to enter the art center’s collaboration show, like they did last year, again. G also painted a canvas, but she’s not sure on whether she wants to let the art center borrow it for a whole month. We’re going to bring it along when we drop off the others, in case she changes her mind. Here they all are together (click to see slightly larger):

Each canvas has both sprayed watercolors and liquid acrylic, some brushed, flicked, or dripped on and some printed with various materials–wine corks, sponges, and the like. The top right one (my oldest son’s) also has some dripped black ink. This sort of painting is definitely out of his comfort zone; he likes things to be planned. Once he got into it, though, he even said (in an amazed sort of voice), “This is really fun!”

The top left canvas (my younger son’s) has a couple layers of workable fixative sprayed on. He really puddled the watercolor, and the canvas isn’t really made for that. Plus, it seemed to have a different sort of finish than the other two–same type of canvas, but a different brand. There were tacky spots that just weren’t drying, but the fixative seems to have solved the problem.

The bottom one, then, is my daughter’s. I have to admit, a layer or so back she had some sponge prints that are obliterated now by her brushstrokes, and I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and let her explore the process. She decided when she was done, and I like it now, too, although, again, whether I like it isn’t really the point. She likes it so much she’s not sure she can let it out of her sight for a month.

We’re excited to drop them off tomorrow!

Spray Bottle + Canvas

I just had to take a photo of the art table after my oldest had finished spraying four colors (blue, red, green, and yellow) of liquid watercolor onto a canvas. He let the colors dry in between so the mixing wouldn’t become muddied. He let go of some of his need to control outcomes and just saw what happened. He’s deciding whether he will add to this with acrylic and brush, or let it be.

Materials: Spray bottle, liquid watercolors (undiluted), canvas, and a large space, since the spray will overshoot the canvas, sometimes by quite a lot!

Keeping it Simple (+ Happy Spring!)

Happy First Day of Spring! We’re expecting higher-than-normal temperatures here again this week. Even though it was a mild winter, I’m still so happy for the light to increase, for the migrating birds to begin to return, for the frogs to wake up… it was still a hard winter in many ways, and spring makes me happy. I made a couple of these cheerful flowers to tuck into my boys’ lunch bags to celebrate the official first day of spring.

I haven’t posted much here this winter. Partly that’s because I’ve kept the focus of this blog pretty narrow: it’s creative activities, generally art-related, and that’s about it. On top of that, I tend not to post unless we’ve done something more or less of a piece, something that fits the format of a materials list followed by what we did and the open-ended outcome. But I realized that may make it seem like that’s all we do, one planned-out art activity after another (or, in the case of this Lyme-influenced winter, not so many planned-out activities, and thus no posts). So I thought I’d share the sort of free-wheeling that’s been more likely to go on here lately.

When I went downstairs Monday morning to make the flowers, of course my daughter came with me to make her own. She’d started by punching circles from the same scrap of yellow card stock I’d used. The patterned paper is from a dollar pack we found at Target not too long ago. Eventually she also used scissors, a glue stick, patterned packing tape, a “smudgy” pencil (ie, charcoal pencil), crayons, markers…I don’t think I’m forgetting anything, but it’s possible! She was working on her flower for quite a while, long after I was done and had moved on to ironing some fabric and generally puttering around in the studio area.

When she was done, we photographed it, front and back.

Front

(If you squint, you might be able to see the ridiculous pile of fat quarters and fabric I have on the ironing board!)

Back

Only when I photographed it did I see that she’d fit one of the yellow circles right into a circle hole she’d punched into the patterned paper, then held it in place with the patterned tape. Sworn to secrecy on the lunch-bag flowers, she decided this flower was also for her brothers, and she would hide it for them to find when they got home from school, which they did.

This is most of what G has been doing this winter–hanging out while I do something, making things like Mama, in her own way. It happens more or less organically, not as anything I plan. G has a pretty good handle on what’s available as far as supplies, and she’s not shy about telling me what she needs next. Then I just do my own thing, helping her when asked, and I get to be amazed at the result, too.

And once again, Happy First Day of Spring!!

Watercolor Blot Animals

Inspired by Lab #8 in Drawing Lab: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun for Mixed-Media Artists, by Carla Sonheim

Materials: Watercolor paper (I cut ours down to 4″x6″), watercolors, ultra-fine black Sharpie

I recently bought this book to inspire my hoped-for daily drawing habit, and this is the first exercise I tried. I thought the kids would enjoy it too. (G, age 3, also painted with watercolors and drew while we worked, but her pieces aren’t shown here.) Following the directions, we made random brush marks with red, blue, and yellow watercolor, watered down so the colors weren’t too overwhelming. Let the paint dry in between colors so they don’t bleed together; I used a hair dryer to help this along.

Here’s what our papers looked like with just the paint (we each did three); click to embiggen a bit:

My painted papers

V's painted papers

N's painted papers

Next, take your multicolored papers and look at each one individually. What forms do you see? You’re trying to pull out shapes that remind you of an animal, or even part of an animal, and then incorporate them into a drawing. Turn them around, look from all angles, and see what pops up at you.

Use a Sharpie or another permanent marker for the drawing–not a pencil (no erasing!), and make sure it’s permanent, in case you want to add more watercolor later.

My animals: an elephant, a bird in a nest, a snail

The boys found more than one animal on each paper–their lines became quite interesting visually:

N's line drawing animals

V's line drawing animals

Not surprisingly, I like theirs better than I like mine! They were so free with their lines; their creatures are so interesting.

Once the creatures are drawn, you can go in and add more line or color. N and I did this, but V chose not to.

My snail and elephant; I wasn't too happy with the bird in the end.

N's creatures with added color

You could, of course, prepare the paper ahead of time, especially for younger children, but we enjoyed doing it together from beginning to end. Remind the kids (and yourself) to make the paint marks abstract; you’re not supposed to be making marks with a future creature in mind. This can be challenging, to keep your head out of it. Depending on the child, you could have him make the marks without telling him what you’re doing with them next.

I could also see making a stack of the watercolor sheets, or filling a small watercolor sketchbook, and having them on hand with a Sharpie for waiting moments–doctor’s offices, car rides, and so on. Hmm, that’s a good idea. I should get on that!

Other things we’ve been up to:

* We recently viewed the Spencer Finch exhibit Painting Air at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Anisa has a nice write-up about it along with tips for extending the experience, here.

* We’re planning our entries to Collaboration 2012 at the Jamestown Arts Center. (This is the show in which N received first place last year.)

* I signed my niece and myself up for the Mighty Girl Art Spring e-course. It’s designed for teen and tween girls or, you know, women of all ages. Registration is open until March 16 if you know a girl (or woman) who might be interested.