Category Archives: drawing

{Art Together} Exploring Charcoal + Conte Crayon

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

“I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing.” –Vincent van Gogh

A better title for this post, perhaps, would be Exploring Drawing Media. It doesn’t matter what you and your kids experiment with, as long as it’s something new to you, and it doesn’t really matter what you sit down to draw, either. The point is to step out of the comfort zone a bit and experiment with drawing with something different, and you really should try to think of it as an experiment. Just as with watercolors, the idea is to mess about with the material and see what it can and can’t do, in a low-pressure situation. The more experimenting that goes on with different materials, the larger the art vocabulary will be. Think about how much easier writing is when you have lots of words at your disposal; in the same way, bringing forth a vision in your head onto paper is much easier if you have a wide variety of methods and materials with which you’re comfortable.

Recently, at the local art supply store, my kids asked if we could bring home this figure model, so this is what we chose to try to draw today.

But again, it doesn’t much matter what you draw; you’re getting the feel for a different material. We set out a variety of charcoal pencils and conte crayons. Stick and vine charcoal will have different effects; stick charcoal is even smudgier and dustier than the pencils. We didn’t discuss shading or blending as a technique; mainly we noticed how the paper smudged if our hands rubbed over it while drawing. There’s certainly lots to explore more deeply when it comes to charcoal…but here, we were just getting comfortable with it to start.

4yo’s figure sketch with charcoal.

Another adjustment is the lack of ability to erase these lines. I’m not a fan of erasing while sketching-as-practice; I think it tends to hyper-focus attention on small parts of the drawing, bringing attention away from the drawing as a whole. It can contribute to perfectionism, which can be crippling. I encourage my kids to just go over a line if they feel it’s in the wrong place…learning to draw is about learning to see relationships of parts, and corrections are part of that process. (And I often like the effect of multiple lines, as in this crab I drew at a nature center a couple of weekends ago.)

8yo’s figure sketches.

Because we were drawing a figure, we talked about proportion and angles as we drew. Drawing real people can be so nerve-wracking! I remember my first college drawing class and how awkward it felt to try to draw a live model. But humans are collections of shapes and angles, and they can be drawn, too. It’s an amazing revelation (and drawing this wooden figure made me wistful for a live figure drawing session; I think I’ll be checking local resources for the summer). It’s been a long while since those figure-drawing sessions in college, and it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone right alongside my kids. I prefer for us to be exploring together; nobody is the “expert,” which means nobody is lagging behind, either. We’re learning and discovering together, which is so much more relaxing for all of us.

One of my figure sketches, using conte crayon.

“Make a drawing, begin it again, trace it; begin it again and trace it again.” –Edgar Degas

Further Resources

Art Lab for Kids, by Susan Schwake, has several drawing “labs” that involve charcoal, including one that involves lifting off the charcoal with a kneaded eraser.

I recently picked up a copy of Drawing Magazine, and I decided it was well worth the cover price. The issue I bought was a mix of techniques, interviews, and perspectives on drawing…it was interesting not just to me, but to the kids, too. I’m thinking a subscription might be a good investment for us.

Take it Further

We’ve explored these drawing media before here, and then switched it around, using white on black paper, here.

Experiment with figure drawing by getting into a pose for two minutes so your child can draw you. (The resultant quick drawings are known as gesture drawings; you can search Google Images for examples.) Switch, have your child pose, and draw him or her quickly. Don’t worry about details like facial features or fingers, just try to sketch in shapes and angles. Keep it loose!

Share Your Work

Just a reminder, there is a Flickr group, and I’d love to see what open-ended art explorations other people are doing with kids (your own or borrowed)—it doesn’t matter if the photos are of activities inspired by this series of posts or not.

{Art Together} Take Your Art on a Field Trip

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

Drawing at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

One of the best, unexpected things that happened once I made art-making a priority for all of us is that my kids became accustomed to bringing sketchbooks on day trips and outings. This is as simple as it sounds; when packing for the day, sketchbooks and pencils go into the bag along with snacks and water. Why do I like having our sketchbooks along?

* Inspiration is everywhere! Sometimes you just need to draw your idea when you see it.

* It’s a balancing activity in a busy day—a time to focus and settle and look closely.

* It adds another layer to remembering the day. We have not just photos and memories but drawings and notes.

* If we’re learning about something in particular, those drawings and notes are part of project work.

Sketching in our own yard.

You don’t need to go to a museum or tourist destination to take your art somewhere new. We take our sketchbooks into the yard and on nature walks too. Take them on a city walk or on your daily errands. Sometimes the kids ask for them at certain points, and sometimes I ask if anyone wants to join me in drawing something. Sometimes ours don’t come out of the backpack at all during an outing; that’s okay, too. I’m not trying to force them on anyone, rather, just make sure they’re available.

Some things to keep in mind:

* If you’re visiting a museum or other institution, make sure to check their visitor’s guidelines before bringing your sketchbooks. Most art museums, for example, list restrictions on what type of drawing materials are allowed, and some limit the size of your sketchbook, too.

* If you’re going someplace where guidelines don’t apply, consider bringing along more than just drawing pencils. Experiment with watercolor pencils, watercolors, and colored pencils. A water brush makes using paints and watercolor pencils even easier. This shows you how to make your own.

* Clipboards can be really handy for loose sheets of paper.

* If you want to be ready for anything, consider putting together a traveling art box for the trunk of the car.

I bring my sketchbook when I go places by myself, too.

The more you and your kids keep a sketchbook with you, the more it will get used. I keep this as rule-free and simple as possible. At minimum, I have a pencil pouch with a variety of drawing pencils. If the destination allows, I’ll bring my pouch of drawing pens and markers, too. We all have more than one sketchbook going, and the kids bring whichever one they want. (It would be more organized to fill one completely before starting another, I know, but I have problems doing that myself.) It’s nice to date the drawings and make a note of where you were and what you were looking at. And that’s about it.

Take it Further

Brainstorm a list of where you might take your sketchbooks. Is there any place on your list you go regularly—daily or weekly? Challenge yourselves to take your sketchbook and draw in the same place more than once. Do you notice anything new the more you visit? Does your drawing habit force you to look more closely?

Take your sketchbook to the zoo or a farm and try to draw some animals. How is your child’s approach different from yours? Which animals are easier or harder to draw? I find chickens really hard—they never stop moving! They force you to practice gesture drawings.

I love this little post of Lori’s from several years ago, showing her and her son’s drawings of a place they pass often.

Further Resources

There are numerous books full of sketchbook inspiration.

Clare Walker Leslie focuses on nature sketchbooks. If that’s what you’re called to sketch, you’ll enjoy looking through her books for inspiration.

Artist’s Journal Workshop is just gorgeous to page through and has information on materials as well.

Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists is on my wish list, so I can’t tell you exactly what it contains. But I suspect, by the title, it covers a wide range of styles, reinforcing that a sketchbook is whatever you want it to be.

If you’re drawn to cityscapes, you may find inspiration in The Art of Urban Sketching.

Truly, a few minutes searching Amazon for “sketchbook” or “art journal” will bring up so many choices…I could spend all day browsing there.

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.

{PBL} Monster Book

Front cover of monster book.

Front cover of monster book.

Back in December, I posted about my 8yo’s monster project. Last week, after a couple illness-related delays, we brought a thumb drive full of files to Staples and came home with five copies of his book.

We both learned quite a bit during this project. He took his original idea through to completion–no small task, given how many monsters he ultimately included (12) and how long he’s been working on this. At times we both struggled to keep him moving forward. I was firm that he would finish the project, but somewhere there’s a line between mentoring and taking over, and I tried to be continually aware of that line.

Chupacabra page.

Chupacabra page in monster book.

I also tried to get any thoughts out of my head regarding how anybody else might describe a third-grade writing level. The series Become a Writing Mentor to Your Child at Wonderfarm helped with this, too. My son is moving at his own pace where writing is concerned. I know he brought home more “advanced” writing assignments from school last year, but I also know he required one of the teachers to sit and work with him one-on-one to produce them. The writing barely reflects his personality, and I suspect he had very little say on subject matter or style. Honestly, I’m happy he chose to do anything connected with writing. His book pages are mainly lists, with sentences here and there, but he did the research, took the notes, and chose what to include himself. He also drew all the pictures. The one I’ve included is one of my favorites, but truthfully, they are all pretty special and definitely reflect his personal style.

Beyond the planning, researching, writing, and drawing, he also learned how to use Publisher, looked over the printed pages to catch any mistakes (editing), and decided upon the page order in the book. After creating a made-up monster out of Model Magic, he decided to paint it and use a photo of it for the cover of the book, so he set up the shot and took it himself (top of post). He then decided he needed another shot for the back cover.

Back cover of monster book.

Back cover of monster book.

He used the back of the monster, of course! Once at Staples, he needed to make decisions about the cover stock and binding, as well as direct his brother and me as we collated the copies into the correct order.

Sorting monster book pages at Staples.

Sorting monster book pages at Staples.

He was incredibly excited to have five “published” copies of his book–one for each family member–in hand, and sat down to read it to me as soon as we got home. Yet, he downplayed his accomplishment. Plenty of people write books, he said. I tried to emphasize what he’d done–he made a plan, did the research, put it all together according to his own vision–this is huge.

My hope is that this book becomes a physical reminder that he can set a goal and then reach it. I want that for my kids, all of it. I want them to be able to set their own goals and feel capable of reaching them.

{Art Together} Scribbling

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

“That the word scribble is used so often as a term of disparagement is one indication of how we fail our children in their quest for knowledge.”—Susan Striker in Young at Art

8yo's scribble, colored in.

8yo’s scribble, colored in.

If you’ve read my manifesto (and if you haven’t, you should!), you know that I think art should be fun and relaxed and play, for everybody—for kids and for you, too. If anybody is hung up on what “should” be happening or what something is “supposed” to look like or trying to teach proper perspective or mimicking Picasso’s rose period, goodness, that is a lot of pressure. Now, there absolutely is value to learning about things like line, shape, design, and color theory, and I definitely love looking at and being inspired by works of art, both in books and in person whenever possible. But this series isn’t about formal art instruction or art history—although sometimes that comes into what I do with my kids, too. This series is, first and foremost, about sitting down and playing alongside your kids, but instead of using things like blocks or cars, we’re using paint and crayons.

It’s about having fun (and opening up the portals to creativity, but I need to save some stuff for later!).

So this week’s activity is all about loosening up, letting go, getting your head out of it and having fun. Scribbling is the very epitome of mark-making for the sole purpose of making marks, of feeling how the tool of choice slides across the paper. If you have a younger child, he or she won’t need any encouragement to scribble. To an older child, or to you, it may seem awkward at first. We are used to making marks with intention and deliberation. Try to let go. Move your whole arm. Make big, strong marks. Fill a page. How do your scribbles reflect how you’re feeling? If you’re feeling tentative, the marks on the page will probably look tentative, too. What about scribbling when you’re angry? What does that look like?

I sat down with my kids this week and we all did something different, but we all incorporated scribbles. You can try any or all of these (plus a couple others I’ll link to) or make up your own variations. Between us, we used black Sharpies, colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolors, and liquid acrylics, the last being a little heavy for the typical sketchbook, but used in small quantities, they were fine. I began by filling my page with one long line of scribble, overlapping it and closing the line at the end. (Photos taken in our art area, which has daylight bulbs but no natural light, often have shadows. We all work with the space we have!)

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Then I used colored pencils to fill in the shapes. I could have set myself all sorts of rules for this, trying to link the colors in a certain way or only use certain sets of colors…instead I used whatever color I wanted without much thought, my only rule not being to use the same color in adjacent areas.

Coloring in, in progress.

Coloring in, in progress.

My 8yo chose to do the same project (his finished work is at the top of the post). My 11yo wanted to make a free-form scribble and then see what picture he could find in it.

11yo's scribble.

11yo’s scribble.

He sketched in the rest of the picture he saw.

Sketched-in scribble.

Sketched-in scribble.

Then he used acrylics for color.

11yo's finished scribble-inspired painting.

11yo’s finished scribble-inspired painting.

My 4yo wanted to do everything, so she began with making marks with oil pastels and adding watercolor.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

But she tired of that. After a while she decided to do a big scribble like I had, but use liquid acrylics to add color, like her brother did. I’ve added her finished painting to the Flickr group.

4yo's unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

4yo’s unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

Take it Further:

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

In the past, we’ve made oil pastel/watercolor resists, using the pastels to scribble first. The full post on that is here. My son got the idea of turning scribbles to pictures, I think, from this activity that begins with watercolor scribbles and finishes with drawn images.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Further Resources:

Young at Art, by Susan Striker, which I quoted above, is an excellent resource for exploring open-ended art with toddlers and preschoolers. I particularly like her progression for introducing paint colors to encourage authentic color mixing discovery. She also includes good advice on how to talk to children about art.

Speaking of which, Let’s Talk About Art by art therapist Jen Berlingo has more guidelines for how to talk to kids about their artwork.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, if you want to post pictures in the Flickr group just click the join request button. Meanwhile, I’m still posting additional photos there of our work.

Next week we’ll be talking about–and playing with, of course–watercolors. See you then!

{Art Together} Looking Closely

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

“’The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.’ A lot of people don’t look very hard.” –David Hockney.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Before we go any further, you need to promise me you’re not going to start comparing. Don’t compare your artwork to mine, your kids’ artwork to my kids’ artwork, or your work to your kids’ or your kids’ work to each other. Remember to start where you are. Also remember that I’ve been doing this with my kids for a while now. We’re all comfortable with the process. Brand new things often feel uncomfortable, so if you or your kids are feeling awkward, it’s okay to acknowledge that. Like anything else new, it’ll feel less awkward the more you do it.

Okay, then! Let’s get started. We’re going to start not by trying to draw but by trying to look closely, with a pen or pencil in our hand. Because I find natural objects so interesting to draw and because I am craving spring, I suggest finding a Growing Thing to serve as the focus of your observation. If you can head outside, wherever you happen to live, and find a dry patch of ground on which to sit, and it’s not so cold or windy as to be distracting, do that. If you have houseplants, pick one. I am death to houseplants, so I bought some tulips and pussy willows at the supermarket. We have so many collected natural treasures on our table that some of those found their way into the drawings as well.

As for art materials, we used sketchbooks, but loose drawing paper and even regular old printer paper will work just fine. I gathered a selection of sketching pencils and markers.  I love my Pitt DSC02670Artist Pens, but a fine-point black Sharpie is a good alternative, and it’s cheap and easy to find. (Also, I don’t share the Pitt pens with my youngest, since she still presses down too hard on the tips for my liking. She uses Sharpies.) If you don’t have sketching/drawing pencils, there’s nothing wrong with using a regular #2 pencil, but I suggest taping over the eraser. If you have it as an option, you’ll want to use it. You’ll get hung up on getting everything “perfect,” which will just interrupt the whole process of looking at what you are drawing. My kids decided they wanted to use colored pencils too, so we added those to our pile later.

Start out by looking at your drawing item together. What do you notice about it? Here are some of the observations my kids and I made as we drew:

8yo, drawing pussy willows: I’m shading the puffy things in to make them look furry. Do you notice these have a furry texture?

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4yo, drawing a tulip: Is the green the flower too or just the yellow and red? [Answer: The green she was looking at was the leaf; the stem was green too.]

Me: The edge of this tulip looks like a clam shell the way it comes together in the middle.

11yo: This [the hardest pencil in the group] is horrible for shading. (For more information on soft/hard pencils, see this post; I’ve updated it with more pictures.)

Me, to 8yo, as he struggled to draw a junebug’s wing: Look at the shape of it; it’s not symmetrical. The bottom is a smoother line but the top goes up and then tapers down. Start with the overall shape and then fill in the details.

DSC02680

In Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, author Betty Edwards explains that we have built up a shorthand of sorts—what a hand should look like, a flower, a tree, a house—and when we sit to draw, our brain supplies these symbols, and we end up drawing what we think we see rather than what is truly there. I remember my first drawing class that included a live model; the professor pointed out how the proportions of the human body are not at all what we think. For example, a hand is much larger than we usually draw it; in fact, a hand is extremely odd looking if you really investigate it.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the "petals" in order to draw it accurately.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the “petals” in order to draw it accurately.

I’ve come to think that the true value in drawing isn’t the image itself, it’s that a drawing practice teaches you to really look at something. Of course the ability to recreate what you see can be extremely useful. You can use this skill to make notes on a nature walk so you can compare what you see (a flower? a leaf? an insect?) to a field guide later on. You can use it to sketch out the idea in your head to help you get it across to someone else—or even to help you figure out exactly what you’re thinking. But the sketch on the paper is only a small part of what you’re doing. The first part of drawing is looking—looking closely.

If you feel yourself becoming discouraged by your perceived inability to draw, try to reframe it: You are learning to really see. And remember that as with anything else, if you practice, it will begin to get easier. You will learn to truly look closely. You will begin to see what is actually there rather than what you think is there, and that is a valuable skill to have in life whether you become an accomplished sketcher or not.

Further Resources:

Drawing Lab For Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun: My kids and I (together and separately) have enjoyed many activities from this book; flip through and pick out something that interests you.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: Presents an approach to drawing designed to trick the brain to leave those preconceived notions behind.

Take it Further:

Blind Contour Drawing: This post at the Camp Creek Blog describes a method of drawing that involves only looking at the object, not at all at the paper.

Share Your Work:

I’ve created a Flickr group, where I’ve added more photos from our drawing session, and where you can share photos too, if you want to, or ask questions in the discussion section…whatever seems useful and helpful to you. If you have any questions please leave a comment or email me at amyhood AT amyhoodarts DOT com, and I will see you again in a week. Happy drawing!

Language Arts

That’s not exactly the right title for this post, but I’m not sure what is. We read all the time here. My older kids read voraciously to themselves; I read out loud every day. My 4yo will sit with a book and “read.” Because I have my younger two at home and my youngest cannot actually read yet, I read many of my 8yo’s homeschool-related books aloud. That way, my 4yo doesn’t feel left out. Usually we start the day with me reading from whatever chapter book we’re in, and we move on to history or science or project books, as well. (If I get laryngitis, our entire homeschool schedule will fall apart!)

So I have no worries whatsoever about my 8yo’s reading skills. He loves to read, he reads a variety of books, and he can tell me about what he’s reading. We talk about the books we’re reading together, and we’ve compared different versions of the same story (such as with The Wizard of Oz). Actually, now that I’m writing all of this, I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do anything additional with language arts. The main thing that’s missing is writing. My son doesn’t like the actual, physical act of writing. So I’m not forcing it.

Yet, I did feel like adding in something additional, so I thought back to my previous homeschooling experience, with my oldest during his first-grade year. We used Enki curriculum that year. As it turned out, I needed to supplement it quite a bit, because he wanted more in some areas (specifically science and math) than that curriculum offered. But I really enjoyed the storytelling sequence, of telling a story and working with it over a few days, and I decided to add something similar into our schedule when we started up again after the holidays.

In our history readings, we’re up to Roman times (and just past Greek), so I thought we’d work with myths. We have books of Greek and Roman mythology, but I wanted a version without illustrations–you’ll see why. After poking around Amazon a bit, I borrowed Classic Myths to Read Aloud from our local library. And this is our process: I read the myth aloud. The next day, I read it aloud again, and I have my 8yo tell it back to me. And then we each draw a picture related to the myth. I’d like him to add a sentence describing the illustration, but I got some resistance to that idea today. We’ll work up to it.

Meanwhile, he retold the myth beautifully. He remembered so many details. And we all love to draw, so working with the story in that way was fun for all of us. And we will have a collection of our own illustrations for various myths.

Illustrating a myth

Illustrating a myth

I don’t need him to write a book report to prove to me that he is comprehending what he is reading and is able to summarize it in proper narrative order. Without the distraction of the physical act of writing, he can focus better on what he’s doing. And did I mention how fun it is to sit on the floor together and draw?

So that is our “language arts.” We read… a lot. We talk… a lot. And we draw, too, because we like to and we can. And yes, he is still working on his monster book, which entails reading, researching, note-taking, and even…writing.

Mapping The Land of Oz

Around Halloween–a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy stormed through, when we had our power back but the library didn’t and we were all a little not-knowing-what-to-do-with-ourselves–I loaded up The Wizard of Oz for the kids to watch. They’d never seen it, and I thought it was high time they did. Of course they loved it, all three of them. When the library finally opened again, we borrowed L. Frank Baum’s original book version. My boys also found a graphic novel version based on the book. I began reading the book out loud to my homeschooled kids (reading aloud is part of our day, even though my 8yo can read to himself).

You can see where this is going, yes? The book and the movie are very different. The kids picked up on all the differences, and then we added the graphic novel to the mix (my 8yo read that to himself, and I read it aloud to my 4yo). The graphic novel and the book are very similar but not exact. Through discussion, my kids were comparing and contrasting different versions of the same story–fantastic stuff! Then we thought we’d try to map the Land of Oz.

To do this, I read the relevant parts from the original book, and my son (age 8) and I each made our own rough sketch, tracing the friends’ path.

N’s sketch of Oz, in progress

While we sketched, G (age 4) made her own drawing with colored pencils.

G’s drawing

When his sketch was completed, N used nicer paper and watercolor pencils to make a more finished version of his map.

Using watercolor pencils, in progress

G requested paint to make another map. Can you see the yellow brick road in this version?

G’s painted map of Oz

To finish, N added water to his watercolor pencil drawings. He was pleased with his final result.

N’s finished map of Oz

This is not just an artistic exercise–this is about processing what is read in a different, visual, spatial way. How do events connect in a story, both in time and in space? This is a great story to use for mapping, because the characters are traveling through Oz on a path, and Baum gives good cues on how things connect. (I’m tempted, myself, to try to map the story in time, too. Are there enough clues for me to figure out how long Dorothy spent in Oz?) My instincts tell me that going through the process of translating the written words into a visual map will help my children become better readers and to process information better. But my main impulse behind suggesting we do this is simply that I thought it would be fun. My kids like maps and were (as I suspected they would be) both excited to try mapping the Land of Oz.

Have you mapped a fictional land from a story book or novel? Do you have suggestions for other imaginary lands for mapping?

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!

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.