Category Archives: drawing

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.


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


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.

Shrinky Dink Fun

Materials: Plain Shrinky Dink sheets, permanent markers, colored pencils, hole punches

I have a vague memory of Shrinky Dinks from early childhood, involving an avocado-green oven and those pre-printed Shrinky Dinks that require no more creativity than coloring books. But then I began seeing tutorials for using recycled plastic, and then I saw blank sheets in the local toy/science store and tucked them away for a Christmas gift. Today we finally took them out to play! We’re not breaking any new ground here, but it was new to us and totally fun, and we have lots of blank sheets left!

I’d pinned a tutorial for Shrinky Dink buttons a while ago, so I definitely wanted to try that out. All the kids love buttons, so they all wanted to make some as well. We also printed out a sheet of computer-created stars for tracing and had the ruler out for squares and rectangles. V, being the oldest (and the most deliberate), decided ahead of time what size he wanted his finished square to be and then did the math to figure out what size plastic to begin with. (The package says pieces will shrink to about 1/3 their starting size.)

This is our output, pre-shrinking:

The wow factor of putting these in the oven and peeking through the window cannot be overstated! It was seriously cool! We tried the toaster oven first, but it just didn’t seem hot enough, plus we couldn’t fit much in at a time, plus we couldn’t all see, since it’s on the counter. Conventional oven is the way to go.

I realized afterwards that I made more pieces than the kids. Oh, well. (Did I mention how fun these are?!) Here are the kids’ creations:

V's creations

V wanted to re-create his stamp as a pendant for either a necklace or a key chain. Once he saw how much fun the rest of us were having with buttons, he made one, too.

N's creations

N wanted to make a star magnet and ended up with a smaller one than he’d counted on–but it still works as a magnet just fine (I cut a small square of self-adhesive magnet strip for the back). He had a hard time envisioning what 1/3 would look like. He really enjoyed making buttons, too.

G's creations

G does her own thing! She began with a the big button template (made using a 1 1/2″ hole punch, with the smaller holes punched with a normal hole punch), then colored on a rectangle, then punched a 1″ hole out from that, then had her brother add button holes to it. She also happily helped us count to 30 (the number of seconds you leave them in the oven after they flatten back down, to set them) and 15 (the number of seconds you leave some folded-up paper on top of them to keep them flat while they cool).

And here’s our total output of Shrinky Dink creations, after shrinking~mine are included in this photo, too.

I’ll have to experiment to see if the ink we used (permanent ultrafine Sharpies) will hold up to laundering, so we know whether these buttons can be used on clothing or are merely decorative. N is thinking about a career in button design*, so if that’s the case, I’ll need to make sure he has the right ink. And I may join him in his business venture, because this is the most fun I’ve had using the oven in quite a while!

* Check out all the Etsy items made using Shrinky Dinks!

Marker + Watercolors

{So sorry posting is spotty lately! I blame January and the fact that I’m recovering from Lyme, which makes me achy and tired. But hopefully things will pick up soon!}

Inspired by the “Lively Lines” activity in Express Yourself: Activities and Adventures in Expressionism by Joyce Raimondo.

Materials: Permanent marker (we used fine tip), watercolor paper, watercolor paints

This was V’s first choice of activities from his book (earlier, N chose drawing with scissors from his own book). The idea is to use the marker to draw a scene, but not just outlines–we were to add different types of lines to show movement and create patterns. My kids only sort of did that, but, as V said, “I had fun.

V, painting and having fun

He chose to create a beach scene. He did, indeed, add lots of types of lines, but they’re not all visible under the watercolor. This was the first time the boys used pan watercolors, not counting the lower quality type they (sometimes) get to use at school, so there was a learning curve as far as balancing water and pigment, too.

V's finished painting

He got quite detailed with the different beach creatures in the water and on the sand, and he tried to mix some colors, too, to get the shade of water he was after.

N didn’t want to draw a scene at all, and had a bit more trouble keeping his paintbrush at the just-right level of wet versus dry.

N, painting

He used some liquid watercolors too (the magenta). G was only allowed the liquid watercolors, since, at 3, she still has trouble remembering to rinse her paintbrush between colors. I need to remember to get her a starter set of pan watercolors, but I’m not ready to hand over the Reeves or Van Gogh set to her right now!

G's painting

G left many of her marker doodles unpainted, but created a nice mix of colors where she did paint.

I played with this activity too, trying to use some movement lines, too.

Mama's painting

I’ve been photographing, embroidering, and pinning trees lately, and this is just a quick sketch of some birches.

Generally, I wouldn’t introduce a new material at the same time as we’re trying a specific activity–I was thinking we’d use liquid watercolors here and just play and experiment with the pan watercolors before using them for something more directed. It’s hard to get a new material to do what you want, when you’re unfamiliar with it. So we need to just doodle with those watercolors at some point, so the boys can get a better feel for working with them.

Drawing in Snow

Last year, we got 30 inches of snow in January alone. This year, snow has been sparse at best, so far, and so my kids were delighted with the mere dusting that awaited them on Friday morning. Informed that there wasn’t enough time–or snow–to get the sleds out while we waited for the bus, N emerged from the garage with a kid-sized plastic rake and began doodling on the driveway.

Both boys used the rake to make patterns in the light snow.

They covered the driveway (the portion that had snow, anyway; the rest was a thin glaze of ice–really, it wasn’t much of a snowfall at all). N finished by drawing an elf/troll face in profile, still using the rake.

Knowing it would all melt soon, I snapped some pictures of their temporary experiments in the snow, enjoying the fact that they view just about anything as a canvas.

Matisse-Inspired Collage

From What's The Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo

The kids each received a Joyce Raimondo book for Christmas; this activity is from What’s The Big Idea? Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art. The books are suggested for ages 5-12 and are full of techniques to try based on famous artworks. The activities are open-ended, just the sort of thing we like here, and the books are a great addition to our idea shelf.

Materials: Colored paper, glue sticks, scissors

A busy table. My beach scene is in the closest corner.

The book suggested thinking of a place to represent with organic shapes cut from paper. The Matisse shown in the book (which is also on its cover) is Les Codomas, which shows a circus scene. I decided upon the beach. V decided to map out the living room. N didn’t want to think of a place, explaining that he likes to just jump in. (I knew that.) G, being 3, just cut and pasted.

I’m usually pretty open in the studio, but I did insist that the kids not use pencils to draw their shapes first, explaining that we were going to follow the guidelines in the book and “draw” with our scissors. N wasn’t too happy about this, but I held firm. I told him it might feel like a stretch, but stretching was good, and it forces us to figure things out in different ways. He had the option to stop if he wanted, of course, but he kept on. Here’s his finished collage.

N's (age 7)

He was most pleased with the spiral that has different colors peeking through. I agree–pretty cool!

Here’s V’s map of the living room.

V's, age 10

I think he has inherited my love of straight lines! “Organic” is not his natural inclination. (If only his room were as orderly.)

And here is G’s collage.

G's, age 3

While she’s younger than the age range of the book, and can’t be expected to fulfill the guidelines exactly, cutting and pasting is certainly something she can join in on. There are many activities in the Joyce Raimondo books that I can adapt so that all the kids can participate at their own level. That’s something I really appreciate in an art book. I found these while browsing the art section in the kids’ room at one of our local libraries while G was in story time and decided it was worth ordering our own copies.

You can read more on Henri Matisse’s cut-outs here.

Doodle Rocks

Materials: Rocks; liquid acrylic craft paint; brushes of various sizes; permanent markers, including metallic

We love to collect rocks. Not too long ago, after seeing beautifully painted rocks at Jen Muna, I decided I wanted to try it myself. And then I figured the kids could give it a try, too. This is an extremely open activity. I spread out the materials (having previously rinsed the rocks and let them dry) and we each took our designs in whatever direction we chose.

That is a busy table! Even dad participated in this activity. I think all of us used a combination of paint and markers, sometimes on the same rock. Here are the results.

G's rocks

Most of G’s are painted, in colors of her choosing, of course. The lighter orange one is permanent marker. On one of these (I’m not sure which) she colored with marker and then painted over it. (Warning: Acrylic paint will not wash out of clothing.)

N's rocks

On some rocks, N used marker and paint together. The bottom ones were drawn on with metallic marker (he decorated both sides of some of his rocks, so some images aren’t shown). The flower in the top middle was created using paint (and a thin script brush) over metallic silver marker, and the ones on either side were drawn after seeing his dad’s rocks, below.

V's rocks

V spent quite a bit of time experimenting with different brush sizes. He also likes to add his initials and his name (blurred out) on most everything!

My husband and I also played with the materials.

Parents' rocks

The top four are mine, and the bottom two (the ones that inspired N) are my husband’s. I experimented with stamping on the rocks (which worked so-so, since the rocks weren’t perfectly flat).

This is a relaxing, open-ended activity that is easily adjusted for all age levels. And if you and your kids are compulsive rock collectors (as we are!) it’s a fun way to turn your finds into creative canvases.

Carving Stamps

Note: This is suitable for elementary students & older. In the next post I’ll show how I modified things so my three-year-old could make a stamp, too.

Materials: Speedball Speedy Carve block (cut into smaller pieces); set of linoleum cutting tools; paper and pencil; bone folder (optional); x-acto knife (optional); block, cork, or something similar for a handle, and glue (optional)

I began experimenting with stamp carving last year, and, if you haven’t tried it before, I can tell you that it’s easier than you might think to get good results. I have a tutorial here, and that is the process I led my kids through, too. However, I stressed a couple of points:

* Fingers have to stay on the edge of the carving block, not on top of it, while carving, because if the carving tool slips, we don’t want it scooping out any finger bits.

* Always carve away from yourself, directly away, not at an angle. Turn the block as necessary. The tools are designed to be pushed away as they scoop. Plus, it’s safer.

Also, using a scrap of rubber, I showed the boys how to use the tool before handing it over. I found all my supplies at a local chain craft store (near the stamps and scrap-booking section), and both cutting sets were purchased with a 50% off coupon, so it wasn’t too expensive to have one for each child. You can also find stamp carving supplies at a fine arts store.

Okay, let’s begin! First, using a metal straight edge and an x-acto knife, I cut the block into smaller pieces. After each boy chose a size, I traced his block onto a piece of paper several times. The boys then sketched their ideas into these squares, so they knew the size they were working with. Once they had sketches they were pleased with, I had them go over the lines with the pencil so they were darker, and then we burnished the sketch onto the carving block. (Details are in the tutorial.)

Now it’s time to carve!

Below, N works on his stamp, his sketch of the Hero Factory shield. Yes, his fingers are on the block, but at least on the near side of the tool. I did need to remind him more than once not to carve towards his fingers.

Here, V has inked and stamped his carving, so he can see what still needs to be carved away.

N’s finished Hero Factory stamp is at the top of this post, and here is V’s initial with a lightning bolt:

This activity is something that requires supervision and knowledge of your own kids. V, age 10, had no problems using the tools safely and well. N, age 7, needed much closer supervision and some help finishing his stamp. But the immediate thrill of sketching an idea and turning it into a stamp really can’t be beat. I love it every single time, and it’s really fun to share this thrill with my kids.

Note: V decided to leave his block as is. N wanted me to cut around the perimeter of his–which I did with the x-acto knife–and then we glued it to a wooden block to use as a handle. Trimming around the outside edge can eliminate the need to carve away all the excess outside the design, but it doesn’t work for all designs. I use a waterproof glue, because I like to rinse our stamps after we use them.