Category Archives: drawing

Maps, Drawn + Painted

Materials: Watercolor paper, permanent markers, watercolor paint, painter’s tape (optional)

On a recent sick day, when my boys were too sick for school but they’d temporarily perked up enough for a project, we drew and painted some maps. I left this completely wide open, with the only guideline being that we’d draw the map first with permanent marker, then add color with watercolor paint. I’d had in mind using black Sharpies, but N and G wanted to use colored markers along with the colored paint. Sure! Why not?

I also left the subject wide open. I sketched out a map of favorite places, but I figured N would want to draw a map of a made-up place (he did). V chose to draw a map of New Rome (from The Son of Neptune) as he pictured it in his mind, which was, he told me, completely different from the map included in the book.

The boys also chose to use painter’s tape to create a tape resist effect on their maps. Once everything was in place, we painted.

Above, N adding paint. Below, a detail of his cacti.

G chose to draw with colored permanent markers (yes, I give my 3yo permanent markers! under supervision, though) and then cover her paper with red paint.

For quite an interesting effect! Below, V’s finished map of New Rome. He used the tape to mark off roads.

He’s quite pleased with the Fields of Mars in the lower right-hand corner. He applied yellow, green, and brown paint, some with the brush, some with the tip of a narrow piece of sponge, then lifted some off with a paper towel. It looks like a place of battle, doesn’t it? His map also includes quite a bit of detail, as he consulted the book and labeled places before adding color.

Below, N’s finished map. He used tape resist to represent snow (piled up on the side), and when his painting was dry, he added a 3-dimensional temple using colored tape.

This was a very open-ended project; I had nothing in mind besides introducing the kids to using permanent marker and watercolor together–and even in that, they took it in different directions by using colored markers. By simply saying “let’s draw a map,” the boys were free to draw the type of map they each like most–V, a detailed map of a real place (in this case, real in the sense that someone had already described it in detail), and N, a map wholly out of his imagination. And I just doodled.

One of my favorite places: my love-filled home!

Simple Chromotography and Magnet Painting

A local science-oriented toy store has a “kinderscience” program once per week for kids ages 2-5. I’ve taken G a few times. It’s a good way to get out of the house and, since it’s within walking distance of the car dealership, it was an excellent place to pass the time with a three-year-old last week while the car was being serviced. The activities in this session were art-via-science, so I decided to share them here. In general, I’d prefer it if the instructor spent less time talking (there is a lot of “this is what you’re going to do and this is what is going to happen”) and more time just setting out the activity and letting the kids explore. But of course, as soon as the materials were available, that is exactly what I encouraged G to do.

The first activity involved coffee filters–such a favorite! The kids were to color on the filters with markers, then drop water onto it with a dropper. G was excited to see the droppers, as we’d just used them the day before for an activity at home and she already knew how to use them herself. Because the trays were red, it was a little hard for her to tell where her color was going.

The instructor ripped some filters so they lay flat in a butterfly shape, too. On this one, she decided to see what would happen if you drew some more on the wet filter. I think we’ll try this activity again at home on the white table, to eliminate the background color confusion.

The second activity was a version of marble painting, but instead of rolling the marbles around in the pie tin, the kids were to use a magnet wand, from the bottom, to drag painty magnetic marbles over the paper.

After a bit of this, G decided to simply roll the marbles around the old-fashioned way, as it was easier.

We already have three of the magnet wands–we used them over the summer to collect iron filings from beach sand (which is super fun and, quite frankly, very cool to do)–so I bought a small bag of magnetic marbles so my older kids (who were in school) can try this as well.

All in all, much better than sitting in the car dealership’s waiting room for an hour!


(Inspired by Pinterest.)

Materials: Pumpkins, chalkboard spray paint (we found ours in a craft store), damp rags for cleaning, chalk for playing!

G has an October birthday, and while her parties are still simple family gatherings, I like to have something for her cousins, who range in age from three to fifteen, to do. October, of course, makes me think of pumpkins, but I didn’t want to have the kids paint pumpkins, mainly because the last time we tried that at a party (many years ago), none of the pumpkins were dry by going-home time, and we had to figure out how to transport wet, painted pumpkins home in cars without accidentally pumpkin-printing everyone’s upholstery. So I hopped onto Pinterest for no-paint decorating ideas and eventually decided on spray-painting them with chalkboard paint.

Eleven-year-old cousin~doesn't he look comfortable?

So last weekend, the kids and I picked out seven small pumpkins at a nearby pumpkin patch and brought them home. First, we cleaned them in the yard. I gave G the spray bottle, which is one of her favorite things to use, and she sprayed the pumpkins while the boys and I used rags to rub the dirt off. Really get as much as you can–I used my thumb nail to work the rag right down the crevasses. Once they were clean and dry, my husband spray painted them (not a kid’s job–it really does smell unhealthy–and he did it outside).

He gave each pumpkins two coats of spray paint, and once it was thoroughly dry I primed it according to directions (rubbing the side of the chalk onto it, then erasing). On party day, we invited the kids to decorate their pumpkins, erase, decorate again as much as they wanted, and bring them home too, of course.

Four-year-old cousin, drawing on her pumpkin

I know my fifteen-year-old niece isn’t really a child, but we painted one for her, too, and she drew on it too. Truth be told, I wish I’d gotten one for myself!

G drawing on her pumpkin during her party

N and V

We learned that if you use the sharp edge of brand-new chalk, a bit of the paint would scratch off, which wasn’t the plan but of course made me think of sgraffito. I wonder what paint might work best for that? I’m thinking kids’ tempera would probably flake, but maybe liquid acrylic or regular acrylic would work. You could paint a layer of paint onto the pumpkin and then scratch your design on, lightly enough to expose the orange but not pierce the pumpkin itself. I’m thinking that might look pretty cool! If you try it, let me know.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Tuesday was a quasi-sick day here, the sort of day where the kids are home because a full school day is a bit too much, but they’re not sick-in-bed sick. (That’s my favorite kind!) At some point in the morning, G asked to paint, so I set her up with the liquid watercolors. N decided to experiment with bleeding tissue paper. Based on some of the comments to my first post about it, I gave him pieces of tissue paper, watercolor paper, a paintbrush, and one cup of water and one of vinegar.

The colors were definitely more vibrant than when G used a spray bottle, but there were still some white spots left behind under the squares–it makes it look like a resist, almost. Do you see that blue blob up towards the top corner of his paper? He accidentally wrinkled up a square (“it looks like blue spinach,” he said) and wondered if it would be okay. Of course! It left an interesting splotch behind, and I’m thinking next time we experiment with the tissue paper, we’ll go for a scrunch-and-stick technique and see what happens.

While his younger siblings painted, V hit the writing center and began writing a story in a blank book. N and G joined him when they finished their paintings. N decided to draw a story, and G, after making some marks, dictated her story to me.

I love this picture! Three kids in jammies, working on stories. If you build it, they will come.

Rainy Day Open Studio

We’ve had very few rainy days this summer. We’ve spent our time at the beach and exploring tidepools; riding bikes and scooters; finding critters in the yard and digging holes. We’ve been picnicking at the playground and visiting local museums. In other words, we are enjoying the outside while we can. Sunday, though, it poured. It was so unfamiliar and even welcome, and I pulled some rainy-day ideas out of my virtual hat. I gave the kids some choices, and as per usual, they all chose different things, so I’ll actually be splitting this into two posts.

V decided to start with artist trading cards, and that’s where he ended–he never moved on. ATCs can be intricate and involved, but I decided not to show V examples. I told him they were the same size as baseball cards and he could draw whatever he wanted on them. (He was using the Bristol board, so dry media only.) He chose to make a collection of super-hero symbols. He’s not done yet.

Here’s a close-up of a few of them.

He started with the ones he knows best, but eventually books, posters, and even the Internet were consulted.

N decided to start with the sheet I offered on how to draw a pirate ship, from Zenobia Southcombe‘s site. Here is his drawing, complete with “Blow the man down!”

When G finished her first project (the subject of the next post), she wanted to draw a pirate ship too. So I handed her the instruction sheet and some drawing paper, and she got to work.

Do you see that yellow circle in the top left-hand corner? She carefully drew a circle and colored it yellow, to be the moon. (Her brother’s drawing has a moon, too.) I didn’t even know she could draw a circle that well. She’s not even three. I can’t help it; I’m impressed.

When N finished his drawing, he asked to do the third item I’d mentioned, creating a color wheel using these instructions at That Artist Woman. I thought this would make a good tool to have around the studio, and in the future I think we’ll each make analogous and complementary paintings. Our color wheel–we did it together–is not as neat and tidy as Gail’s, and it’s also not in a sketchbook but just floating loose.

Still, it will come in handy, and we enjoyed mixing the colors. (We always enjoy mixing colors around here!)

The rain stopped in time for the kids to have a damp water fight in the yard with their dad. I have more rainy-day ideas, should we need them, but we’re happy to be outside as much as we can.


How has your weather been? (If you’re in the northern hemisphere) are you making the most of the outdoors while you can?

T-Shirt Design: Freezer Paper Stencils

Materials: T-shirt; textile paint; sponge brush; freezer paper; x-acto knife, cutting mat, and straight edge (helpful but not necessary)

As I mentioned in the last post, when the boys began talking about what they wanted to print on t-shirts, I thought perhaps scratch-foam printing–which prints in reverse, with a block of color surrounding the scratched image in white (see our examples here)–wasn’t the best way to go. I suggested perhaps we think about using stencils. They agreed. Come along and follow their design process!

First, they made sketches.

V has been reading lots of comics/graphic novels lately, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted the Captain America symbol or that of Green Lantern. N wanted to go with his custom “Super N—” symbol, an N in a circle. V eventually decided to start with Green Lantern as it’s simpler, with only one color, and N decided upon a yellow N in a red circle, which was still only one color because he’d chosen a yellow t-shirt.

Next we turned their sketches into larger, neater versions, still on regular paper.

After figuring out how large of a logo he wanted, V made his circles using a compass, then added in the lines at the top and bottom with a ruler. He compared it to the actual logo, consulted with his dad, and adjusted the lines a bit so they overlapped the circle more. Then we darkened it up, traced it onto the freezer paper, and I cut it out with the x-acto knife.

I helped N a bit more. We lay a sheet of paper over his shirt so he could show me how large the circle should be, and then I drew the finished circle with the compass. Together we sketched out the N, then neatened it up with the ruler. When all looked well, I traced his image and cut it out.

There are many tutorials online for using freezer paper stencils, and it’s very simple. The shiny side irons right onto the shirt. I slid a piece inside the shirt, too, so no paint would run through to the back. Then it’s time to paint.

Here’s N’s shirt, drying. You leave the stencils on until the paint is dry.

When the paint was dry, the boys and I peeled off the stencils together. So exciting!

V was pleased.

So was N.

We used Speedball Textile Screen Printing Ink, so I set the image with the iron as instructed. I laundered them inside out with no problems. They haven’t worn them yet because they both have art camp this week, and they don’t want to get any paint on their new shirts. Typically up until this point, when the kids have had something specific in mind (like, oh, a reversible fireman-spaceman knit winter hat), I’ve figured out the design and made it. How satisfying for them to go from their own sketch to finished product, with just minimal assistance.


What have your kids been designing recently?

Hot Rocks

Our tray of cooling hot rocks

(I’ve seen this on the web here and there, but I first saw it in the fabulous book Summer Crafts by Marjorie Galen, which I bought in a used bookstore two years ago. The book was published in 2005, and Galen says as far as she knows, her friend Elizabeth’s family invented hot rocks.)

Materials: Rocks–larger and flatter are easier; peeled crayons; oven; nearby bucket of cold water (my plan-ahead self decided this was necessary, in case anyone accidentally touched the rocks)

Following the directions in the book, I preheated the oven to 350, lined a cookie sheet with tin foil, and set up my rocks (I did 8 this first time, two for each of us). Meanwhile, the kids began to peel some of our older crayons–I gather this is so as they melt against the rock, you’re not running up against the paper. Once the oven was hot, I baked the rocks for 15 minutes while we continued to peel crayons. When the rocks were almost done, I sent the kids outside with the crayons–I’d already brought a bucket of water to the patch of shaded driveway–and I met them with the tray of hot rocks. (Obviously, you want to place the rocks on a surface that won’t get burned.)

The rocks are hot. I made sure all my kids understood that they’d get burned if they touched them. G is two, and she did fine, but really, use your judgment with your own children.

I had the kids sit down, with the crayons in the middle, and using my oven mitt, I placed a rock in front of each of them. Then the magic begins.

“It’s melting!”

“This is so cool!”

“This is so cool!!!”

I agree. I colored two rocks too, and it is so cool. And you can just keep adding wax and layering. Our rocks didn’t lose their heat before the kids were done experimenting.

The bucket of water did get a few uses, when fingers accidentally (or not so accidentally) bumped (do you see that inquisitive finger in the photo above?), but nobody got seriously hurt. It was definitely handy having the water there, though.

Look at those gorgeous rocks!

Iris Study

Materials: Flowers in bloom (yay, spring!); clipboards; decent-weight drawing paper (I’ve been really happy with this in the 160gsm weight); media of your choice–we used, amongst us, sketching pencils, colored pencils, chalk pastels, and gouache

These beauties are in bloom right now.

We’ve been watching them get taller and taller, we watched the buds emerge, and yesterday when we went outside, there were a couple of blooms. Today, a riot.

So I cut some of our drawing paper in half so it would fit on a clipboard, and we brought a bunch of art supplies outside. V wanted some sort of paint that was thicker than liquid watercolors but not quite tempera. I’d been thinking the same thing, so I brought out the gouache. According to DickBlick, gouache is an opaque watercolor. I like it quite a bit. But, having never worked with watercolors in a tube before, V needed some instruction (not something he enjoys) and some practice. It’s hard to get the hang of a new material.

I love that picture! Kids outside, making art. G joined in, looking at the flowers and trying out all the materials. N decided to go up the hill to another patch of irises–less crowded if we spread out.

(The cape, by the way, is from his teacher. It’s a multi-age classroom. Last year she made all the kids crowns for their birthdays, and this year, capes. So by the time you’ve gone through both years with her, you have a set. N just received his cape on Friday since his birthday is this weekend, and he’s been wearing it constantly. He has a wonderful teacher!)

N liked the chalk pastels quite a bit.

V worked with the pencil and gouache. He was initially very frustrated with mixing the colors and getting the right amount of water, but he ended up with some beautiful purples.

This is what I managed in fits & starts–under some duress, I might add.

(I was using the back of my car to lay out the finished work so it wouldn’t blow away. Mine is resting on our traveling art box.) I haven’t used gouache in a while either, so I was reacquainting myself with its characteristics.

What’s in bloom where you live? What can you get outside to draw or paint?

Printmaking With Hot Glue

Materials: Hot glue gun, acetate (we used this), paper, blockprinting ink, brayer, some sort of palette

Last week, we used Scratch-foam to make prints. The lines we carved into the foam stayed white, while everything else was inked. This week, we were adding to our plate by using hot glue. When the lines of hot glue dried, they were hard and raised, so theoretically the lines would get inked more than the surface.

The first step is to draw on the acetate with the hot glue. The boys and I made a pencil sketch on a piece of paper first, and then placed our sketch under the clear acetate so we could trace.

(The washing machine became our gluing station, so we could keep it separate from the inking and printing area!) It takes a bit of practice to get the feel for how the glue flows from the glue gun. It’s not easy. I suggested we all use simple designs, without a lot of detail, and not expect perfection.

With G, I pressed the trigger and she directed the gun. Here’s her plate.

Once the glue is dry, ink it with the brayer like any other printing plate. We used paper the same size as the acetate sheets, so we lined them up, pressed with our hands, and peeled. Here’s one of N’s. (Click to embiggen; these prints are much lighter than last week’s.)

And one of V’s.

You can see that a lot of the background comes through as well. This isn’t the best technique to use if you want a super clean line print, and V, especially, did not like this aspect. N was quite pleased with his prints. Both boys prefer the scratch-foam, but they agree we should try all the printmaking techniques we can so we know what’s at our disposal.

Here’s one of mine (top) and one of G’s (bottom).

G’s favorite part of printmaking, hands down, is rolling the ink-filled brayer on the plate. Perhaps I need to get her a mini paint roller…

We wondered later if it would have been possible to rub away some of the background ink with a paper towel before making a print, but it might be hard to “clean” the plate that way before the ink dried (water-soluble ink dries faster). When I used this technique with an actual press, the same thing happened with the background, so I don’t think we did anything wrong. It’s simply a different effect–and it’s good to know how to get various effects. The more tools and techniques we explore, the greater the chance that we’ll know just how to realize specific ideas.

One more picture–of the paper that was under the plate N was inking. I like how it looks!

We’re not done with printmaking yet. Stay tuned!


Do you have any favorite printmaking techniques?

Printmaking With Scratch-foam

Materials: Scratch-foam, water-soluble block printing inks, brayers, paper, palette of some sort (we used wax paper because I couldn’t find freezer paper, and the acrylic portion of a box frame); items to scratch into the board with

I recently took a two-day printmaking/boookbinding class (blogged about here and here), and while I took it for my own benefit, I of course emerged with all sorts of ideas for things to do with the kids. But I’ve had Scratch-foam on my wish list for quite a while, just waiting for enough other items to jump in the cart to make shipping worthwhile! So this is what we began with–a very simple entryway into printmaking, completely accessible (you could try other paints besides block printing inks), and, like all forms of printmaking I’ve tried, wholly magical and fun.

The Scratch-foam sheets are 9×12, and I cut them in half so we were working with 9×6 plates. This not only doubles the number of scratch-foam sheets we have, it also enabled us to use regular printer/copy paper. I wanted the focus to be on experimenting, not worrying about using up special paper. (And as you’ll see at the end, we used lots of paper!)

I also told the boys they’d get one piece of foam each for today. Why? Because I wanted them to focus on what they could do with printmaking, not draw a picture, make a print, and then repeat the process. One plate = lots of experimentation. So the first thing you do with these, obviously, is draw into the plate.


V is getting quite involved with his drawing here! We looked around the studio for things to use and found the end of paintbrushes, pencils, the bone folder, a wooden tool that was blunt on one end and sharp on the other (it came in a set of clay tools), even fingernails.

After scratching, ink with the brayer. The ink should be a thin, even coat. Even a toddler can do this once you show her how.


At one point, N got a bit painterly with his ink application.


And G, as per usual, requested to use all the colors in turn (which made for some pretty wild and amazing prints!).


Here, V will show you how simple the process is. Ink your plate, smoothly press your paper over the inked side of your plate using your hands, and then peel the paper away to reveal the print. (As with all photos, click to embiggen.)


Even I got a chance to make some prints.


(My husband served as photographer for this art-making session, which is why I had so many photos from which to choose!)

By the time we were done, we’d made lots and lots of prints.


G didn’t always cover her entire plate, but her color combinations were fantastic.


V also mixed colors to get a series of really nice prints. (I got the starter set of block printing ink, so we had blue, yellow, red, black, white, and gold.)


N was having some trouble with inking, pressing, and fingerprints–and perhaps a busy plate.


I think that one is probably a ghost print (when you make a second print off the plate without re-inking). He was happy with the process, though, and with many of his prints. I like his painterly ones, too.


One of my prints:


That’s one of the ones I made using up some leftover ink on somebody’s palette. (Moms do that.)

The water-soluble block printing inks clean up super easily, although I don’t know if they wash out of clothing. (Amazingly, I won’t find out, either, because none of the kids got any on their clothes.) It rinsed off the brayers, acrylic palette, and plates with just water, and it wiped right off the table and hands (and forehead, in G’s case), too.

About halfway through, V said, “This is the best project! Usually I’m done by now.” There is just something about printmaking–the way you can use the plate over and over yet get different results, the freedom to experiment without worrying you’ll mess something up (you’ll still have the plate), the immediate gratification of peeling off that paper–it’s so exciting and engaging. And, as you can see, it can be as simple as scratching into some foam.