Category Archives: drawing

Art to Stamp: A Parent-Child Collaboration

Materials: Child’s original artwork; Speedball Speedy Carve block; linoleum cutting set (which I found at a craft store, so I could use a 55% off coupon!)

An alternate title to this post could be Mamas Need Inspiration, Too! I decided upon a focus for this blog–open-ended art experiences for kids–and because I try to stick to it, I really don’t share my own compulsion to make things. But I do make things, as often as I can. Often this is by knitting, since it’s easiest to fit around the edges of my mama gig; clearing out time and space to sew on the machine is much harder. I have a long list of projects and techniques I plan to tackle when I get a bit more time, and I fit what I can into the time I have. Recently, I ordered Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects, and I love love love it. I want to print on paper and fabric and, quite possibly, my children, if they stay still long enough.

Meanwhile, V had an assignment to create a “project representation” for his report on the explorer La Salle, and he chose to make a game. I started asking him some questions to help him to think about what he wanted, and then we went “shopping” in the craft area for supplies. Having just gotten the book and itching to try carving a stamp, I asked him what he was thinking of putting on the back of his question cards. (I know, most parents would be more concerned with the questions themselves; I’m thinking design.) Because, I said, we could make a stamp.

Really? he said.


He decided on a ship, so we found this picture of one of La Salle’s ships, I gave him a piece of paper roughly the size the finished stamp needed to be to fit on the cards, and he drew the ship. I told him it had to be relatively simple, with enough space between the lines for me to carve. (I found Speedy Carve blocks in the 4×6 size and just cut it down to size using a utility knife.)

Then, we darkened the lines of his drawing with pencil, flipped it face down onto the carving block, and I burnished the back with a bone folder, which transferred the pencil lines to the block. This ensures that the finished stamp will match the drawing and not be reversed.

His original drawing is at the top, the stamp in the middle, then the image produced by the stamp at the bottom. At first, carving the stamp was much harder than the book had led me to believe it would be, especially using linoleum tools on a soft block. Then I figured out how to use the tools properly, and it was a piece o’ cake–not that this stamp is particularly lovely to look at. It’s a bit hacked. But it is my first one.

Not only did he stamp all his question cards, he also decided to use the corner punch to round the edges. A boy after my own heart.

I don’t consider this helping with his project, really, since nobody expected him to carve a stamp anyway. If he didn’t have a mother who was a bit obsessed with making things, we’d have gone to the craft store and bought a generic stamp of a ship or a compass rose or something equally suitable. This way, though, he drew the ship himself–and it’s La Salle’s ship, even.

And I got to learn how to carve stamps!

Yarn Art

(Somewhat inspired by this activity from Family Fun magazine.)

Materials: Yarn scraps, cornstarch glue (recipe in link above), and some type of strong paper (we used vellum paper)

While flipping through the February issue of Family Fun, I saw this activity involving paste and yarn and I thought it had potential, if you take away the pre-determined end product and the confines of the cookie cutter. I thought, how fun would it be to run your hands along that sticky paste and put those yarn scraps any place you wanted? So that is what G and I did. (Click on pictures to embiggen.)

As a knitter, I have no shortage of yarn scraps. Whenever I weave in and cut those pesky ends, I save them. I can’t help it. They might come in useful some day. And so I have overflowing bags of yarn ends, in any color you can think of. I cut some down, but I left the bag on the table, and G let me know if she needed a color that wasn’t already in the pile.

I’d showed her how to do it: Put the yarn in the glue, run your fingers down the yarn, and put it on the paper. As she worked, she repeated these instructions out loud. She told me what color she wanted, and she let me know if it was too long and if so, where I should cut it for her.

Look at those wonderfully messy hands! (They belong to a girl who is in charge of her creation!) Speaking of color, it’s so much fun to watch a toddler learn color, and it’s been fairly gratifying to see how much of this is learned and expressed as we work with color in the studio. Hurrah for hands-on experiential learning.

Towards the end, G indicated she needed a particular small ball of yarn. At first I thought she was asking for the dark grey portion, which was in the middle of the bundle (it was a scrap ball from a self-patterning yarn). But no, she wanted the balls themselves, and she glued them on. Here’s her finished piece.

I  never would have thought of that, and I wasn’t sure it would stay, but who am I to place limits on ideas? They’re staying put just fine, and she took her yarn art into another dimension!

A few minutes into this activity, she said, “Mama too. Mama make shape too.” And so I did.

Alphabet Drawings

Materials: Drawing paper, markers

Are you familiar with the book Alphabeasties? It’s an alphabet book, with an animal for each letter, but with a twist–each animal is made up of its starting letter. Not only that, but the fonts are chosen to in some way go with the animal. So the hippopotamus is made with a heavy-set H, for example. Here’s O:

Some of the pages, like this one, are gatefold pages (a term we learned during story time at the Eric Carle Museum; while I’m talking about books, if you’re not familiar with their “whole book” method, go read about it).

Because I love all things woolly, I can’t resist showing you the S page.

The sheared portion is created with a different S than the woolly portion.

We’ve had it out from the library quite a few times, and we can all relate to it on different levels. I love types and fonts, and the book is not only clever, but it invites the reader to get to know the characteristics of types and fonts, too. The authors are also graphic designers. Even if you don’t have kids, if you like type and design, it’s a really fun book.

I do have kids, though, and as we were looking through it once again, one of us got the idea to try to make our own alphabet drawings. We decided they didn’t have to be animals, and somewhere along the way the boys decided they could use color. We all made more than one, but here’s just a sampling.

That’s V’s second draft of a volcano. He decided it was okay to use Vs to outline.

N also started with his own initial, but he decided to draw himself:

I began with a balloon, and then realized I’d made it small in comparison with the paper so I added some scenery:

As V began drawing this one, he said, “Some letters look like the words they start.”

That’s an Orange on a Table with a hand reaching for it.

I think we all realized this was harder than we expected, especially if we challenged ourselves not to sketch in an outline first but to just set to, drawing with the letter. It’s fun, though! I tried to make my Bs in the balloon look buoyant, and the basket Bs look a little more linear, and the Cs for the clouds look puffy. The more you look at the Alphabeasties book, the more nuances you can find. Fun stuff.

The boys and I are mulling over making some version of our own alphabet book (not necessarily using alphabet drawings). We do have a toddler right in-house to serve as our intended audience…

Tape Drawing

Materials: Paper, colored tape

G has been enjoying her tape so much (and so often!), but she was willing to share it. So on a recent snow day I asked the boys if they’d like to do some tape drawings.

“How can you draw with tape?” they asked when I mentioned the idea. “The tape is the line,” I told them, “instead of a crayon or a marker… you use the tape.” N wanted to know how to make a circle with tape, because it’s straight, so I sketched a curve made up of short straight lines. “Ohhhhh….”

I threw out some ideas. “You could draw a landscape or an animal or a building or a scene in outer space or an ocean scene…” For close to an hour and a half they worked. At the beginning, my oldest went to get a pencil and began sketching out shapes. “No,” I said, “put that pencil away.” (He looked affronted.) I explained that the tape was the line, that we weren’t using it to fill in a drawing, we were using it to make [eta: and then fill in!] the drawing. And at the end, I complimented him on the way he stepped out of his comfort zone and got used to a new material. Drawing with tape presents some different challenges, and we had to accept that it wasn’t going to look just like a line drawing, because it’s not.

My oldest received a DVD set of Looney Tunes cartoons for Christmas, and the boys recently saw Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century. A little bit of obsession with Planet X has ensued, and both boys asked for black paper so they could create outer space scenes.

At some point they requested clear tape, too, which accounts for the shiny bits.

An hour and a half. Interested, engaged, involved, and creating.

And yes, I tried this activity too.

I think I am tired of snow…

Scribble Resist

Materials: Oil pastels (we really like Crayola), although regular wax crayons should also work; liquid watercolors; paper (we started with Artagain, but watercolor paper worked a little better)

When is the last time you scribbled? (Adults, I’m talking to you here!) It’s fun. It’s very freeing and physical. We don’t say, “It’s just a scribble” here. That makes “scribble” sound like an insult, doesn’t it? We also don’t leave scribbling to the toddler. You could do all sorts of fancy projects with the pastel (or crayon) and watercolor resist method. Or you could just scribble and paint, line and color, watching how cool it is when the watercolor slides off the colored lines.

(Mine above, G’s on the bottom.)

The method couldn’t be simpler. Draw. Paint. That’s it.

(V’s, age nine. First one on top, second on the bottom.)

What happens when you use the same color paint as pastel? Let’s try it out! You like how your brother painted stripes? Give it a try!

(N’s, age six. First one on top, second one, inspired by his brother’s stripes, on the bottom.)

Scribble. Paint. Why leave all the fun to the toddlers?

Shadow Drawings

(Inspired by my first assignment in intro to design in college.)

Materials: Paper, pencil, objects that your kids think might cast interesting shadows, desk lamp

The idea here is to use objects to cast a shadow on  your paper, then trace that shadow in order to fill the paper with an interesting design.

Colanders make very interesting shadows. Shortly after he began working, V, age nine, observed, “Depending on different perspectives of shadow, some things appear bigger and some appear smaller.”

I showed the boys my series of assignments from 1997 (I even knew right where to find them! crazy, I know), but that didn’t necessarily help them envision the process. My six-year-old got very frustrated at first. Instead of adjusting the lamp and object to cast a strong shadow to trace, he instead held up the object and drew what he thought the shadow should look like rather than the shadow itself.

So we stepped back a bit and I demonstrated by positioning an object–in this case one of the structures I built with wood shapes the other day–so that its shadow was clearly cast on the paper. I pointed out how the shadow didn’t look anything like what I’d expect, given the shape of the object, and then I traced it. I moved the paper and the object and traced again, and again, and again.

So sorry that photo is hard to see–but you get the idea that eventually, the paper is filled with abstract lines and shapes. After I did this, and we switched to smaller paper, N had an easier time and quite liked the process.

N’s is to the left, V’s to the right. When we were done, N and I began to add some color to our designs. With all those shapes, that’s quite a long process, and as I type, he’s not done yet, but mine is below, to give you an idea of it all.

I think we’ll revisit this activity, now that the boys have had a first attempt at it. I remember my very first attempt was terrible, a clump of shapes in the middle of the paper, but after a while, something clicked and I began to see how shape and line worked across the space.

It’s a very freeing activity, in a way, because part of it is clearly defined–you’re not coming up with something out of your head, you’re using the shadows you see right in front of you. And yet depending upon the object, whether you repeat one object or mix objects, and how you move the lamp and paper, the possibilities are endless.

New Additions to the Studio

Just one major one, really: a chalkboard.

Eventually that wall is going to be orange, like the rest of the walls, and there will be a full frame around the blackboard, and it and the ledge at the bottom will be painted purple. We also need to tilt the ledge a bit, because the chalk rolls off. (We made due with what we found in the edging section at Home Depot.)

To be honest, it’s making a heck of a mess at the moment, but it’s in the studio, so it’s not really a big deal. I scooped G up and set her on the step stool to wash the chalk off her hands (and face!), and later I noticed little chalky footprints on the step stool. Made me smile.

And a little addition… pink paper. Card stock, really.

The other day I was picking up some sewing notions and G declared that she needed some pink paper. The closest we could find was a package of card stock that included pink. G held onto that package of pink card stock in the car and told me when we got home, we needed to bring the pink paper downstairs and she would stick tape onto it. She had a plan, she had a clear need and desire, and she felt strongly about it. And she was pleased with her creation, so pleased she brought it upstairs and put it on the play table and kept it nearby.

She’s right, too. Our studio was lacking in pink paper. This was an easy request to say yes to. I try to say YES as often as I can. This is fairly easy with a toddler, given the attention span. I know when she asks to paint, she’ll be painting for, usually, fewer than fifteen minutes. I can set her up in the time it takes me to switch a load of laundry.

Art activities, especially at this age, do not have to be Big Productions–this can seem overwhelming to the adult, and halt a lot of exploration before it can get started. In our house, we have crayons and colored pencils easily accessible upstairs as well as downstairs. Down in the art studio, G knows that oil pastels, pencils, tape, and paint are all readily available. The easel has paint cups set up; I just need to pull down a fresh sheet of paper and gather the paintbrushes while she takes off the paint covers. She likes to put the brushes in the paint cups herself. When she’s done, she can cover the paint back up while I rinse the brushes.

If at all possible, if space at all permits, it’s worth it to have a corner where some basic supplies are handy and accessible. It makes it so much easier to say YES.

Color Me In

(Inspired by this post at TinkerLab.)

Materials: Roll of paper wide enough to fit a kid on (I got ours at Staples); Sharpie for tracing; crayons, colored pencils, paint, or whatever for adding color

A few weeks ago, while the boys were at school, I traced G’s outline on a piece of paper. She really loved getting traced. She wasn’t too interested in coloring herself in–she added a few crayon marks outside the border–but we hung her outline up on the wall in the hallway and when we pass it she says, “Me!” and often spreads her arms out, like she did when I traced her.

When my six-year-old saw that, he wanted to know when I could trace him.

I think there is something inherently exciting about seeing a life-sized you. I suggested that he could color himself in the way he looked, or he could show all the colors he is on the inside. He chose to do the second, which he understood right away. (If this is something you want to try, you could read a book such as Dr. Seuss’s My Many-Colored Days first.) We hung his outline up on the wall, brought the step stool over, and he went to work with his colored pencils.

Although my nine-year-old hadn’t wanted to come down to the studio, at this point he wandered in, looked extremely interested, and asked if I could trace him, too. He’s much taller, so I had to cut him off below the waist, because I didn’t think I’d be able to hang his full outline on the wall very easily.

He decided to use paint and to represent himself as he looks, right down to the clothes he was wearing that day.

The finished pieces:

My boys usually approach projects in completely different ways. One is more wildly imaginative, the other more literal, but it’s a mistake to think that a more literal, precise child can’t also be creative. My first degree was in science, the second in English, and one of the reasons I loved my photography classes is because they brought my detail-oriented and creative sides together in one discipline. (This was back when the work took place in a darkroom; no clicking “undo” if you messed up the ratios of chemicals due to carelessness.)

As I watch my older son, I am reminded by how much a creative pursuit can be enhanced by having a plan. As I watch my younger son, I am excited by his exuberance and ability to jump right in. Both qualities are important, and I try to meet them both where they are. I’ve seen evidence of my six-year-old stopping to think before beginning his work, and my nine-year-old relaxing a bit into an unknown experience that he can’t necessarily predict. It sounds treacly, but I’m privileged to be able to observe and learn from them both, as well as be the one who helps guide them.

Artist Notebooks

An artist needs a notebook, right? A place to record ideas and inspirations, or a place to doodle. I have notebooks everywhere, but mine are usually full of lists: items I want to knit or sew; the week’s meal plan and grocery list; the measurements of my kids’ feet (I’m in the process of making them all socks). I thought my young artists and I needed some new notebooks, because notebooks are fun, and maybe I could put something more interesting in mine than the grocery list.

Materials: Notebooks with blank covers (I made ours using the tutorial here), your imagination, and whatever means you desire to decorate the cover (we used paper, glue, painter’s tape, and colored pencils)

I went and bought a corner punch for the covers of our notebooks, and that one little detail–rounded corners–fills me with an unreasonable amount of pleasure. So if you, too, find pleasure in the details, a corner punch is totally worth it.

My original idea had been to use our painted tissue paper to collage the covers, but my boys both said they didn’t want to tear or cut their tissue paper. I offered my tissue paper to my daughter, but quickly realized she’s not quite ready to glue little pieces of paper onto another piece of paper successfully, and I didn’t want her to get frustrated. I asked her if she wanted to decorate her cover with tape. Oh yes, she most certainly did.

Meanwhile, my six-year-old had punched lots and lots of colored circles out of some origami-type paper for another project, and we were left with all the scraps. The boys and I agreed that this paper would be great to collage with.

My notebook:

Perhaps it will go the other way. I haven’t decided yet.

My nine-year-old needed the hole punch back because he wanted to fill in some of the empty space with contrasting circles.

His finished cover:

He added some text:

My six-year old noticed that if you don’t put the paper all the way into the hole punch, you could get crescent-moon shapes. When he was done cutting and pasting, he added a drawing with colored pencils.

An artist’s notebook is a happy thing.

The Kids Are in Charge

One of the many reasons I love finally having a dedicated studio space is because when my two-year-old comes to me and says, “Paint!” it is easy enough to meet her request right away. And since his sister brought up the idea, my six-year-old (home again from school today) also wanted to paint. Because my daughter has seen me set up her easel often enough by now, as I set up the paper (she can’t reach the roll), she began taking the covers off the paint jars.

When she was done, she pointed out the swirl to me, making the motion for me with her arm. This swirling is new to her in paint, and she was pleased. She showed me what brush and color she used for each part of the painting.

Meanwhile, my son asked for red, blue, and yellow. We have lots of other colors of tempera paint, but that’s all he wanted. And from that, he made this.

He began with the green stem and then started trying to mix more colors on the paper. I suggested he mix on the plate and gave him a jar of clear water for rinsing. (He began with a brush for each color, but he ended up with far more colors than brushes!) My role here is not to launch into an explanation of secondary colors, something he already knows about anyway; my role is to quietly provide what he needs to accomplish his goals.

As he worked, he commented on the colors he was creating.

“I really like yellow mixed with green; it makes almost an army green color.”

“This is where I mixed all the colors together. It’s brown.”

“Look at this color purple!”

And I love how he filled every inch of that paper with color.

When my daughter saw her brother working at the table, she decided she wanted to get up there too. I gave her a big piece of paper and asked what she’d like to draw with, and she decided upon colored pencils. When she saw me using the scissors, she asked for those, and once she had cut a bit into her drawing, she asked for tape.

I’m really interested in how she’s using the tape, and I plan to make some more options available to her (like this, and thanks to Rachelle for the link!).

I really enjoy watching my children explore, and helping them on their way.