Category Archives: elementary & up

{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} Books From Our Bookshelf

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

Art Book List at amyhoodarts.com

Books have come up often in the {Art Together} posts and comments, so I decided to pull some of our favorites off my shelf and share them. I ended up with a huge stack. These aren’t meant to represent books someone must have, or a comprehensive list; they’re just books I own and use. Think of them as a jumping-off point—and it will also give you an idea of the types of books that inspire us. I’ve loosely grouped them into categories. Let’s go!

Philosophy-Type Books (with activities too)

Young at Art by Susan Striker: Striker has strong ideas about art-making (see her 10 Cardinal Rules for Teaching Children Creative Art). I’ve broken a couple of these “rules”—take what works for you. Her book is interesting reading to me not only for the ideas she suggests but for the information on developmental progression in art-making.

The Language of Art by Ann Pelo: This book presents inquiry-based provocations in the style of Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. The activities are open-ended, and Pelo includes her own documentation of actual students’ experiences, which is helpful in its own right if you’re trying to document your child’s learning (and not just the finished product). Part One, Studio Investigations, has sections on textures and movement, color, 3-dimensional media, and representational drawing and painting. Part Two, Moving Art from the Studio to the Classroom, gives examples of how to use art-making in long-term project work.

Posts inspired by this book:
Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)
Preschool Color-Mixing Activity
Sunflower Study

Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials, by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini: This is another book rooted in Reggio Emilia philosophy, one which explores the use of found materials with a classroom of primarily four-year-olds. In the preface, they explain, “Rather than focusing on the creation of products, this book is based on observation and recording of children’s and teacher’s processes.” Again, this book offers a glimpse into the process and documentation of project work.

Post inspired by this book:
Working With Found Materials

Don’t Move the Muffin Tins, by Bev Bos: After Karen recommended this one in the comments, I discovered it’s out of print, but my library system had a copy. The book itself seems dated, but the ideas do not, and I found myself wondering why we are still struggling so hard to get open-ended, process-oriented art experiences to children when Bev Bos wrote it all so succinctly more than thirty years ago. The subtitle is “a hands-off guide to art for the young child,” and that sums it up. She presents activities, but they are of the sort that involve offering materials and stepping back. Her preface and first chapter, “Getting the Feel of It,” are worthy reads.

Art Project Books (intended for kids)

I’m careful with these. I don’t want crafts; I want open-ended activities that I can modify so all my kids can participate at their own level. We’ve tried activities from all of these, so I include them here.

Art Lab for Kids, by Susan Schwake: I previously reviewed this book here. The book includes techniques organized into projects, but the outcomes aren’t narrowly defined. I used this one with a homeschool co-op class as well; the “labs” I chose were modifiable across a range of ages.

Art Explorers series by Joyce Raimondo: We have What’s the Big Idea, Express Yourself, and Picture This! Raimondo pairs projects with famous artists, using the latter to inspire the former. Again, the projects are suggested, directed techniques that I can modify across the range of my kids’ ages. She includes examples of actual children’s art and they all look different. (That’s a sign of an open-ended project.)

Posts inspired by these books:
O’Keeffe Leaves
Marker + Watercolors
Matisse-Inspired Collage

Art Project/Technique Books (intended for adults, but used by all of us)

Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists, by Carla Sonheim: Another in the “lab” series…it has 52 drawing prompts in it. Flip through it, find something interesting, and…go!

Post inspired by this book:
Watercolor Blot Animals

How to be an Explorer of the World, by Keri Smith: Anything by Keri Smith is worthwhile to spark creativity and thinking about things differently.

How to Make Books and Magic Books and Paper Toys, by Esther K. Smith: I love her books. You’ll find lots of ideas in here to make books or other paper things that can be used in open-ended ways or combined with your art ideas or artwork or words…just fabulous books.

Water Paper Paint, by Heather Smith Jones: As I mentioned in the watercolor post, this book is a useful compilation of information on materials and techniques, with different explorations to try. Someone who is interested in going deeper with watercolor work will also find helpful advice here.

Print Workshop, by Christine Schmidt: I am a big fan of printmaking, and this sparked lots of ideas for me. It’s full of information on materials and techniques. It’s also full of very product-oriented projects, which I ignore. I bought it for the methods. There are many books like this out there—on first glance they appear to be very step-by-step, but I’m thinking this is a publisher demand, because they think most people want to know how to re-create something exactly. If you look close, you can tell which ones are also giving you the skills to use the method to create whatever you want. Those are the sorts of books that come home with me.

Posts inspired by this book:
Carving Stamps
(You Can) Carve a Stamp (tutorial)
Labeling the Studio

In addition to these, we like books that show artwork itself, for discussion and inspiration–art history books, books devoted to a specific artist or style…the library is a great source of these. I’d love if you’d share in the comments–do you have favorite books you use for adult/child art inspiration?

{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.

{Art Together} Choosing Projects

(Apologies for posting a day late with this series this week. The events in Boston, a favorite city of ours and one that is so close to home, left me shaken.)

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

“Crafts have a value, of course…But such activities shouldn’t be called ‘art’ and shouldn’t substitute for an art program…I make my own distinction between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ by asking how much participation by an adult is needed once I have presented materials.” –Bev Bos, don’t move the muffin tins

Choosing to focus on art as a process, rather than on a finished product, can feel uncomfortable. We are surrounded by images of adorable kid-made crafts: in magazines, in blogs, all over Pinterest. Part of us maybe wants to show what our kids can do too. Or maybe we want an activity that seems to have a beginning, middle, and end. Or perhaps—and this isn’t uncommon in my house—we see something that we think one of our kids would really like to make. How can we embark on an activity with a product outcome yet still emphasize the process?

Firstly, I admit, I don’t look to Pinterest for many ideas, and this is mainly because if we’re going to do something more directed, I’d rather it be directed by my children’s desires, not my own. We often look to books (I am working on a book list to share). We all can look through books and if something catches our eye, we’ll do it. The other benefit to books is that I’m mostly the one choosing the books to bring into the house, so I can control whether they are more product-oriented or process-oriented.

I like art books that offer direction for a technique and some inspiration, but serve mainly as a starting point without dictating the end point. This goes for adult art and craft books, too. I don’t want to follow step-by-step instructions to re-create someone else’s vision; I want to be given the tools to create my OWN vision. What I want for myself, I want for my kids. And just like we share all the materials, we share the books too. Some of our best activities and process-based explorations have been prompted by books aimed for an adult audience.

Sometimes, though, in my internet travels, I come across an idea, or am reminded of a resource we already have, and I think it might be a fun activity for us. In that case, I ask the kids. “Hey, look at this, do you want to try something like this?” I’m careful about trying not to show them finished products. If we embark on activities that result in a finished “thing,” it’s going to be an activity that has room for everybody’s finished thing to look different. This week, to try to show you how this works for us, I’m sharing our accordion books with you.

Volume Twelve of Alphabet Glue features an accordion book project, and Dawn blogged about it. When I saw it, I thought, Hmm, that looks like fun. While I have a copy of Alphabet Glue, I also have Esther K. Smith’s How to Make Books. (I highly recommend it.)  I showed the directions in the book to the kids and asked if they were interested. We decided to buy big watercolor paper—18×24”—and make good-sized books.

More decisions followed: Do you want to paint the paper before we fold it? Do you want to fold it and paint it before cutting? After cutting? What sort of paint? Everybody’s answers were different, because each of us has different ideas. My daughter didn’t want to paint at all. She had me make the book for her (the watercolor paper at that size is fairly thick and hard for small hands to fold) and then she sat and wrote letters on each page.

She thinks maybe she’ll add crayon decorations around the edges later.

My older son folded his, I cut it (with the x-acto knife), and then he began painting. He chose liquid watercolors and various techniques, including tape resist and salt, to add interest. He has these techniques in his mental catalog of ideas because we’ve played with them in the past.

My younger son had me fold but not cut his, and he added color to all the blocks before cutting. He also chose liquid watercolors and eventually decided to add some salt as well. The colors of the liquid watercolors are so vibrant.

I decided to fold but not cut and filled in all my blocks on both sides using tempera cake paint. I plan to doodle with a black Sharpie on my pages. I’m not sure what the boys will do in theirs. This project occupied my kids for more than two hours. They were all working at the same table, making their own decisions, sharing materials, and thoroughly engaged in their work. This is how we approach anything that seems more directed: by giving ownership to the individual.

Further Resources

I’ve written about the importance of process-based art here, here, and here.

If you just can’t keep away from Pinterest for ideas, try checking out Lori Pickert’s authentic art board.

Take it Further

Some other posts in which we’ve attempted to balance product and process:
Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner
Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns
Process to Product: Bookmarks for Teacher Gifts

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.

{Art Together} Make A Simple Color Wheel

Make A Simple Color Wheel

Materials: Paint (our samples include gouache, watercolor, and acrylic), heavy paper, brushes; compass and protractor (optional)

This isn’t an open-ended activity, but a color wheel can be a useful tool to have hanging on the wall of your art area, and making one is much more fun (and instructive) than buying one or printing one out. Any sort of paint can be used for this, but it’ll be more useful if you mix the colors yourself.

My 4yo and I used watercolor; this is simplest for the youngest artists because you can mix the colors right on the paper. My 8yo chose to use gouache, and my 11yo used acrylics; they both began with the primaries and mixed the secondary colors on their palettes.

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. You can’t mix these yourself; that’s why they’re primary. From them, you can mix the secondary colors: orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (red + blue). We’ll talk a little more about the colors when we have them in a wheel.

My 11yo decided he wanted to make a color wheel with wedges like a pie, so he used a compass to draw a circle and a protractor to divide it into six equal slices.

11yo's color wheel in progress.

11yo’s color wheel in progress.

The rest of us used simple dots arranged in a circle. (If it helps, you can draw the circle, or draw three lines intersecting in the center and place a dot of color at the end of each line.)

Regard your circle as a clock and place a dot of red at the 12-o’clock position, yellow at the 4-o’clock position, and blue at the 8-o’clock position. If you are mixing your secondary colors on a palette, put your dot of orange at 2-o’clock, green at 6-o’clock, and purple at 10-o’clock.

If you’re mixing right on the paper with watercolors, you’ll mix your red and yellow to get orange; your blue and yellow to get green; and red and blue to make purple. My daughter and I did this by putting two circles of each color together and then going back to overlap.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Note, though, that purple can be really hard to mix. Most likely you’ll feel your purple is a little too red or a little too blue. Try to be okay with this; I’ve had a professional artist/teacher in a class advise me to buy purple rather than try to mix it myself. (But I’m cheap, so I mixed it myself anyway.) Start with just a little red and a little blue and mix gradually and don’t get hung up on perfection.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Once you have your complete color wheel, take a closer look at it.

Acrylic color wheel

Colors that are opposite each other are known as complementary colors. See how red is opposite green? Green is made from the two primary colors other than red (ie, blue and yellow). That’s why they are complements—they complete each other. (That’s how I remember it, anyway!) Yellow and purple are complements, and blue and orange as well. Complementary colors are said to “pop” when used together. Try it out and see what you think.

My 8yo decided to take his color wheel one step farther and tried to include tertiary colors, which are secondary colors mixed with a bit more of the primary color next to it (ie, yellow-green, yellow-orange, etc; you can see a labeled one here).

Tertiary color wheel attempt

But if you’ve never made a color wheel before, a simple one with the primary and secondary colors is plenty enough to start. Hang it near your art area to remind yourself which colors contrast strongly. Are there any colors you avoid? When I was in kindergarten my purple crayon stayed sharp all year because I refused to use it. For some reason I thought purple was a scary color when I was five! Try using just a little bit of that color that overwhelms you with its complement and see what happens.

Further Resources

The MoMA Color Play Coloring Book is a large-format book designed to be painted in, with prompts for color mixing. We own it; we haven’t used it yet. But it might be just the thing if you’re a little wary of delving into color mixing without some guidelines.

You might want to also explore color through story books with a younger child. Apartment Therapy has a nice list of 20 Kids’ Books About Color. I say “also” because listening to a book or watching a show about color mixing can be a nice addition, but it doesn’t replace the actual experience of creating and observing the magic in real life. When a child has a chance to discover and experience color mixing while being in charge of it, the knowledge is real and theirs. It’s magical.

Take it Further

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using colored water

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using tempera paint

Consider adding a color wheel to your sketchbook using whatever materials you might take with you on a sketching excursion. For this, you wouldn’t necessarily be mixing; use the colors that come with your watercolor pencil or colored pencil set and draw yourself a color wheel to use as reference.

Share Your Work

A reminder that a Flickr group is available if you’d like to share photos! Just click the request to join.

Tips for Art-Making With Various Ages

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

In the comments to the last Art Together post, Sunny said she faces challenges trying to do art with all of her kids given their age range of 4 through 9. I can relate; my kids are 4, 8, and 11, and we began really making a habit of art time together when the youngest was 2. I wanted to share some things that have worked for me in trying to juggle the different needs of three kids, and I’m hoping others will share their experiences and what has worked for them as well.

When we’re in the studio all together, we have several choices:

Same activity, same materials: This choice is pretty straightforward. If we’re using materials everybody can use and doing an activity that works at all levels, we don’t really need to do anything differently. This doesn’t mean everybody is working at the same level. When we’re creating observational drawings or paintings, there may be a huge difference in skill level, but as long as the atmosphere is supportive of this, it shouldn’t be a problem. If younger kids are feeling less confident next to older ones, or older ones are feeling competitive, this doesn’t work well. In that case, I’d step back and set expectations beforehand, both for one’s own artwork and how to talk about each other’s artwork. (Is anyone interested in a post about talking about artwork, both to and amongst kids?)

Same activity, different  materials: You could choose to give a younger child different materials than an older child; for instance, tempera paint instead of acrylic, or oil pastels instead of chalk pastels, but you’re all heading in the same direction as far as the activity goes. Sometimes, my kids choose different materials anyway, because they’ve spent time exploring them and often know what they’d like to work with or experiment with to get a desired result.

Same materials, different activity: Perhaps a younger child is still at the point of exploring a material, while an older child wants to use it for a more directed purpose. If you can tolerate the messiness that is bound to accompany a toddler or preschooler’s exploration, this can work out well. My daughter began using charcoal at age two; she got a bit dusty. My middle child still most loves charcoal for the way he can smear it all over the paper with his hands. It does wash off skin, so this doesn’t bother me too much.

Different activities, different materials: This, of course, is the most difficult set-up for the facilitator (that’s us, the adults!). Sometimes we just all want to be in the studio together but we’re doing different things. My daughter might need paint, my son is using watercolor pencils, my other son is drawing with Pitt pens, and I have paint out, too, but different paint. Or I present a bunch of ideas and they each pick something different (as described in this post). We’re still all together, but I’m hopping a bit more to make sure they all have what they need.

Same activity, tweaked for age level: As much as possible, I try to adjust the activity so all the kids can participate at whatever level they’re currently at.  So, when we tried our hand at a Matisse-inspired collage (an activity chosen from a book), the youngest joined in by cutting and gluing.  When we carved stamps, the boys used the carving tools with my supervision, but my daughter, who was a bit past three at the time, made her stamp using craft foam and scissors. It definitely takes some creative forethought to tweak activities, but I have found that most open-ended art activities can be adjusted for various ages and stages. It’s simply going back to the idea of starting where you are.

Have a helper: If I’ve planned something more complex, it helps to have another adult around. The first time we printed with scratch foam, my husband was around to assist as well. Having an extra set of hands during a more intensive activity makes it so much easier to help anyone who needs it.

So it really depends upon the specific activity—but flexibility is key to facilitating art-making as a family activity with multiple ages. If anyone else has tips to share, please leave them in the comments! It will be helpful to us all.

{Art Together} Tints and Shades

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

4yo's painting using tints and shades of red.

4yo’s painting using tints and shades of red.

Color theory is a huge subject, and if you even begin to dip a toe into exploring it, you may start to feel completely overwhelmed, and rightly so. Like anything taught as “theory,” it’s hard to make sense of without practical experience. It’s like the difference between reading about how children develop and living with your own child and watching it happen every day. Reading about color theory might be helpful once you’ve played with color on your own, but trying to understand what you’re reading without experiencing it yourself can get extremely confusing. I’m going to share some color play activities over the next few weeks, and perhaps some of them will speak to you.

Tints and shades describe a color mixed with white (tints) and black (shades). If you mix white and black, you will get gray, yes? If you mix white with blue, you will get tints of blue; if you mix black with blue, you will get shades of blue; and you can mix all three and get various gray-blues (tones). This article tells me that funky things can happen to color if you mix it with black (although I do it anyway). But maybe you’ll like what happens; you won’t know if you don’t try.

For this activity, my kids and I each picked a color and I set up a palette for them with the color, white, and black.

Using a take-out container cover as a palette.

Using a take-out container cover as a palette.

The younger two kids used tempera paint on Bristol board, and my oldest and I used Liquitex Basics acrylics on canvas paper (because I’ve been wanting to try it). With a toddler or preschooler, I’d do this at an easel if you have one, or hang a piece of large paper on the wall (protect the wall first though). I was the only one who tried to do a representational painting using my tints and shades; the younger kids just mixed colors right on the paper to see what happened.

4yo's painting in progress.

4yo’s painting in progress.

My oldest struggled with this activity, and I asked him if I could share about it here, because I think it might be helpful to some. Different people have different personalities, and people are going to struggle with different things. He had a very hard time with the loose nature of this. He’s fine with mixing paint colors when it feels more controlled. But simply having three different paints on his palette and no way to control the mixing, to keep it precise and neat, felt much too loose to him. He didn’t like the idea of his mixed colors mixing. He had trouble even explaining what was bothering him so much. I let him know he didn’t have to do it at all; but eventually he took another stab at it. I ended up very specifically telling him how to mix one tint and one shade:

  • Take a paintbrush and scoop up some of your red and put it somewhere else on your palette. Do that again.
  • Take a different paintbrush and scoop some white and mix it in one of the smaller dabs of red.
  • Take another paintbrush, scoop some black, and mix it with the other dab of red.
A photo of my palette, with separate paintbrushes for mixing.

A photo of my palette, with separate paintbrushes for mixing.

Using different paintbrushes helps keep the tints and shades separate, if that’s important. It didn’t matter to my younger kids—they just rinsed their brushes. My older son and I used different brushes as well as rinse water. He eventually covered his paper, but I’m not sure he truly enjoyed it.

11yo persevering.

11yo persevering.

I told him sticking to something that was so uncomfortable for him, and seeing it through to the end, was an impressive quality. I wouldn’t have forced him to, though; if something isn’t working for your child, take a break or shelve that activity for a different day or year, even. Sometimes things don’t click. Some nights my kids tell me they LOVE green beans, and other nights they won’t touch them. I don’t force the green beans, either. Art and food and most things, really, should not be tied up with stress and unhappiness, either for your child or for you.

My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory, it is based on observation, on feeling, on the experience of my sensibility.

Henri Matisse

Take it Further:

  • Try this activity with just white and black paint. How many grays can you make? Try adding white paint to black and black to white; how is it different?
  • Try doing this more than once using a different color each time.
  • Try making a painting that is all tints. How about one that’s all shades?

You could explore just this one bit of color mixing for a very long time!

Share Your Work:

Reminder, the {Art Together} Flickr group is available if you’d like to post pictures, and that’s where I’ve added photos of our finished work.

I’m skipping next week since we’ll be busy with Easter things this weekend…so the next {Art Together} post will be on April 10 and will deal with more color activities. See you then!

{Art Together} 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!

Animal Classification: Reptiles

Reptile page, all filled in.

Reptile page, all filled in.

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification BookletAnimal Classification: Mammals + FishAnimal Classification: Birds; Animal Classification: Amphibians.}

Phew, the last post in this series. We finished up our five-part animal classification class for ages 5-8 at co-op this past week. Because this was the last class, it included some review of all five groups.

Resources:
Reptile poster from Verterbrate Teaching Poster Set
Various books on reptiles, including ID guide
Snake shed (not necessary, but I happened to have one)
Large (18×24″) chart to fill in with the kids. List the five types of vertebrates down the left side and create five columns with the following headings: How it breathes; Body covering; Eggs or born alive; Warm- or cold-blooded; Distinctive characteristic.

Activity:
Sniffers activity at Reptiles Alive
(Note: I used citronella as one of my essential oils and I do not recommend it! It sort of overpowered all the other scents.)

Handout:
Reptile word search found via Google
Completed Animal Classification booklets

We began by listing the groups we’ve already talked about, and the kids identified which group (reptiles) was left. As a group, we listed what we knew about reptiles, and then I hung the poster for discussion. Since we have snakes that live in our yard and I happened to have a complete snake shed we found in the yard several years ago, I brought it in to share. We tried the sniffing activity–it worked well enough but would have worked better if I’d avoided the citronella–and then we discussed how snakes use their tongues to pick up scents and why animals might need a good sense of smell.

After the kids filled in the reptile page in their booklets, I hung up the large chart and we filled it in together. The best part of class for me, I think, occurred when one child was working on the matching activity on the back page of the booklet and was stumped by kangaroo. Instead of telling him the answer, another child helped him figure it out on his own: “Kangaroos have fur. There’s only one group with fur, do you remember which one?” Witnessing the point at which someone feels confident enough in what they’ve learned to help teach it to somebody else–that’s just awesome.

We were limited by time (50-minute sessions) and space (no field trips, just a classroom experience), but I think we managed some great learning-together sessions. I hope you find these posts a useful starting point if you decide to plan something similar at home or in a co-op.