Category Archives: elementary & up

Spray Bottle + Canvas

I just had to take a photo of the art table after my oldest had finished spraying four colors (blue, red, green, and yellow) of liquid watercolor onto a canvas. He let the colors dry in between so the mixing wouldn’t become muddied. He let go of some of his need to control outcomes and just saw what happened. He’s deciding whether he will add to this with acrylic and brush, or let it be.

Materials: Spray bottle, liquid watercolors (undiluted), canvas, and a large space, since the spray will overshoot the canvas, sometimes by quite a lot!

Watercolor Blot Animals

Inspired by Lab #8 in Drawing Lab: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun for Mixed-Media Artists, by Carla Sonheim

Materials: Watercolor paper (I cut ours down to 4″x6″), watercolors, ultra-fine black Sharpie

I recently bought this book to inspire my hoped-for daily drawing habit, and this is the first exercise I tried. I thought the kids would enjoy it too. (G, age 3, also painted with watercolors and drew while we worked, but her pieces aren’t shown here.) Following the directions, we made random brush marks with red, blue, and yellow watercolor, watered down so the colors weren’t too overwhelming. Let the paint dry in between colors so they don’t bleed together; I used a hair dryer to help this along.

Here’s what our papers looked like with just the paint (we each did three); click to embiggen a bit:

My painted papers

V's painted papers

N's painted papers

Next, take your multicolored papers and look at each one individually. What forms do you see? You’re trying to pull out shapes that remind you of an animal, or even part of an animal, and then incorporate them into a drawing. Turn them around, look from all angles, and see what pops up at you.

Use a Sharpie or another permanent marker for the drawing–not a pencil (no erasing!), and make sure it’s permanent, in case you want to add more watercolor later.

My animals: an elephant, a bird in a nest, a snail

The boys found more than one animal on each paper–their lines became quite interesting visually:

N's line drawing animals

V's line drawing animals

Not surprisingly, I like theirs better than I like mine! They were so free with their lines; their creatures are so interesting.

Once the creatures are drawn, you can go in and add more line or color. N and I did this, but V chose not to.

My snail and elephant; I wasn't too happy with the bird in the end.

N's creatures with added color

You could, of course, prepare the paper ahead of time, especially for younger children, but we enjoyed doing it together from beginning to end. Remind the kids (and yourself) to make the paint marks abstract; you’re not supposed to be making marks with a future creature in mind. This can be challenging, to keep your head out of it. Depending on the child, you could have him make the marks without telling him what you’re doing with them next.

I could also see making a stack of the watercolor sheets, or filling a small watercolor sketchbook, and having them on hand with a Sharpie for waiting moments–doctor’s offices, car rides, and so on. Hmm, that’s a good idea. I should get on that!

Other things we’ve been up to:

* We recently viewed the Spencer Finch exhibit Painting Air at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Anisa has a nice write-up about it along with tips for extending the experience, here.

* We’re planning our entries to Collaboration 2012 at the Jamestown Arts Center. (This is the show in which N received first place last year.)

* I signed my niece and myself up for the Mighty Girl Art Spring e-course. It’s designed for teen and tween girls or, you know, women of all ages. Registration is open until March 16 if you know a girl (or woman) who might be interested.

Shrinky Dink Fun

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

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

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

This is our output, pre-shrinking:

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

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

V's creations

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

N's creations

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

G's creations

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

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

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

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

Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner

Since November, I’ve been decorating our big sliding glass door to the deck with a seasonal banner of some sort. Our thankful banner was even created from paper bags! So when I saw that TinkerLab’s paper bag challenge fell at the beginning of February, I figured it was a great opportunity to get the kids involved in creating this month’s banner—but with a lot of open-ended process to balance out the product.

Materials: Paper bags (I used brown lunch bags, which are thinner); paint; scissors; materials to create patterns (ie, sponges, cork, pom-poms…whatever your kids want!); heart template; glue or glue stick; yarn for hanging; mini-clothespins (optional)

First I cut open the paper bags and cut off the bottoms so we could lay them out flat. Then we painted them in layers. We covered them in a solid color and then let that dry before going back in to make patterns.

V used gesso on one of his bags because he wanted to use watercolors on the second layer, and we weren’t sure how the watercolors would get along with a layer of tempera paint. G added all her colors of paint pretty much at the same time.

Making the patterns was so much fun! I gave G one of the bags I painted so she could use the sponge to make sponge prints.

She also used the sponge roller to layer some more paint on her own bag. V dropped red liquid watercolors onto the bag he painted with gesso, and a really fun polka-dot effect resulted.

Both boys also used the sponge on one of their bags, and on his second, N made dots with a wine cork and a big pom-pom. We ended up with a pile of colorful paper!

Once the bags were dry, I cut a heart out of cardstock so that all our hearts would be the same size (more or less). We traced hearts onto our bags and cut them out.

The boys were very specific on which parts of their patterned paper they hoped to get on their hearts, so they mostly traced on the painted side. G isn’t quite up to cutting on a line yet, so rather than have her end up frustrated with this part of the project, we gave her the scraps and a heart paper punch.


When the hearts were cut out, we glued them together in pairs so whichever side you see, it’s patterned. Because the watercolor soaked through the bag, V decided not to paste those together—one side shows white with red, and the other is paper bag color with red. G, of course, could participate with the gluing. We thought about gluing the hanging yarn inside the middle, but with so many of us gluing, and at different times, in the end we decided it would be simpler to hang them off the yarn with mini-clothespins.

And what about the hearts G punched out with the scraps? I added some more to her pile and sandwiched them again, this time with a length of perle cotton in between, to make a sweet little hanging string of hearts.

If you’d like to add your project to the link-up, you can do that below. If you’d like to enter to win a $100 Visa gift card and 3-month subscription to Kiwi Crate, make sure to add a link to your project at either TinkerLab or the Kiwi Crate blog (all particulars can be found here). And be sure to visit these other creative bloggers to see what their kids created out of paper bags for the challenge:

Paint Cut Paste, Imagination SoupHands On: As We Grow, Child Central Station, Putti Prapancha, Irresistible Ideas for Play-Based LearningTeach Preschool, The Chocolate Muffin Tree, Nurture Store, Small Types,Make Do & FriendThe Imagination Tree, Toddler Approved, Red Ted Art, Kids in the Studio, Rainy Day Mum, Glittering Muffins, Sense of Wonder, Mom To 2 Posh Lil Divas, Come Together Kids, My Creative Family, Kitchen Counter Chronicles, A Mom With A Lesson Plan, Angelique Felix, The Golden Gleam, Clarion Wren, Living at the Whitehead’s Zoo, Let Kids Create, De tout et de rien, PlayDrMomCreativity My PassionKiwi Crate, Tinkerlab

Happy Valentine’s Day, and have fun!

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Marker + Watercolors

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

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

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

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

V, painting and having fun

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

V's finished painting

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

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

N, painting

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

G's painting

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

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

Mama's painting

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

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

Drawing in Snow

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

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

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

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

Matisse-Inspired Collage

From What's The Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo

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

Materials: Colored paper, glue sticks, scissors

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

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

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

N's (age 7)

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

Here’s V’s map of the living room.

V's, age 10

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

And here is G’s collage.

G's, age 3

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

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

Spin Art {A Review, of Sorts}

The kids received a spin art contraption for Christmas, so over break we played with it. I didn’t realize, when ordering, that it was the Melissa and Doug brand, which has gotten not-so-great reviews over on Amazon. But it was, and while I can see why it’s gotten not-so-great reviews, we played with it quite a bit and had success after all.

One of our favorite parts was watching it spin. The stopped card often looked very different from the card in motion, and really, we were all mesmerized by the way our eyes saw the paint as it spun. From a more experimental standpoint, it interested me that the card reversed with each crank. This set is powered by moving the hand crank–if you pull it toward you, the card spins one way; push it away, and it spins the other. So you’re alternating directions, and I kept trying to figure out if that changed the nature of the design a lot, a little, or not at all.

Some practical points–no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the suction cup to stick to our table surface (which is just melamine, nothing fancy), so I held it down while the kids cranked. The cards that came with the set were too small to fit into the slots without slipping out; things worked better when I cut our own, slightly larger than 4″x4″ on all sides. And the designs came out much better when we squirted the paint on while it was spinning, instead of before.

The very first one we tried is in the top left corner, and that’s the one we squirted the paint onto before spinning. Really, not at all impressive. The thin circles in the one next to it were made by drizzling paint on as it spun. N liked to squirt lots of paint, and he got big cool-looking splotches that took a while to dry.

V started wondering, What would happen if I poured the paint in the opposite direction of the spin? And How about if we draw on the cards before adding paint? So we definitely have some room for experimentation, once we figured out the best way to work with the set-up. I haven’t ruled out a salad spinner for the future, though!

What’s your favorite spin-art method? Do you have any tips to share?

Doodle Rocks

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

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

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

G's rocks

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

N's rocks

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

V's rocks

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

My husband and I also played with the materials.

Parents' rocks

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

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

Carving Stamps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it’s time to carve!

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

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

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

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

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