Category Archives: painting

O’Keeffe Leaves

(Inspired by “Gorgeous Gigantic Flowers” in What’s the Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo.)

Materials: Watercolor paper (or other paper that can handle paint); paint (we used tempera cakes); pencil; permanent marker (we used Sharpies); leaves for looking at

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a straight-up art activity! My daughter said she wanted to make a painting using one of our Art Explorers books, so I told her to go ahead and pick one out. She chose the activity inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, but when I looked at the materials list I realized we didn’t have any fresh flowers on hand.

However, a suggested alternate was leaves–and it being October in New England, we have leaves a-plenty. We headed outside to collect some. When we came back indoors, I took my O’Keeffe book off the shelf and showed my daughter some more flower paintings and the way they took up the entire canvas.

G wanted to follow the suggested process exactly, so after choosing a leaf for inspiration, she drew with her pencil and then traced over those lines with a black Sharpie. Then it was time to add color. We both used the tempera cakes. I quietly noticed a couple of things–her ability to trace over a line, and the fact that she is old enough (and so experienced with art supplies) to remember to rinse her brush between colors.

There is such joy in observing her growing up in this aspect as well–she is so confident in the art room, so comfortable, so sure of her decisions and what she needs for her artwork. Here is her finished piece along with the leaf that inspired it.

She decided she wanted to use all the colors, and she enjoyed mixing them. (The tempera cakes are the primaries plus white, black, and green.) She enjoyed the movement of her line, as well.

I also did this activity–I am grateful for the time and space to draw and paint and this activity was challenging for me. I also tried to follow the suggested directions and make the leaf spill off the page, as O’Keeffe’s flowers do. I discovered that it was easiest to do this if I started from the center, with the veins of the leaf. Here’s my finished page, with the leaf that inspired it.

I’m sure I’ll be trying this again. (We have lots of leaves, did I mention?!) I like, too, the idea of taking something so well known–O’Keeffe’s flowers–and translating it to our own landscape. I think I will be using this activity in the art class I lead at our co-op, too. There are a couple of kids who tend to draw small, and I’ve been looking for ways to encourage them to go bigger; I think this is a good activity for that.

I enjoy following G’s lead. When she is in charge of the day (or at least part of it), we tend to do fun things. I had no idea we’d be using autumn leaves to inspire a painting…now I can’t wait to do it again!

Ready for the Art Show

Both my boys wanted to enter the art center’s collaboration show, like they did last year, again. G also painted a canvas, but she’s not sure on whether she wants to let the art center borrow it for a whole month. We’re going to bring it along when we drop off the others, in case she changes her mind. Here they all are together (click to see slightly larger):

Each canvas has both sprayed watercolors and liquid acrylic, some brushed, flicked, or dripped on and some printed with various materials–wine corks, sponges, and the like. The top right one (my oldest son’s) also has some dripped black ink. This sort of painting is definitely out of his comfort zone; he likes things to be planned. Once he got into it, though, he even said (in an amazed sort of voice), “This is really fun!”

The top left canvas (my younger son’s) has a couple layers of workable fixative sprayed on. He really puddled the watercolor, and the canvas isn’t really made for that. Plus, it seemed to have a different sort of finish than the other two–same type of canvas, but a different brand. There were tacky spots that just weren’t drying, but the fixative seems to have solved the problem.

The bottom one, then, is my daughter’s. I have to admit, a layer or so back she had some sponge prints that are obliterated now by her brushstrokes, and I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and let her explore the process. She decided when she was done, and I like it now, too, although, again, whether I like it isn’t really the point. She likes it so much she’s not sure she can let it out of her sight for a month.

We’re excited to drop them off tomorrow!

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.

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.

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.

Children Making Gifts (With Links)

I’m stepping out of the usual process-focused activities to give you a glimpse of what my children are making their loved ones for Christmas this year, and to share some links and ideas. Because my children vary in age, ability, and interest, their gifts do, too. Perhaps you will find something here your child would like to try.

First up, my three-year-old, who absolutely loves bookmarks. She likes to empty the bookshelf that holds chapter books, quietly spiriting them away one by one, each with a bookmark inside. If you try to reshelf them, she’ll exclaim, “I’m reading that!” She’s been known to “borrow” her brothers’ library books, too, claiming them as her own with a bookmark and sticking them in her bedside shelves. She thought giving people handmade bookmarks was a fabulous idea. Here is her painted, salted sheet of paper before cutting:

And here are some finished bookmarks.

I love this project because it is simple, yet with a beautiful and useful result.
She chose the ribbon color for each one, I looped it through, and she pulled it tight.

My seven-year-old realized he could sew recently, so I asked if he’d like to try making felt Christmas tree ornaments. He very much wanted to. I sewed on the embellishments, since that’s a smaller needle and thread (but he arranged them first), and he sewed and stuffed the trees. Here he is sewing:

No photos of the finished trees, in case any relatives are reading. They are something to treasure, though.

My oldest also wanted to make ornaments, making more paint-drip globes like we did last year (using this tutorial). Last year, we made them for the boys’ teachers; this year, he’s making them for aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Here are the original six dripping upside down.

But a funny thing happened…on four of them, the paint dripped right out without adhering to the glass. Weird, right? So I rinsed out the remaining bits of paint (not much) and swished some rubbing alcohol around inside, assuming there was something in there that was repelling the paint. When they were completely dry, we tried again, and this time the paint stayed put. Last year we had enough to make extra, and we have several hanging on our tree. They’re simple and lovely.

Some more links for you:

Last month we made recycled crayons for the youngest cousins, using fun candy mold shapes. Our how-to is here.

A couple of years ago we made these surprise snowballs for cousins—they were easy to make and hopefully fun to use! I included a rhyme with them: Wash your hands, wash them every day/and your “snowball” will slowly melt away./And when it’s melted more than a little/You’ll find a surprise tucked in the middle!

And recently, as a countdown calendar activity, we made bird seed “cookies” using these directions. I doubled the recipe and we were able to make two larger and two smaller cookies. The birds loved them–and we’ve enjoyed watching the birds love them! And you don’t need special cookie cutters (although those do look cute)–for one of our molds, I cut about two inches off the top of a 32-oz yogurt container. Be warned, though—the mixture is very sticky.

Rubber Cement as Masking Fluid

(Note: The rubber cement bottle is full of warnings. It contains chemicals and latex. It smells bad and the fumes can be hazardous. It’s flammable. It can cause allergic reactions because of the latex. I decided I was comfortable using it with my three-year-old for a short amount of carefully supervised time in a controlled environment. You may decide differently based on your child’s age and temperament. Please use common sense, okay?)

Materials: Rubber cement, watercolor paper, liquid watercolors

Rubber cement can act as a frisket (masking fluid), protecting part of the paper from paint to create a resist effect. G and I tried it out first, but we’ll be sharing with the boys, too.

The bottle comes with a paint brush, so G wanted to paint with it.

I experimented as well, both by trying to paint an image with the brush on one small square, and by drizzling it onto another. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice a paintbrush to create fine, controlled lines, but I may do that with the older kids. When you’re done applying the rubber cement (and more on technique in a minute), you need to let it dry.

While we were waiting, G painted a picture with the watercolors on another sheet of paper.

When the rubber cement was dry, we painted over it with liquid watercolors. “Look!” exclaimed G.

You can see how it’s resisting the watercolor. G really spread her rubber cement thin and over a large area; this probably isn’t the way to go for a striking resist effect. I’d recommend drizzling or applying in a more blobby way (we’re so technical here!), because spreading it out makes the next part difficult.

When the paint is dry, you can rub off the rubber cement to reveal your resist. We had to work hard to get all of the rubber cement off of G’s painting!

G’s painting is the large one on the left. On the right are my two experiments–for the top one, I used the brush that came with the cement to try to paint a snowflake. It worked well enough, but the brush is big and smears the glue around. For the bottom one, I mostly drizzled (I used a wooden clay tool because it was handy). That’s my favorite–the glue drizzled thickly enough to get a strong contrast between white and color.

I’m thinking next time I might remove the brush entirely and offer something else, to encourage drizzling. Hmm, I wonder what would work best? Ideas?