Category Archives: painting

After the Color Mixing

Last week I posted about a color-mixing activity G, age 3, did. When she was done mixing the colors and exploring the corn starch, she began painting with the leftover colored water. “I’m painting a cave,” she said as she began. After she’d applied all three colors, she asked for some salt.

I poured some into that cup for her, and she sprinkled it on with her hands. And then she asked for more, and more, until she had piles of salt on her paper. Then she decided to see what would happen when she painted on top of the salt.

Kind of interesting, no? More salt and more paint…

“Mud in the cave!” she exclaimed.

Experimenting…always a good thing!

If You Build It, They Will Come

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

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

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

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

Experimenting With Bleeding Tissue Paper

Materials: Bleeding tissue paper (we used Spectra), water color paper, spray bottle

I’ve been wanting to play with this product for a while now, and during our last trip to the Eric Carle Museum, I saw some in their bookstore (which is an absolutely fabulous place) and picked some up. And then it sat in the studio for a while as we squeezed out every last drop of summer, outside! The other day, G and I decided to experiment with the bleeding tissue paper.

I cut out some squares and spread them on the table, and then gave G half a sheet of 12×18 water color paper. She began by arranging some squares of tissue on her paper. Before she began spraying, I cleared the leftover tissue out of the area.

Then she began to spray.

And spray. The girl loves to use a spray bottle!

The colors began to run off the paper and mix in the puddles. Isn’t that pretty? As she sprayed, G commented on the colors she saw and how they were mixing. (As you can see from these pictures, if you don’t have an anything-goes art table, you probably want to do this in a shallow plastic tub or something similar, to protect your table.)

There was so much water on the paper, G decided to add some dry tissue on top of the puddles to see what would happen. Then she asked for a big sheet of paper to lay on top. I thought she wanted a big piece of tissue, so I asked what color, but she said no, she wanted the other piece of white paper–the other half of the water color paper I’d cut in half.

Carefully, we laid it on top of the wet paper and tissue.

She wanted to make a print–and I love that she both knows the process of making a print and recognizes a good opportunity to give it a try!

From the start, G had said she wanted to color on the paper once it was dry. So the next day, after it had dried and the tissue paper shook off, that’s what she did.

Our colors came out very muted. (I experimented too, on another small sheet of paper.) I’m not sure if this is because we overlapped so many colors and they all bled together, or because we used a spray bottle instead of a paintbrush, which I imagine would keep the water more in one place, or perhaps a combination. I plan to experiment with this paper some more, both with G and with the older kids. We certainly have enough of it to try all sorts of methods.

Have you used bleeding tissue paper? What did you find worked best?

Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns

Yesterday G asked to paint, so as I often do, I asked her what kind of paint she’d like to use–watercolors or tempera? She said neither, and although she’d forgotten the name, she quickly managed to communicate that she wanted to use the liquid craft acrylics. Because those aren’t always the best on paper, I thought for a minute about how else she could use them. They’re really great, for instance, with wood… and then I remembered that the latest issue of Family Fun included an activity using craft acrylics and I described it to G.

So, this project is much more crafty than what I usually post, but it was still kid-led, so I include it anyway.

Materials: Glass jar, painter’s tape, liquid acrylic craft paint

Family Fun’s directions can be found here. We varied only slightly. G picked what color she wanted to paint her jars–red for one, orange for the other–and she placed the tape on for the faces. I cut out some triangles, circles, and squares and placed them on the edge of the table for her. I decided against cutting out a definite mouth shape, like in the example, because I didn’t want there to be any “right” place that any individual shape had to go. We talked a bit about where our eyes, nose, and mouth are on our faces–two eyes at the top, nose in the middle, and mouth at the bottom.

After G placed the tape, I made sure the edges were smoothed down and she painted. Once the paint was dry, we peeled off the tape together (tweezers helped) and then I put tea lights inside and we admired her jars.

The face is quite clear on the orange jar. On the red jar, it’s a little lopsided but still clear, and up above on the ridged part, she placed a square next to each eye–these are arms, she told me.

G is almost three (one more month!), and while I don’t “do lessons” with my preschool-aged kids, I do incorporate a bit more as they get older. So while there was no purpose to this activity beyond painting and having fun, we did incorporate some learning–a bit of shape review and observation of faces and their parts. This gave her the opportunity to create a face in a way that is easier for her than drawing right now, and I think we’ll do some more variations on that idea.

How have you modified crafts to meet your child’s needs?

The Lighthouse

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, painter’s tape

Saturday night I was reading T is for Tugboat to G before bed. When we reached “L,” she told me she wanted to paint a lighthouse–right then. We agreed she could paint one in the morning.

From T is for Tugboat by Traci N. Todd and Sara Gillingham

The next day–our rainy Sunday–I presented my idea of using tape resist to create the stripes on the lighthouse. We’re getting to the point where G has ideas, but can’t necessarily get there all on her own. Because I feel strongly that children’s artwork is their own, I look for ways we can collaborate so she is happy with the result but is also the one actually making the artwork. So I also suggested that I could cut out a lighthouse for her to paint, if that was okay with her. She said yes.

So I sketched a lighthouse shape using the picture in the book as a guide–because while lighthouses come in various shapes, that was the lighthouse she wanted to make–and we placed some painter’s tape on top of it. This also served to secure the paper to the table, because it was narrower than the paper she usually paints on and likely to move around a bit. I’m sure you can tell that G had lots of say in how the tape was placed. She chose to use liquid watercolors. She kept to red for the main section and chose green for the light.

Once it was dry, we peeled off the tape. She’d said at the beginning that she wanted to add some colored pencil to the lighthouse once the paint was dry, so that’s what she did next. Then, she told me where on her bedroom wall it should go and she helped me push in the tumbtacks.

Then she took her brothers and her dad into her room to show them the lighthouse she had made.


How do you handle specific requests from young children–do you have some tips on successful collaboration?

T-Shirt Design: Freezer Paper Stencils

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

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

First, they made sketches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V was pleased.

So was N.

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


What have your kids been designing recently?

Summer Sunflowers

My husband brought home this beautiful bouquet of sunflowers, and my kids immediately wanted to know when they could paint them. So we did. We had a new package of Liquetex Basic Acrylic paints, so we decided to try them out. I recently bought them for V, because he’s always asking to use the liquid acrylics, and I wanted to get him something better and designed more for painting larger surfaces. But of course, you can set up a flower study with any materials–we drew sunflowers in the fall using dry media.

I wouldn’t recommend these paints for toddlers, but we let G try them out because she’s the third child and she insists upon it. (She’d already painted earlier that morning with liquid watercolors.) She didn’t stay the whole time, though; I sent her upstairs for some one-on-one daddy time after all her paint was gone.

Because our acrylic set came with red, yellow, blue, black, and white, this turned into a great experiential lesson on mixing colors and tints and shades.

I really enjoy mixing paint colors, myself. I think V is moving along the continuum from feeling limited by only having primaries, to feeling completely open. N already loves mixing colors and tells me with just the primaries, he can make whatever he wants. (True!) It helps to have good quality paint, too, that mixes well. We all enjoyed mixing to get the right green for the stems and the orangey gold for the petals.

I really enjoy the energy in both boys’ paintings–instead of trying for each petal individually, they made swirls of color for the flowers. The overall effect is quite close to the vase of sunflowers.

So we are learning the language of a new paint as well as exploring color mixing and practicing translating what we see onto the paper–all because my husband brought me flowers. (I kept the chocolate to myself, though!)

Making Prints While The Sun Shines: T-Shirts

As always, click to embiggen all photos!

Materials: White t-shirts (the kids’ shirts are white undershirts–they’re great for dyeing); liquid acrylics; sponge brushes; leaves or other objects of your choice; sunny (but not windy) day; optional but helpful: a piece of Plexiglas to place inside the shirt, unless you don’t mind the paint seeping through to the back

I read lots of art/craft blogs, because the Internet is filled with great ideas, and often I find ideas on non-kid blogs that I can use with my children. One such ideas is sun-printing on fabric, which I first saw on Mary and Patch. I was surprised to see that it didn’t require any special sun-reactive paint, so I decided we’d give it a try. We actually gave it two tries, and as I go I’ll share what we learned during our first, semi-successful attempt.

First, I wanted something firm under the shirts, so I slipped some Plexiglas into mine and my oldest son’s shirt, a piece of glass into my younger son’s, and the box part of a box frame into my toddler’s. We learned the first time that using cardboard will leave the texture of the cardboard on the shirt, so either put something smooth in there (like a file folder, if you don’t have Plexiglas) or accept that the paint will soak through–which isn’t a bad look either.

Next, spray the shirt with water to dampen it. This photo is from our first try; the second go-round we just moved the entire operation to the deck. I have one of our watercolor painting boards inside the shirt, which is another option.

I watered down our liquid acrylics, but I wasn’t exact about it. Liquid acrylics are the paints that you can find in craft stores in the little bottles, about $1 per bottle (for the big size!). They come in all sorts of colors, they don’t wash out, and we’ve used them successfully for printing and painting on shirts for years. So, squirt some paint into a jar, add some water, mix it up, and cover your shirt. We learned that if you want to mix colors, do it around the edges–if you overlap colors where you try to make the print, the print sort of gets lost.

Paint quickly! Spray some more if you have to, because you don’t want the paint to dry yet. Place your leaves and put the whole thing in the sun.

I sprayed our leaves with a bit more water to hold them in place, and then I thought later that we could have weighted them with small rocks. We learned it’s best to use full leaves. Ferns make really pretty sun paper prints, but they didn’t work so well on the shirts. Our shirts dried in an hour or less.

V’s shirt, which was mostly blue, didn’t show the prints much, so we decided to try overprinting. We could see some prints in the center, so he left those alone and added green around the edges. He followed the same procedure: he sprayed with water, painted, and then lay down the leaves.

It worked! Overprinting was successful:

Once the shirts were dry, I rinsed them out and washed and dried them like I would any laundry, in cold water. I’d do this first wash with something you don’t care about too much (like towels), but when I rinsed, the paint stayed put. From this point on I’ll wash them with the regular laundry with no worries.

N’s shirt came out really well. His was the only shirt from our first try that came out really well, too. His is on the left, and G’s is on the right. You can see her prints in person, but faintly. For some reason, blue paint didn’t make the best prints.

Although mine was blue, and it worked okay. One leaf blew over halfway through, so I’ve got a mutant leaf print on the lower left there!

For our first attempt, we used textile ink–specifically, Speedball screen printing inks, because we plan to print on t-shirts at some point too, so I bought some. It really didn’t work for this project. I’m not sure why I was seduced by the special textile paint when we’ve been using liquid acrylics for painting shirts for years and liquid acrylics don’t require me to heat set the shirt by ironing 3-5 minutes per side times four shirts–that’s a lot of ironing on a hot day!

Luckily, applying the paint with a brush created a sort of tie-dye effect, so even though the sun-printing didn’t work the first time, as V said, “It’s a nice red and blue shirt, anyway.” And N, especially, was interested in what we were figuring out as we went through the process–what colors worked best, what sort of leaves, what to try next. Because we generally approach art in a spirit of discovery, the kids weren’t terribly disappointed that it didn’t work the first time. We simply tried again, refining our process a bit until we got it right!

Peek-a-boo Paintings

Materials: Drawing and/or painting materials of your choice; drawing or watercolor paper, depending; acetate the same size as your paper (we used this); tape; paint for the acetate–this can’t be too watery–we found liquid acrylic and gouache worked well, tempera not so much

The first day of summer vacation dawned grey and misty, giving us the perfect opportunity to get into the studio after breakfast and add one more activity to the Eric Carle birthday celebration. Several folks have created beautiful painted tissue paper collages. We painted tissue paper many months ago, but my boys really didn’t want to cut their creations. We are acquiring a nice pile of textured, painted, and printed papers for collaging with some day, but meanwhile, I knew our Eric Carle-inspired activities would go in another direction. Earlier this week we were inspired by Dragons, Dragons, and today we looked to Mr. Seahorse.

Mr. Seahorse is another of our favorites. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it follows a seahorse as he interacts with other underwater species in which the males help care for the offspring. But what we really like about it is that some of the pages are transparent, so you’ll have a fish that’s hiding, and then you turn the clear page and see him in full.

From Eric Carle's Mr. Seahorse

I was reading it to N earlier this week and I thought, Hey, we could do that! As I explained the idea to the boys, though, I realized it’s a rather complex idea. You need to think about your artwork in layers–what will be underneath? what will be on top? It’s a different way of looking at it, to separate the full idea into parts. But the boys were ready to try.

We knew the top picture, on the acetate, would be painted, but we had to think about how to do the underneath. V wanted to do watercolor resist, but I thought oil pastels would smear against the acetate, so we used good old-fashioned crayons.

V decided to draw fish, and N wanted to draw a monkey–he used some of our story books as a reference.

After we worked with crayons, it was time to add liquid watercolors.

Then we let the bottom layer dry. Next, I placed a sheet of acetate on top of the first picture and used a couple pieces of clear tape to hinge it on whatever side the kids chose. This way, we could paint our covering picture while it was lined up with the bottom image–much easier that way.

Here, V is checking on his work in progress. He chose to use gouache paints on the acetate.

G joined us too, of course. She loves to paint. N, G, and I used liquid acrylic.

So as not to completely overload the post with photos, I put all our finished-piece photos together–click to embiggen. (And even though I didn’t use flash, the ceiling lights are bouncing off the acetate–so sorry, but it was wet outside!) From left to right, we have V’s ocean scene (seaweed for the top layer), N’s forest scene (that’s a big leaf), G’s, um, lots-of-paint, and my big flower.

And now the peek-a-boo: V’s fish, N’s monkey, my bumblebee, and G’s fish.

I completely loved this project, and I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it sooner, except maybe because we haven’t had the acetate in the house all that long. It was so much fun to do, and the results are pretty fun, too.

Check out more Eric Carle-inspired activities at the link below!

(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)

Inspired by Mr. Carle

Kate at An Amazing Child is hosting a week-long celebration of Eric Carle‘s birthday. We are lucky here not just to own and have read many, many of Eric Carle’s books, but we’ve also been to visit his fabulous museum of picture book art several times. I’m not sure what I like best about the museum–that it includes a great Reggio Emilia-inspired studio, that it contains a wonderful bookstore, that it has the best story-time (in its on-site library) that I’ve ever attended, or that it places picture book art in its proper place as a valid art form, not just there to prettify the words but to truly be part of the story. Isn’t it good I don’t have to choose?

(Oh! Look what I just found! The Carle Museum’s art studio blog is finally up! I’d heard in the fall they were planning on starting one and here it is!)

So, back to our Carle-inspired project. If you’ve visited here before, you know my kids range in age from two to nine, our projects are open-ended, and I try to make art alongside them whenever I can. So when we thought about Eric Carle, we thought about one of our very favorite books–and yes, we enjoy the caterpillar book, especially G, but it’s very much a toddler book. Dragons, Dragons, though, is a book for all ages, full of vibrant Eric Carle portraits of mythological animals to go along with a selection of poetry on the same. He also has another, Animals, Animals, which we haven’t read yet, that contains animals you can more easily see. (We don’t like to say that mythological animals aren’t real; just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!)

So our thought was to collage and/or paint an animal–mythological or not–and perhaps (this part was my idea) write a poem or find a poem to go along with it. The boys liked this idea, so I gathered my scraps of colorful paper, glue, paints, paper, and we got to it.

V wanted to paint a hawk, so he found our Peterson Bird Book and looked up hawks. G selected a field guide, too, ending up with the one on rocks and minerals. (It’s a first guide, and I think she feels like the smaller field guides are clearly hers.) N decided to look at the phoenix page in Dragons, Dragons, and I was inspired by the snake that lives under our front step.

G tore up some paper and used her glue stick to stick them to a large sheet of paper, then asked for some paint and picked up this scrap paper that had some holes punched out of it and used it as a stencil to paint a scrap piece of vellum underneath. I was pretty impressed that she had this idea on her own. When she was done with that, she painted another large sheet of paper, telling me the right side was the rock, and the left was the mineral.

N wanted to collage and then paint.

V painted one hawk with liquid acrylics and the second with tempera. He struggled, and I reminded him that he was using a scientific illustration as his guide, and it was going to be challenging to copy that exactly. I also pointed out that my snake did not at all look like a field guide-worthy illustration of a snake! I’m pretty impressed with V’s finished paintings, and he got the field markings in there, too.

V's red-tailed hawks, acrylic on left & tempera on right

My collage & gouache snake

V declined to write a poem. Here’s my snake poem:

The snake
Takes a break
A slash
In the grass
He disappears
Under the stairs

N decided he needed a whole story to tell about his phoenix, pictured here with the page he referred to in Dragons, Dragons.

His phoenix is holding a treasure chest, saving it from the burning castle that has been attacked by knights–I think. The story is in progress.

And here are G’s finished works, first her rock and mineral painting and second her vellum piece (which got thoroughly soaked–on purpose–with painty water, and I’m surprised it ever dried!) and her bits of collage.

All in all, I think Mr. Carle would be pleased with the various approaches! We have one more Carle-inspired project in mind; if we have time to do it before Saturday (my kids are STILL in school, so we might not) I’ll post it as well.

Thanks, Kate, for inviting us to the celebration!

(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)