Category Archives: preschool & up

{Art Together} Summertime Art Ideas

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

It’s getting on towards summer, at least where I live. Here in Southern New England, summer is my favorite time, and I try to make the most of warm and sunny days. That means art activities can shift outdoors as well. For this last regular Art Together post before summertime, I want to share some of the outdoor art activities we’ve done in the past—just follow the links for full details on each activity. And of course, don’t forget you can just set up a table or easel out-of-doors and paint en plein air—which also makes clean-up much easier!

Bright, strong summertime sun means making sun prints is a breeze (photo above). It requires specialty paper. I ordered ours online, but it seems to be much more commonly available now; I’ve even seen it in local toy stores.

We really enjoyed making hot rocks by drawing on hot rocks with crayons, and the rocks we decorated are still used in building play indoors. And if, like us, you compulsively collect smooth rocks from your local body of water (ours happens to be the Atlantic Ocean), you may want to try painting them, too.

Sidewalk chalk is a big hit in our house. We tend to be old-fashioned and just draw with it, until the driveway is covered with doodles and designs, but we’ve tried fizzy sidewalk paint, too.

If you happen to have a child at the spray bottle/squeeze bottle stage, try arming him with spray bottles of colored water and letting him loose, like I did with my daughter. Along these lines, toddlers and preschoolers will usually enjoy painting outdoor surfaces with water; yes, their paintings will disappear as they dry, but the process is the main thing! They will probably also enjoy “painting” you, themselves, and each other.

And, of course, summer is a great time to bring sketchbooks and supplies outdoors and draw and paint in nature. (Here, we drew irises.) Try to remember to bring the sketchbooks on your excursions. In case you forget, though, keep a traveling art box in the car.

More-organized art activities and challenges are available online this summer, too. Tammy is once again hosting the index-card-a-day challenge, and kids are welcome to participate. Michelle recently acquired Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists and is looking for company as she and her girls work their way through the book: a draw-along! And Coursera, which offers free online classes, is currently enrolling for Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques, which is a beginner-level course exploring the concepts of line, shape, value, texture, and color through readings and art projects (hat tip to Karen at Mail Me Some Art).

Whatever your summertime plans, I hope you enjoy the season and I hope it includes some art! I’ll still be posting about our activities, just not as a regular series. I hope you’ve enjoyed these first three months of weekly posts. I’d love to hear what you found helpful and what you’d like to see more of, either in the comments or via email (amyhood at amyhoodarts dot com).

{Art Together} Doodling

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

“A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.” –Paul Klee

Recently I treated myself to the Learning to See series of drawing primers. The first exercise I tried was the fourth one in the second book (yes, I pick and choose!), called, simply, “Doodle.” I challenged myself to fill an entire sketchbook page with pencil doodles, and this is what resulted.

My daughter saw what I was doing. Later on, she got her own paper and filled it with pencil doodles.

We decided to spend the next morning sitting on the floor with paper and a selection of colored pencils and markers, doodling. This is as simple as it gets: fill the page with doodles. You can make it more complicated, if you like. I chose a bigger piece of paper and challenged myself to fill it, and tried to pay attention to balancing the shapes, sizes, line, and white vs black.

I decided to keep it black and white, but I could have chosen to go into it with watercolors. I’m also interested in isolating parts of it that seem interesting to me. There are rhythms and patterns that might find their way into a future design. Doodling can bring forth all sorts of ideas to return to later.

My eight-year-old focused on colors for some of his doodles, preselecting markers to use.

In this next doodle, he focused on pattern, thinking of the zebras we saw at the zoo last weekend and the sign which informed him that zebras are camouflaged by their stripes; it’s hard to identify an individual zebra when they’re all together in a group.

He also completed a pencil doodle, which is in the Flickr group.

My four-year-old was a bit overjoyed with the choices of mark-making materials. She wanted to try them all!

The entire drawing session was a relaxing way to spend an hour–which is part of the goal of doing art together, to simply enjoy the time spent.

Further Resources

Books on doodling abound! I have Creative Doodling and Beyond, but truthfully it didn’t click for me on my first try with it. The exercises felt too focused on producing a complete finished work; I became completely inhibited. The Learning to See exercise, however, was wide open. Just get a pen and doodle. I didn’t feel any pressure, so it was easier. If the wide-open “doodle something on a blank page” approach leaves you wondering what to do, try a book that provides specific exercises. Maybe that will speak to you better. I’ve no doubt I’ll go back to the Creative Doodling book at some point.

If you want some visual inspiration, Flickr has many doodling groups. Oodles of Doodles is one that promises to be safe for all ages, so your kids can look, too.

Take it Further

Try doodling in black Sharpie and then choosing areas to wash over with watercolors or fill in with colored markers.

Choose a color palette (as my 8yo did) and limit yourself to it. That adds another design element to balance: not just shape, line, pattern, and size, but color, too.

Cut a 2-inch (or 3-inch, or 1-inch; experiment) square out of a piece of cardboard and use it as a frame to isolate different parts of your doodle. Are there any sections you’d like to try “blowing up” into a larger piece? Would any sections translate well to another medium, such as paint or stamp-carving?

Share Your Work

I’d love to see your work in the Flickr group; or if you have a link to posts describing art-making together, please share in the comments!

Craft Foam Printmaking

Craft Foam Printmaking at amyhoodarts.com

Materials: Craft foam; scissors; glue (Elmer’s or tacky); sturdy cardboard cut to size slightly smaller than paper; brightly colored construction paper*; block printing ink or tempera paint; brayer; glass or Plexiglas for rolling out ink. *I really like the Tru-Ray paper; it’s smooth and sturdy feeling.

I love printmaking, and I wanted to make sure to incorporate it into the preschool art explorers class I’m leading at our homeschool co-op this session. This activity was inspired by “Playful Prints” in What’s the Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo, and it’s perfect for this age group, because it also involves cutting, something my preschoolers love to do. (Although I think it would work well for all ages. I enjoyed making a sample!) The steps are simple.

1. Cut out shapes from craft foam. Make sure they’re large enough that they won’t be too difficult to either glue down or ink. That was the only parameter I gave the kids; they cut out whatever shapes they wanted.

2. Glue the shapes down onto the cardboard, making sure to leave some negative space. Don’t overlap the shapes. Again, the kids glued them down whichever way they wanted.

gluing down foam

3. When the glue has dried (at least enough so the shapes won’t wiggle on the cardboard during inking), ink up the brayer and apply ink to the foam. Try not to get it on the cardboard.

inking the plate

4. Lay the paper on top and smooth over the back of it to make the print.

print with plate

That’s it! Depending on the age group, this technique could be used to make patterns, designs, or to depict a simple image or scene…or it could be kept abstract. Choosing brightly colored paper and black ink made for a really vibrant and striking print. This is deceptively simple, with fantastic results.

{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.

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)

DSC02778My first preschool color-mixing activity post continues to be well read, and no wonder: color mixing is so much fun, and preschoolers love it. I’m facilitating a process-oriented preschool art class at our homeschool co-op this session, and when the kids said they’d like to do some more painting, I once again turned to Ann Pelo’s book The Language of Art for inspiration.

This time I chose her “tempera paints” activity in the “Exploring Color” section as my guide. It has all the ingredients sure to please preschoolers: tempera paint in squeeze bottles, mixing colors, “seeing what happens,” and, of course, painting.

Materials: Red, yellow, blue, and white tempera paint in condiment-style squeeze bottles (I pick up the condiment bottles when I see them during cookout season); mixing cups (I used yogurt cups; Pelo suggests glass jars with lids so you can save the colors); craft sticks for mixing; paper and paintbrushes–enough brushes for each color

DSC02773

I began by explaining to the kids that we would be mixing our own colors today before painting with them. I held up the containers of blue, red, and yellow paint and explained that these colors are the primary colors, and with them, we can mix any other color we want. I demonstrated by mixing some colors, taking the kids’ suggestions. I showed how to squeeze the paint out of the bottle into the cup, add another color, and mix it up with the stick. I told the kids they were going to be scientists AND artists–and then they got to work mixing colors. I didn’t impose many rules here, but I did try to reflect their process back to them.

DSC02769

My daughter, squeezing some blue paint into her mixing cup.

For instance, when I observed a child mixing up a color, I might say, “That’s a really bright pink. What did you mix to get that color?” This naturally led to the kids telling me what they were doing and what they’d concocted. I had four kids in class this day, and they shared the bottles extremely well, asking for what they needed and passing it along to each other. At one point, one child asked if he could use another child’s paint color. She didn’t agree, but she did agree to tell him how she’d made it so he could make himself a batch.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

When kids were done mixing colors, they were ready to paint. This didn’t happen at the same time for everybody. Two girls were most interested in the squeezing and mixing and kept with that part for more than half the class. In the photo above, one child is showing another the painting he created of two dinosaurs. In the photo below, a child has decided to experiment with the mixing stick as a paint-application tool.

DSC02780

The clean-up was very easy, as well. I had a shallow bucket in which to put paintbrushes to soak, and I covered the tables with shower curtain liners, found at the dollar store. Any paint spills wipe right off while we’re working (so it doesn’t get on sleeves and such), and I don’t have to worry about the tables in the co-op classroom getting too messy for easy clean-up.

Anytime squeeze bottles can be incorporated into an activity for this age, it is guaranteed to be a success. Add in mixing and experimenting…and it’s just a fabulous time!

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.