Category Archives: toddler/preschool

{Art Together} Experimenting With Watercolors

DSC02728{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

I suspect watercolor paints are one of the most common art supplies offered to kids, because they seem fairly tidy. The colors are contained in their little trays, the drips are easily wiped up, everything closes up shut at the end and stores neatly. But I think watercolors have the potential to be one of the most frustrating mediums, especially for kids who are trying to paint something specific but don’t quite know how to control the paint. Watercolors depend on water, and water is so runny! It flows everywhere. How do you get more pigment? Add more water to your brush? But then the color is even runnier on the paper… and if you try to paint with wet paint next to paint that hasn’t dried yet, it’s all going to bleed together into a frustrating, tear-inducing mess.

Now, you know I don’t like to micromanage my kids’ art experiences. We’re not going to sit down and “create” step-by-step to all produce the same thing. I value the individual vision, but I also want them to have the tools necessary to execute that vision, which means we need time and space to experiment with different materials to see what they can do, before we try to use them in a specific project. I was an adult, taking an art class in college, before I realized that watercolor existed outside of those little plastic trays. (Tubes! It comes in tubes!) I vividly remember walking into the art supply store in the city, supply list in hand, feeling like an impostor.  Truly, going into that store knowing nothing and needing so much was an act of bravery. Nowadays, I’d just search it online and know exactly what I was looking for, but back then, the list may as well have been written in Greek. I was so confused. To hopefully save you from similar confusion, I’ve updated the Materials page with more specific information about watercolor options.

Whatever watercolor you choose, before you sit down to try to paint something specific, take time to just play and explore the material. When I get a new-to-me art supply, the first thing I do is play with it. Doodle, draw, scribble, if it’s a marker or pencil; dab, swirl, smear, if it’s a paint. What can it do? Watercolor behaves differently from acrylic. If we—meaning you, me, and our kids—want to be able to execute our idea, we need to know which medium is best for the job. What effect do we want? How do we know, if we haven’t played with a whole bunch of stuff? The more we experiment, the larger art vocabulary we have.

A quick word on paper: I usually use a cold press, thus slightly toothed, watercolor paper. Regular printer paper or drawing paper isn’t heavy enough to support the wetness of paint. Tooth means the paper has a bit of roughness to it. That’s helpful with watercolor, since it absorbs the paint better than a slick surface would.

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Watercolor pads I found hanging around my studio.

For this session, my kids and I browsed through Water, Paper, Paint by Heather Smith Jones and chose some prompts as our starting point. My younger two kids and I liked the idea of painting circles and adding colors to them while wet. My oldest wanted to painted a checkerboard pattern, letting the first color of squares dry before painting next to them with the second color. We used pan watercolors and began to experiment. I can tell you that wet paint on wet paint will bleed together, and you can tell your kids, but it’s better for everybody if you sit down and do it yourself. Then you will know it.

Wet paint on wet paint runs together a bit.

Wet paint on wet paint runs together a bit.

Sometimes that’s exactly the effect you’ll want in your painting. Other times you’ll want more detail and a sharper edge. What happens when you brush wet paint next to dry? What kind of an edge do you get then?

11yo's painting: The blue paint was dry before he began painting with red. He used a set of Van Gogh pan watercolors.

11yo’s painting: The blue paint was dry before he began painting with red. He used a set of Van Gogh pan watercolors.

Which is a better way to mix colors right on the paper—wet on wet or wet on dry? Do they both work? What’s the difference? Only by experimenting in this way and observing what happens yourself will you really begin to understand what you can do with the medium. Plus, it’s just plain fun to make designs on the paper without any real plan in mind. It’s like doodling with paint.

8yo's layers of color, wet on wet. He was using Reeves pan watercolors.

8yo’s layers of color, wet on wet. He was using Reeves pan watercolors.

My 8yo, 4yo, and I played with wet colors into wet colors.

4yo's painting: Purple dots painted onto a wet turquoise circle, using Crayola pan watercolors.

4yo’s painting: Purple dots painted onto a wet turquoise circle, using Crayola pan watercolors.

It’s just fun to lay down some color and “see what happens.” When you go into it with the idea that you’re experimenting, there are no mistakes, just unexpected outcomes. When my 8yo layered white on top of a color he thought was dry but the white looked muddy, we talked about it. Was the white paint itself muddied in the tray? Let’s wipe it off and try again. He experimented with having black as the first color—would anything at all show up on it? This is knowledge he’ll take with him the next time he paints. This is how we get to know a material so that we don’t try to make it do something it just can’t do.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

–Vincent van Gogh

Further Resources:

I often turn to books for adults to use with my kids. Techniques are techniques, and we all use the same materials and try the same things. I really like Water Paper Paint as a resource for techniques and ideas, as well as specific information on materials.

A Waldorf-specific method of wet-on-wet watercolor painting can be found here at The Magic Onions.

Take it Further:

All my previous posts that include watercolors can be found here.

Lori shares a post on watercolor techniques over at the Camp Creek blog, with some specific instructions on guiding your kids and yourself through some experiments with watercolors.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, you can share photos in the {Art Together} Flickr group, and that’s where I’ve posted photos of our finished watercolor paintings.

{Art Together} Scribbling

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

“That the word scribble is used so often as a term of disparagement is one indication of how we fail our children in their quest for knowledge.”—Susan Striker in Young at Art

8yo's scribble, colored in.

8yo’s scribble, colored in.

If you’ve read my manifesto (and if you haven’t, you should!), you know that I think art should be fun and relaxed and play, for everybody—for kids and for you, too. If anybody is hung up on what “should” be happening or what something is “supposed” to look like or trying to teach proper perspective or mimicking Picasso’s rose period, goodness, that is a lot of pressure. Now, there absolutely is value to learning about things like line, shape, design, and color theory, and I definitely love looking at and being inspired by works of art, both in books and in person whenever possible. But this series isn’t about formal art instruction or art history—although sometimes that comes into what I do with my kids, too. This series is, first and foremost, about sitting down and playing alongside your kids, but instead of using things like blocks or cars, we’re using paint and crayons.

It’s about having fun (and opening up the portals to creativity, but I need to save some stuff for later!).

So this week’s activity is all about loosening up, letting go, getting your head out of it and having fun. Scribbling is the very epitome of mark-making for the sole purpose of making marks, of feeling how the tool of choice slides across the paper. If you have a younger child, he or she won’t need any encouragement to scribble. To an older child, or to you, it may seem awkward at first. We are used to making marks with intention and deliberation. Try to let go. Move your whole arm. Make big, strong marks. Fill a page. How do your scribbles reflect how you’re feeling? If you’re feeling tentative, the marks on the page will probably look tentative, too. What about scribbling when you’re angry? What does that look like?

I sat down with my kids this week and we all did something different, but we all incorporated scribbles. You can try any or all of these (plus a couple others I’ll link to) or make up your own variations. Between us, we used black Sharpies, colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolors, and liquid acrylics, the last being a little heavy for the typical sketchbook, but used in small quantities, they were fine. I began by filling my page with one long line of scribble, overlapping it and closing the line at the end. (Photos taken in our art area, which has daylight bulbs but no natural light, often have shadows. We all work with the space we have!)

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Then I used colored pencils to fill in the shapes. I could have set myself all sorts of rules for this, trying to link the colors in a certain way or only use certain sets of colors…instead I used whatever color I wanted without much thought, my only rule not being to use the same color in adjacent areas.

Coloring in, in progress.

Coloring in, in progress.

My 8yo chose to do the same project (his finished work is at the top of the post). My 11yo wanted to make a free-form scribble and then see what picture he could find in it.

11yo's scribble.

11yo’s scribble.

He sketched in the rest of the picture he saw.

Sketched-in scribble.

Sketched-in scribble.

Then he used acrylics for color.

11yo's finished scribble-inspired painting.

11yo’s finished scribble-inspired painting.

My 4yo wanted to do everything, so she began with making marks with oil pastels and adding watercolor.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

But she tired of that. After a while she decided to do a big scribble like I had, but use liquid acrylics to add color, like her brother did. I’ve added her finished painting to the Flickr group.

4yo's unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

4yo’s unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

Take it Further:

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

In the past, we’ve made oil pastel/watercolor resists, using the pastels to scribble first. The full post on that is here. My son got the idea of turning scribbles to pictures, I think, from this activity that begins with watercolor scribbles and finishes with drawn images.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Further Resources:

Young at Art, by Susan Striker, which I quoted above, is an excellent resource for exploring open-ended art with toddlers and preschoolers. I particularly like her progression for introducing paint colors to encourage authentic color mixing discovery. She also includes good advice on how to talk to children about art.

Speaking of which, Let’s Talk About Art by art therapist Jen Berlingo has more guidelines for how to talk to kids about their artwork.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, if you want to post pictures in the Flickr group just click the join request button. Meanwhile, I’m still posting additional photos there of our work.

Next week we’ll be talking about–and playing with, of course–watercolors. See you then!

{Art Together} Looking Closely

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

“’The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.’ A lot of people don’t look very hard.” –David Hockney.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Before we go any further, you need to promise me you’re not going to start comparing. Don’t compare your artwork to mine, your kids’ artwork to my kids’ artwork, or your work to your kids’ or your kids’ work to each other. Remember to start where you are. Also remember that I’ve been doing this with my kids for a while now. We’re all comfortable with the process. Brand new things often feel uncomfortable, so if you or your kids are feeling awkward, it’s okay to acknowledge that. Like anything else new, it’ll feel less awkward the more you do it.

Okay, then! Let’s get started. We’re going to start not by trying to draw but by trying to look closely, with a pen or pencil in our hand. Because I find natural objects so interesting to draw and because I am craving spring, I suggest finding a Growing Thing to serve as the focus of your observation. If you can head outside, wherever you happen to live, and find a dry patch of ground on which to sit, and it’s not so cold or windy as to be distracting, do that. If you have houseplants, pick one. I am death to houseplants, so I bought some tulips and pussy willows at the supermarket. We have so many collected natural treasures on our table that some of those found their way into the drawings as well.

As for art materials, we used sketchbooks, but loose drawing paper and even regular old printer paper will work just fine. I gathered a selection of sketching pencils and markers.  I love my Pitt DSC02670Artist Pens, but a fine-point black Sharpie is a good alternative, and it’s cheap and easy to find. (Also, I don’t share the Pitt pens with my youngest, since she still presses down too hard on the tips for my liking. She uses Sharpies.) If you don’t have sketching/drawing pencils, there’s nothing wrong with using a regular #2 pencil, but I suggest taping over the eraser. If you have it as an option, you’ll want to use it. You’ll get hung up on getting everything “perfect,” which will just interrupt the whole process of looking at what you are drawing. My kids decided they wanted to use colored pencils too, so we added those to our pile later.

Start out by looking at your drawing item together. What do you notice about it? Here are some of the observations my kids and I made as we drew:

8yo, drawing pussy willows: I’m shading the puffy things in to make them look furry. Do you notice these have a furry texture?

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4yo, drawing a tulip: Is the green the flower too or just the yellow and red? [Answer: The green she was looking at was the leaf; the stem was green too.]

Me: The edge of this tulip looks like a clam shell the way it comes together in the middle.

11yo: This [the hardest pencil in the group] is horrible for shading. (For more information on soft/hard pencils, see this post; I’ve updated it with more pictures.)

Me, to 8yo, as he struggled to draw a junebug’s wing: Look at the shape of it; it’s not symmetrical. The bottom is a smoother line but the top goes up and then tapers down. Start with the overall shape and then fill in the details.

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In Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, author Betty Edwards explains that we have built up a shorthand of sorts—what a hand should look like, a flower, a tree, a house—and when we sit to draw, our brain supplies these symbols, and we end up drawing what we think we see rather than what is truly there. I remember my first drawing class that included a live model; the professor pointed out how the proportions of the human body are not at all what we think. For example, a hand is much larger than we usually draw it; in fact, a hand is extremely odd looking if you really investigate it.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the "petals" in order to draw it accurately.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the “petals” in order to draw it accurately.

I’ve come to think that the true value in drawing isn’t the image itself, it’s that a drawing practice teaches you to really look at something. Of course the ability to recreate what you see can be extremely useful. You can use this skill to make notes on a nature walk so you can compare what you see (a flower? a leaf? an insect?) to a field guide later on. You can use it to sketch out the idea in your head to help you get it across to someone else—or even to help you figure out exactly what you’re thinking. But the sketch on the paper is only a small part of what you’re doing. The first part of drawing is looking—looking closely.

If you feel yourself becoming discouraged by your perceived inability to draw, try to reframe it: You are learning to really see. And remember that as with anything else, if you practice, it will begin to get easier. You will learn to truly look closely. You will begin to see what is actually there rather than what you think is there, and that is a valuable skill to have in life whether you become an accomplished sketcher or not.

Further Resources:

Drawing Lab For Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun: My kids and I (together and separately) have enjoyed many activities from this book; flip through and pick out something that interests you.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: Presents an approach to drawing designed to trick the brain to leave those preconceived notions behind.

Take it Further:

Blind Contour Drawing: This post at the Camp Creek Blog describes a method of drawing that involves only looking at the object, not at all at the paper.

Share Your Work:

I’ve created a Flickr group, where I’ve added more photos from our drawing session, and where you can share photos too, if you want to, or ask questions in the discussion section…whatever seems useful and helpful to you. If you have any questions please leave a comment or email me at amyhood AT amyhoodarts DOT com, and I will see you again in a week. Happy drawing!

Why Process Over Product? {Part Three}

(Part One, Part Two)

Part Three: Realizing a Vision

In Part Two, I said that if someone hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. Learning new skills is both exciting on its own and a means to an end; sometimes it begins as one of those and progresses to the other. Do you want to re-create somebody else’s vision, or know how to express your own? I want to do the latter, and I want my kids to be able to do the latter, too. I learned embroidery because I wanted to embroider poetry on my jeans, but in the process it became another way for me to express myself, and while I embroidered some commercial patterns at the beginning, while I was learning, I can’t see doing that anymore, because I’d rather use embroidery as part of my own artwork.

Practicing embroidery

Practicing embroidery

My 8yo, who already knew embroidery’s properties so well from having watched me, and already knowing how to sew, decided to learn how to embroider so he could make his aunt a snowflake ornament, based on his own vision of the finished project. I helped him with the angles of the snowflake and transferred it onto the felt for him, but the idea was all his. And we didn’t have an example of “this is what your felt snowflake ornament should look like,” either. It was all his own thought process and design.

Following directions give us the skills to re-create somebody else’s vision. There is nothing essentially wrong with that. I have no problem with knitting a sweater somebody else designed if I like it and want to wear it. It saves me the trouble of doing the design work myself. But if I have an idea in my head, I appreciate having the ability to make it a reality, rather than trying to find somebody else’s vision that sort of approximates my own. Following directions is certainly a useful skill to have, and prevents any of us from having to re-invent the wheel. But exposure to process-based activity is essential to gain the skills and confidence to realize our own unique vision.

“Just messing around” with materials allows the space for accidents to happen, for unexpected results, for discoveries, and that is when we learn. If something unexpected happens when the goal is to re-create a predetermined end product, it can be perceived as a disaster. If it happens during a process-focused exploration of a material or technique, it is a delightful discovery, leading to knowledge that is filed away for future use. When and if we have an idea that requires that particular effect, we know how to obtain it. Process-based art is not pressure-filled. It is fun. It is play. It is essential, for children and adults.

We cannot expect children to be creative, original thinkers if we only present them with so-called “art activities” that involve following directions to reproduce an end product. They deserve (as we all do) the space and time to develop the confidence and skills to determine their own end product, and then figure out how to get there. When I said, “I’m going to knit a stocking,” having never knit before, nobody was around to tell me I couldn’t. When my child says, “I’m going to make a snowflake ornament out of felt and embroidery,” even though he’s never embroidered before, I’m not going to say, “You can’t do that.” I don’t even say, “Let’s look and see what patterns you can follow.” My response is: “Let’s practice embroidery so you know how to do it. Sketch out what you’re thinking. You can totally do this.”

The process of looking for an already-existing project that meets your criteria versus creating the project you have in your head is so very different. Children who only have experience in following directions to produce a version of somebody else’s vision may not ever make the leap into realizing they can create the steps to produce their own vision. It takes more work on the adult’s part to mentor a child’s individual vision. It is harder to have a room full of children interpreting new materials or techniques in different ways, rather than following directions all at the same time. I see my job as facilitator, and I am on my toes when we’re in the studio, especially if we’re doing something new. But this sort of mentoring is essential, because the ability to have an idea and realize that idea is essential. And one way to raise children who have the confidence and skills to not only realize their ideas but to have the idea in the first place is to provide plenty of exposure to process-based art.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Two}

(Part One)

Part Two: Knowing the Materials

When a child (or adult) has an idea and a specific end result in mind, if he or she hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. I can’t stress this enough. It seems so basic, but I see so many people going about it backwards. Until we learn how to use various materials, we have no idea which one is best for the task at hand. If we have a vision in our mind but have a limited number of techniques from which to choose, we may never reach our vision.

When my children come into the studio with an idea, they have a vast array of materials from which to choose. They learned how to use these materials not by following step-by-step directions to reproduce a project designed by someone else, but by experimenting with the materials in a controlled way. Parameters are, I think, necessary when learning a new material or technique. I didn’t just give them watercolors and leave the room. We used, at different times, watercolors wet on wet, wet on dry, pan watercolors, liquid watercolors, watercolors from a tube. The different methods and materials yield different results, and we learned what they were by doing. In the same way, watercolors are different from acrylics and gouache and tempera. So when my kids say they want to do X and they need paint, I can now ask them, What kind of paint? And they will think about their desired end result and decide what they think they need.

The same thing is true of every material in our studio.

Non-representational creativity is often difficult for adults to understand. They think kids are just “messing around,” the painting is “random,” the activity is “aimless.” If it’s not a picture OF something, an adult often doesn’t see the point. Firstly, if the child is enjoying himself, is another point necessary? But beyond that, quite a bit is going on—or can be going on—when someone is “just messing around” with a material. The first thing I did when I bought new watercolor pencils was scribble with them and add water to see what happened. It would be frustrating to try to use a material for a specific end result if I didn’t know what the material could and couldn’t do.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

In the same way, a child learns quite a lot while “smearing” paint around. He’s learning how paint moves, how much to put on the paintbrush to get different effects, what happens when wet paint touches. If it’s quality paint, he learns what happens when different colors mix. When my middle child was about five, he spent weeks investigating different paint colors, a couple at a time. He learned about tints and shades and secondary colors while he moved the paint around on large sheets of heavy paper that I’d pinned to the wall. Limiting the color palette meant that he could see what happened when just those two or three colors mixed. This is, again, about setting parameters to help a child learn about the materials in a useful, meaningful way.

During this time, he happened to be painting while an adult relative was over, and that adult stared at the non-representational paper that held all that exciting information about tints and shades, and instead of asking my son about it (and he would have eagerly explained what he’d done to get that range of color), she stared and stared until she found something that sort of looked like a flower and pointed it out. “You painted a flower.” No. But now, when he does want to paint a flower, or anything else, he is confident that he can mix any color he needs or wants, in a variety of paint types. In fact, like me, he’d rather have just the primaries, white, and black in his palette, and mix his own colors.

For more on this sort of sequential introduction of materials (as well as how to talk—and NOT talk—to children about what they’re doing), I highly recommend Susan Striker’s Young at Art.

Next: Part Three—Realizing a Vision.

Why Process Over Product? {Part One}

Part One: Discovery vs Following Directions

Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, has a terrific forum area of her website, and currently it contains an active thread on process vs product art for children. If you’ve dug around on this blog of mine at all, you know I’m passionate about allowing children the opportunity to explore process-oriented, open-ended art. This series of posts grew out of the thoughts I shared in that thread; I encourage you to join Lori’s forums, if you haven’t already.

Playing with monotypes

Playing with monotypes

In process-oriented art, the DOING is what is important: the PROCESS of making, exploring, and discovering. Product-based art is focused on the end result. In an open-ended activity, we don’t know where we’re going to end up, while in a closed activity, the end result has been predetermined by someone else. My elementary school “art” classes were exercises in following directions, with the (teacher’s) stated goal being 30 projects that looked just like hers. Sadly, this is still true in many schools. There is no room for creativity there, for amazing discoveries and delights.

One example given in the forum thread as a possible support for product-based “art” experiences for children is that of a new knitter following patterns until she knows enough to design her own, the connection being that children learn skills by following directions rather than by process-based exploration. I taught myself to knit because I wanted to make something specific, a Christmas stocking for my first baby. I decided upon a specific skill, knitting, which I needed to learn, so I did. And yes, I followed the pattern for the stocking. Taking a class wasn’t a possibility, so I didn’t “learn” that a new knitter’s first project should be a scarf. There was nobody to tell me, “Oh no, you can’t start right off knitting a tube with four needles. New knitters don’t do that. You have to progress through this predetermined sequence of easy projects before you can attempt anything like that.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I figured I could do anything. That is the confidence I want for my children. I taught myself to knit in October and had a hand-knit Christmas stocking ready in time. Sure, I struggled, and the argument can be made that I persevered because I had a specific end product in mind. But—and this loops back into the goals of authentic project-based learning—I was committed to learning a new skill in order to realize my own vision and goal (and even with that first pattern, I changed it to suit me). The next item I knit was the sweater sampler from Jacqueline Fee’s Sweater Workshop. This project didn’t result in anything recognizable or a useful “thing,” but the process taught me a variety of skills. Then I either followed patterns, or not. Or I began with a pattern, but modified it to suit me, because I understood what I was doing.

I can tell you with much assurance that only following patterns doesn’t teach a knitter much except how to follow patterns. It is the same with any other skill. Only following somebody else’s directions only teaches you how to follow somebody else’s directions. If you don’t truly understand your materials and how they behave, you won’t recognize when the directions are wrong. Or if you do, you won’t be sure how to fix it. Learning how to design knitted items doesn’t come from knitting a whole lot of them, following directions slavishly. It comes from experimenting with different stitches and techniques, different weights and needles, and comparing the resulting fabrics. It comes from playing with the materials.

And that will be Part Two: Knowing the Materials.
Part Three: Realizing a Vision

{I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how important a mentor is, even for adult self-taught learners. My sister, an accomplished knitter, loaned me several of her books, including The Sweater Workshop and Knitting in Plain English. These are not pattern books. They are think-for-yourself knitting books, and I’m sure being exposed to that sort of philosophy right from the start helped shaped my attitude towards knitting and every handwork skill I added thereafter.}

Project Shelf

Inspired by Kate at An Everyday Story, I cleaned off an existing shelf in the living room in order to display some project creations.

I already talked about G’s map of Egypt and N’s cartouche and cat statuette, in the claywork post. I’m happy to report N’s cat stayed together just fine; we had to glue one paw back on. I haven’t talked about G’s mummy or the pyramid, which she created after the mummy, because that’s where mummies go. No matter the mummy and pyramid aren’t to scale; not the point. She cut out the base and triangles (using guides), let them dry, and then glued them together. It’s all a bit fragile, but it’s a pyramid. N also has plans to make a pyramid, but I needed to get more clay (which I did, over the weekend), and now I’ve commandeered the art table for a day or two to sew a Halloween costume. (We are challenged by needing to share project work space.)

The mummy was created early on in our project work, beginning in early September, and despite all good intentions I haven’t shared about it yet. When I told the kids my job was to make sure they had the materials necessary for their work, G jumped right on that. One morning she told me she had “a mummy in her head” and she would need paper, drinking straws, and paper towels. I provided these, and she asked for other items as the need arose.

Working on her mummy

She drew a sad face on her mummy. “He’s sad because he’s dead.”

(It’s hard to photograph white against white, and I used my phone for some of these.) When her mummy was complete, which took time as she worked out how she wanted the various pieces (including the straws; they’re in there too) to go together, she used the paper towel to represent linen wrappings.

During a later session, she painted and colored the squares that she then attached to both sides of the paper towel wrapping–you can see that in the first picture. This represents the paintings on the coffins.

Is this an artistically accurate modeling of an Egyptian mummy? Not at all. Does it demonstrate that this three-year-old understands what she’s been studying? Absolutely. I am blown away (again!) by the way in which she has translated her learning into her own project representation.

N’s planned pyramid will be too big to fit on the project shelf. We’ll have to come up with some other way to display it. My kids are used to seeing their creations displayed around our house and on our walls. I have many, many of their artworks (and my own) framed and hanging. They didn’t react in any particular way to seeing their project creations on the shelf, although my son did point out to his brother that I’d cleaned a shelf off just for them. I think they all consider the house their own gallery, as I have a high tolerance for random stuff taped to the walls–they do their own displaying, too. I think that’s a good thing.

There is a lot I’m not doing–dedicated display or bulletin boards for project materials in individual work spaces (which we don’t have) would be great. I’m not so good about scheduling in blocks of project time on multiple days per week. But I’m doing what I can, and as is often the case, it turns out that that is enough until I can do more.

Experiments With Natural Dyes

Dyed with onion skins (with some sticker resist)

Last year we painted wooden eggs for Easter, but my youngest has since outgrown her egg allergy, so we were back to decorating real eggs this year. However, I wanted to get away from the fluorescent, fake colors. I’m the one who eats most of the eggs, and the food coloring dye that leaks onto the egg white always gives me pause. So this year we experimented with natural dyes.

Way back when, in the dark times before the Internet, I experimented with natural dyes while working at a summer day camp. A group of kids and I tie-dyed t-shirts using dye made from beets and blueberries. (We’d been learning about local Native American tribes, so I’m thinking, but am not positive, that I found these dye suggestions in my research, which would have taken place in the library, with books.)

So that’s where I began with Easter egg dye, and I added in onion skins after reading this post. That blogger boiled the eggs along with the onion skins, but I was a little hesitant to give my three-year-old a raw egg to wrap, so I decided to make the dyes separately and dip already-boiled eggs into the dye. There are lots of tutorials on this–such as here (via KiwiCrate) and here (via Craft)–but it looks like many dyes need a long soak, even overnight. I wanted something the kids could see working rather quickly.

The two orange eggs were dyed in onion skin dye. The reddish one at the front is from beets, and the bluish one at the back is from blueberries. The blueberry dye and beet dye looked almost exactly the same in liquid form, but as the blueberry-dyed eggs dried, they became bluer. For all of these, I boiled and then steeped the dyeing agent, then strained the liquid through a wire mesh strainer and added a splash of vinegar as a mordant.

Dyed with blueberry dye

A couple of days later we tried spinach and red cabbage as well. These weren’t as successful. I think the red cabbage would have required an overnight soak, and something interesting happened when I added vinegar to the strained spinach dye. First off, I didn’t need to-spinach contains its own acid, oxalic acid, which is strong enough to act as a mordant all on its own. When I added the vinegar, the liquid, which was a dark green-gold color, lightened into the color of lemonade–and had no effect on the color of the eggs. I’ve been searching for an explanation (what reacted with what?) and haven’t found one yet, so if you know, please tell me!

The Easter Bunny usually leaves my kids little rhyming clues as to where their baskets are hidden. This year, my oldest mentioned he hoped his clue was in code.

Cracking the code

I used a simple number/letter substitution, but I began at “N” as “1.” I helped him work through the first word, which was three letters, using logic to figure out where the vowel probably was (in the middle) and going from there. Then he was off and running. Every year, the Easter Bunny has to get a little smarter…

Have you experimented with natural dyes? What worked best for you?

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!

Keeping it Simple (+ Happy Spring!)

Happy First Day of Spring! We’re expecting higher-than-normal temperatures here again this week. Even though it was a mild winter, I’m still so happy for the light to increase, for the migrating birds to begin to return, for the frogs to wake up… it was still a hard winter in many ways, and spring makes me happy. I made a couple of these cheerful flowers to tuck into my boys’ lunch bags to celebrate the official first day of spring.

I haven’t posted much here this winter. Partly that’s because I’ve kept the focus of this blog pretty narrow: it’s creative activities, generally art-related, and that’s about it. On top of that, I tend not to post unless we’ve done something more or less of a piece, something that fits the format of a materials list followed by what we did and the open-ended outcome. But I realized that may make it seem like that’s all we do, one planned-out art activity after another (or, in the case of this Lyme-influenced winter, not so many planned-out activities, and thus no posts). So I thought I’d share the sort of free-wheeling that’s been more likely to go on here lately.

When I went downstairs Monday morning to make the flowers, of course my daughter came with me to make her own. She’d started by punching circles from the same scrap of yellow card stock I’d used. The patterned paper is from a dollar pack we found at Target not too long ago. Eventually she also used scissors, a glue stick, patterned packing tape, a “smudgy” pencil (ie, charcoal pencil), crayons, markers…I don’t think I’m forgetting anything, but it’s possible! She was working on her flower for quite a while, long after I was done and had moved on to ironing some fabric and generally puttering around in the studio area.

When she was done, we photographed it, front and back.

Front

(If you squint, you might be able to see the ridiculous pile of fat quarters and fabric I have on the ironing board!)

Back

Only when I photographed it did I see that she’d fit one of the yellow circles right into a circle hole she’d punched into the patterned paper, then held it in place with the patterned tape. Sworn to secrecy on the lunch-bag flowers, she decided this flower was also for her brothers, and she would hide it for them to find when they got home from school, which they did.

This is most of what G has been doing this winter–hanging out while I do something, making things like Mama, in her own way. It happens more or less organically, not as anything I plan. G has a pretty good handle on what’s available as far as supplies, and she’s not shy about telling me what she needs next. Then I just do my own thing, helping her when asked, and I get to be amazed at the result, too.

And once again, Happy First Day of Spring!!