Category Archives: watercolor

Watercolor Blot Animals

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

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

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

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

My painted papers

V's painted papers

N's painted papers

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

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

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

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

N's line drawing animals

V's line drawing animals

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

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

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

N's creatures with added color

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

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

Other things we’ve been up to:

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

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

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

Marker + Watercolors

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

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

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

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

V, painting and having fun

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

V's finished painting

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

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

N, painting

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

G's painting

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

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

Mama's painting

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

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

Rubber Cement as Masking Fluid

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

Materials: Rubber cement, watercolor paper, liquid watercolors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maps, Drawn + Painted

Materials: Watercolor paper, permanent markers, watercolor paint, painter’s tape (optional)

On a recent sick day, when my boys were too sick for school but they’d temporarily perked up enough for a project, we drew and painted some maps. I left this completely wide open, with the only guideline being that we’d draw the map first with permanent marker, then add color with watercolor paint. I’d had in mind using black Sharpies, but N and G wanted to use colored markers along with the colored paint. Sure! Why not?

I also left the subject wide open. I sketched out a map of favorite places, but I figured N would want to draw a map of a made-up place (he did). V chose to draw a map of New Rome (from The Son of Neptune) as he pictured it in his mind, which was, he told me, completely different from the map included in the book.

The boys also chose to use painter’s tape to create a tape resist effect on their maps. Once everything was in place, we painted.

Above, N adding paint. Below, a detail of his cacti.

G chose to draw with colored permanent markers (yes, I give my 3yo permanent markers! under supervision, though) and then cover her paper with red paint.

For quite an interesting effect! Below, V’s finished map of New Rome. He used the tape to mark off roads.

He’s quite pleased with the Fields of Mars in the lower right-hand corner. He applied yellow, green, and brown paint, some with the brush, some with the tip of a narrow piece of sponge, then lifted some off with a paper towel. It looks like a place of battle, doesn’t it? His map also includes quite a bit of detail, as he consulted the book and labeled places before adding color.

Below, N’s finished map. He used tape resist to represent snow (piled up on the side), and when his painting was dry, he added a 3-dimensional temple using colored tape.

This was a very open-ended project; I had nothing in mind besides introducing the kids to using permanent marker and watercolor together–and even in that, they took it in different directions by using colored markers. By simply saying “let’s draw a map,” the boys were free to draw the type of map they each like most–V, a detailed map of a real place (in this case, real in the sense that someone had already described it in detail), and N, a map wholly out of his imagination. And I just doodled.

One of my favorite places: my love-filled home!

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?

Process to Product: Bookmarks for Teacher Gifts

We’re not all about process around here. Sometimes, we need a handmade gift. I do try, though, to include as much chance for open-ended creativity as I can, and I like for the boys to give their teachers something a little personal to go along with the gift card. Many, many people contribute to my children’s day, so we also need an item that we can make many of. For the holidays, we made ornaments, and for the end-of-year gift, I had the idea of making bookmarks.

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, salt, hole punch, stamp (optional), ribbon

I explained my idea to the boys first–they could paint a background on the watercolor paper, sprinkle salt for that neat textured salt effect, and when it was dry, I’d cut the paper into bookmark-sized strips. Then, they could stamp the bookmark with the school logo (I detail how I carved the stamp here), we’d punch the ribbon holes, I’d get them all laminated at Staples, we’d add the ribbon and tra-la, handmade and school-oriented bookmarks.

They both said this was fine. If you’ve read my manifesto, you know I don’t believe in altering someone’s artwork in any way, so I was very clear–we’d have to cut the painting, were they okay with that? It’s meant to be a background sort of painting, not a specific image, but still, it will be cut. Okay? Okay, they both said.

G, of course, joins in on all the projects, so she’s painting with liquid watercolors too. I gave each of the kids a 12×18″ piece of watercolor paper, which is a good thing. (A bit of foreshadowing there!) When the paper is fully painted and still wet, sprinkle some salt. As little or as much as you’d like–anything that doesn’t dissolve will brush off when the painting is dry. G made sure we had no salt leftover from what I’d poured into the dish.

Once the paintings were dry, N became adamantly opposed to cutting his up.

V’s salted painting

Tears were shed. Right away I said we didn’t have to cut his up, but then he decided he didn’t want his brother’s cut up, either. V, on the other hand, was laid-back about the whole thing. I kind of enjoy cutting up things like this, because then each piece becomes its own smaller, unexpected, found composition. Luckily, cutting a 12×18″ piece of paper into 2×6″ bookmarks leaves several left over.

N’s salted painting

Once they were cut, V inked up the stamp I’d carved and stamped each one, and after they were laminated, I gathered all my ribbons and he selected which color would go on which bookmark.

Who can’t use a bookmark? Well done, V. N has decided to draw a picture for his teachers (they’re getting bookmarks too; we have enough), and I respect his refusal to cut up his artwork, even if it was originally made with that purpose in mind. Becoming comfortable with giving your art away is a process in itself.

Watercolor Tape Resist

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, painter’s tape; my original tape resist post is here, and another version is on Kidoinfo here

Over break, V wanted to make another tape resist, but we had no canvases. No problem! He used watercolor paper and liquid watercolors. The method is the same.

Apply the tape:

Paint. V chose the colors he wanted:

When the paint is dry, peel off the tape to reveal the finished piece:

Easy peasey, and very adaptable to what we had on hand. My boys seem fascinated with resist methods of all sorts, so I’ll be looking for more methods. If you have some ideas, please share them in the comments!

Painting Stars

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors

After painting hearts and snowflakes, my two youngest naturally wanted to paint stars next, but on watercolor paper this time. I cut out the stars for them. A slight digression: N gets frustrated trying to draw stars. They’re hard! I agree with him. Then one night last week, as I opened one of his choices for before-bed stories, Eric Carle’s Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, this is what we saw on the endpaper:

Take a good look at those stars–click to make the picture larger if you need to. They’re not perfect, either. They’re lopsided and uneven and unique. I pointed out to N, These are stars created by an adult and a famous illustrator and artist. His stars aren’t perfect either! And thank goodness for that. See how they seem to dance along the page? They’re so vibrant. Try to picture uniform, perfect stars instead. Not the same at all, is it?

A second digression: Do you pay attention to the endpapers of the picture books? How about the illustrations? Most of the newer books even tell you how the illustrations were made–look on the title page, with the publishing information. I’m partial to watercolors and collage, myself. Currently I’m reading Flora’s Very Windy Day (over and over) and every time, I find myself admiring the illustrations (ink, watercolors, and pastels). I love the leaves. I also really like Jon J. Muth’s illustrations–he uses watercolors, too. And Leo Lionni, with the collage! I could go on and on.

Back to the stars. As per usual, I let the kids choose the colors of paint they wanted, and N chose primaries, so G did, too.

N was interested in blending the colors in specific ways. G made purple.

They’re hanging in the window now, with the hearts and snowflakes. I don’t see them coming down anytime soon, especially since we’ve still got the crepe paper streamers up from G’s birthday several months ago. (She likes them!) I’ll have to figure it out by the time it’s window-opening weather, though.

***

What children’s book(s) do you especially enjoy because of the illustrations?

More Coffee Filter Painting

When the boys saw our window full of painted hearts, they wanted to make some, too, and G has been asking to paint more every chance she gets. So we all painted some more coffee filter hearts (materials list in the linked post) over the weekend, and the boys cut and painted some snowflakes, too.

(We’ve had the T. Rex forever!)

It’s super duper easy to cut a snowflake from a basket-style coffee filter, because it’s already a circle. Just fold your circle in half, and then in thirds.

Fold the resulting triangle in half again.

Cut along the edges, but don’t completely cut a fold line or it will all fall apart. Paint it, if you want to. We’re having so much fun experimenting with colors, watching them run into each other in sometimes unexpected ways.

And we found the sweetest surprise when we came home around lunchtime the day after hanging all our hearts in the front window:

Heart shadows on the floor!

Painting Coffee Filters

(Inspired by these posts at The Artful Parent.)

Materials: Coffee filters, liquid watercolors

We have lots of coffee filters left over from before we bought one of those reusable ones, and when I saw the painted snowflakes in the first linked post up there, I thought the watercolors looked so pretty on the filters. G wanted to paint with our liquid watercolors, and knowing her tendency to puddle paint in one spot…

…I thought something designed to withstand a potful of water rushing through it could probably hold up to her exuberant painting style. So I cut a bunch of filters, both bleached and unbleached, into heart shapes. G loved the idea.

If you have a surface you’re concerned about, cover it with something waterproof, such as a vinyl tablecloth or even a couple of kids’ place mats. I put that sheet of newsprint down more to delineate the work area. The watercolors soaked right through the filter, through the newsprint, and onto the table, my lovely melamine table that wipes up in two seconds flat.

We did this twice. The first time she painted many middles, leaving the edges white, and then we had lunch. After lunch, when I suggested we check if they were dry enough to hang and mentioned I’d need to flatten them a bit, she asked to paint some more. She filled most of the white spots (the water irons out the crinkles in the filters) and then had me cut more, and then a few more, hearts. When she began painting again I did encourage her to move beyond the puddle and add paint to the bare spots. We also worked on treating the paintbrush nicely. I pointed out when the bristles got all spiky from her grinding it a bit and said that’s what a paintbrush looks like when it’s not happy.

This really is a perfect material on which to paint. There is seemingly no mix of colors that will blend badly on a filter. I’d put out a container of water and suggested rinsing the paintbrush, but G didn’t quite get that. (I wasn’t really expecting much there, just wanted to start presenting the idea. A great thing about these liquid watercolors is that I can pour a bit out into a smaller container, and it’s no big deal if the remnants are mixed and can’t be poured back into the bottle.) Instead, she went down the row of colors, periodically dipping her brush into the water, which had become colored, and “painting” with that. And of course, adding water to a colored coffee filter makes for a beautiful effect as well.

When all the hearts were dry, we hung them in the window together (click to embiggen).

And as her brothers and then her father came home, she took them to the window to show them: “Painted hearts, ME!”