Category Archives: watercolor

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!”

Scribble Resist

Materials: Oil pastels (we really like Crayola), although regular wax crayons should also work; liquid watercolors; paper (we started with Artagain, but watercolor paper worked a little better)

When is the last time you scribbled? (Adults, I’m talking to you here!) It’s fun. It’s very freeing and physical. We don’t say, “It’s just a scribble” here. That makes “scribble” sound like an insult, doesn’t it? We also don’t leave scribbling to the toddler. You could do all sorts of fancy projects with the pastel (or crayon) and watercolor resist method. Or you could just scribble and paint, line and color, watching how cool it is when the watercolor slides off the colored lines.

(Mine above, G’s on the bottom.)

The method couldn’t be simpler. Draw. Paint. That’s it.

(V’s, age nine. First one on top, second on the bottom.)

What happens when you use the same color paint as pastel? Let’s try it out! You like how your brother painted stripes? Give it a try!

(N’s, age six. First one on top, second one, inspired by his brother’s stripes, on the bottom.)

Scribble. Paint. Why leave all the fun to the toddlers?

Cabbage Flowers, Revisited

Materials: Watercolor paper, oil pastels (Crayola‘s are easy to hold and inexpensive, too), liquid watercolors (we used Blick)

We looked at our cabbage flowers and together, we chose three of the liquid watercolors: violet, magenta, and green. I set out the pastels and the paint, and for this, we used dry watercolor paper.

The oil pastels, of course, resist the watercolor. It’s fun to experiment with these together to see what happens. The effect of liquid watercolor on dry paper is far, far different from the Stockmar colors on wet paper, so much so that I took photos of the two versions together. (I think my Stockmar colors might have been a little too diluted; either that, or they’re just getting too old. I’m almost out anyway!)

Here are my toddler’s paintings, side by side.

She understood what we were doing with the pastels, and she colored with them first, then asked for paint. (She has a strong preference for the pink-purple color family!)

Here are my nine-year-old’s paintings.

I think he liked the ability to be more detailed.

And below, my six-year-old’s paintings.

These are both his second paintings of each session. On the top, he focused on just the stem of the flower, and then played with the pastels and the paints together to add background. He really enjoyed that part.

Approaching the same subject with similar yet different media really shows how much the choice of material affects the final work. I admit, I thought the liquid watercolors were garish; I liked the purple we mixed ourselves much better. It was calmer, to me, and more resonant, whereas the premixed purple just seemed so showy.

This is not to say that I don’t like the liquid watercolors–I’ve seen some really wonderful projects created with them. But the mood is entirely different, isn’t it? And yet, when I really look at the cabbage flowers, they are kind of showy, with their magenta veins running through deep green leaves. Perhaps the pastels and liquid watercolors were a better choice to catch their particular essence. As my kids and I experiment with different media, we can discover all the choices that go into a final work. What sort of mood are we aiming for? How do we want our artwork to feel, or to make other people feel? What colors do we need? (Do we need color at all?) So that when they have an idea in their head, they also have the first-hand knowledge of the best way to try and bring that idea to life.

Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting

This morning at the farmers’ market I bought cabbage flowers.

I decided to use them as inspiration for some wet-on-wet watercolor painting.

Materials: Watercolor paper, Stockmar watercolors, glass jars, soft paintbrushes, painting boards, sponges.

Although I’m using a technique common in Waldorf education (and one I learned while homeschooling using Enki curriculum), what I’m demonstrating here is the nuts and bolts of set-up, not the particular method of introducing the colors, paints, and technique used in either philosophy. There’s quite a bit of setup before getting the kids in the studio.

First, mix the paint. I eyeball it, squeezing some paint into the glass jars (I’m almost out, so this got tough!), adding some water, and then shaking it up. Because my paints are getting old, I stirred some, too, using the end of a paintbrush.

This is what each child’s place at the art table looks like:

A painting board, sponge, paintbrush, jars of color, jar of clean water for rinsing, and some paper towel to dry the brush on (a cloth towel works well for this, too). You can buy very nice painting boards that will last and last, but I went to Home Depot and had them cut a piece of board for me. (I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s the same brown board that clip boards are made out of. Anyone know what that’s called?) This will warp over time, but it cost maybe $5 for three of them 2 1/2 years ago, and they’re still working just fine.

Back to procedure: You need to soak your paper.

Before I had a utility sink, I used a plastic storage bin with water in it. Just make sure the bin is larger than the paper you intend to use. You can soak more than one piece at a time, but put them in one by one, gently submerging them. Ignore them while you finish setting up. A few minutes is good. When you’re ready, take one out, let some water run off, then place it on a board. Show your child how to use the sponge to wipe the paper, top to bottom, to wick up the excess water–but make sure he’s not overzealous, or the paper will be too dry. Just a gentle wipe is enough.

Then paint.

I suggested the boys use the flowers as inspiration, pointing out that they wouldn’t be able to match the colors exactly. We talked about how we could create the colors of the flower (mostly green and purple) using the colors we had (red, blue, yellow), but I pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to create a painting that looked exactly like what we saw. Wet watercolors going onto wet paper makes a beautiful, hazy effect, but it’s not going to be detailed. “Try to paint the idea of the flower, not necessarily the flower itself.”

(“I don’t understand you,” said my literal, logical nine-year-old. We got there.)

Those paintings in the photo on the left are drying on top of my washing machine. Use the space you have, I say. I soaked enough paper for two paintings each, and we only have three boards, so I had to get creative. On the far left is my toddler’s experimentation. She tried each color, and then she was ready to move on. (She’d already painted at the easel, and then she went on to draw with crayons.) On the right is one of my nine-year-old’s paintings, and the photo on the far right shows his second painting, still in progress, where he’s working on the idea of the veins of the petals.

My six-year-old, I think, focused on the colors he saw.

You can see the effect of the watercolors. It really is beautiful. There are some nice explanations on how to use this technique with the Waldorf method, and this is something I plan to do with my daughter as she gets a little older. (I particularly like this one, which I recently found.) Meanwhile, I don’t think we’re quite done with these cabbage flowers in the studio just yet.