Category Archives: watercolor

{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} 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.

DSC02719

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.

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?