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Evolving canvases are a process art staple in our house. I know for a lot of moms, process art and painting with kids can feel really intimidating, especially if you’re worried about a big mess! I am here to tell you that 1. You can do this. 2. It doesn’t have to be a disaster area and 3. It is so worth it!!! Really. You can do this. Here’s how.
First , start with a canvas. You can go big, like the one shown above, or you can go way smaller. Whatever you’re comfortable with is a great place to start. This whole process is about non judgment, so start with yourself. Don’t judge the paints you use or don’t use, the brushes you have or don’t have, your discomfort level with getting messy. Don’t judge any of it. If you can free yourself from judgment and control for about 45 minutes, you can enjoy something truly amazing with your kids and they’ll thank you for it. Process art is about the process. There is no right or wrong way to do this. So try and relax. Put on some music and let go. If you can let go, your kids will be more free to let go too. Anyway, back to the canvas. Big or small, one or three, it doesn’t matter. Just get one. Michaels is a great resource. Amazon has a bunch to chose from. Aaron Brothers has great sales if you catch them at the right time. Maybe the easiest and the cheapest way to get a canvas is a thrift store. You can find a used one and just paint over it. That’s what we did here. Trust me, your kids won’t care. They’ll actually probably think it’s pretty cool.
If you’re concerned about making a mess, definitely put a plastic tarp down under the canvas. A plastic table cloth from the dollar store works great. Maybe even put two, just so you’re not preoccupied with that aspect. Hey, put down three if you need to. An outdoor space is ideal for a large painting project. We used our backyard and put the canvas on the floor. Once you find a space, set out the canvas and a bunch of bottles of paint. I know paint has value and we want our kids to learn not to waste, but sometimes it’s really nice to let them just squeeze away carefree. You can purchase a multipack of non toxic tempera paints at Michaels with the 40% off coupon they give out weekly. You’ll have spent less than five dollars for six colorful paint bottles. To me, that’s worth a great art experience for my kids. Ikea has a great multipack as well, and if you’re lucky you might find some really cheap paint at a local yard sale. Set out the paints, some brushes, whatever you have is fine, maybe a roller and some sponges, and let your kids start exploring. If you know ahead of time that all the paint will likely be gone by the end of this activity, you won’t worry about it. If your kids have never done anything like this before, you might have to get messy with them. Show them it’s okay. This could be a new experience you enjoy more than you realized too.
One of the things I love most about process art is the conversation and communication it brings forward. My oldest, Gigi, told me a whole story about a blue flamingo she was painting. “Mama, this is my area,” she said. “I’m painting a blue flamingo. I’m putting green and dark blue to make really darker green to make my blue flamingo.” We do painting a lot. It’s really exciting to hear Gigi’s awareness of color theory start to emerge. This is a direct result of this kind of experience. We talk a lot during the process. I use words like “I wonder…” and “I notice…” to talk about what they are doing. “I wonder what color you’re going to work with next.” I notice you’re doing a lot of big strokes side to side with your paintbrush.” Sometimes my girls will ask me to join in, but mostly they are content to just explore with the materials. Squeezing out the paint is definitely a favorite.
Process art is especially great for one than one child at a time. You could do this for an art play date, just make sure to give out smocks, old t-shirts or go shirtless like my D prefers. I think the pic below sums up her feelings on her experience. Her joy is unstoppable. And yes, we got right into the bath after this.
My last tip is to keep a water bucket on hand for washing hands, bodies and brushes. If it’s warm outside the water play becomes part of the art experience. On several occasions D dumped a bunch of water on the painting. At first Gigi was a little freaked but then I tried to laugh with her and said “wow, I wonder what the water will do to the paints,” and we watched it for a bit before she went right back to painting. I think the more ok, as adults, we are with things, the more our kids can be okay with unexpected things that come up. Life lessons through process art. I’m feelin it.
Process art can definitely take a little practice and getting used to, like anything else that is new, but trust me that it is so worth it. Gigi wants to hang her painting in her room. We left it out in the sun to dry and the paint cracked a little so I think I’ll encourage her to do one more layer before we hang it. Anyway, I hope this is helpful and I hope you give it a try! Just remember to keep breathing when your child decides to sit down smack in the center of the painting and roll around in it. It’s all part of the process : )
If you enjoyed this post and want to read about more ways to experience art with your family try Woodworking with your toddlers and Spring Watercolor Flowers. Both are really fun. And if you ever want to get a book about process art for kids check out any of MaryAnn Kohl’s books. She’s the mothership of all things process art. Thanks for reading along!
I love creating butterfly art this time of year. This Reggio inspired butterfly art project for kids is great for ages 4 and up. In case your unfamiliar with the Reggio approach to learning, here is a good Reggio starting point. We used an old box frame found at a thrift store and paint markers to create beautiful butterfly art for my daughter’s room. My girls are too young for the paint markers but they were able to help with the collage we made for the background. Here’s how we did it.
First, I downloaded a pretty image of a butterfly from butterflyutopia.com. I placed it between the clear plastic of the frame and the cardboard insert. I traced the butterfly with different paint markers. Paint markers are so much fun! I’ve used them for tons of projects, including shrinky dinks, vases and washer necklaces. Though, they are pretty stinky, so it’s best to use them outside where there is lots of ventilation. This project can be done with sharpies as well.
Kids LOVE to trace real objects. I used to do this all the time when I taught kindergarten, using transparency paper. It was such a big hit, especially when we studied penguins. The kids felt so empowered when their drawings looked realistic. It was a real confidence booster, especially for those kids who have a harder time with free hand drawing. I used this technique for self portrait shadow boxes, my all time favorite art project for kids.
Once I completed painting in the butterfly, Gigi helped me collage the cardboard insert with blue, white and black tissue paper shapes. These can be found at most party stores and craft supply stores. You can easily cut your own from large tissue paper as well. These were precut. She glued the shapes to the cardboard using a paintbrush and glue mixed with a little bit of water. Gigi is not three yet, so she was done after a few shapes. I helped fill the whole background. Older kids will have more patience with this step. You could also just cover the cardboard with one big piece of tissue paper or even color it. After drying, simply place the plastic back over the cardboard and your butterfly art is complete. We love ours. Gigi is super proud of it and claims she made the butterfly too. Someday she will. These kids grow up so fast. Have fun!
Woodworking with little kids is one of my favorite activities. There is just so much you can do. The possibilities are endless and the process is so rich. This was so easy and so much fun, I can’t wait to do it again. Especially since we did it all together as a family. All of a sudden I feel so much energy around Family Process Art. We’ve done it countless times but I never labeled it before. Somehow giving it a name has allowed me to share it with others, which is so nice because it’s amazing! So now I am officially labeling the fun art experiences we have as a family of four, plus Billy, our dog, as Family Process Art. It totally rules. Basically, I set up some materials on a table, invite everyone in and see what happens. That’s about the extent of it. Here’s how this wood working activity for the whole family transpired.
First, I put out two bins of wood pieces I’ve been collecting from flea markets, old toys and thrift stores. If you see a bag of wood bits at a sale, don’t pass them up! Random wood pieces are great for exploration and gluing, which is what we did here. The only other material I put out was glue. A few glue sticks and eventually a glue gun when my husband Ev wanted to go hardcore, which he did. Skip to the last pic below to see what he made!
First of all, toddlers freaking love glue. I swear, it’s like guaranteed homerun every time. I knew it wouldn’t hold the wood all that well, but this was more about exploring than anything else, so I was ok with that. Plus, we had the glue gun on hand to keep anything more permanent. Gigi started by just spreading glue on a few pieces while I made a structure of sorts. By the time I got to the 2nd tier she was all about it and quickly took over my project, placing wood beads inside and then bringing it to her doll house where it now remains as a piece of furniture never to be touched by my hands again. I’ve been informed of this several times now by my little sweetheart : )
Next, Gigi began gluing her own structure, calling it first an airplane and then a helicopter. She informed me she was taking it on a trip to New York that I would not be accompanying her on. It went something like this. “Mama, this is my helicopter. I am driving to the airport because I have my license in my pocket and I’m taking a plane to New York. You’re not coming. You’re meeting me there.” Ha! Gotta love the mind of an almost 3 year old working hard to take complete control of her environment. At least she wanted me to meet her!
The play and conversation continued and then came D. Look out. This little bundle of joy thought Gigi was the funniest thing she had ever heard. She cracked up over everything her sister said while diligently gluing one piece over and over and then trying endlessly to put the cap back on the glue stick. That’s my girl.
While the girls worked and I supervised, Ev got lost in his own woodworking. He was quiet as a mouse as he sat and created. He got out the glue gun and shared it with Gigi while I played with D. We were all crammed into Gigi’s room, which was a nice treat. It’s not our usual spot for creating. Sometimes moving a little working table into an unexpected room can work wonders! Highly recommend changing it up.
Before long both Ev and Gigi were done with creations. I was so busy with the girls the whole time that I didn’t even see Ev’s work until it was totally finished. I couldn’t believe what he made!!! My husband killed it with this incredible airplane! It’s awesome and Gigi totally loves it. I think we’ll paint it in a few days. Gigi’s airplane is great too. She’s really proud of it and both are sitting next to each other in our play area. I love helping my husband tap into his inner artist. He never thought of himself as an artist growing up but now I think he’d say otherwise and that makes this mama really happy. And my girls basically have creativity pumping through their veins so here’s hoping they enjoy it as much as I do!
Ever since Asia at Fun at home Kids made these hand dyed rainbow blocks I’ve wanted to dye some wood. Basically any and all wood I could get my hands on, but I resisted and settled on these wood beads. There are tons of ways to dye wood beads. I wanted one that my girls could help with so we did a really easy dying method using liquid watercolors. It was a really fun process with great results. I’m still wearing the rainbow necklace my girls made me. I love it.
First, I set out a few baby jars filled with just a little bit of liquid watercolors in each. I added a small amount of water because I wanted to keep the colors really pungent. You can buy wood beads at Michaels and I think some dollar stores have them, which is a total score.
I was hoping to come up with some clever way to get the beads out of the jar but Gigi just fished them out with her fingers. If you are worried about your children’s fingers getting dyed, this project is not for you : ) Though I can assure, after a bath, they were completely clean. Watercolors do not dye hands permanently nor does food coloring. Clothes maybe, hands, no. (This is something I get asked all the time!)
D loved them too! She moved them from container to container at least 100 times. I love this age. Give a 1 and half year old some containers and look out. They’ll be busy for an hour. Well, not quite an hour but you know what I mean. And if you happen to notice her amazing Stay Gold T-shirt in the pic below and need to make one immediately (I understand if you do) here is the tutorial.
So thanks Asia at Fun at Home with Kids for totally inspiring us. We love our dyed beads and are happily enjoying our necklaces!
How gorgeous is this flower headband made entirely from sculpey?!?! I wish I could take credit for it, but it was actually the inspired creation of an amazing nine year old student in my sculpey class. I know! Kids are amazing and I am totally in love with this headband. It definitely took some time and careful planning, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. She thought about all the layers, paid close attention to color choices and took her time to get each diamond shape just right. I just love love love it!
Each diamond was cut from sculpey first pressed in a craft machine. You can find a link to the sculpey craft machine here. The top orange layer was done first and then each color layer was attached from the bottom side in between the petals. The flower was then baked and attached to the headband with a glue gun. You can find the headband at most drugstores or supermarkets. A little blue flattened ball was added to the center of the flower for the final touch. It was a totally clever project that required great attention to detail and patience. I absolutely love it and am so proud of my sculpey students!!
We do process art pretty often around here. With two toddlers, process art feels like the perfect introduction to art and materials. My girls are used to creating freely with little or no expectations besides being safe and not eating the materials. It was so nice to bring my husband into the mix this time! It didn’t happen totally on purpose but now that it did, I want to do this more often. We all sat around a table and experimented with crayons in an attempt to make a crayon art sculpture. I learned two things from this experience. 1. Glue gun glue resists wax so you can’t use it to glue bare crayons to bare crayons. Oops. 2. Creating together as a family is an awesome bonding experience that can be so much fun!
It started with this little monkey and a jar of crayons. It is so funny to see what keeps a toddler entertained. D must have dumped that jar, opened and closed the lid over 50 times. After about 20 minutes or so I brought out the glue gun and Evan and Gigi joined us. I was thinking Ev was going to make the crayon sculpture and Gigi would be his assistant, but like I said, we quickly learned the wax and glue was not the best combo for any major building. Instead, we tried melting crayons at the tip and pressing them into cardboard. It was great because D was content to move the crayons back and forth in the jar and Ev helped Gigi with the glue gun. I can hear mom’s gasp as they see my almost 3 year old using a glue gun. Everyone has their own comfort level. Gigi has used a glue gun many times, actually, and it’s never been a problem. We make sure it’s low temperature and I feel comfortable with it. So, there you go.
When the crayons melted a little, it was really cool to rub them over the cardboard. We were able to make them stick up from the cardboard and called it a city. Before long Gigi got the bag of crayon wrappers and added those to our art as well. Ev continued to experiment with trying to bind the crayons together. He doesn’t give up easily!
After about 20 minutes or so, it occurred to me that we were all collaborating on this process and it was so much fun. Family process art can have great depth to it. There is decision making, compromising, sharing and communicating happening throughout. My style is so different from my husband’s. It’s fun to see how he goes about making things. If I didn’t stop him I think he’d still be sitting at the table trying to get the crayons to melt together into a perfectly symmetrical castle or something. I’m much quicker to give up and move on. Regardless of our different styles, it was really fun working together. I love that our kids got to see us working together too, and see we all play a role in creating something. Process art would be a great way to commemorate birthdays. I’ve been looking for a tradition to start and I think we found it. Do you ever create as a family? I’d love to hear about it if you do in the comments below.