Tag Archives: children’s art


I wonder why?

WP_20130402_017Watching children’s creative processes always amazes me. You really get to know children through the way they create. Their work tells you something, even random paint splotches tell you something.  You get to know the children through their art and the process in which they engage with the materials. I know that Eunice is about to get serious about her painting if she kneels to paint. I know that Lily is going to start planning if she asks for a really large paper. I know that Brendan will create city plans if he grabs the masking tape.  Sometimes though something happens at the easel or art table that makes me wonder why?

 This morning when I was prepping the easels I was short one metal cup for paint. So one easel had only two choices of paint instead of three, I didn’t think much of it beyond being annoyed that I couldn’t locate the third cup. I went about my morning with the children engaging in dialogue, listening and documenting our learning.

 I would change the paper at the easel from time to time, as one does in a preschool.  The more I removed the children’s work from the easels the more I noticed a pattern emerging.  At the easels that had three cups of paint I was seeing very representational paintings; trees, suns, flowers, crosses, roads, etc. I was noticing in these images the colours were not mixing. If an object was painted in green it didn’t have any other colour on it.

A painting from an easel with three colours.
A painting from an easel with three colours.

On the other hand what I was noticing at the easel with two colours was experimenting with mixing colours and paper being covered in colour. I noticed children experimenting with painting with two brushes at once, using circular motions to mix the colours and large strokes of paint.

A painting from an easel with two colours.
A painting from an easel with two colours.

I started to watch the children painting.  Why? I kept asking myself, I contemplated all the possibilities. Could it be the colour choices at the easels? Was it the way I presented them? Was the other provocation I had set up in the room with the rainforest book and drawing influencing the children’s use of the colour green? Do pink and yellow just beckon to be mixed? Was it the brushes?

 Wanting to explore this further and see what was causing this pattern, I set up the easels the exact same way, right down to the brushes I provided. You know what it didn’t happen again and again I ask why?

 What are your thoughts? Why do you think this pattern emerged?


Potatoes and Rhythm

“A lot of my work is like picking potatoes; you have to get into the rhythm of it. It is different than patience. It is not thinking.It is working with the rhythm.” —Andy Goldsworthy

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Aya and Seth are building a lake with clay. They build a solid base, then shallow walls, and then slowly add water. They carefully arrange trees in the centre. But the water finds small cracks and seeps out, sending a stream down the edge of the table onto the floor. Aya and Seth place a bowl to catch the stream, and furiously patch the cracks. The flow of conversation is much like to flow of water, continuous and purposeful, but rhythmic as well. The movement of their hands and bodies follows the same rhythm, moving between repairing cracks, checking the water flow, adding more clay.

Aya and Seth worked on their lake for an hour and here is what did not happen:

• no one told them to clean up the water on the floor

• no one commented on ‘the mess’

• no one chided them for using too much clay

• no one objected to their requests for more water

• no one told them they needed to let someone else have a turn


They were given the opportunity to work with the rhythm.





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Go to a Gallery!

I had the opportunity to visit Portland Oregon for a few days, and while there I visited the Portland Art Museum. And this is what hit me like a thunderbolt as  I wandered around:

Those of us who work with young children should be required to visit an art gallery once in a while. Why? Because it will open up our thinking.

 Now let me be straight. I am not an artist, have no art education and get nervous even doodling on a napkin in public. I don’t think like an artist, and I don’t see like an artist…. and that is exactly the point. Artists see materials differently than I do. They think with materials, they connect ideas and meanings to processes of art and art making, in creative, beautiful, unusual, disturbing and wacky ways.

 And so do children.

 If we see a child pouring water on to a paper and sponging off the excess do we think of art making?

Most likely not, but perhaps we should. Artists engage with materials deeply, investigating all their properties, all their nuances. They may take years to create a piece, or they may spend years creating variations on one theme or idea. And do you think anyone asked Monet “Don’t you think it’s time you painted something besides water lilies?” Did anyone say to Dali “I can see you’ve spent a long time working on this.”  Or nodded knowingly behind Picasso’s back assessing his fine motor skills?

 Walking through the art gallery I saw funny art, strange art, some art that I  liked, some that I didn’t. I thought about what the artist intended, what ideas they were thinking with, and I was challenged to wonder, to respond. I want to engage with children’s art the same way.

 Thinking beyond “Children’s Art” and moving to simply “Art” might create a shift in what and how we see.

Brendan's painting

Still Nothing

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.


Brendan, Francis and Asha were painting at the art table. They busily chatted about colour.


“Blue + Red + Purple =   “ Brendan asked

 “It means this colour. “ Asha said as she pointed to part of her painting that was a deep plum purple colour.

 “No it means this colour. “ Brendan said pointing to part of his painting.

“What is that colours name?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Brendan said.


I didn’t know what you would call the colour either, it was a greyish purple colour with hints of brown. The children continued to focus on their painting.


“Can you tell me about your painting?” I asked Asha.

 “It’s a rainbow sunset house.” She responded.

 “Is that why you used so many colours?” I asked

 “Yes.” She said

 “ Brendan can you tell me about your painting?”

 “It’s nothing, just nothing.” Brendan responded.

 “Oh, did you know that sometimes when art doesn’t look like something they call it Abstract art.” I said.



 We googled abstract art and I read him the definition. He listened and then looked at me. “It’s still nothing. Sometimes I paint something. This time I didn’t. It just didn’t feel like something.”

 We looked at images we found on Google of abstract art. After he saw other examples he continued with it still being nothing. I found  this discussion fascinating. Why was it nothing? Why sometimes does he paint something but not this time?  I found the painting beautiful. I admired the way he mixed the colour and the brush strokes he used to apply the paint to paper. Far to often though we adults want to label things for children, but for the children sometimes its just about the experience.

I had quickly jotted down some notes on the conversation between Asha and Brendan about colour. I also jotted down some notes about our conversation about abstract art. I had these notes on my clipboard the following week, when I brought it out. At the end of the day I went to jot down some notes. On my page of notes from the art interaction, I found a note from Brendan “Still Nothing”


Brendan’s painting



Rethinking Art



I have been challenging the children with ways in which to use paint and in return they have challenged my thinking about art. I will admit I have always thought of art as an endeavour that each of us does individually. We must each express our artistic creativity alone.  Early in May Laura and Eunice challenged that thinking as they worked together on a painting at the art easel.  They had started this collaboration on their own. I had stumbled upon the encounter when I was assisting another child at the art table. I watched with fascination as they painted at times they did not speak to each other but it was like the other understood what needed to happen next. At other times they were deep in joyous conversation about what they were creating. There was something else happening in this moment I couldn’t put my finger on it.

A couple weeks later I observed Asha and Eunice engaged in a similar experience. Mixing colours on the paper with their hands, shades of greens and blues intermingling on the paper. There was much discussion on what to try next.  They used brushes in different ways. The used the opposite end of the brush to etch into the colour. After they were done etching they mixed the paint again with their hands. To me it appeared to be more about the colour then the act of painting.




“We never really perceive what color is physically.”

(Josef Albers)


I as an educator have been in a constant state of reflection because of these collaborative paintings.  I have set up materials in different ways. I have spent time observing how the children paint, how they interact with each other when they collaborate on a painting. I have wondered what colours, materials and settings invite the children to collaborate.

Most importantly the children have me rethinking what art is.

“Working in collaboration leads to a rich dialogue yielding unexpected results.”

(Alexander Gorlizki)