Monday, September 16, 2013

creating with a kid

I get all kinds of email and asked TONS of questions about all sorts of creative things - and once in a while I like to answer many of the frequently asked questions here on my blog!

If you follow me on Instagram or frequent my blog you will know that we spend A LOT of time making art as a family and I get asked lots of questions about what we use, the process, and how we keep things clean. So here are a few answers to all those questions! (please note that I am not a childhood development expert or a kids' art teacher- I am simply a mom who is an artist!)

Teaching art is truly my passion and I've spent a lot of years sharing with students how to let go, get messy and lose yourself in the process. While I have loved every single moment of teaching, nothing compares to the absolute joy I get from fostering creativity in my daughter, Lucy. At 23 months this kid has witnessed both my husband and I making art every day. And while it makes no difference to us if Lucy grows up to be an artist, we do want her to be a creative thinker. We feel that including her in our daily art-making process is one the best ways we can teach her to do this! 

Some days its drawing, some days its painting, some days its crafting, while other days I bring her to my studio and let her hang out while I paint. Other days she hangs out with Andy while he draws- our goal is to have a chunk of time each day dedicated to the creative process.

You are welcome to disagree with me but I believe in letting Lucy work with most of the supplies (within reason) that I work with. I am not going to give you a "must have supply list" for creating with a toddler. Instead I would like to ask you this: what do you love creating with? What are your favorite supplies? What kinds of process and techniques  bring you joy? My belief is that the things you love to work with will likely appeal to your child. For me, the best part of creating with Lucy is having the opportunity to share what I am most passionate about: mark making, surface design, color, crafting, expressive painting, printmaking and drawing. 

She has been watching me draw and paint since she was born and always seems to be most interested in the supplies that I use. I know this will change as she gets older but at this stage, sharing my favorite supplies with her (instead of shopping for kids' stuff) works best for our process.

 With all of that said, here are the supplies that we use:

Call me crazy but I let Lucy work with acrylic paint. We use craft paint in a variety of colors and typically I will have 4-5 of those colors available when we work.

Typically we save acrylic painting for my studio, but if we need to paint at home I will cover the floor with a drop cloth. I don't cover her in a smock or apron but instead she works like I do (we have clothing to wear that is already covered in paint). I don't spend lots of money on expensive clothes so paint on her pants will never bother me!

I let her use brushes, household items (like sponges, chopsticks, forks and string) and her hands to apply paint. Typically she paints for about 30 minutes max and then enjoys sorting and stacking the paint bottles for the rest of our time.

TIP- If you don't want to commit to acrylic paint but want a similar material to work with, try using tempera paint, Crayola washable paint or finger paint. You can use the same types of painting techniques without the risk!

We also use watercolor paint a lot. This is a much less messy (and non-permanent) painting option to use around the house and there are still all kinds of fun and creative techniques to experiment with.

We have a big basket full of different watercolor sets and water brushes (again, all supplies that I use) within reach so Lucy is able to grab them whenever the mood strikes. I always have a large pad of all purpose paper around so that she has plenty of surface space for painting. 

Drawing and expressive mark making is a BIG part of our creative process and we always have a variety of washable pens, pencils and crayons on hand and accessible.

Typically the process looks like this-

We spread out a few large pieces of paper (sometimes we use paper that we have already painted on) and all of our pens and crayons.
I let Lucy get take the lead and start scribbling. 
We work together, typically moving from one piece of paper to another.
This process lasts 10-30 minutes and typically ends with her drawing on her feet or my arms and legs!

We will draw and paint on just about anything (sketchbook pages, computer paper, newsprint, canvas, wood and fabric) but my favorite supply for Lucy is large pads of all purpose paper. They are big enough to be able to stretch out and work large but can also be cut up into smaller pieces if needed. 

Working as an artist means that at any given time I have a variety of supplies and projects that I am working on. This means I do my best to include Lucy as much as possible. Here are a few more of our favorite things to work with:

 printmaking: we are loving Gelli printing right now
yarn and embroidery floss project
crayon resists and watercolor painting
acrylic paint on fabric
stamping: rubber stamps, hand carved stamps and potato stamps
collage on canvas.

Just as its important for us big people to have a space for creating, I think the same is true for kids! In our home, we have a little corner in each room stocked with supplies and then we also have an area in our living room with an easel set up. Our plan was to make the space with the easel Lucy's little creative corner, but just like us she seems to be happier roaming around from room to room creating. One day it is drawing on the floor in my office, the next it may be sitting at the kitchen table painting. Regardless of where she creates, I like to make her feel that she has the permission and the space to create when she is inspired.

Making art, any kind of art, with a toddler is really messy and typically my studio space and our home look like a bomb went off after a good creative session. This doesn't bother me at all- probably because I am messy and my process as a painter is all about letting go and getting swept up in the moment, and this includes being ok with making a mess. With that said, I know not everyone out there feels the way I do about messy creating but if you can loosen up a little and let go of perfection, letting your child explore and go wild with materials can be a really dynamic experience!


Set aside one or two creative sessions every week dedicated to embracing a messy process (painting, printmaking, stamping, using alternative materials, etc).

Designate a space that is ok for mess making. We use the kitchen floor or a corner in my studio. Use a drop cloth or old sheet to cover things up.

Let go of control, rules, and cleanliness and give your child some space and encouragement to experiment (within reason) with the materials. 

Include your child in the clean up process. Washing brushes, wiping down a counter or putting supplies away is an important part of the creative process!

It is most important for me to let Lucy find her own voice when it comes to creating. This means that instead of showing her how to do things, I try my best to let her experiment and follow her lead whenever we are creating together. 

If we are collaborating on the same surface, I always follow her lead- If she uses her hands, I use my hands, if she scratches into the paint with a fork, so do I. I make a point NOT to show her how to draw something specific or mix color the right way or correct her process. As an artist I know first hand how profound and exciting experimentation can be, especially when painting so I try to put my creative needs aside and let her take the lead. 

If I need to paint and work on my own projects I will set up a small area for her to work along side me OR I will give her a portion of my canvas where she can go wild and do anything she wants on the surface. This strategy works well when I need to get work done but still want to have some creative time together.

Becoming a mom has been one of the most inspiring and profound things to happen to me and my art. I cannot say enough how wonderful it is to be able to sit down and create with my daughter! I want to challenge all you parents, grandparents and family to find a way to do something creative with your kiddos, let go of rules and simply get lost in the moment together.

To follow my entire journey as a mom and read more about our creative collaborations you can visit the Life With Lucy link in the right hand column.


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