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.


Jazzysofia said...

Thank you so much for this post.
I have a three year old girl.
She sees me create a lot, but she's seldom part of the process.
When I read it, I said to myself: She's right. Don't fuss about the mess. Or where my project is going. Just follow my daughter and get messy togheter next time.
You opened my eyes!

Katie said...

Right.on. When we first moved into our home, we planned to redo the kitchen so I loved having the freedom to let creativity happen wherever whenever. Now that my husband has put so much work (and money) I have refrained a bit more. But the creativity can't be held back for long! There is glitter in all the little grooves of the wood planked floor!

Catherine Parkinson said...

You are just like me!! I have 5 children (the youngest is now 9) and I did creative things just like you with my wee ones and they have all grown up (or growing up) to love to create. I never thought of it as mess but a creative time and the more paint everywhere the more creative the time was :) It is so important for children to create, experiment and play. Thank you for such a great post.

HollyM said...

Lovely post! I love how free and creative you are with your daughter. I used a similar philosophy with my kids growing up with all our endeavours. We saved and reused everything as a potential craft supply.
I suspect that whatever Lucy grows up to be, she will always be creative in some way. She's already quite the little artist! Won't it be fun to see her own style and voice develop!

Rosalind said...

A beautiful post, my children were just creating this rainy afternoon. My 5 year old misses 'crafting' since she started school and I have been dreadfully slack with #2, he isn't in to it as much as she ever was but I need to nurture that! thanks for the reminder.

Megan said...

Love this post Alisa! One day I will make it across the country and visit your studio :)

Liette alias Pixelle said...

oh YeaH!!! I was a teacher for 37 years with kid having special needs...and God..I did a lot of messy project, we were playing with so much fun...some parents were not as open as i wanted but after time they accept some stain on the cloths hi hi hi...with my own 2 boys i did a lot of project and it was precious moments...i did it with food, paint and toys...You inspire me now with the beautiful Lucy, I have a grand daughter of 20 months now and when i have the chance to see her, we make art like you i have to find cloths in a second hand store and play more and more with her...THANKS A are my muse xxx

Susan said...

I think this is fabulous. Thanks for sharing.

Sue Marrazzo Fine Art said...


trish said...

ALisa, You would make the perfect homeschooling family! (Food for thought?) I do have a question for do display Lucy's work for her and how do you decide which pieces to keep of hers? Or do you keep it all?

design or breakfast said...

Great post! love your paintings and how you work with your daughter , its amazing !

Kasey said...

Love this! As a fellow artists with two little ones ( 2 and 5) I can totally relate to this post! I think artists kids are especially lucky to grow up creating!

Terri said...

I water colored with my grandgirls a few times. While I'd had 3 or 4 college level courses in wc, they were naturally gifted, still uninhibited. I learned a lot from them.

Silvia SF said...

Amazing post,amazing Photos , amazing art and amazing girls. Thank you very much for sharing.

Krys72599 said...

Probably one of my favorite posts!

se7en said...

Oh I love this post and your sweet gal... I had this idea, before kids, that my art supplies would be separate to theirs... nope we all work together and often kids materials are fab for the job at hand and often they need to dive in and create with more grown-up tools... turns out we are all just artists together... some are just a lot shorter than others!!!

se7en said...

Oh I love this post and your sweet gal... I had this idea, before kids, that my art supplies would be separate to theirs... nope we all work together and often kids materials are fab for the job at hand and often they need to dive in and create with more grown-up tools... turns out we are all just artists together... some are just a lot shorter than others!!!

maeve said...

Love this post! Reminds me of all the creative fun I had with my daughters when they were very young. We made plenty of messes and lots of art too! Thanks for sharing your daughter with all of us. She is adorable!

Luzmaria Palacios said...

Wow this post was so inspiring, Specially when you let your little girl create freely without correcting her. I feel that's the most important part. I learned art the "right way" and now I feel enclosed in a glass box and I have such a hard time letting my creativity be free without the stress that is has to look right or its not perfect. It is inspiring to see you both create with no boundaries :) I will keep this in mind for when I have little ones

Chantal Vandenberg said...

I love this post! Thanks for sharing. Your work is awesome!

Miriam Kaye said...

absolutely beautiful post Alisa :) I create art with my now 10yo daughter and its our best time together! I too love sharing my supplies with her, even though now she loves to have her own supplies ;).

you know when I go into an art store with my daughter and she is stocking up on art goodies, many salespeople make the comment of how lucky Tessa is that her mummy gets her such nice things! Its sad that more parents don't because I think being creative is something beautiful and should be treasured. I would prefer to spend my money on supplies then on a computer game any day.

love what you do :) take care xx

Black Pearl said...

Hello Alisa,

What about the clothes? Does the paint come off or do you don't care when you still can see the stain after washing?

I try to paint clean but it never works. So i'm wearing the same clothes, but you and Lucy obviously don't.

Janine said...

Oh what a lucky child!

studioGypsy said...

alisa! you and andy are such an inspiration to us other moms/pops who want to embrace dynamic creativity with our kiddos! thankyou for this!! xooxxo

Anonymous said...

Alisa, I AM an early childhood educator with a specialisation in disability and you are RIGHT ON!! Our children don't get enough opportunity to "muck around" and explore, so good on you!

The Reading Residence said...

Thank you for this post, filled to the brim with creativity and gorgeous pictures. My 3 year old daughter adores drawing, colouring, paining and crafting, and seems to have a leaning that way (I do not, I confess, though my husband does)so this has given me inspiration for her, and I admit the mess does daunt me, but I will clear a big space and see how we goo..! Thanks (popping over from LoveAllBlogs)

Rachel Carter said...

This is my favorite post ever. I made sure my Lucy got to make a giant mess with my limited supplies. It was awesome!

Mummy Says said...

Wow, Your blog has been my discovery of the week! Thanks so much for inspiring me. My little one will be delighted! x

A Magical Whimsy said...

You definitely have a blossoming artist in Lucy.
I love what you and Lucy are doing together.
Beautiful canvases!
Teresa in California

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Jan said...

Lucy is sooooooo blessed to have a mom and dad like you two!!!! WOW WOW WOW She will probably grow up to be a Genius. How lucky she is to not have parents that stifle, over protect, lecture, and tell her the "right' way to do things. Kudos to you Alisa! I wasn't blessed with children in this life but had I been I could've only hoped to be as brilliant and talented as you are.

Inna said...

Messy creating is best. Love so much that you let your kiddo go crazy too! In the long run messes don't matter, and having happy creative kids does. :) I grew up with a mom like you; she always let me dig my hands into stuff. It's truly a blessing!

Jenny said...

I really loved reading this post. I have a 14-month-old daughter and am just starting to try to introduce her to creating art with me. My question is, how did you keep Lucy from eating the paint? I'm not sure if my daughter is too young still, but when I have tried giving her crayons, they almost immediately go in her mouth. I'm hesitant to introduce acrylics or watercolors.

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