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Teaching and Encouraging Young Artists

March 7, 2011

I’m often asked if I teach art to children and what I recommend for children with an artistic bent.

One of my mentors believed elementary school aged children should be left to their own devices–they should be encouraged to do their own thing and their naivete’ should not be spoiled by structured lessons. I’m inclined to agree with him–to a point. That point is, in my opinion, when children leave their naivete’ of their own accord and enter an awkward stage–where they are in between making child-like images and don’t have the skill to make the refined images they want to make.

As far as the younger children are concerned, my main grievance is they are often only given crayons to draw with and watercolors to paint with on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of printer paper. There’s nothing wrong with crayons or watercolors, as long as children are also encouraged to try new things and experiment with new media. Most professional artists do not make a living by making crayon drawings or watercolor paintings. True, oil paint is a bit dangerous for youngsters, and acrylics can be messy.

Still, this photo illustrates one of my favorite exercises for young people. Here’s how it works. I ask my daughter to choose ONE COLOR. She chooses red. I then give her two more colors–the first is white, and the second is the neutral dark of the opposite temperature–in this case black. Red is warm, black is cool. If she had chosen blue, I would have given her brown to go with it. Make sense? So, equipped with red, white, and black acrylic paint, a large brush, a large panel, a bowl of water, and messy clothes, I tell her to fill the whole panel–to cover all the white space.

"Body Language" by our oldest. She was fascinated with the Little Mermaid at the time.

The results are, in my opinion, as awesome as a Jackson Pollock or a Mark Rothko painting. We’ll, more awesome, because it’s your kid, right?:) Here are a couple more variations of this exercise by two of my other children.

This one is by our son, child number two.

This last one belongs to our third. I cheated a little with this one by cropping the image after she was finished–with her permission, of course!

So that’s the exercise. Let me know if you have questions about doing this with your children. And of course use common sense to keep your child healthy while using any sort of artistic medium.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 9:54 pm

    I should send you some that my 4 year old has been doing. I like your idea, though, because I’ve been giving her unlimited access to as many colors as she wants and sometimes that makes mud.

    • March 8, 2011 10:22 am

      Yes. I’d love to see them. In fact I neglected to mention that if anyone wants to do this exercise with their children and send me a photo, I’ll post it on the blog.

  2. Emily permalink
    March 10, 2011 11:10 am

    Thank you! Thank you!! We will get started asap. I’m very much looking forward to more posts on this topic.

  3. connie packer permalink
    June 28, 2011 11:17 am

    What types of painting mediums do you suggest using with small children?

  4. September 12, 2011 6:49 pm

    That’s a good idea of asking them to pick one colour and then you add a warm and cool colour. My son always asks for red and blue and mixes up purple –we a zillion purple paintings in our house now. I’ll give this a try!

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