En Plein Air

IMG_0120En Plein Air is the fancy-frenchy way of saying “in the open air”.  The weather is starting to warm up and painting/drawing/making in the outdoors is one of my favorite things to do with the kids when the long dreary wet winter and spring leave way for the sun and warmth.

We don’t alway need an easel with us when we are outside, but it is fun if you have one.  Clipboards can easily offer a nice work space outdoors too.  Other things we have taken outside include:






Helping Kids Generate Ideas

I’ve always been curious about the creative mind.  As an art educator and now parent, I’m always trying to tap into to the creative mind of my students, my kids and myself.  There is no formula for inspiration and it often seems allusive and unattainable.  However, it can also come out of nowhere with such an undeniable force.  As a teacher and parent who strives to foster creativity in kids, I’m curious about how to help children create and foster there own ideas.  Recently, I found an article called “The Secrets to Generating Art Ideas”  by Marvin Bartel at Goshen College.  You can read it for yourself here.

The author’s main focus is for upper level art education, however, his over arching concepts about how to help students generate ideas are relevant for all ages.  Bartel addresses the notion that art educators often expect children to produce an art product before they teach the child how to generate an idea.  They will use past student examples or teacher made examples to illustrate a pre-constructed notion of what they expect the student to create.  He continues to touch on the research of the “mirror neuron” that Italian researchers have identified.  The “mirror neuron” is the actual neuron that enables the human brain to learn from imitation (monkey see, monkey do).  Which is important, for sure, in the learning of any task that doesn’t require that we create a new system (times tables, brushing teeth, etc.)  However, relying on these neurons in art education can be detrimental to the creative process.

How, then, do we foster children so they can generate their own ideas in art?  As any artist/creator knows, this is often difficult to do as an adult.  Bartel offers some suggestions.  Some of his offerings are specific to upper levels of art education so I pulled a few ideas from the article that I thought would fit a wider age range.  You can get more information if you read the full article, but here are the ideas I found interesting to try with my kids (ages 4 and 6).

Un-drawn Realities – Challenge your children to draw something they have never drawn before.  Take 5 minutes to look around the room and discover something they have never really “seen” and draw it for the first time.

Translation of Art Forms – What does a sound look like when it is painted?  Start by using music and have the children paint what they hear.  Then, you could have other children be in charge of creating a sound in the room (tapping on a table, squeaky shoe on the floor) and paint those sounds as well.

Capricious Composition – A visual accident from which the child must make choices to create a composition.  For example, drop 5 toothpicks onto the table, then have the children draw the negative spaces onto their paper to create their composition.  This is best for older kids.  Not sure my four year old would engage in this one.

Unlikely Juxtapositions – Discuss opposites or odd pairings and then choose several to create drawing from.  Think of something BIG and draw it SMALL.  Think of something HARD and draw it SOFT.  Think of a NUMBER and draw it into an ANIMAL.

Transformations – Imagine if a theme park were designed for monkeys, what would it look like?  What if you bathroom was a zoo?  What about if your yard was transformed into a your own private island?  You could use an array of media to create these fun imaginary transformations: paint, collage, construction paper to name a few.

So far we tried Un-Drawn Realities, because my oldest was interested in discovering something she had not drawn before.  She produced two watercolors from this activity that she was very proud of: a lamp and a hanging light- loosely we called it a chandelier.  I look forward to trying more of these ideas with the kids.

Do have ways in which you help your children/students generate ideas on their own?

Art Group: Picasso Faces with Shapes

During the past two summers I have hosted an art group for my girls and some of their friends.  The ages range from 3-6.  This year we started off by looking at Picasso faces and discussing the cubist idea of making pictures with shapes.

You can use this site to learn more about Picasso!


School Glue

Pre-cut shapes out of various papers, fabric, foam (if you are with older children they may be interested in determining and cutting their own shapes)

Pre-cut head – I used card stock for sturdiness

Buttons and/or any other item that would lend itself to creating pictures with shapes

I had pictures of Picasso faces for them to look at on the table while they worked.  The kids used the shapes to collage together a face.  Our kids liked to make sure all the body parts were in their rightful position.  But it surely would be like Picasso if they explored mixing it up a bit similar to Picasso.   For younger children it helps to guide their thinking with questions like: What shape would work for the eyes?  What else would a face have?

Our older ones took to an animal theme and made cat and dog faces.  cool!

Wall Drawing

My youngest daughter, TalTal, is a wonderful artist.  However, asking her to sit down and make something doesn’t always inspire her.  She’d rather flit around and be drawn in by inspiration rather than a planned activity. So, I plastered the wall with mural paper.  Actually, it’s butcher paper from Costco.  I leave various drawing/coloring utensils out on the floor: crayons, pens, markers, chalk, dot painters.  If you had a drop cloth set-up you could even add collage to the paper with glue and various collage items: feathers, magazine pictures, beads, noodles, you name it. 

Now, look at her go!!

We’ve now done this several times.  TalTal can hit the drawing wall whenever the mood strikes.  Sometimes we have all taken turn drawing pictures that connect to each other and make up a story as we go along.  This is a really wonderfully fun pre-reading activity.


Inspiration: Baby Spiders!

It’s funny how somedays you can work so hard to find something that will inspire the kids to get going creatively and then- WHAM- they hit the nail on the head all by themselves! It’s so exciting to see!

Yesterday, we were outside playing hopscotch when TT noticed a crazy looking spider web.  We leaned in closer and realized it was filled with baby spiders.

Can you see them?  They are tiny little things.

Immediately, TT jumped back inside and grabbed her markers and clipboard to draw the site.

TalTal was also struck with inspiration and drew a wonderful picture of “a guy”.  Not sure where the inspiration came from for that one, but I don’t really care.  It was a great looking “guy”.


Sewing: Pillows

TT has been really into sewing lately. She has a new book that we are totally loving: Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make.

We’ve been working just on staying straight and sewing nice and smooth.  If we stick to projects with short, straight lines she can do the sewing portion by herself.  She has been working hard on making pillows and blankets for her American Girl and other stuffies.

For this pillow we decided to design our own fabric.

We used:

cheap white cotton fabric from the discount bin

Fabric Markers

Sewing Machine (of course)



I pre-cut the amount of fabric needed and then the girls used the fabric markers to create their fabric design.   I threaded the sewing machine and then TT did the sewing.  We folded our fabric in half and TT sewed her little straight lines leaving one side open for stuffing.  We then stuffed, sewed up the last side and snuggled up with our new creation!

Intermission: Thailand

So I’m obviously a blogging rookie.  My complete absence was due to an amazing trip to Thailand with my husband.  Yes, just my husband.  It was like honeymoon 2.0.   I figure I ought to use best practices and explain the large gap in posting.

While there, I fulfilled one of my life long bucket list items: riding an elephant.  I think it came from the million times watching Annie as a kid, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to ride an elephant.  In Thailand only 5% of the elephants are still wild.  They were domesticated as working animals to aid in logging.  However, in the last several years logging has been outlawed in an effort to preserve their jungle.  The elephants have been reinstated as tourist attractions.   I’m not clear on whether the elephants simply can’t be placed back in the wild or they just aren’t.  Unfortunately, many of the elephant ranches do not take great care of their animals.  We were very fortunate to have found an great touring outfit that give their elephants good care.  We even were able to help bathe the elephants in the morning in the river with the Mahout (elephant trainer) and then ride bare back all the way back to the ranch.  An incredible experience!!!

Anyway,  it’s now back to normal around here and the beginning of summer.  I am looking forward to getting back to buzzing and humming with my girls.  We have a whole summer of fun creative goodness coming up.

Color Mix Exploration

We did a little impromptu color mix paint work  the other day that ended up in some independent mixing exploration.  This was a clear reminder to me that it’s the process, not the product that counts.

We started out with two ramekins of liquid watercolor paint: one yellow, one blue.  I had cut various sizes of circles our of watercolor paper and they painting them yellow and then mixed in the blue to make – to TalTal’s surprise – GREEN!

They had fun magically turning their circles green.  Then TT took it further and designed some circles on a full sheet of paper and then mixed colors of her own choice to fill in the circles.

Some circles turned a brown mess and some turned beautiful shades of purple.  This was a fun project that led to self exploration.  You could continue and do more circles that portrayed the whole color wheel and then make a poster or a color wheel mobile.   

Cardstock Puppets

We have had a dreary spring.  Lots of rain and chilly, chilly days.  So…..we made puppets and pretended we couldn’t see the outside gloom.

This dragon was cut out of two piece of cardstock and then taped together.  For this one I did the cutting, but TT could certainly do simple puppet cutting herself.  We used craft sticks for handles and then pulled out various knicks and knacks for making our dragons spanky.  TT tore pieces of tissue paper and glued into the mouth for teeth.  I just loved that detail.

We used tissue paper, cotton balls, buttons, scrap construction paper, feathers, dried pasta for designing our puppets.  The girls used yarn for hair on their people puppets.  I helped with the basic cardstock shape, but then gave girls free reign with supplies to design and decorate their puppets.  Older children could certainly design their puppet shape as well.


A Beginning

Here’s a beginning.  I think I’ll make it short just to get started.  I’ve used parent/creative blogs to inspire my own projects and activities for my own kids.  As funding for the arts in school continues to diminish, I also find these types of resources essential for parents to bring art into their children’s lives.  I do happen to have a background in Art History and Elementary Education, but mostly I want to create a space where I can document, explore and discuss the creative adventures of my family and be a part of a creative parenting community.