Category Archives: Inspiration

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?


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”.