Encouraging a Young Artist: Sophia’s Starry Night

By February 22, 2012Parenting

We have now had 100 days of school, more or less.  You probably have too and are wondering, like me, how you didn’t get so much accomplished in a hundred mornings without your offspring.  Don’t feel bad.  I am forever behind.  In part, this is due to my obsession with creative projects.  I am not successful in many parenting ventures (ahem, like cooking), to be sure, but I have been able to really encourage art and creativity in my kids.

How to encourage the young artist

I want to my kids to explore their creativity and create when they are inspired.  Here are a few ways we get psyched about our right brain.

Opportunities and Inspiration are Everywhere

The kids are celebrating with 100 day parties and projects in their classrooms. Sophia came home with a note that said she needed to bring in a hundred of something or tape a hundred of something to a poster.  Well, when we hear poster we hear art. Always one for an art project, she started to tell me her ideas for her 100 days masterpiece.  What I loved about this was the large scale she had to think about and all the ways she brainstormed to fill her huge canvas.  This was a perfect chance to encourage her creative side.  I think she totally rocked it!  Yep, that is 100 stars!

100 Days Project

There is always some holiday or event on the horizon you could use as inspiration.  Ask your kids what they think and what they want to make to celebrate.  You could also choose a famous artist and look at some of their work.  Talk about the colors and the shapes.  My kids love to make copies of famous art.  It challenges them and watching them do this is fascinating.  If you have a young sports fan, maybe he or she could create a playing field and draw the players or you could make your own pennants. That would be super cool!

Remember, art is anywhere and everywhere.

Talk Through Their Ideas Before You Begin

Kids can have a great time opening up and just painting away, but there is a time when they want to make something that looks like something recognizable.  They have big ideas, you know.  I have had great success talking to my kids and almost planning the project with them.  We plan out the steps, talk about what materials they want to use and discuss what they want it to look like and where they think they might need help.

Sophia started with wanting to draw and glitter 100 unicorns in a field filled with fairies.  I talked her off that ledge (we have not yet mastered unicorn drawing, much to her dismay, and drawing a hundred seemed painful). After our discussion, she finally settled completing the unicorn’s landscape and adding 100 glittering stars.  She drew the same meadow that unicorns would run in, decorated it with paper flowers and added a midnight sky for her stars to sparkle in.

Here she is painstakingly coloring the sky with 3 blues and one black pastel.  We talked about the colors in the night sky and picked them out before she started.

Sophia with Pastels

The project would not have been as successful for her if we didn’t talk about it.  She wanted it to look a certain way and be able to do most of it by herself.  So, we had to make a plan for things she could create by herself.  We also talked about what I would need to help with.

It’s Okay to Take a Long Time and Lots of Breaks

My heart celebrates Sophia’s big ideas even though I know they will take a huge chunk of time and energy and make a giant mess. Kids sometimes need time, space and a range of materials to fully engage in a project and complete it.  We let them work and take breaks and come back to big things for awhile.  Yes, their unfinished masterpieces lay on my kitchen counter or dining room table.  It’s okay.  They aren’t hurting anything.  Even at a young age, kids sometimes need to come back to something with a new energy.  Sophia is definitely this way.  She works and thinks, works and thinks.

Provide a Range of Materials

My little girl is a mixed media lover, to be sure.  I would venture to say that most kids are.  On this project she used pastels, shimmer paint, scrapbook paper, punches, glue and glitter in her Starry Night.  We have a craft cupboard where all the stuff they can use without a grownup is stored and another cabinet where we keep permanent or uber messy things like acrylic paints and pastels and large cans of glitter.

Using a mix of materials including scrapbook paper is a great way to get kids excited.  While Sophia loves drawing flowers, she wanted to practice using the punch and she wanted to choose beautiful patterns for her flowers.  In our discussion, I told her that coloring flowers on top of the pastels might be difficult.  We tried a few on scrap paper with pastels and they did not look so hot so she chose to glue cut out flowers on.  She was so excited to see how beautiful they looked.

Letting your kids know what they have available to work with may totally open up their eyes to a whole new way to see and create art.  It can also be freeing for young children who cannot yet draw complicated shapes.

Tips for Stocking Up on Art Supplies

Art supplies can be expensive, but I swear by their value.  We find great deals at Michaels and Hobby Lobby on paint kits and glitter kits.  They come with 8-12 paints and cost $15-$20 and then I use a 40% off coupon on my phone (always available it seems) to make the purchase.  I look for clearance sales on scrapbook paper and punches and always buy my crayons when they go BOGO at one of the drug stores.  Crayola has huge sales every once in a while and we stock up on crayons, markers, glitter glue and colored pencils!  For nice art paper I wait until my local Binder’s has their semi-annual sale when paper goes 50% off.  For regular drawing I use the huge rolls of paper from Ikea.  We LOVE to roll a huge length out on the floor and take days coloring a scene.

We also save tons of boxes and toilet paper rolls and ribbons and such so we have a big ol’ box of stuff to make things with.  Free.  Gotta love that!

Play with Color

We love to mix colors.  Whether it is making play dough or cookie dough and using food coloring or using only primary colors of paint to see if we can get the colors we want, we play with color.  Kids can think about color and can see what happens when you add white or black or mix green and blue.  Seeing is believing and exploring colors will help them to think creatively.

We love to fill those small palettes with a mix of paints (small amounts) and let the kids use an empty palette to create a whole range of new colors.  It is really funny because usually anything is beautiful but brown to them. The goal seems to be to mix as many colors as possible before you get brown.

Mixing Paint Colors

Here’s a totally fun idea!  We love to use sidewalk chalk outside and then get it wet and mix the colors.  They run together beautifully and wash off with just a hose.  We totally color our bodies with this wet chalk too.  Going all tribal with color is fun.

Sophia pondered the night sky and knew that in it are blacks and blues and greys.  Using pastels for color is wonderful as your child can actually color with many colors and then use a paper towel to mix the colors and soften any harsh lines.

Let the Mess Happen

Art is messy.  I suppose there are some children who stay neat and clean but they are not mine.  Usually we end up covered in whatever medium we are using.  Violet, who is 2, always ends up covered. We don’t mind.  We just throw on old t-shirts (see above) or the kids go topless (they are all still pretty little) so clean up is easy.  Our kitchen table gets covered in art stuff as does the floor and we just clean it up when we are done.  No big deal.  I found that when I get super sensitive about the mess it makes my kids nervous and really limits their creativity and enjoyment.

I keep some wet wipes at the table for really messy fingers because the kids just don’t like to have messy fingers and then accidentally make marks on their art.  Yeah, they can be picky.

Pastels on Fingertips

Let them be Free, but Help When Needed

Sophia put in hours of hard work on her project, but there are certain skills that at 5, she does not have yet.  I try to be careful to encourage kids to go as far as they can by themselves and only ask for help when they really need it.  Sometimes kids become aware that they do not draw perfect shapes or color in the lines like they want to.  What works for us is explaining that even though art is creative, it is a learning activity.  It takes time and patience and work to master certain skills.  I always agree to help with questions and I try not to draw things for them but with them.

On her starry night, she took great care with her hills and sky, asking me for help with blending the pastels when her little arms got tired.  It is hard work to get everything smooth and she needed help.  She also asked if I would draw her a crescent moon.  I agreed.  I understand that she is learning to draw, but that she still wants help in some areas to make them perfect in her eyes.  My eyes would see beauty in whatever she made, but she judges herself harshly and for this, she wanted a good shape.  We held the pastel together and drew the shape.  It was up to her to paint it and she did a fabulous job.

Show off Their Work

I think the absolute best thing we do is tell our kids how awesome their art is so they have no doubt that we totally love it.  Even when they are nervous that their person does not look right or something is the wrong color they love hearing how we think it rocks.  When we hang it up, it is all the better.  There will be a time and a place for them to get things right, we want them to have fun and create.  We always say that no art they make could ever be wrong, and we believe that. Encouragement is the greatest gift we can give a young artist.

If your little artist or writer is 6 years or older and has a piece that is based on the theme DREAM, be sure to submit their work to Galit Breen.  She is the editor of a fabulous project to create a published anthology of children’s work!  Check out her Call for Submissions!

Now, Go Forth and Create

I hope these tips have helped you or encouraged you in some way!  I would love to hear what your favorite projects are and if your child has something you think it is great, I would LOVE to start a gallery page here for their art to be seen.  Just let me know in the comments or by email if you would like to include something.  Let us give our kids this wonderful gift and watch their imaginations take life in front of us.

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