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Art with Kids

February 3, 2016
Ethan Painting 1

A little friend of mine exploring color with brushes and a brayer

This post is to answer a reader’s questions about how I approach teaching drawing to kids. Perhaps it’s of interest to all my readers. So here goes.

I take an open approach, with the structure tailored to age-appropriate activities. Young preschool-age children greatly benefit from just having plenty of materials in front of them so that they can explore making marks and putting down colors. Washable markers are great for this age group, and watercolors are fantastic for them, because they are easy cleanup as well. It’s OK to mix it up. Pencil, marker, and paint all in the same work of art.

Provide protective clothing — an old t-shirt maybe, plenty of space at a table, and let them go. For watercolors, they need larger brushes than those that are included with a kids’ watercolor set — perhaps choices of brushes. A few small brushes (about an inch wide) from the paint aisle in the hardware store work great for spreading lots of color. Another good choice would be a couple of small sponge brushes. White construction paper is cheap and great for painting with watercolors. Show them how to keep their brushes clean, by rinsing and blotting the brush on a folded paper towel when changing colors. This is a skill even little ones can learn.

Preschool kids will draw and paint a complete work of art that only they can interpret. It’s best just to be encouraging and appreciate what they’ve done without critiquing. Even though it might not seem they are learning anything, they are. They’re learning how to express themselves, how to make their own marks, and are reinforcing eye-hand coordination. They’re seeing how colors mixed together make a different color. And most importantly, they are receiving encouragement from you to keep exploring and learning.

It’s not until 9 or 10 that kids become concerned about drawing objects realistically. Before that age, they have already developed their own symbols for things. In the last post I mistakenly stated my current student’s age as 8, but she is 9 and her 10th birthday is very soon.  I’m seeing her already struggling with looking at things as they are and simultaneously attempting to just resort to her own idea of how she thinks they should look. This is a crucial time for kids learning to draw. I want to keep the experience a positive one, while helping her see things as they really are. I give her some warm-ups and then a longer session in which she draws from an object or a still life. After the focused session, we go back to a less structured time for a little while, when she gets to draw things from memory and create something just for fun.

Since taking on a student again, I have gone back to the principles contained in two books that I used to own, but had long ago donated to the public library. Now I guess I need to get them again. I highly recommend these, if you want to brush up on your drawing skills, or teach a young person to draw:

The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2016 10:58 am

    I love that you are teaching the child. I think it reconnects us to our own beginnings, & we see our own work differently. We grow & learn ourselves by any kind of teaching.

  2. February 3, 2016 3:44 pm

    I love both of these books. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has been most helpful in my teaching, too! Your technique sounds perfect for encouraging without stifling the student.

  3. February 4, 2016 9:38 am

    I love this post Martha, just yesterday I had my twin grandchildren in my studio “Arting”. They love making art especially the little girl who says “it is her talent”. They are 5 years old and it is wonderful to see the art they make. Children can teach you as much as you teach them if you just listen.

    • February 4, 2016 9:55 am

      Absolutely, Willena! Every single time. I wrote this post in a very general way, considering that many people would approach kids and paints very cautiously. If you’re an artist with a studio, all bets are off, right? Kids love my studio and beg for paints. I usually comply. 🙂

  4. February 5, 2016 9:00 am

    Wonderful post… long ago, I taught children to draw, and I agree with you, those two books are the bibles aren’t they? Love your observations, patience and understanding way..

  5. February 6, 2016 7:54 pm

    Great post Martha, I liked your observations about what age children start to change how they create art, wanting things to look “real”. I know I felt that way at that age!

    • February 7, 2016 9:06 am

      Thanks, Tina. I so wish we had art in schools just like any other class. It helps them in so many ways that aren’t immediately visible.

  6. elenor martin permalink
    February 9, 2016 10:11 am

    Thank you for this informative and lovely post. I only can guess how much time it took you to tell us so well how children develop their skills and how to support them. Thank you for taking this time!
    My little granddaughter is nearly 3 and she enjoys using a brayer to roll out colors (“I want to roll!”) and to mix them, just playing around. Last time she finally had great fun making handprints – and I save them of course.

    Kind regards from the EU.

    • February 9, 2016 2:56 pm

      Wonderful, Elenor! You sound like you know how to encourage kids. The rest just depends on how willing you are to clean up afterward! 🙂 Your granddaughter is a very lucky little girl.

      • elenor permalink
        February 13, 2016 10:42 am

        Thank you for your kind answer, Martha! I so enjoyed reading it.
        As a former maths teacher for about 30 years it was one (very important) part of my work to encourage my students. I always thought my success was when they managed to be good at the topic I’d explained.
        Funny thing: last time when my granddaughter was playing with acrylics I had lots of paint on my own dress – she was wearing the apron I had sewn for her. So I learned I need an apron too :-)!
        But spending time with this lovely little girl is worth everything. I’m so lucky to have her.

      • February 13, 2016 4:24 pm

        Sounds like a winning combination, Elenor!

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