Fine art for kids: Red with Rothko

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Mark Rothko was an abstract artist that came to fame in the 1940’s. His color-field creations covered large canvases, using shades and hues of vibrant color. His concentration on color, composition, and balance created artworks that compel, as well as sooth, the viewer. Rothko’s famous works were often titled just with a number – often being the number of the paint he used for creating it. His linear, box-like style was simple, but yet had depth. When asked about his work, Rothko commented, “Silence is so accurate,” fearing any input would spoil the viewer’s experience.

Well, the other day, the babe and I were both feeling a bit stir-crazy, so I figured doing a colorful and creative artwork would be fun. And, why not use Rothko’s grandiose color paintings as influence? Even the wee tot can have fun with this project! Older kids can get into color theory when taking into consideration color mixing and combinations!

Start by taking another look at Rothko’s artwork. One of my favorites, Untitled, 1953, concentrates on shades of red. Your child can pick any color she would like to focus on for her creation. But, we decided to stick with red, and create a shade using a couple drops of black tempera paint. If you’ve got a little one like I do, this is a great opportunity for honing color recognition skills! While looking at Rothko’s paintings, I pointed to areas of color and she attempted to tell me what color it was!

Then we happily covered ourselves, and our work table, with a big garbage bags. This isn’t necessarily a really messy project, but it does have the potential to go awry, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Take a sheet of white 9 by 12-inch drawing paper and run it under some water, coating the paper. Now let your child evenly smooth the paper on the work table, squeegying off any excess water with her hands.

Give your child a piece of tape that is just shy of the width of the paper vertically and let her position it dividing the paper however she wishes. Many of Rothko’s paintings were divided into squares and rectangles. Your child can create as many divisions as she’d like – just give her a couple more bits of tape!

Now put a couple big drops of whatever color your child has selected tempera paint into a small container and invite her to add a small amount of water to help thin it out. Offer her a paintbrush to mix the water and paint together until smooth.

Okay – it’s time to pour some paint! Invite your child to pick one side of the paper to begin working from and start pouring her paint over the section. She can watch as the paint blends and moves over the wet paper! Encourage her to gently tip and move the paper to help cover the entire area she’s selected.

If she’s got any paint left, she can use that as the base for creating the shade of the color by adding a couple of drops of black tempera paint, and some more water! For the older kids, you can take this opportunity to discuss shades and hues and how they’re made. A shade of a color is created when a darker color – usually black – is added gradually. For a hue, a lighter color – often white – is gradually added.

When your child’s happy with the shade of the color she’s created, invite her to pour it all over the other section of her paper, once again tilting and moving the paper to help it move. She can always do a little finger painting to cover areas of her paper as needed.

All that’s left is to let her Rothko inspired creation dry and then carefully remove the tape! Her finished fine-art painting can be framed and displayed in your home!

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