Fine Art for Kids: Color mixing with Helen Frankenthaler


© Sarah Lipoff 2011

There’s nothing more soothing than looking at an abstract artwork and letting your mind enjoy playing around with the color, line, and shape of it all. There’s no right or wrong, and that’s the best thing about it. Creating abstract art is second nature to the very young, but can be a bit challenging for older kids that are more apt to want to create realistic representations of the world around them.

Using an artist as influence makes things more interesting – and everybody usually learns something new along with creating a fun and interesting artwork. Color theory isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. When teaching high school, just saying the words, “color theory” caused my class to groan with discontent. But, I usually found ways to get them interested – and maybe have some fun in the end.

Helen Frankenthaler is the queen of Color Field painting, a movement that included some of our previous friends like Rothko and Louis. The focus of the Color Field painting style is color and how the colors in the artwork move and stir an emotion in the viewer. Helen Frankenthaler is one of the prominent painters in the arena – and also a woman in a male-dominated art world, which makes her even more awesome.

Frankenthaler pours paint on fresh un-treated canvases, which was also something no one else was doing in the mid 1960’s. Her technique creates moving blobs of vibrant color that snuggle up with each other and sometimes wetly blend and pull into their neighbor. Watching how those colors blend and bleed together to create other colors is an example of color theory and how colors work together. For younger kids, they can learn what colors are made when one is mixed with another and the older set can take things a touch further.

And, there’s nothing quite as fun as making a big mess while creating something artistic – and this project doesn’t disappoint!

Start by helping your child select a couple of colors of tempera paint she’d like to use for creating her color mixing creation. She can pour a small amount of paint into individual small containers and water it down so it is easier to pour.

Before she gets started, take a closer look at Frankenthaler’s work and how she pours paint, creating defined areas of color and also mixed paint areas. For younger kids you can encourage color recognition by pointing to colors and seeing if your child can guess them correctly!

This is a total mess project, so either set things up outdoors in a spot that can be hosed down later, or cover the indoor work area!

Offer your child a sheet of white paper alongside a small dish of water and a big brush. She can coat her paper with water, creating a wash ready for pouring paint.

Now she can begin pouring the paint and exploring how she’d like to position the areas of color. Older kids can manipulate the paper by tipping and pulling the paper, encouraging specific colors and areas of the paper to blend together. Younger kids will enjoy dumping that water-downed paint, which can get a bit messy, so stay close!

Let the color-mixing Frankenthaler creation dry overnight and see how it turned out. What colors did your child create?

© Sarah Lipoff 2011


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