Fine art for kids: It’s a wash with Sam Francis

Fine art for kids-Sam Francis

It was a bit rainy here the other day, making it the perfect opportunity for a messy art activity. Because the rain was washing down around us, I decided a wet and wonderful painting was a good idea. We’ve already poured paint with Helen Frankenthaler, so I was on the hunt for a fresh artist to share with the tot. Then I remember Sam Francis and his dripped, splotched, and flicked paintings that he created on canvases. After getting out our handy art book, I located his painting, Around the Blues, 1957/62, and we had a great time checking out all the shades of blue and other colors that were mixed in. And my tot had several interesting ideas on what the painting was depicting — a ring of flowers, a couple of elephants, or, wait, maybe that’s just a bunch of blobs.

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A celebrated American painter from California, Francis explored painting after being injured during World War II, studying art at Berkeley. Influenced by abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko, Francis’ works are bright, vibrant, full of moving line and washed colors, similar in style with the Color Field movement.

After selecting colors of tempera paint we found in Francis’ painting, I got out an old baking tray and a sheet of white drawing paper. This is a really fun art activity for little ones and older kids, but things can get messy. Thus, the baking tray. Run the white paper under running water and then place in the baking pan. Once the paper is wet, it becomes the base for this art activity. Adding paint to a wet work surface is an art technique call a “wash,”  which creates a smooth or washed out look.

Now squeeze a dab of each color of paint on a folded sheet of paper towel, offer your child a few paintbrushes, and invite her to dab the paper with the paint, watching as it moves and blends with the water. Older kids can experiment with creating abstract forms while younger tots can explore color theory — and simply making a colorful mess.

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Offer your child a spray bottle filled with fresh water to spritz the paper when it starts to dry out. Squeezing that spray bottle also does wonders for budding fine motor skills.

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Encourage your child to tilt and move the tray, watching as the paint swirls and washes with the other colors on the paper.

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Now your child can continue painting, spraying, and tilting the paper until she’s happy with her finished creations. And if you’re feeling really creative, encourage your little one to drip or gently splatter the paint to add extra texture and detail to the artwork. Maybe take things outdoors for this step if the weather is cooperating… We skipped the splattering due to the rain.

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Once the finished Sam Francis’ influenced creation is finished, find the perfect spot for displaying the artwork. We find the fridge to be the perfect spot for our constantly evolving art show.

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Repurposed artwork thank you cards

Thank you cards

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a drawer that’s always overflowing with my tot’s artwork. I save her creations from preschool, the fun doodles she makes on her own at home, and the exciting artworks we create together. She sometimes selects ones to display on the fridge and I stash others to show her when she’s all grown up. The other day the drawer was so full it wouldn’t close, meaning it was time to go weed through the creations. It’s hard trashing your child’s art, but before making the final cut, we used a stack for creating thank you cards to send to friends and family thanking them for all the wonderful holiday gifts.

This is a great activity to do with tots just starting to figure out how to cut, which results in funky shapes and designs. Children as little as two can wield scissors with adult supervision, and cutting boosts your child’s budding fine motor skills. Older kids can enjoy cutting shapes for creating cards with patterns or representational forms. Right now my daughter is still figuring out the whole “cutting” thing, but has mastered the open-mouthed concentration while working…

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After you have a nice stack of shapes and funky forms, offer your child some glue to coat the cut paper and press onto the front of blank cards, which you can find at your local craft store.

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To personalize the cards, offer your child a thank you stamp to press on the front of cards. Older kids can use letter stamps to press “thank you” on the cards or even write the letters themselves.

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We had a few other fun graphic stamps that my tot pressed around her cards, along with in the inside as her signature. We sat together and talked about the gifts she had received, and who they had come from, while I wrote short notes from what she shared in the cards.

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After addressing the cards and sticking on stamps, we popped them in the mailbox and waited for our mail lady to come and whisk them away. At first my daughter was a little sad they were being taken but then we talked about how the mail works and how everyone was going to love opening her special thank you cards.

Along with being a great art activity, this is a really fun way of introducing the mail system to your child. Since creating her cards, we’ve set up our own post office and she’s wonderfully busy making cards, folding them into envelopes, and addressing and stamping them herself.

Fine art for kids: Cardboard creations with Victor Vasarely


After the holidays there always seems to be a large amount of cardboard hanging around my house. From packages sent, to boxes that held toys, I never want to just toss it in the recycling. So the other day I decided to have a little fun with the tot and get creative. There’s nothing like presenting your child with various materials and letting her explore, but I decided to offer a bit of assistance.

Victor Vasarely is recognized as one of the foremost artists of the Op Art movement of the 20th century. With his pulsating geometric designs that move the eye, his artworks are vibrant and fun — perfect for introducing to little ones. I figured we could create our own unique creation based on Vasarely’s style, with the help of all that cardboard. Instead of creating a flat artwork that looked like it was jumping out at you, we could use the cardboard to layer and build a three-dimensional  project. And this art activity is wonderful for encouraging shape and color recognition.

We took a closer look at one of Vasarely’s artworks (Pal-Ket 1973-4), talking about the shapes and colors we saw…


I helped by cutting the larger pieces into smaller interesting shapes and then offered my daughter the pieces. Before I had even offered her the glue, she was busy arranging her shapes.


Now your child can glue the shapes onto the cardboard base in an interesting unique design or use one of Vasarely’s artworks as inspiration. Encourage your child to use the whole area of the cardboard base and to overlap shapes, building a really fun creation.


Once the glue was dry, we got out the paints and had a great time finishing the creation using the colors from the original artwork.


Display your child’s finished creation in a special spot for everyone to enjoy.

Crafting with Kiwi Crate

This is a busy time of year, but it’s also so much fun. It always seems like the span from Thanksgiving to Christmas goes by in a snap, making it tough to fit everything in. We also dabble a bit in Hanukkah, so I’m always happy with anything that makes my holiday-season life easier. When I received an email from Kiwi Crate asking if I’d be interested in checking out one of their new holiday crafts, I responded with a really loud, “YES!”

In only a few days the compact package arrived in the mail, containing everything I needed to create an adorable, and child-friendly, holiday wreath with my tot.

I gathered the tot and she went to work, seriously. I didn’t even have a moment to discuss with her the steps for creating the adorable mini-holiday wreath. Included in the kit is a simple instruction card that even a toddler can figure out. I helped by cutting the squares of green tissue paper while she dabbed bits of glue and then scrunched and positioned.

Once the ring was filled my tot selected only the red glittering puff balls to decorate her finished wreath (her favorite color is red…) and then we gave it a few minutes dry.

That simple.

AND there were tons of materials left over for making more wreaths. You could repurpose an old cardboard box into the base for another wreath or even cut out the inside of a paper plate for more wreath fun….

I helped by tying a section of the included red ribbon for a festive wreath that we hung on our front door. My daughter gets so excited every time she sees it — and so do I.

Along with cute holiday wreaths, Kiwi Crate is offering several other seriously cute and interactive holiday crafts, including ones perfect for Hanukkah. And, just so you know, I wasn’t compensated in any way for writing this post, only sent the craft to experience with my tot. If you’re looking for something fun and festive to create with your child, but don’t have the time to hit the craft store for supplies, Kiwi Crate has everything you need packaged together — and it won’t bust your budget.

Toilet paper tube fall garland

With Thanksgiving just days away, I figured it was time to do a bit of holiday decorating. We always have a bountiful collection of toilet paper tubes hanging around just begging to be reused for some sort of crafty activity and came up with the idea to use them for a rustic fall garland. And this project is so easy, making it a perfect craft to do with toddlers — or kids of all ages.

It’s as easy as cutting the tubes into 1-inch sections and glueing on various fall goodies. The tot and I used real leaves and pinecones from the yard along with silk leaves I had hiding in the back of the craft drawer.

After letting the glued items dry over night, I popped holes in either side of the cut tube and then we strung with an orange ribbon. It looks just lovely over the fireplace and has us all in the mood for Thanksgiving.

And we discovered that the decorated cut toilet paper tubes also make adorable napkin holders.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mystery picture salad spinnner art

Someone gave me a salad spinner at some point. It may have been a wedding gift or a baby shower gift — or a holiday gift. I really don’t remember (and hopefully whomever gave it to me isn’t reading this now (and if you are, sorry!)), but it’s been shoved in the back of one of the various cabinets of the houses I’ve lived in over the years.

Last weekend I decided it was time to let that never-been-used salad spinner find a new home. But before I was able to cart it off to our local donation spot, the tot decided it was her new favorite toy. And the minute she discovered that she could make it SPIN, she wouldn’t let it out of her site.

After we did a bit of good ol’ spin art, I thought it might be fun to give the colorful project a bit of a twist. I cut a small square of white paper and then drew a picture on it using a white crayon.

Then I popped the paper in the spinner and invited the tot to drip water-downed watercolor paint over the picture. I knew I had drawn a collection of fishes, so offered her shades of blue.

After she was happy with the amount of paint she’d dribbled over the paper, she spun and spun that spinner. Expecting to discover a wonderfully colored creation, my tot squealed when she saw the fish that had appeared on the paper.

And, of course, she wanted to do it again, and again, and again. Because crayons are made from wax, they push away the liquid paint (oil and water don’t mix, right?) creating a fun resist artwork. Your child can experiment with creating lots of drawings in white, use black crayons to make dark outlines, or lots of colors to draw exciting creations and then pop in the spinnner for lots of colorful fun.


Fine art for kids: Black and white with Picasso

It’s been raining the last couple of days, making the tot and I a bit ornery. We knew the rain was coming, but it’s so dark in the mornings, causing us all to cuddle deeper under the covers instead of popping out excited about the day ahead. There’s nothing to rush for, so I curl into the bed and wait for my daughter to mumble “good morning” from her room letting me know she’s ready to start the day.

After about an hour of rubbing our eyes and figuring things out, we go about our daily routines. The husband heads to work, I sip tea and write stuff, and the tot either goes to preschool or does projects with me. Because of the dark, and somewhat dreary day, I couldn’t help being reminded of when I was teaching high school art and what I would do with a class that was stuck in the doldrums. I’d pop in a movie, shove sketch paper and sticks of charcoal under my students’ noses, and encourage them to doodle while zoning out.

Sometimes you just need to do nothing to find creativity.

One of my favorite things to pop in the old video player was this documentary of Picasso. The music is a bit funky, Picasso is crazy, his paintings are so simple but amazing, and it’s black and white — which is actually soothing.

After showing this snippet to my tot, we got out black and white paper and black and white paints. I offered her a sheet of white paper and a selection of paintbrushes ranging in size from big to small, along with black paint, and encouraged her to make interesting lines. This is a great activity for introducing focusing on making long and expressive lines to tots. Your little one really wants to go with her gut and simply scribble, but encouraging her to make shapes, or even attempting to draw a form, makes for an exciting creation. Older kids can paint exaggerated forms with simplistic details, just like Picasso.

Once your child is finished, swap the white paper and black paint for a sheet of black paper and the white paint. Leave the black painted sheet of white paper within sight and encourage your child to create the same design, but with the white paint on the black paper.

Once the paintings are dry, display them side by side to see how they are similar and different.

Scented fall leaf lovelies

There’s nothing like the smell of fall, with its rich earthy smell of fallen leaves, a waft of something good baking  from someone’s kitchen, and the scent of cooler air. We are smack-dab in the beginning of our Northern California fall, which usually means some of the nicest weather we’ve seen all summer. With temperatures wonderfully in the upper 80’s — or even hotter, it sure doesn’t seem like autumn at all.

To get in the spirit the tot and I rolled out some scented dough for making fall leaves that will fill even a hot house with the smells of fall. And by using fallen leaves from around the house to create the indentions, these fall leaf lovelies look wonderful hanging in a window or anywhere in your home.


1/2 cup cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup glue

3/4 cup applesauce


It’s as simple as mixing all the ingredients together. And even though you think they won’t form a dough, sure enough one forms. Cover and let rest in your fridge before rolling.

I rolled mine on one of the placemats I made the other day that have also turned into awesome project mats. If you don’t have a placemat, rolling on a length of parchment paper on your kitchen counter works wonderfully too. Go ahead and sprinkle the dough with flour if it seems too sticky. I covered my heavenly scented dough with a layer of plastic wrap and then rolled until about 1/4 inch thick. If you’ve got a tot that’s handy with a roller, she can help create a nice, level round.

Then we placed our leaves all over the place and rolled over the top. After removing the leaves, I used a big craft needle to trace around the edges and pop a hole at one end. Older kids can use a sharp pencil or the craft needle (with adult supervision) to do this step. Don’t worry about peeling the leaves from the placemat, just find a nice spot for them to dry out where they won’t be poked and squished by little fingers.

(OH – and these are NOT cookies. I had a bit of an issue explaining that to the tot, which was the only downfall of making these with a three-year-old.)

Let the leaves hang out overnight or place in the sun until they are dry. Now you can peel from the placemat and string with a length of colorful ribbon or string. Find the perfect spot for your scented fall leaf lovelies and enjoy the smell of autumn.


Fun play dough stamps

The other day my husband came home with one of those mega play dough sets for the tot. I love making my own play dough (I think store-bought has a funny smell…) but before I could even get out a word, our daughter let out such a scream of delight I kept my comments to myself. Along with a big assortment of colors, the set came with tons of shape cutters, tools, rollers and squashers.

She loved it for about a day.

This afternoon she was playing around but I could tell she needed a bit of motivation to keep that play dough cool in her little world. So I asked her if she wanted to paint and play with play dough.


The tot’s favorite color of the moment is red, so we rolled out a golf-ball sized amount of hot-red play dough and squeezed a bit of red paint (and yellow and orange) on a folded sheet of paper towel. After we spent a few moments pressing and indenting the ball of play dough with a few items, I encouraged her to gently press the molded play dough into the paint and then print on a white paper. She continued pressing and printing until her paper was covered with interesting shapes and designs.

While she was exploring, I couldn’t help seeing what would happen with a bit more patience. I pressed a bit of play dough over a sprig of rosemary and had a great time creating a little pattern. Then I tried a flower puffy sticker, which also created a fun graphic stamp.

Tons of possibilities!

This is a fun and simple project for wee tots as well as older kids that understand the printmaking process. You can press the play dough on just about anything to create really awesome and fun stamps. And this is a great way to use old bits and pieces of play dough, or that glob of dough that’s been created from mixing all the colors…

Have fun!


Fine art for kids: Pointillism fall tree

The season is changing and I’m not sure how happy I am about it. It’s been a lovely summer and the idea of getting out the warm sweaters doesn’t fill be any excitement. Where I live we sometimes have the best weather during September, October, and even November, so am still holding onto the hope that the temps will stay in the 70’s for a little longer. Or at least upper 60’s…

But there’s nothing stopping the leaves from their natural progression. It gets cold here at night, which causes those leaves to do what they do this time of year. There are pops of orange and yellow among the palm trees and redwoods, reminding us all in Northern California that it can’t be gorgeous all year round. It also reminded me of a few seasonal Impressionist paintings and was inspired to do a fun art activity with the tot that would also help hone her budding fine motor skills and interest in keeping things within the lines.

All those dots of fall color reminded me of Georges Seurat and his unique way of painting. You see, he created these grand paintings with just small dots of color. Up close you can see each and every carefully positioned dab of color but from a distance they blend together into a complete artwork. One of his most recognized artworks is Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884If you are of my generation, you may remember it from the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…

Such a great scene, right?!

But, back to the fall project. Get out a sheet of white paper and invite you child to draw a tree with a brown marker — just the trunk. If you’ve got a tot like I do, go ahead and help out by drawing the tree. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just go with it.

Squeeze out a small drops of red, yellow, and orange paint onto a sheet of scrap paper. Place a few cotton swabs next to the paints and encourage your tot to dip the top of a cotton swab into one color of paint and then dot around the tree to create dabs of color just like Georges Seurat.

Now your child can keep making more dots with another cotton swab dipped in the other autumn colors creating a fall tree full of small dotted leaves. Older kids can create tightly organized collections of dots around each branch of the tree while younger tots can enjoy the fun of popping colors all over the paper.

After your child is satisfied with her fall pointillism tree, find a place to display it for the rest of the family to enjoy. Don’t forget to check out how the artwork looks close up compared to from a distance!