Plein Air Painting — Unschooling Art

A few weeks ago, I told you about how I turned control of science experiments over to my elementary age children.  Today, I am here to confess I have  done the same with elementary art education.  Yes, shamefacedly but triumphantly, I am here to tell you that I do not teach art.

Like most adults I know, I do not consider myself an artist.  I am a quilter, I enjoy viewing art, I love listening to music and making music on the piano, but art in the form of drawing or painting has escaped me.  I sometimes blame this on my ninth grade art teacher, who laughed at my attempts at watercolor painting.  However it happened, I certainly do not want my ineptness at representative art to rub off on my children.  I have decided that the best way to serve them in this is to allow them to do art — feed them ideas from museums, books, and websites — but with no adult interference.

Recently, this led to an afternoon spent like this:

We are fortunate in having these two large picnic tables on a patio outside our home.  Since the weather has been lovely, these tables are perfect for spending a long afternoon painting.  Lucy had an idea from her recent museum trip.  She had watched a video where an artist made abstract paintings and added texture by sprinkling sand over the drying paint.  We are blessed with a lot of sand at our house.  So she had a painting experiment, and Max followed along.

A great time was had by all.  I enjoyed it because the mess stayed outside and was completely cleaned up by kids, I had two great new paintings to hang on the wall, and because I had very happy children all afternoon.  Lulu loves doing art in any form, and was able to try out her new idea.  And Max enjoys mess!

Do you use an art curriculum, or do you just mess around as the ideas come to you?  Please leave me a comment below.


3 Great Places for Young Artists

I bet you have an artist in your family.  Even if they are currently “undiscovered,” young children love to create and do art projects, often just for the tactile pleasure of the medium.  As children grow, they need more ideas and stimulation to progress as artists, so that they don’t become disillusioned (as many adults have,) and start making statements like “I can’t draw!”  One way to provide this stimulation is to visit places in the community which give them ideas and motivation to continue working on their projects.

  • Art Museum.  If you have young artists in your family, have you considered taking them to a local museum to copy works of art?  Lulu and I had a date at the art museum last month at her request, and it gave her some great ideas for art projects in the coming months.  She took time to sit and sketch one of her favorite sculptures, and she wrote down ideas such as, “Grass doesn’t have to show every spike.”  There was also a video playing which gave her an idea for adding texture to her paintings.  Our local museum even has a family night which allows kids to be taught by a local artist.
  • Nature walk.  Going on a nature walk specifically to collect objects of interest for collage is a good way to stimulate interest in a different form of art work.  This time of year, leaves, flowers and seed pods are interesting and abundant.  If your child tires of gluing these onto paper to make interesting shapes, why not try making a flower person or sketching a variety of grasses?
  • Visit an Artist’s Studio.  If you search the web for art classes in your area, you might be surprised how many artists you will find in your area.  We were privileged with a tour from a potter.  Watching him throw pots on his wheel was very exciting to the kids, and led to collecting clay from a river bank to try making clay pots of their own.

Above all, keep supplies handy so that kids can follow their imaginations.  I will never forget the kids who visited our house and were so delighted because they could use tape!  Paper is cheap.  I buy one roll of tape for me and put my name on it, and let the kids have the rest. (If I don’t put my name on it, then there is never tape in the house when I need it!)  Try to keep the craft supplies in a place that are accessible, and then let the kids have permission to create.  You’ll be happy you did.

Where do you take your budding artist to get ideas?  Please leave a comment below.

Happy Sunday: Apron Art

The picture says it all.  Fabric markers + white apron = happiness!  For a great helper.

How do you make your chore helpers happier?  Leave me a comment!  Enjoy your day.

Art Project: Blind contour drawing

Having used the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain myself and with my older kids, I was excited to see this idea for blind contour drawing with small children on the Camp Creek blog.  It took forever to remember to get paper plates to block their line of sight so that they couldn’t as easily watch what they were drawing.

The idea behind blind contour drawing is to force your eye to stay on the object you are drawing.  Since you cannot see what you are drawing, the brain cannot auto-correct and draw what it thinks you “ought” to be seeing.  It is an excellent exercise in really seeing what you are drawing, instead of drawing what you think you should see.  When we did this type of drawing before, we drew our own hands and tennis shoes as suggested by the book.  This time, the kids drew a table lamp that had a nice urn shape and lots of curliques to follow with the pencil.

The results are very interesting.  I love the way the object is identifiable, but obviously not perfected — very abstract.

Winter is a great time to concentrate on these art projects.  Even though we are able to be outside some of the time, we are not able to spend as much time outdoors as during finer weather.  Max and Lulu have been keeping themselves occupied just the same.

Have you tried this kind of drawing?  What are your suggestions for art projects for indoor kids?  Please leave a comment.

Self-taught art: observational drawings

Most Fridays we don’t do much regular school.  That means – no math.  Instead, we catch up on our projects that we haven’t had much time for all week long.  After looking at the wonderful art lessons on this blog, and noticing that we didn’t have any paper plates to try out blind contour drawings, I decided to get the little kids started on some observational drawings.

This happened at the same time I was cleaning out my cupboard and found a bag of nuts in their shells.  I bought the bag last year at this time, right after my dad gave me a beautiful hand carved nutcracker.  I had used it a little, but cracking nuts is really messy when children are involved (think sweeping up nut shells for days.)  So I saved the nuts, and now they are really getting old and rancid – I think.  So what better way to do observational drawing than look at the details on the nuts, and perhaps the nutcracker?  And eating the nuts is a bribe for working longer on our drawings.  (Lulu called it a celebratory nut.)


Lucy amazed me at once by her drawing of an almond.  She captured the shape and texture excellently.  Max, meanwhile, worked on drawing a walnut, and really observed the lines and shape as unique.  We set a time limit of five minutes, so that they could really concentrate on their drawings with no talking.  When the five minutes were up, they wanted to keep going, so they did. Then Lucy drew an orange, while Max worked on a banana, and for a final project, Lucy did a wonderful drawing of a teapot, and Max tried to draw the whole nutcracker, including the nuts.

It was wonderfully relaxing to be working in the kitchen while they were talking calmly but happily and working on their projects.  They both have the potential to be fine little artists.  Lucy especially has the patience to work forever on any kind of art or craft project.  Today was a reminder to me to provide her the time she needs, and a tiny bit of direction, so that she can pursue her interests.

Sometimes beginning homeschoolers feel they have to schedule every minute of every day with planned activities, or their children won’t learn.  Fortunately for us, God made children as learning machines.  All we need to do is provide the tools and get out of the way.  Having the confidence to let them learn is one of the best things years of homeschooling has given me.  Modeling self-teaching is also important – and lots of fun.  When I pursue my own interests, and learn new things, I am showing my children how to become interesting adults.  Which is part of the reason I am going to share a book review with you in a day or two:  I am trying to expand my horizons and continue learning.


Now – if I can only remember to buy some paper plates!  I may have to do some blind contour drawings with them (kids can’t have all the fun!)


How do you convince yourself to let go of your plan and let your children follow their own interests?  Please leave me a comment.  Hope you’re enjoying your day