Drawing over Old Photographs

drawing on photo

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in August, 2011.

Drawing over old photos :: Tinkerlab.com

Drawing over over old photographs is a fun way to turn old images into new treasures. Not only is the process totally enjoyable, but the product can be turned into postcards that are fun to mail to family and friends.

Old photos can be found in thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, reuse centers, and mom’s attic. Can you think of anywhere else?

To start, I collected a big, random stack of photos when we visited the San Francisco re-use shop, SCRAP, with the idea that we’d use them for some kind of collage.

And then I remembered doing a fun photo painting project at some point in my own past, which inspired the direction we took this.

N recently started representing objects in her drawings, so I thought she might be at a point where we could have some fun playing with the intersection of realism and abstraction.

N likes to find new places to create, and on this day it was the kitchen floor. To do this project, all you need is a stack of old photos and some paint pens like these Elmer’s Painters Pens. Sharpies would work too, but with a slightly different effect.

Print a Recipe


Drawing on Photos
Recipe type: Drawing
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Drawing over photos with paint pens is a fun way to mix realistic imagery with abstract coloring.
  • Paint Pens (such as Elmer's Paint Pens)
  • Old Photographs (or photos printed on photo paper)
  • Covered table or work area, since paint pens can be permanent
  • Smock to protect clothing
  1. Place a stack of photos and a bucket of paint markers in the middle of the work area.
  2. If your pens are brand new, depress them ahead of time to get the paint flowing.
  3. Offer your child a stack of photos to sort through and choose from.
  4. Each of you will choose one photo to work with.
  5. Draw over the photos in any way you see fit.
  6. Display the photos or turn them into postcards and mail them to friends and family.

If you don’t have any *actual* photos lying around, you could try sourcing them at a thrift store, cut images out of a magazine, or print your own photos onto photo paper or card stock.

As you can maybe tell from the images above, we collaborated on a few of the photos. I marked up a photo and then handed it to N, and then she added her own ideas.

After I drew on a photo that she started, N said to me, “you do it your way and I’ll do it my way.” Yikes. I’m usually really sensitive to drawing on kids’ art, and I learned that she didn’t see this as a collaboration — she was okay drawing on my photos, but didn’t want me to draw on hers.

So, I took a few big steps back and allowed her to do it her way!

A few of our creations — both “collaborations” and our own works of art. We turned these over later in the day and made some of them into postcards.

What do you think? Have you tried this yourself? Any other ideas on what we could do with these works of art? Do you have a favorite spot for collecting treasures for reuse?

Re-use Shopping Resources

I Heart RAFT (SF Bay Area)

National (US) search for contractor/building reuse: Building Materials Reuse Association

Find FREE stuff on Craigslist: List of SF Bay Area resources

Find FREE stuff in your neighborhood through the Freecycle network

SCRAP Portland

SCRAP San Francisco

Surplus Sales at Stanford University

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse (Berkeley, Oakland, CA)

Reuse Resources via East Bay Depot Creative Reuse


What can I do to help a child who doesn’t want to make art?


If you have a child or if you work with children, chances are that you’ve experienced at least one instance of an art project or invitation being met with refusal. Can you think of a time?

What can I do to help a child who doesn't want to make art? from Tinkerlab.com

When my older daughter was about 2.5 she wouldn’t touch crayons, markers, or any sort of mark-making tool. She didn’t start out this way, and I scratched my head trying to find a way to make drawing more fun.

I introduced drawing games such as playing with art dice, which made drawing more adventurous. I looked for novel ways to draw with unusual materials such as  drawing on windows with dry erase markers, and we were back into the swing of things.

I also tried to step back and pay attention to her interests.

What did she enjoy doing? When she played on her own, what did she gravitate toward? When I did this, I noticed that she enjoyed the challenges of building activities: building block towers, stacking pillows on the furniture, and making structures out of toys. So I switched up our routine and offered her sculptural prompts such as building recycled sculptures.

We’re not all wired with an artsy gene, and I know plenty of children and adults who never find their way to the art table, but just because a child doesn’t show an interest in art do not make the assumption that it will always be that way. My daughter is a case-in-point!

Are you struggling with this problem or have you been there/done that?

Every child is unique, and we all approach challenges like this from different perspectives. I would love to hear how you have helped a child who wasn’t interested in making art. Do you have a strategy that worked? All tips are welcome — my hope is that this post will be a valuable resource for parents and teachers who may inevitably find themselves in this same situation.


Natural Playground with Tree Stumps

natural playground with tree stumps

Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.
– Henry David Thoreau

Build a Natural Playground with Tree Stumps,

Do you have a natural playground in your yard or near your home? A natural playground is an outdoor play area that’s landscaped with materials such as logs, dirt, grassy hills, sand, natural bridges, and streams instead of plastic playground equipment.

Aside from our beloved plastic playhouse, our small suburban garden is full of natural loose parts and I’m constantly looking for ways to develop it into an inspiring, open-ended, natural play area.

Why a natural play scape? 

In Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Natureplayground designers and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining an ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slide; a surprising conclusion considering what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.) and promote competition rather than co­operation (Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.).

Start with Tree Stumps

Tree stumps are useful for walking on, turning into seating for impromptu fairy tea parties, using as a base for bridges or tables.

We live near a children’s museum with a large-scale spiral tree stump path that will entertain my kids for hours. The stumps are of various heights that challenge children to climb, crawl, skip, walk, and jump. When they bump up against each other, as they move in opposite directions, they have to negotiate the space and make concessions. In short, it’s brilliant.

Ever since I first discovered this neighborhood treasure, I’ve been on the hunt for some tree stumps of our own. No small feat, though! We don’t own a chain saw, our trees never get trimmed, and I had no idea where I could find these beauties.

My radar was tuned and then low-and-behold, I spotted these guys, hard at work.

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I asked them if they would be so kind as to share a few pieces with my stump-loving kids, and they said yes. I’m indebted. My car was soon overloaded with heavy lumber and I was beaming!

So how do you find tree stumps? This one stumped me for some time (how could that pun not be intended?). I was on the lookout for tree trimmers, and lucked out that my trunk was empty and these guys were generous with their time and muscles. I would caution you that trees can be infested with termites or other dreadful bugs and diseases, so it could pay to secure your stumps at a cost from a local lumber yard. These stumps appeared to come from a healthy tree that was getting trimmed away from a power line, but I’m no tree expert. If you know more about this than me, please let me know if our stumps are healthy!

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I got these beauties home and my kids wanted to play with them right away (notice the tap shoes — ha! — these two crack me up). I put the stumps in our front yard until we could find a good place for them, and of course our next door neighbor friends wanted to come over and play too.

How to score tree stumps for your play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I think I have a good spot for them now, in the dirt and under a tree, and I’ll share more of our natural play scape ideas as it comes together.

natural playground with tree stumps

More Nature Play Ideas

How Climbing Trees Builds Critical Thinking

Finding Nature

Plant a Garden with Kids

Thrifting for Natural Materials for the Garden

Theory of Loose Parts (Let the Children Play)

Scanner Art Experiments

scanned toys and acorns

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in February, 2011.

This low-mess project kept my preschooler busy for a whole morning. Lots of fun for curious kids!

scanner art experiments

Not too long ago we had a big print job in our home, which peaked my daughter’s interest in the printer. The noises, lights, and moving paper were all new and exciting, I’m sure. Every time I printed something, she volunteered to rescue it from the machine. So we set up a scanning project, just for her. For the first run, we helped her select some objects to scan. Once she got a hang of it, she was off on her own!

Setting up materials on the printer bed.

Soooooo exciting!!

She experimented with different materials: puzzle pieces, acorns, baker’s twine, and her own hands. And she experimented with different colors of paper.

While this quickly became HER project, I was lucky enough to be invited to join her.

If you don’t have a printer/scanner, you could easily do this in your local printshop (which we’ve done too!). N thought this was cool field trip. I think she liked the big machines, the whirling sound of copies as the come out of the printer, and the novelty of it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Cause and Effect: How placement of objects on scanner affects the image output
  • Exploring the functions of machines and how they can help us
  • Composition and Selection: Making choices about what objects to place, and in which location

You might also enjoy

Follow my Tinkering board on Pinterest

Your turn!

Have you tried scanning with your kids? If this inspires you to do some scanning, please come back with your stories with me.

This post was shared at We Play @ Childhood 101. Go ahead, give it a click for more play ideas.

This Creative Week


This creative week. A week of inspiration from Tinkerlab.

Happy Weekend to you! I’m working on an exciting writing project that requires a lot of hunkering-down-to-work time, so the girls and I temporarily moved to Massacussetts where my in-laws have graciously offered to play with the kids while I work. Here’s a little snapshot of the view around here.

It looks like I’m working hard, huh?  I’ve also been saving a bunch of fun finds for you this week, and hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I  have.

I recently discovered Kelly Rae Roberts’ blog, and it’s amazing. Kelly Rae is an artist and author, and her blog is visual eye candy. If you straddle the worlds of parenting and work, you’ll get lost in her life strategies for getting it all done. I’m also kind of obsessed with this post about her little curbside lending library.

Alisa Burke gives us a peek inside her sketchbook. Her whole blog looks like this. Crazy-good stuff and another smart mom/artist/entrepreneur.

An Everyday Story is a beautifully written blog about raising children in Montessori and Reggio-Emilia environments. It’s written by Kate, mom to two little ones.  I’m smitten by her most recent post about using mirrors and buttons in an open-ended Reggio-inspired activity. You can also get a peek at Kate’s Montessori-inspired home at How We Montessori.

Are you on Pinterest? This is one of my favorite Pin Boards: Art Recipes, and it’s full of DIY doughs, paints, and sidewalk chalk. You can follow all of my boards here.

fave pinboards for creative families

This DIY travel watercolor set from Shealynn’s Faerie Shoppe is made with grown-up watercolors is lovely, and perfect for those times that the $2 drug store set won’t cut it. Shealynn’s tutorial is great, and will give you more reasons to eat Altoids.

Not-to-be-missed article on How to Encourage Drawing Skills, Confidence, & Creativity in Young Children from ever so talented and relatable Jean of The Artful Parent.

Exceptional Books for Exploring Great Artists, from Alissa at Creative with Kids, will introduce you to a few books you may not already know about.

What do you think about this genius idea to repurpose boxes and tubes and place them on top of a sensory box, filled with corn? Dang! It’s genius, if you ask me. From Tom Bedard at Sand and Water Tables.

Amanda from Not Just Cute shares this useful post with us…What’s in my Art Closet: Five Favorite Supplies. 

I love to see how other people organize their studio supplies, and this Outdoor Creativity Center on Playful Learning is no exception. While you’re there, check out the new look, inviting look of Playful Learning and consider buying Mariah’s amazing book by the same title.

That’s it for now! Have a great weekend.

Creative Table Inspiration

Creative table art invitation inspiration from Tinkerlab

what's on your creative table at tinkerlabIn the four days since I posted about the  Creative Table projectI’ve been amazed at the variety of ideas that have come from this International group; everything from a geology lesson to oversized PVC pipe tinkering toys to making paper dolls. As I’m typing this, more creative table images are coming in, and I’ll be sure to post those next week.

These images are mostly shared on Instagram (I’m a huge fan. Are you?), but you can also share by simply uploading your image onto this form.

Well, enough jibber-jabber. Have a look for yourself. Get inspired. And since this is a brand-new project, I’d love to get your feedback on what would make this project even better.

Creative table art invitation inspiration from TinkerlabTop Row: Dress in progress from Amy, Maker Mama   *   Paper Collage from Rachelle, Tinkerlab   *   Letterboxes and miniature letters with low temperature hot glue gun, scissors, paper card and markers from Ali, At Home with Ali
Middle Row: Canvas pictures, paint, paint brushes and hands from Robin   *   Pony Bead Mandala from Jen, Paint Cut Paste   *   Paper Dolls, Kara from Simple Kids
Bottom Row: PVC Pipe Sprinkler from Katie, A Childhood List   *   Dried black beans, cornmeal, yellow pom poms, honey sticks, pictures of flowers (from a postcard), pipe cleaners, pony beads, lavender from Jennifer Fisher, The Good Long Road   *   Water color on stained tea paper from Jen, Paint Cut Paste

Creative table art invitation inspiration from TinkerlabTop Row: Things I’ve been painting white: tops, a small box, a cardboard from Angela   *   Painting Fancy Nancy from Ali, At Home with Ali   *   Water color and ice from Angela
Middle Row: Kids’ catalogues and glue from Angela   *   Bundled tri-color drawing from Kate and Picklebums   *   Beading from At Home with Ali
Bottom Row: Painting Rocks from At Home with Ali   *   Salt and Glue (with watercolors) from Courtney   *   Watercolor painting from Emilie
Creative table art invitation inspiration from TinkerlabTop Row: Lucy’s table from Courtney   *   “Melting” chalk from Angela   *   Geology Exploration from Jen, Paint Cut Paste
Middle Row: Home made stamps from Courtney   *    Leaf Rubbing from Jena, Happy Little Messes   *   Drawing in Sketchbook from Maya at MemeTales
Bottom Row:  Tea stained paper from Jen, Paint Cut Paste   *   Leaf Rubbing from Jena, Happy Little Messes   *   Tempera painting from Emilie

Submit your creative table here.

So, what do you think? Are you inspired? Is there anything that would help this project run better? 

Messy Art: Splat Paint Olympics

splat paint olympic rings kids

Today I’m over on the Melissa and Doug blog, writing about our experience making Splat Paint Olympic Rings with household sponges. Painting with non-traditional materials does wonders for helping children look at the world with fresh eyes. And throwing paint-soaked sponges? Well, that’s just silly fun.


While we did this with the end-game of the Olympics in mind, I could imagine setting up this process-oriented, messy art exploration at a block party, artsy outdoor birthday party, or just for the joy of throwing paint at big sheets of paper.

Since we set this up in the driveway, clean-up was simple. Read the post to see how we did it.

Have you tried painting with sponges? Do your kids enjoy making messy art?