Explore Modern Artists: Print Like Ellsworth Kelly

Today we’re joined by illustrator and art educator Amanda E. Gross, who’s here to share another fun episode of Explore Modern Artists! 

Explore Modern Artists with Kids : series of projects on Tinkerlab

In the spirit of modern artist, Ellsworth Kelly,  your child might enjoy exploring nature’s shapes to create a stencil and make a painting!

Ellsworth Kelly (1923 -) is a master print-maker.  His plant drawings and screen-prints of simple shapes in brilliant hues are based on a deep reverence for nature.  Inspired by the Kelly retrospective currently at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, this activity is about noticing details, abstraction, and investigating new ways of expression.  

Ellsworth Kelly Prints

Artists use elements – or ingredients – in different ways, and abstract artists use them to express how they think and feel.

To begin, you might discuss the lines, colors, and shapes in pictures with which your child is familiar.  You could even do a tableaux vivant to physically explore the forms.  Next, you might read a book such as Leo Lionni’s Mathew’s Dream, about art appreciation; the illustrations, in which bright, abstract shapes are used to create representational images, can be a good way to introduce abstract art to children.  You may also want to show your child a few of Kelly’s images and ask such as:

  • What do you see?
  • Do these pictures look like things in real life?  Why or why not?
  • How do they make you feel?  Why?
  • What colors / lines / shapes do you see?
  • How do the colors make you feel?
  • Do the colors seem different when they are right next to each other?

Step 1: Draw

Ellsworth Kelly Printing Activity | Tinkerlab.com

Kelly began each image with a drawing.

Set up a still life of plants or fruit, or go findflowers outside.  Because this is an abstract drawing, observe what you see and pick out the basic shapes.

Draw large since you will cut these out.

Step 2: Stencil

Kelly 2

When your child is finished drawing, use scissors to cut out the shapes.

If you have cuts in your stencil that you don’t need, feel free to tape them up.

Step 3: Paint

Kelly 3a

Put a piece of paper (or cloth) under your stencil.  Choose a paint color.  So that your painted shape retains the outline of the stencil, try holding it down as you paint inwards from the stencil’s edge (or, you could tape down your paper and stencil instead of holding it).

Step 4: Design

Kelly 4

Use your imagination to experiment with how different colors act when placed next to each other, and explore making symmetrical and asymmetrical designs.


Ellsworth Kelly Printing Activity | Tinkerlab.com

If you’d like to do the project sans water and paint, try cut-and-pasted shapes.  For a new challenge, try screen-printing; to construct your screen, staple a nylon stocking onto a frame. Draw your plant forms onto the back of shelf liner paper, cut out these shapes, and adhere the sticky part to your screen.  (See image above) Paint!

Explore modern artists with kids: Ellsworth KellyResources:

More from Explore Modern Artists with Kids

Paint like Jasper Johns

Painting with Edward Hopper

Ellsworth Kelly Images

Top Row: Grape Leaves III, 1973-74. Lithograph on 300-gram Arches paper, 47¼ x 31½ inches. Edition of 50. © Ellsworth Kelly and Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles. Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Red White, 1962. 80 1/8 in. x 90 1/4 in. (203.52 cm x 229.24 cm, Acquired 1966. Collection SFMOMA, T. B. Walker Foundation Fund purchase

Bottom Row: Red Blue Green,  1963, 83 5/8 x 135 7/8 inches (212.4 x 345.1 cm), Oil on Canvas, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jack M. Farris.  Colors on a Grid (close-up), 1976. Screenprint and Lithograph on 350-gram Arches 88 paper, 48¼ x 48¼ inches. Edition of 46. © Ellsworth Kelly and Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford, New York. Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer.

Amanda E. Gross_headshotAmanda designs curricula to guide and inspire children, teens, and adults to appreciate art and to create!  She earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from The Rhode Island School of Design and is an instructor at Academy of Art University.  Amanda is also an illustrator, painter, DIY crafter, and permaculture enthusiast. Find out more about Amanda here: Art Curricula WebsiteArt Portfolio WebsiteLinkedIn, and Pinterest.


Highlights from the Creative Table Project

It’s been a super busy and creative month over in the Instagram Creative Table Challenge.

creative table instragram image big

A few weeks ago I shared that we had 750 inspiring creative table entries on Instagram. Today there are over 1100 creative table invitations, set-ups, ideas, and playful explorations to browse and get ideas from!

Amazing, right?!

Just as I did last month, I thought it would be fun to spotlight a few highlights that represent the range of creative experiences that are happening all over the world.

If you’d like to see all of the Creative Table ideas that are popping up, you can  search #creativetable on Instagram or type “creativetable” into the search bar on Followgram.


share your creativetable on instagram

Join the Challenge

If you’re on Instagram and would like to play, we would LOVE to have you. Please read these guidelines first, and then be sure to add the hashtag #creativetable to your image. And who knows…maybe I’ll spotlight your image in my next Creative Table Post!

A note about the images: Beneath each photo is the name and Instagram handle of the person the image belongs to, and any descriptive text that they added to their photo. I hope that these images inspire you as much as they inspire me!

Jen Kossowan MamaPapaBubba

Jen Kossowan @mamapapabubba

Sharpies and blown up balloons… Perhaps the simplest creative table ever. #creativetable #invitationtocreate

Light Table with Natural Objects

#playinvitation #creativetable nature treasures on the light table #yesIvebeenplaying #creixercreant

Discovery table with magnifying glasses

Something for after quiet time :) #creativetable

Make your own Easter Egg Craft

Happy Tuesday everyone. The pretty colours in our Easter garland are making me smile. What’s making you smile today? #playmatters #creativetable

Scratch Art inspired by Miro Drawing in an art book

These kid art books are a wealth of inspiration. #creativetable #philadelphiamuseumofart

Paint pinecones with glittery paint

Painting our nature finds together. #connectwithplay #pinecones #creativetable

Make your own solar system memory game

the boys illustrated their own solar system themed memory game #creativetable

Painting Leaves Outdoors with Kids

painting leaves, teaching them observation. #creativetable #vscocam

Making your own wrapping Paper with stamps

Getting wrapping paper ready for a birthday party tomorrow! #creativetable #blog


Highlights from last month’s Creative Table: Creative Table Project on Instagram

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24 Tips for Cleaning up Art Messes with Children

What are your tried and true strategies for cleaning up art messes with your child?

I presented this question to some friends and the smart crowd on my Facebook page, and they came back with a variety of ideas. Some of these are my own favorites, and a few are new-to-me. My hope is that you’ll find an idea or two in here that will work for you too!

24 tips from real parents for cleaning up art messes with children


Everything has a basket!  – Melissa H.

Clear, Bins and Buckets!!   – Sign & Shine

We have bins and baskets for art supplies so my kids know where to find what they are looking for and where to put things away so the next person can find it. But, I let my kids organize their own toys. I find they have very different organizational reasoning than I do. I was trying to put construction toys together, and play kitchen toys together, etc. But they organize their toys according to what adventures they are planning. Sometimes they put anything long and stick-like together so they can defend the universe and other times they just want to see how much they can fit into one bucket. As long as things are picked up off the floor on occasion, I’m happy. I get the thoughts behind fostering independence and responsibility and all that, but I don’t feel it is my job to impose labels and order on everything. Let the children decide where things belong and why. They will change their reasoning quite frequently. Chaos is part of creativity.  – Karin C.

Labels Labels Labels! Using picture labels on plastic containers helps kids to develop a sense of independence while cleaning up. You could even go so far as to label the container and shelf where the container belongs with a picture of the object-and as the child gets older the name of the object. The more sense their world makes, the more in control they can be! I teach a full class of 4 and 5 year olds and their parents are always amazed at how clean my classroom is and I don’t have to lift a finger!  – Tara K.

Too much order in cleaning up, I believe makes it too complex for the kids to put things away. If you let them put things away in a semi-ordered manner then they are more likely to contribute. For example, 3 bins for Kitchen toys, bins for creativity (coloring, stickers, glues, etc). At least, my experience has been more cooperation with more control to them. – Tina D.

paint on the floor

Have clean-up supplies handy

When doing art I try to clean as we go along and make sure I have everything we need close by and ready to go…. such as if we are painting I always have a wet wash cloth my little guy can use it to wash his hands when we are done so he doesnt have to go all the way to the sink, I also have warm soapy water, and try to clean spills as they happen.  – Chelsea S.

We use materials that can be cleaned up; washable paint, shaving cream, play dough, mud. While the kids are working I keep a damp rag close by for quick spot cleaning. These projects are saved for when Daddy is not home, it’s more fun when he’s not cringing in the background. (And I know there are very few messes that can’t be cleaned up… makes it easier to relax and have fun.)  – Jillian R.

We have a dedicated art space and the table is typically covered in butcher block paper. A lot of our supplies are accessible, but in mason jars with lids. We have a bin of rags in the space and a spray bottle with all-natural cleaner in it. Toddlers love spraying just about anything, even their own messes.  – Melinda L.

Make it Fun

A cleaning song and the ‘Clean before taking something new’ rule (won’t work all the time)  – Gerdien K.

Always change the strategy. If you use a cleaning song, only use it a few times, then try a different technique. Then go back to the ones that worked the best and use them a few more times. Right now, my kids are loving the “How many can you pick up before the timer goes off?!”  – Sharon H.

We have a clean-up song (Feist’s ‘I Feel It All’), so we dance while we clean and pick the furthest part of the mess and work inward. The boy is four, so I give him specific tasks to focus on.  – Rachel K.

Singing. – Projects for Preschoolers

Songs, games, and making sure to do it before moving on to the next big activity or location so it doesn’t pile up (plus they’re more motivated). Also give them tasks you won’t micromanage.  – Corinne S.

easel painting indoors

Break it up into steps or jobs

We do it in steps. He’s still small so I tell him “time to put the puzzle away”, then we do that together. “Time to put the train set away” and we do that together…. Then he gets the idea that even big tasks are manageable if you do them in steps.  – Christine W.

Divide and conquer. Each child is given one assignment at a time (m picks up all the books, J puts the dolls away, etc.) After finishing that job they get a second if necessary. I jump in to get items that are awkward and we get done quickly.  – Friday Frogs

Get the hubby to do it. :)  – Kara P.

Location, Location, Location

We have painting next to the sink but when we are at the table I always ask Jacob to help with table wiping which he loves. He’s also been brought up with the A place for everything motto so he’s well organised already.  – Zanliza K.

We do all art and messy sensory play on a huge tarp! I just clean it up and fold it away! I don’t know what I’d do with out it!  – Blaine N.

I guess my main mess-containment strategy is to limit the messiest activities to certain areas that I am comfortable messing up: the art table in our kitchen, the basement playroom, or my personal favorite, the backyard.  – Sarah H.

The messiest art at our house is easel painting. Fortunately, we live in such a temperate climate that we can generally take the easel out on the deck to do our painting. Drips that land on the “floor” can be hosed away, and I am able to relax a bit about the mess.  – Chelsea D.

Cover it up

I spent over an hour cleaning up our table after letting the kids explore with flour/water/oatmeal/soap and such. They had so much fun, but the mess was terrible. Since that day I now put a fitted sheet over the table when we do messy activities. This way I can just toss the whole thing into the wash! So much easier.  – Kimberly A.

I have lined tables with vinyl cloths, make sure the materials (especially liquids) stay mostly in the middle of the table in a tub or tray, and include everyone in cleanup time, with special jobs and a song. I like keeping cleaning spray and small rags/sponges around to clean up, too.  – Amanda G.

paint at the easel

Paint and Bathe

When my son was younger (3-4) he was really into painting his entire body whenever the paint came out. So I started doing a little time management and would just make sure we were painting on bath nights. So the paints would come out when I knew I had enough time for a full bath when the painting was done.  – Sarah H.

Tape to pick up glitter, painting happens at the end of the day (close to bath time), water beads happen in the bath tub, shaving cream in the bath tub, my sons love to “clean the floor” so I hand them a sponge and let ’em at it. – Marnie C.

What else?

So, what’s not on this list? Do you have a favorite tip that we missed?

More from the Art Tips Series

Clean up your paper scraps

Make your own stamps from cosmetic wedges


Homemade {Easy, Low-cost} Light Table

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make an inexpensive DIY light table.

DIY light table that's easy and affordable

Light tables like this are great for preschoolers, as they inspire them with sorting and designing compositions. Light Tables are wonderful for exploring the play of light, shadow, color, and transparency. Their unique nature can add a magical element to child’s play and encourage curiosity, exploration, and problem-solving.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember the overhead projector that we salvaged for just $5 from Stanford’s Re-Use Department or the DIY Light Table that we filled with salt and water beads.

Build a Light Table

I wanted to include a light box tutorial in my forthcoming book and recognized that our light box wouldn’t be easy for other parents or caregivers to replicate, so I started tinkering. Once I wrapped my head around this project, it couldn’t have been simpler.

Like painfully simple! Wait ’til you see.

If you don’t already have one of these, you’ll wonder why not.

make your own light table

DIY Light Box Materials

  • Under-the-bed style clear storage box. This Rubbermaid Storage Box (affiliate) is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • White Tissue Paper (the kind you wrap gifts with), wax paper, or tracing paper. My preference is white tissue paper. Stay clear of parchment paper as it’s impossible to tape it to anything.
  • Clear Tape
  • String of holiday lights
  • Extension cord: optional


  1. Tissue Paper: Line the inside of the lid with tissue paper and tape it in place. Use clear tape so that the tape doesn’t show. 
  2. Holiday Lights: Spread a string of holiday lights around the inside of your box. The cord will dangle out. We were able to close our box on the cord, but this isn’t necessary.
  3. Play! Place a few bowls of transparent manipulative materials near the light box and invite your child to create.
  4. Seed the project: My kids are most responsive to this invitation if I seed the table with a few ideas. I set all of the materials out as you see in the photo above. My 2-year old saw this and added a red circle in the middle of one of the “flowers.” Then she decided to build a whole series of flowers with my assistance (below).

Homemade Light Box

Materials for the Light Table

affiliate links

Inspiring objects for light table

More cool design materials that you might enjoy

Store-bought Light Box Options

If making your own light box doesn’t appeal to you, there’s an enormous selection of store-bought options to choose from. We also have a sweet little 5″ x 7″ Gagne Light Panel that I found at a local art store. Dbmier makes a similar tracing pad that’s recommended for stenciling, 2D Animation, Calligraphy, Embossing, Scrapbooking, Sketching & Drawing, and Sewing projects,.

This small box doesn’t have the big-impact, scale-wise, as our homemade box, but it’s portable and I love it for tracing projects (mama makes art too!).

plug in light table

More Light Box Inspiration

I couldn’t have written this post without mentioning that as I was working on this project, my friend Anna at The Imagination Tree posted her own DIY Light Box for Sensory Play. Our projects are nearly identical, and this isn’t the first time this has happened! Click on the links to see how Anna made her sensory light box.

Two years ago we both posted the same project, on the same day. Here’s a peak: If you have a toddler, you might also enjoy my Colander Sculpture and Anna’s Discovery Box Pipe Cleaners. The Imagination Tree is one of my favorite blogs. If you’re a hands-on parent I’m sure you’ll love it too, so do check it out if it’s not already on your radar.

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table

Parenting with Positive Guidance

Today I’m happy to welcome my friend and colleague, early childhood educator Amanda Morgan from the popular blog, Not Just Cute, to talk with us about parenting with positive guidance. Have you heard of this philosophy for raising children?

Without knowing it by name, I’ve come to learn that this is at the heart of my own parenting philosophy.


Amanda is starting a new e-course, Parenting with Positive Guidance, which I’ve had the opportunity to preview and I’m more than impressed!

The first session alone is packed with over an hour of carefully crafted videos where Amanda will guide you through the principles and philosophy of positive guidance. I’ve seen Amanda’s relatable videos before this course, and I’ve always appreciated her candor and welcoming voice.

One of the nicest things about taking a course online is that you can pause the videos if you have to make snacks/break up a squabble/take a shower.  Welcome, Amanda!

Amanda Morgan's E-course from Not Just Cute

Work with the Water

I spent one of my most memorable summers as a river guide in Jackson Hole. It was amazing, and I learned a lot of things. One of the most important things I learned was how to work with the water.

After weeks of wearing myself out fighting to overcome the current, I finally realized that my job was easier, and more effective, when I worked with the water instead of fighting against it. I had spent time observing it and figuring out how it really worked. Learning to recognize the different pockets of currents and use the momentum to my advantage made it possible to navigate the water without a battle.

The same is true for many of the tools in the Parenting with Positive Guidance Toolbox. The theory and tools are based on how kids think, learn, grow, and develop, so that we can work with our kids’ strengths rather than battle against them.

Imagination and Storytelling

Using the incredible power of storytelling, imagination, and creativity is just one example.

In a study referenced in the book, Nurture Shock, researchers asked children to hold perfectly still for as long as they could. The result?

The young subjects stood still for just two minutes.

By contrast, when researchers asked children to pretend they were soldiers standing guard who had to hold perfectly still at their posts, children were able to stand still for a whopping 11 minutes!

stand like a soldier

When we struggle with child behavior, it isn’t always about the child’s capability or willingness to comply, it’s often about our approach and how we appropriately engage the child.

Using a child’s imagination and the power of storytelling works because it plays to a child’s strengths.

First, it uses imagery. Creating a picture in a child’s mind of what the desired behavior looks like conveys information and instruction in a split second that guides the child to the desired behavior. The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s true here too!

Secondly, it speaks in the child’s own language. Playfulness, stories, imagination, it’s all right in the child’s wheelhouse. Just as I learned to harness the water’s strength to navigate the river we can also play to a child’s strengths to guide behavior.

How Positive Guidance looks in real life

  • As a teacher of a large first grade class, it was a challenge for me to get them to walk quietly down the halls. Finally, I began to make up stories — we were sneaking past a sleeping giant, tiptoeing away from a dragon — and suddenly we were the most stealthy crew in the halls!
  • Living with a house full of boys can get a bit noisy to say the least! When the stomping, marching, and running get too noisy for the little ones who may be sleeping on the floor below, I ask the boys to use their “ninja feet” which works much more quickly and to a much greater extent than my constant nagging to “quiet down” ever did!

Parenting with Positive Guidance

Sign up for the course

The example above from”Using the Enchanting World of Stories” is just one of ten tools taught in the Parenting with Positive Guidance Ecourse. The course teaches a variety of ways to work proactively to guide child behavior, as well as to establish appropriate boundaries and build real discipline in our children.

No book or course you take will ever change your child, but it can change you and the tools you use in your daily interactions.

It’s the change in those daily interactions that will create real change in your child.

Click here to view more details


My Experience

Within an hour of signing up, I received email links to two companion e-books: Parenting with Positive Guidance: Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out and Patience for Parents.  The content of these books relates directly to the course videos, and will help reinforce the ideas that you’ll learn about.

Another nice surprise is that all of the comments from readers who have taken this course before you are still posted, and prove to be tremendously helpful when someone has an issue or question that you may have asked yourself.

Oh, and this is really nice too…Amanda is keeping the registration open for my readers through Wednesday, February 20, and she’s giving us a special discount rate if you take this course with a friend or partner.

Sign up for Parenting with Positive Guidance

If parenting with positive guidance is something that you’ve thought about before, I can’t recommend this course enough.

Register before February 20: Click here to view more details

Note: I’m an affiliate for Parenting with Positive Guidance. This post contains affiliate links, but I only share links to things that I love or that I think you’ll find useful.