Less is More: A Child-Adult Art Collaboration

painting on sketchbook

I was on Instagram the other day and shared a sketchbook collaboration that my five-year old and I were working on. My friends Ness from One Perfect Day, Kate from An Everyday Story, and Shana from Ain’t no Mom Jeans asked me to share more about how we collaborate. They asked:

Who suggests the ideas, colors, etc.?

How do you encourage/add input etc. without taking the lead?

I’ll try to answer these questions through the photos that emerged from our latest collaboration:

Who suggests the ideas, colors, etc?

For this particular spread, I sat across the table from my daughter and we chatted while we worked on independent projects. She had a collage project going, so I pulled out my sketchbook and started to experiment with her materials.

We had small piles of colorful paper on the table and I thought I would try to layer them.

How to set up a Child + Adult Art Collaboration

At this point she continued to work on her own project.

But I have tot tell you something: I knew that it was just a matter of time before she would join me.

She almost always does. Making art with her is a lot like having a conversation. We might start out our conversation talking about two entirely different things, but as we get more comfortable chatting we get in sync with one another.

Our sketchbook sessions are a lot like that. We’ll start of doing our own thing, and then she’ll inevitably see a way to make my design better, and will ask to join in.

I always welcome these moments.

Back to the question (Who suggests the ideas, colors, etc.?), I’m flexible on this point. I’ll often initiate the collaboration and will select the materials or colors that we begin with, but I’m open to my child’s contributions. In the sketchbook image that prompted this post, I chose the red and pink, while my daughter suggested black and white.

My tip to you: Accept all offers from your child. Consider this a grand experiment and don’t worry one bit about the final product. Who cares if your child wants to cover the whole page with black paint. That would be an experiment worth pursuing. Just consider Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled (Glossy Black Painting) or Louise Nevelson’s Sky Cathedral. How else would these world-renowned artists have figured out the power of black paint without first testing its limits?

sketchbook pattern with paper

How do you encourage/add input etc. without taking the lead?

I got this far with my design, and then I started to add squiggles around the paper with a black Sharpie maker. N gave me some feedback, but didn’t ask to join in.

Then I got an idea to add some paint, and I had a feeling this would catch her eye.


We each took a brush and got busy adding dots and lines.

Because these collaborations usually take place on art that I initiate, my daughter is absolutely fine with my contributions and she doesn’t feel like marks that I make violate her work. Back to the conversation analogy, these work sessions are like back-and-forth chats. I’ll add something, and then she’ll add something. And we often really do talk as we work, sharing ideas before we commit anything to the paper.

Less is More

I love the last moment of our session, and it’s a great lesson for anyone who’s still reading. At one point she put her brush and down and told me the painting was done. I wasn’t so sure and kept on going. She took her seat across the table from me and gently said, “remember Mom, less is more.”

painting on sketchbook 2

She was right. You have to know when to stop. And I put my brush down too.

Reason #1: Why I Carry a Sketchbook

Do you carry a sketchbook around in your bag or purse?

I have one with me almost all the time. I say “almost” because today I found myself without it — left behind in my art studio — and I furiously scrambled for scraps of paper to entertain my 3-year old during an impromptu meeting. Thankfully she was happy with a book I had in my bag and found a way to keep herself busy for close to an hour. If you’re a parent, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. That need to deliver a special magic bullet that your child will swoon over for an endless period of time. Or at least until you finish a conversation or eat a meal. Why I carry a sketchbook The other day, three-year old Rainbow and I were hanging out during her sister’s dance class, and I encouraged her to dance along on the sidelines. This child loves to dance so much that she insists on wearing ballet slippers everywhere. No joke. They’re the dirtiest ballet shoes you’ve ever seen. But on this day, she wasn’t interested. Probably too much dancing in the grocery store aisles. So I brought out my sketchbook and started to draw in it.  Have you experienced the phenomena of drawing in a sketchbook with a child looking on? It can be like bringing out a piece of candy and devouring it in front of them. They can’t resist it, and usually beg to join in. Well, this is the case with my kids anyway, and I encourage you to try it and see what happens. In the spirit of research, please let me know how it goes.  I made a simple line drawing of a tree and some stars. Nothing fancy. It was all for me and she must have sensed the exclusivity of it. Rainbow looked on, chomping at the bit, and asked me for her markers (which I also try to carry with me at all times). I happily passed her the book and she got right to work filling in my drawings and adding her own marks. How the sketchbook saves the day. I gave her some room and ten minutes after the class ended she was still at it. Why I carry a sketchbook We had to coax her her outside with a promise of dinner.

#TinkerSketch on Instagram

If you keep a sketchbook (with or without your child), you’re invited to add the #tinkersketch hashtag to your photos on Instagram or Google+.  You might also like to follow Tinkerlab on Instagram for more creative inspiration.

A Question for You

I’m always eager to find fun things to carry in my bag for my kids. What’s your go-to toy, tool, or piece of entertainment magic?

Bamboo Rubber Band Book

Jody Alexander on TinkerlabToday I’m excited to introduce you to Jody Alexander. Jody is a librarian and bookmaker who teaches bookmaking from Wishi Washi Studio in Santa Cruz, CA, and also teaches classes through the newly-launched Creative Bug. Tinkerlab special: Jody is sharing a code for a Creative Bug discount at the end of this post.

Once you make one of these Bamboo Rubber Band Books, you’ll find tons of creative ways to fill them with your own ideas, use them as sketchbooks, fill them with writing practice, or turn them into gifts.

Welcome, Jody!

Kids love to make books. They really do! I have been making books with kids for about 15 years now. First going into my son’s classrooms and teaching him and his classmates various book structures and then teaching at different art camps.

How to Make a Rubber Band Book

The Bamboo Rubber Band Book is a simple and easy book structure to make with kids.  I have taught this structure to ages 5 years old and up and I can’t tell you how proud they all have been after making a book.  This book can be made with pages and covers that have already been pre-printed or decorated, or with blank pages to draw or write on later.  It is a great little book for drawings and a little story.

Materials Bambook Rubber Band Book


  • 8 ½ x 11 text weight paper (2-4 pieces – can vary)
  • 8 ½ x 11 cover weight paper (1 piece)
  • rubber band
  • bamboo skewer


  • scissors
  • hole punch
  • garden hand shears

Step one

Cut text weight paper into quarters – here is how do this without measuring:

  • Fold paper in half the long way
  • Open up

Step 1 Bambook Rubber Band Book

  • Fold paper in half the short way
  • Open up
  • Cut along fold lines

Step 2 Bambook Rubber Band Book

Step two

Cut the cover weight paper in the same way – you will end up with enough cover paper for two books

Bamboo Rubber Band Book

Step three

Stack your cut paper sandwiching the text paper in between the two cover pieces

Step Three Bamboo Rubber Band Book copy

Steps four & five

Punch two holes along the spine of the book – approximately 1/2 inch from the spine edge and 1 inch from the top and bottom (this can vary but making the holes too close to the edges puts them at risk to rip out)

Cut the bamboo skewer to 5 inches in length with garden hand shears.

 Bamboo Rubber Band Book

Step six

Bamboo Rubber Band Book

Thread the rubber band through the holes and capture the bamboo skewer – this will hold the cover and pages together.

Bamboo Rubber Band Book

You made a book! 

  • Put as many or as few pages in the book that fits your project.
  • Make a book out of pre-printed pages
  • Make a book out of blank pages and write or draw in it.
  • Enjoy your book!

Want to make more books? Or make this one fancier?

Orizomega and Japanese Side Sewn Binding Bambook Rubber Band Book copy

Learn how to make Orizomegami with me on Creativebug. Orizomegami is a traditional Japanese paper dying technique that is a fun and easy kid-friendly project that is perfect for book covers.

Creative Bug Bamboo Rubber Band BookAnd, if you are ready for a slightly more challenging binding – but still quite accessible to children – try my Japanese Side Sewn Binding for Kids class on Creativebug.

Thanks for introducing us to this book-making technique today, Jody! I’m so glad that we met and look forward to learning more from you through Creative Bug.


Tinkersketch Challenge: Draw Into Wet Paint

Tinkersketch Challenge: Draw into wet paintIt’s been a while since I’ve posted a Tinkersketch challenge on our blog, and since we’ve been getting some great tinkersketch feedback on Instagram I thought I’d share a favorite low-stress way to get some paint and marks on paper.

I’m all about low-threshold art-making, and don’t want anyone to walk away because they’re overwhelmed, so I’ll always try to offer easy ways to get your hand moving. If things get a bit more challenging I’ll offer alternative ideas to keep things simple. I realize that you don’t have a lot of time, but you want to create, and I’ve got your schedule in my mind. I’m busy too, so this also works for me.

If you’re not familiar with the Tinkersketch Challenge, you can read about how it started and what you can expect over here. In a nutshell, I’m a huge proponent of making something every day, and this challenge will get you started on an easy sketchbook journey. All it takes is about 10 minutes a day, but of course once you get started it can be hard to walk away after just 10 minutes!

Draw Into Wet Paint

sketchbook gesso drawing

This is what we’ll be doing today: Draw directly into wet paint. My three-year old and I had a lot of fun working on this page together.

Find a sketchbook

If you have a sketchbook with heavy-weight pages, you’re ready to go. I’ve owned a lot of journals and I’ve been enjoying Strathmore’s Visual Journal series for wet media (paint, collage, glue, etc.). It’s not featured in this post since we were working with an upcycled notebook (more on how to make one of this soon), but I usually have a Visual Journal in my bag when I run around town.

My best tip for finding the right journal is to visit the art store and handle all the journals. What size do you like? Big to spread out on a table? Small to carry in a bag? What weight do you like? If you paint a lot, you’ll want something with thick paper. If you prefer dry media, thin paper is a more economical solution.

And if you prefer to skip the sketchbook altogether, just work from a pile of paper. I like to keep a stack of card stock on hand for such times.

sketchbook gesso

Paint the page

Buy a bottle of gesso like this. Acrylic gesso is a polymer emulsion paint that’s used to paint over stretched canvases. You can think of it as a base coat upon which you can paint with watercolors, acrylics, and oils. You can also draw on top of gesso. Today we’ll draw on it (or into it) with a pencil.

Cover your page completely with gesso.

I placed a piece of wax paper (from the grocery store) under each of the pages to keep the paint off the table and off of the other pages in the sketchobook.

Alternative: Cover your page with white acrylic paint or thick white tempera paint. Tempera tends to flake off over time, but it should work if you’re interested more in the process than the product.

Draw into wet paint: Tinkersketch Challenge

Draw onto the page

With a pencil, makes some marks directly into the paint. Don’t worry too much about what you’re drawing. This is about the process of discovering a new technique and it helps to simply pay attention to what happens as you pull paint across the paper with the pencil, and notice how the pencil marks through the paint and onto the paper.

For the picture above, I drew some lines and ovals onto the paint and then handed the book over to my three-year old who added her own ideas.

Play with us on Instagram

Instgrammers often share their tinkersketches on Instagram, and it’s a fun way to get ideas from fellow sketchbookers. Just search for the hashtag #tinkersketch for more.

If you’d like to share you own sketches, either inspired by these posts or of your own creation, add #tinkersketch to your photo and we’ll find you. It’s a fun way to get to know other inspiring and aspiring artists.

And on that note, I should say that this is for beginners and professionals alike — no level of experience is too small or too big to play. All are welcome.




Fingerprint Spiders for Halloween

Did you know that black widows are known for cannibalizing their mates?* Eek. Bet you didn’t plan to come to Tinkerlab today to get info like that.

Fingerprint Spiders for Halloween | Tinkerlab

Spider season has arrived, at least in the Halloween sense of the word, and while it may feel to early for some of us, kids can be wildly in tune with the changing of the seasons. And if it still feels too premature, you can pin this today and keep it up your sleeve for a spooky day down the road.

For us, Halloween catalogues have been arriving for a few weeks now, and decorations are popping up in all the local stores. So when my older daughter started drawing jack-o-lanterns I knew that this project would be a hit.

First let’s talk about supplies…

What You’ll Need

Fingerprint Spiders Supplies

Simple, right?

Step One

Make some fingerprints on your paper.

Have a damp rag handy in case your child is sensitive to having ink on his or her fingers. My kids are okay with this, and understood that that the ink won’t wash off completely until bath time. 

Fingerprint Spiders Halloween

Step Two

Draw on spider legs and faces. However you like. Add goggly eyes if you have any handy.

Fingerprint Spiders Making Prints

This is a great opportunity to talk about how many legs a spider has (8), and introduce other fun spider facts (unlike the one I shared at the beginning of this post). Try these:

Spider Facts

  • Spiders are not insects, but arachnids
  • Spiders have 8 legs. Insects have 6 legs.
  • Cobwebs are simply abandoned spider webs.
  • Spiders do not have antennae.
  • In the 1970’s spiders were sent into space to see if they could build a web with zero gravity. The conclusion? While scientists eventually concluded that the quality of the space webs were slightly different from gravity-based webs, webs were made in space!
  • The biggest spider in the world is the Goliath bird eater, a type of tarantula.

Be creative and open-minded.

Despite our conversation about how spiders have eight legs, my independent-minded five-year old gave all of hers eight legs…on both side of their bodies. She said that they look better that way. What do you think?

Fingerprint Spiders Drawing Legs

Step Three

Now that all the materials are out, experiment a little more and be open to new ideas.

We brought out a few more pens to test out the different thicknesses and textures. Then we poured some watercolors into a small bowl and made painted spiders.

Fingerprint Spiders Creative Table

From there, the painting and drawing experiments expanded to include abstract patterns and fully covered pieces of paper.

Fingerprint Spiders and Painting Experiments

See you next time for more tinkering fun!

*For more weird spider facts, Michael Miller, animal keeper at the Smithsonian, compiled a list of 8 strange but true spider facts that will fascinate you.

More Fingerprint Spiders

One of my readers and friend, Vlada, sent me these fingerprint spiders made by her daughters. I LOVE the addition of red for the legs. And the goggly eyes! What a fun touch.

Fingerprint Spiders | TinkerLab.com

More Halloween Ideas

If you enjoyed this post, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

It’s Arts in Education Week

Happy Monday, Tinkering friends!

How was your weekend?

Creativity and Education: A Roundup of Interestingness from TinkerlabMy family has been busy with a lot of transitions and I’m finally beginning to emerge from the haze of it all. Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve been hibernating a bit over here and the posts haven’t been flowing as quickly as they once did? The good news is that I’m finally getting into the rhythm of having my kids back to school, and I can put my thinking cap on once again.

I have a few fun bits of creativity and education interestingness to share today, so I’ll just chunk them together for easy reading…

Back to SchoolWalking to school

So first, a little catch up on my personal life…

My older daughter, who I fondly refer to as “N” on this blog (and sometimes Nutmeg) recently started kindergarten. I wrote a little bit about how her new school encourages a fail-forward point of view over here.

And my little daughter, “R”, which is short for Baby Rainbow, just turned three and starts back to preschool this week. She goes to school a few mornings each week and she’s so excited to finally be to school just like her big sister.

As for me, I’m in search of a new art studio. I’ve been looking for one in my area and they’re few and far between. It’s times like this that I wished I lived somewhere like Portland! I’m considering building a studio shed in our small backyard. If you have any experience with this, I would be thrilled to hear from you. And of course, if you happen to know about a rad + cheap studio in Silicon Valley, give me a holler!

How about you? Have you been busy with transitions, a new school, or changes with work?

Arts in Education Week

Arts in Education Week

Did you know that this week is Arts in Education Week? If you’re an art teacher (waving hello to all my colleagues out there!), I’m sure you are in the know. Just three short years ago the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution designating the second week of September as “Arts in Education Week.” Check out this link to read all the legal details. I especially love that they included this quote in the resolution:

‘‘After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.” – Albert Einstein

If you’d like to advocate for arts-rich schools, the National Arts Education Association is full of advocacy tools for the taking. 

Creative Bug

All A La Carte Classes $9.99
I recently met Jody Alexander at ALT San Francisco. Jody is a wildly talented book maker who teaches online classes at Creative Bug. Do you know about Creative Bug? Basically, they host hundreds of online crafting classes that are beautifully shot, so that you can learn how to knit, make screen prints, crochet, or make beeswax collages from the comfort of home. And with the ability to pause and play if you need a short break.

Jody will be with us next week to teach us how to make a Bamboo Rubber Band Book. Her photos and instructions are gorgeous and clear, and I know you won’t want to miss this.

Kiwi CrateKiwi Crate Discount

Do you know about Kiwi Crate? They send a thoughtfully designed box full of thematic activities directly to your home each month. Each crate now also comes with a bonus magazine that’s full of even more ideas that will keep your child engaged and learning. They’re having a back-to-school promo if you’d like to sign up: Save up to $20 on a new Kiwi Crate subscription (that’s 2 months free) plus free shipping!

Tinkerlab Newsletter

We recently switched newsletter hosts, and I’d like to encourage you to sign up for our newsletter, even if you have in the past. We haven’t sent out a newsletter in quite a while, but when it finally launches I don’t want you to miss out on little nuggets of useful tinkering and creative goodness that we’re sure to share.

Have a great Monday, happy Arts in Education Week, and I promise that you’ll hear from me soon.

Note: This post includes affiliate links, but we only share links to products that we adore and/or that we think you’ll find useful. 

TEACH Documentary: What Does it Take to be a Great Teacher Today?

Thanks to Participant Media for sponsoring this post and for the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of teachers in our children’s lives.

What does it take to be a great teacherWhat Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher?

Can you think of a teacher that inspired you to find a discipline that spoke to your soul, work harder, read more carefully, play well with others, or become your most authentic self?

I talked about one of these teachers the other day, and three lessons that I learned from him on how to be a GREAT teacher. With the charge to inspire children to be their best selves, teachers have one of the most rewarding professions in the world. But of course, teaching isn’t an easy profession.

Although most teachers are passionate about what they do and love their work, they’re also notoriously underpaid for the amount of work they do in relation to the importance of their job: caring for our children’s futures.

How Much are Teachers Worth to You?

There’s a huge discrepancy between how much teachers are worth versus how much they’re actually paid.

I like to think of it this way: If I were to pay a babysitter to watch my child during school hours, it would cost me about $80/day ($20/hour for four hours of Kindergarten…I live in Silicon Valley and this really is the going rate!). Now multiply that by 175 days of school (California state law) and you have $14,000. Multiply that by 22 children and you have $308,000/year. Once a child leaves Kindergarten and is in school for six hours/day, the amount rises dramatically to $462,000!!

Do teachers make anywhere near this salary? Not a chance.

What? This is a huge exaggeration.

Okay, okay, I realize that many factors aren’t taken into account here such as the cost of school resources, school overhead, administrative salaries, technology, and extracurricular activities.

The point, however, isn’t to analyze the cost of running a school but to show how much a teacher is worth to us parents, how valuable our teachers are to our communities, and how little teachers get paid in relation to what they’re worth. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the highest paid teacher, with a doctorate degree,who also happens to put in the most hours (far more than the 175 days/year) earns around $100,000/year.

The point is this: Teachers are worth a lot to us. They help our children grow into well-rounded individuals, they show our children how to mitigate social situations in our absence, and they have years of training and expertise that qualify them to help our children reach their fullest intellectual potential.

Teach Documentary

What Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher Today?

Participant Media, makers of award-winning films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Cove, and Fast Food Nation, bring us a new film THIS WEEK called TEACH.

TEACH, Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim’s third documentary film about education in America, airing on CBS on Sept 6 and Pivot on Sept 14, asks the question: What Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher Today?

It is important and timely to look at the profession of teaching in an honest and practical way because it is estimated that within the next ten years, 65% of America’s teachers will retire.

What YOU can do:

Watch the trailer, put TEACH on your calendar (September 6th at 8:00 pm ET/PT), and forward this post to anyone you think will benefit from watching this film.

Watch the trailer for TEACH here: