How to Watercolor Bunnies with Kids

Watercolor is a medium that can be as demanding and temperamental as those who choose to paint with it. But it is a colorful and exciting medium all the same – well suited to describing the many moods of the subject, as well as those of the artist wielding the brush.

–Jean Burman

how to watercolor

Do your kids like to paint? Have you had success with watercolors? Traditional dry paint palettes of color are what most of us purchase for first watercolor experiments, but my go-to supply, and one of my favorite kid art supplies period, is liquid watercolor.

Watercolors are one of my favorite mediums to paint with, and somehow I forgot about that. I became an acrylic painter in high school, and then an oil painter after college. But the immediacy of watercolors — the flowing of colors from one into another and their quick-drying quality — makes it so appealing to the parent of young children who are equally quick and impatient.

I don’t have days to wait for paint to dry and I don’t have to worry myself over toxic paint stinking up my house. But watercolors are perfect and my kids adore them too.

how to watercolor with kidsTo set this up, I removed the usual plastic sheet that protects our art table and replaced it with red rosin paper. Red Rosin Paper is heavy sheathing paper usually used as a first step to cover new roofs, and you can find it in hardware stores. It comes on a huge roll, it’s economical, and it was perfect for absorbing the watercolor paint that didn’t make it onto the art paper.

Materials

  • Table cover
  • Watercolor Paper. This paper from Seth Cole is what we used. It’s 140 lb. (it’s thick and heavy = good), professional grade, acid-free, archival, and economical.
  • Liquid Watercolors. We like Sax Concentrated Liquid Watercolors from Amazon.
  • Assorted small paintbrushes (sable or synthetic fibers)
  • Container for watercolors — I like to use an ice cube tray. A styrofoam egg carton also works well.
  • Water cups or cans
  • Cloth or Paper towels

We filled our ice cube tray with every color we own (except black). I avoided black because if it’s not used with discretion it quickly muddles up all the colors. We talked about warm and cool colors, and divided our colors into these two camps: on one side there was red, orange, yellow, and sparkly red. The other side held lime green, turquoise, blue, sparkly blue, and violet.

Set up your towels next to the paint and brushes and use them to absorb extra water or paint of the brush.

how to watercolor with kids

I like to paint across from or next to my daughter because I find that her own ideas expand when she sees me work through my ideas. I never paint on her painting, but I may test some ideas out on my own paper that can help her come up with her own solutions.

We explored two kinds of watercolor painting: wet on dry and wet on wet. Wet on dry is the process of painting on dry paper. And wet on wet is the process of painting on wet paper. She painted a little wet on dry, and then I demonstrated wet on wet for her. She’s done this before, but seeing it again got her excited and she wanted to see the colors expand on her paper. You can see the wet on wet blue dots on the left side of her paper.

how to watercolor with kids

I also experimented with tapping the side of my wet, paint-loaded brush to create dots of paint all over my page, and she did the same. She loved this, actually, and thought it was hilarious when the paint splattered her face. Good lesson in paint control!

If you’re new to watercolor painting, it helps to talk with your child about gently dragging a loaded (full) brush against the edge of the paint container before painting. This helps keep paint puddles to a minimum and also teaches your child how to control the amount of paint that goes onto the paper. I wouldn’t worry about this too much with really young children, but be three or four, your child should be able to grasp this concept.

how to watercolor with kidsAll along, her plan was to make a bunny garland to hang in our window, so we let the paintings dry and I made  bunny template that she was happy with.

how to watercolor with kidsWe placed it over the paper to see how it might look. Love it!

how to watercolor with kidsAnd then I traced them on the back of the paper. The hardest part of this process was cutting the bunnies out. Not hard, exactly, but just to warn you, this step took a fair amount of time.

how to watercolor with kidsAnd there’s our first batch of bunnies, waiting to be strung up in the window.

I’m not sure exactly how we’ll hang them. Any ideas for us? I was thinking about gluing baker’s twine to the backs, but I’d like them to be somewhat archival so that we can use them year after year.

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If you enjoy watercolor painting, you’ll want to bookmark Spiral Watercolor Streamer, Straw-blown Watercolor Painting,and Candle Wax Watercolor Resist and you will want to check out The Artful Parent’s great list of 11 Fun Watercolor Projects for Kids.

 

 

Symmetrical Butterfly Prints

This is such a fun project for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age kids. The results are always a mystery, the supplies are simple, and it teaches children basic principles of symmetry.

This is so fun! Symmetrical Painting with Kids.

When my 1 year old naps, my three and a half year old non-napper and I like to pull out some of our favorite messy materials that don’t normally surface when baby hot-hands is awake.

The other day my older daughter wanted to paint, and we ended up making symmetrical butterfly paintings.

We like to call these butterfly prints, which may have some bearing on why my daughter made at least thirty of them! And I should say that I was recently asked to lead an activity at her preschool, and THIS is the project that N wants me to bring in. Not that I’m trying to sell anything, but how’s that for an endorsement?

Supplies for Symmetrical Painting

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Washable Tempera Paint. We like Crayola washable paint and Colorations washable tempera paint

Cardstock Paper. This paper from Neenah is a good deal, and the quality is great.

Paintbrushes, optional

Palette, optional

**See our video below for a brush-free technique

The set-up was really simple. I squeezed four colors of tempera paint  on a plate (I always try to limit the palette — fewer choices enable children to focus more on the process and feel less overwhelmed by materials), she picked her four favorite paint brushes (these happen to be from our watercolor sets), and I gave her a stack of white copy paper (the thin stuff). She had an extra sheet of paper to rest the dirty brushes on — her idea!

I suggested, in the most open-ended way possible, that she could paint on one half of the paper or the entire paper — it was up to her — before folding the paper in half. She had her own ideas, as kids often do, and once she made the first print she turned into a printmaking powerhouse. Crank. Crank. Crank.

The fun reveal!

Ta-dah! So cute, she actually said, “WOW,” after the first print opened. Not so much the following prints, but it was clear that she loved the process.

See this project in action:

*We did this again when my older daughter was six! It’s a winner for all ages. This time around we squeezed the paint directly out of the paint tubes.

The experiments included lines, dots, overlapping colors, and even a couple diagonally-folded papers.

Do you remember making these when you were a kid? I loved these, and it’s evident that it’s a timeless wonder. If you have or work with older children, this activity is an excellent way to introduce symmetry. For a few more related ideas, Frugal Family Fun Blog has this idea for teaching symmetry with butterflies (I always enjoy how happy Valerie’s kids are in her photos), and Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas shares two more ways to teach symmetry with butterfies + a handful of book suggestions.

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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New Life for a Melissa & Doug Box

My 3 year old, N, received a Melissa & Doug Deluxe Stringing Bead set from her grandparents that came in a lovely, wooden, shallow, lidless box. Lidless, with tiny beads inside. And this is marketed to little kids. Whaaaat?

Dear Melissa & Doug: Can you please, pretty please make lids for the boxes that house your fabulous toys? Thanks!

Here’s how the problem unfolded…

My daughter unwraps the gift and peels off the top layer of plastic film…on an airplane. She happily plays with the beads, strings them up for a solid 20 minutes, and then puts the beads back into the lidless box and sets it down on the tray table. Meanwhile, my one-year old decides that this would be a good time to climb off my lap and over to her sister. And of course she has to bolt over the tray table to maneuver her crawling body toward the window seat. You can imagine what happened to all the beads. ::Sigh::

While the box was fairly useless as a storage container, it promised other possibilities as a shadow box/painting substrate. So I saved the box, and, as my mom would say, turned lemons into lemonade.

To get this started, I covered a work area with large sheets of paper, squeezed some acrylic paint on an aluminum foil covered plate (the colors were my daughter’s choice), and gave her a handful of paintbrushes to work with. There were no instructions aside from a casual question of “what could we do with these paints and this box?”

She got about this far before calling it quits. It was a good exercise in repurposing cast-off materials, color selection, paint brush manipulation, and pattern + sequence discovery. I think I’ll pull it out another day for one more pass with the paints and possibly some additional bits and bobs that she can collage to the box, and then perhaps we’ll give it another life as a piece of art on one of our walls.

So maybe I should stop complaining and thank Melissa & Doug for the cool shadow box?

Any ideas on what we could do with our box?

 

Candle Wax Watercolor Resist

Ever since my 13-month old turned one she’s been fascinated with candles, so every week or so we bust out a birthday candle and sing five or six rounds of Happy Birthday to her. One of these candles was lying around and N, my three-year old, decided to draw with it. I immediately saw the opportunity to turn this into a wax-resist watercolor lesson — you know, where you paint with watercolors on top of a waxy drawing in order to reveal the lines of your drawing — and I ran to grab the watercolor paints, brushes, water, and paper towel.

By the time I settled down and got it all set up, N was ready for the paint.

The set up: Watercolor paper, birthday candle, paper towel (for blotting saturated brushes), bowl of water, watercolor paint palette, brush.

N has been painting with watercolors for a couple years now, but every time we sit down with them I have to remind her how to clean the brush by making it “dance in the water,” and how to use the paper towel to blot excess water. But of course she never uses the paper towel. In my experience, watercolor paint is not the best painting medium for young children because it doesn’t allow for fluid mark-making as much as other gooey + runny paints like tempera might, but it’s appealing to parents because it’s cheap and far easier to clean up than tempera. So, if you’re inclined to use it, go for it, but don’t expect the paint cakes to hold onto their distinct colors for long!

My one year old couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join in — it’s impossible to distract her away from the art table when we’re working at it, so she got her own paints, etc. Did you catch my rookie move up there? Dont’ worry, I caught it quickly…

Orange smock to the rescue! We have all sorts of aprons, but I find that my kids are most comfortable in my old t-shirts. If we’re working with really wet stuff, a waterproof apron is still the best way to go. Little R was interested in holding a brush, but this became a fingerpainting/pick-the-paint-cakes-out-of-the-case project for her.

Ahhh, a lovely quiet moment of art making. Circling back to the wax resist part of this post, I imagined that N would be enthralled by the magic of it, especially since she initiated the candle drawing in the first place. But she wasn’t all that impressed and turned her watercolor painting efforts toward other things in subsequent paintings. It was still an afternoon full of passion and industry, so no complaints here! And while our final product didn’t turn out so “spectacular,” I urge you to give this project a go if you think your child will enjoy it.

How do you respond to self-initiated art activities?

Fabric Stamping and Painting

Despite our vast apron collection, one of my daughter’s favorite dresses was splattered with blue paint stains. I tried to casually brush it off (no pun intended), but she was keenly aware of those stains and wouldn’t wear it. So we came up with a plan to cover the little blue dots with fabric paint, and it worked! I lined the dress with a piece of foam core (cardboard would also work), and we were ready to go.

To make the paint, I added Textile Medium to acrylic paint — the textile medium thins the paint so that’s it adheres nicely to the fabric. N mixed it up and applied it to a large foam stamp, and then pressed it on the dress. Not on the blue paint stain exactly, but there’s time for that.

The fabric medium is awesome because it can be added to any acrylic paint and makes painting on fabric much more economical than buying individual bottles or tubes of fabric paint.

The large scale of these foam stamps worked well with the goopy paint.

At some point, N decided that sidestepping the stamps and going straight for painting on fabric was the way to go. Hello, Project Runway moment! Do you think Michael Kors would say it looks like unicorn crashed into a Kindergarten cotton candy factory? I was actually surprised that she left a fair amount of the dress unpainted. And, she painted over those blue stains…not that it really mattered at this point!

My daughter was so proud of her mad fabric painting skills that she requested MORE CLOTHES. But not hers…MINE. I should have seen this coming. I found a pair of yoga pants that needed some embellishment.

After it dried and took a spin in the washing machine, the new dress was good to wear. I was taken by how proud she was of it when she wore it to school later that week. If you want to empower your children, “making” their own clothes could be a good way to go. Or, with Halloween right around the corner, maybe painting on clothes could be incorporated into your costume-making plans.

Have you ever painted clothes with your kids? What did you do?

Painting on Wood Panel

There’s something about how the layers of paint sit on top of the wood that I find so appealing.

I had to pick up two wood panels for a baby shower gift and my three year old asked if she could paint on some too. She chose three small panels, one as a housewarming gift for her uncle and the other two for herself.

She also asked if she could have some new acrylic paint, and of course the only color she wanted was a shocking bright green. But I’m here to foster her creative intelligence and bit my tongue in favor of enthusiasm for her independent ideas.

When we got home, I taped the panel’s edges off with blue painters tape. In my own painting process I begin by drawing, and then layer the paint on top of that. In a similar fashion, her initial marks were made with grease pencils, followed by shocking green paint.

This was all set up on top of a large piece of paper to keep our table cleanish.

Oh, and the pink shirt is a smock — in case acrylic paints are new to you, they will NOT wash out of clothes! But don’t let this deter you — acrylics are worth it! They have a totally different look and feel from school-grade paints like tempera, which would be too flaky and isn’t as archival for a project like this.

When the first painting was done, she moved on to the next two. We used a variety of brushes and she had a great time sorting through the bazillion colors of acrylic paint that I’ve collected over the years.

By the time she reached the third painting, I noticed that her confidence with the materials had risen, she made complex comments about her aesthetic choices, and her ability to control the paint and execute her ideas as she imagined was further developed.

 

The next day: Peeling off the blue tape — so fun!

This became a mixed media piece with the addition of glitter, which you can kind of see up there. It was added while the paint was still wet, and sticks quite nicely to the paint. One of my favorite things about acrylic paint is how fast it dries! It almost has the look of oil paint, but the results are immediate.

Materials

  • Wood panel
  • Acrylic paint
  • Synthetic fiber brushes (for acrylic paint)
  • Water container for washing brushes
  • Grease pencils
  • Blue painters tape
Note: Acrylic paint should be used in a well-ventilated area. Follow all instructions found on the back of your paint container/s for proper use.
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If you haven’t already seen this mesmerizing video of child artist, Aelita Andre, I thought this might be a good time to share it. This gives me studio envy and has my mind racing with thoughts about how deliberate and thoughtful Aelita is, and how we can adopt some of her studio habits in our own art making practice. The more exposure children have to media and materials (in whatever discipline), the closer they come to mastering the nuances of the materials and reaching the level of expert in their work.

I’d love to hear what you think.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime.

Spiral Watercolor Streamer

I love it when we make things that make our house feel like a party, which might explain why buntings drip off the wall of my kids’ room, paper crowns peek out of our cabinets, we have four pink balloons in the bathroom, and we celebrate birthdays months before they actually happen just so we can blow out candles. My baby turns one next week, and we’ve been singing her Happy Birthday every night over tea lights with the hope that she’ll learn how to blow out her candle by Labor Day. Please tell me that we’re not the only ones!

I’ve never actually seen spirals like these at a party, but they remind me so much of streamers. Wouldn’t they be lovely, especially in large quantities?

To get started I set up watercolor paper cut into circle shapes, watercolor paint, brushes, and water.

I added some paper towels, which are useful for dabbing up excess water. I also like to offer a few different brushes so that my child can learn how brushes can make a variety of marks while building her materials confidence. And while the end product is all pre-planned, the art-making portion is open-ended. Any form of art 2-D art exploration is encouraged!

After the paintings dried I cut them into spiral shapes, pierced a small hole in the center of each one, and then tied a piece of string through the hole…knotted on the back of the paper.

They store flat until they’re ready to hang.

My neighbor came over this afternoon and noticed it right away, which either means that the spiral is rad or a total eyesore. What do you think?

 

Painting on Ice Cream

If you live in the U.S., there’s a good chance that you’re in the middle of a terrible heat wave. While I can’t make it cooler (sorry about that), I’d like to offer up this cool lesson in color mixing…and it all happens right on top of a chilly scoop of ice cream, sure to help you forget the heat for at least 5 minutes.

Tools

  • Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Food Coloring. Because I like to keep it natural, my new favorite food coloring is India Tree Liquid Natural Decorating Colors. They’re pricier than supermarket food coloring, but they last a long time, the colors are wonderful, and you’ll feel good about feeding your family with natural coloring.
  • Bowls
  • Ice Cream Scooper (optional)
  • Assorted sprinkles and syrup (optional)

Drop food coloring directly onto the ice cream.
Blend it around in whatever way you like.
After you marvel at the rainbow colors on your ice cream, pour on the jimmies, rainbow sprinkles. colored sugar or syrup. Yummy and cool.

Enjoy!