Seven Tips for Setting up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio

These are great ideas! 7 tips for setting up an impromptu outdoor art studio for kids.

The other day we had the most amazing weather, so we set up a garden art studio…

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

When I was in college I always loved those teachers who took their classes outside on a nice day. So why not recreate that magic with our kids? Did you know that most children don’t spend enough time outdoors?

The Benefits of Making Art Outdoors

  1. Being outside is calming, restorative, and resets the mind.
  2. Nature is fodder for the imagination.
  3. Getting messy isn’t an issue.
  4. You can get up water some plants/play/dig a hole, and then return to making.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Our Process

I offered my children a few after-lunch options that included reading in the garden, making art outside, and going on a hike. Can you tell that I wanted to spend some outdoors? The weather was that incredible.

My older daughter liked the idea of setting up a blanket on our lawn and helped me hatch a plan to create an art studio picnic. 

Within moments of setting it all up, which took us about ten minutes, the girls were deep into making. At this point I gleefully broke out my new garden sheers and tackled mountains of overgrown plants. Hack hack hack. Things had gotten so out-of-hand in my poor garden, which now looks rather normal, that it initially appeared quite bald as I managed to fill our entire composting bin with greenery.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Meanwhile, I’d pop over to check on the kids periodically and captured 4-year old N as she decorated a big river rock with paint pens. More details on drawing on rocks over here. 

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Her little sister has been invested in painting lately and we knew that she’d enjoy easel painting. If you really can’t get outside, 10 Steps for Easy Indoor Easel Painting will help you bring the magic indoors.

I also have a stand-up easel, but I thought this would be a nice way to have the girls work side-by-side. It was a great strategy until the watercolor jars were knocked over onto the blanket. Ahem, we only own washable paints for moments like this.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Also, this little easel has a tray to hold paint on both sides and I knew both kids would want to paint at the same time. All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon and just the sort of experience that I imagine we’ll invest in all summer long.

7 Tips for setting up a Garden Art Studio

First of all, it’s important to address that you don’t need a sprawling lawn to make this happen. A patio, stoop, or balcony work just fine. The important thing here is to get outside and enjoy some fresh air!

These are great ideas! 7 tips for setting up an impromptu outdoor art studio for kids.

  1. Wear play clothes, aprons, or nothing at all. 
  2. Wait for a warm day.
  3. Keep the materials simple and choose one or two basic projects. We chose watercolors + easel and rock painting.
  4. Have a water source nearby for washing up.
  5. Set up a picnic blanket so that little makers can get comfortable.
  6. Make sure you have a camera to capture these moments.
  7. If you’re painting, lay dry pieces out on the ground to dry. If it’s windy, dry them on a clothesline or indoors.

 

Set up a Permanent Outdoor Art Studio

Take a look at Meri Cherry’s inspiring outdoor art studio for ideas on how to build or set up a more permanent outdoor maker space.

How to set up a successful backyard art studio for kids | TinkerLab.com

Outdoors with Kids Resources

Tape paper to the wall for an Instant Outdoor Art Studio

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

11 Classic Summer Camp Crafts for Kids

Start a Family Nature Club with this Nature Tools for Families Toolkit (FREE download) from Children and Nature Network.  The Children and Nature Network is run by Audubon medal winner Richard Louv who wrote the bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. 

If you’re in the Bay Area, get your hands on a copy of Bay Area, Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area by Laure Latham. I just got it and it’s awesome!

A fabulous roundup of ideas for building outdoor forts and shelters for kids, from Let the Children Play.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, but I only share links to products that I love or that I think you’ll find useful.

Easy String Art Experiments for Kids

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

— Jackson Pollack, American Painter

String Art

Creating string art is a fun mix of art, creative thinking, and experimentation all rolled into one open-ended package.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that when it comes to children’s projects, my focus lies on the experience of creating more than the product.

String Art

My 4-year old, who has been calling herself Leia for the past month (as in Princess Leia — and yes, she’s been wearing the Leia costume she got for Christmas for the past 24 hours!), adds string to everything she makes. And my 2-year old, who we like to call Rainbow on this blog (here’s the story of how that began), said that she wanted to paint. So this experience was the perfect marriage of their interests on this rainy morning.

To get started, you only need a few simple materials.

Materials

  • Washable tempera paint, poured into small bowls
  • Short pieces of string
  • Copy paper and/or cardstock
  • Spoons to help cover the string in paint
  • Table covering (optional)
  • Baby wipes or a damp towel to clean hands

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

Creative Invitation

Without giving my children too much direction, I like to set up our projects up as invitations to create. I might make a suggestion or give a brief prompt, but I trust that the materials speak volumes to children. The less that I interject, the more opportunity they’ll have to find their own voice and make independent decisions.

With this project, Leia and Rainbow spent some time dancing their painted strings across the paper. After this ran its course I folded a sheet of paper in half and offered a suggestion that they could try pulling the string through the shut paper.

More experiments

This resulted in a symmetrical mirror image painting, which inspired Leia to try pulling more than one string through the paper at once. She then tested the process of holding one paint-soaked string in each hand, and pulling them through at the same time. I obviously needed to step in an assist her on this one.

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

They struggled with gaining control over the string and occasionally complained about getting paint on their hands, but the complexity of working with this tricky combination of paint and string challenged them to work with familiar materials in a new way.

Experiment Ideas

String Art Painting

Would you try this combination in your home? Have you tried it already?

What other materials could you combine with paint to make it more interesting and less common?

Explore Modern Artists: Painting with Edward Hopper

Welcome to the first project in our newest series: Explore Modern Artists. Today we’ll take a look at one of my favorite American Artists, Edward Hopper, with a preschool-friendly painting technique.

Explore Modern Artists with Kids : series of projects on Tinkerlab

The Q-tip painting technique that we used could be applied to the work of just about any 2-D artist, so definitely take this as inspiration and run with it in another direction if that works better for you. If you’d like to connect the technique with the artist, take a look at the work of Georges Seurat, who painted with dots of paint.

 

Explore Modern Artists: Edward Hopper

I thought we would begin with Edward Hopper because it’s been warm and sunny around here and my kids and I have been looking at some of his paintings as we talk about an upcoming visit to Cape Cod, which is where Hopper had a home and studio. Edward Hopper’s iconic seashore paintings masterfully capture light and evoke a sense of calm, while transporting us to the Eastern Seaboard.

My children are preschoolers and I wanted to make this a project that would be fun for them while encouraging them to look closely at Hopper’s work. This technique has little to do with Hopper’s work, but it got my kids talking about what they saw in his pictures while inventing their own patterns of color.

set up edward hopper art project

Materials:

edward hopper kids art

Set-up:

The project itself is easy to set up and children will enjoy learning about an artist while layering paint on top of his images. Give yourself 20+ minutes for set-up, the activity, and then clean-up.

When we paint, I cover our table with a plastic tablecloth. Each child had a paint palette filled with dollops of tempera paint, and a big cup of Q-tips, which we used as brushes. You could use brushes instead, but they thought the Q-tips were fun.

We selected a few paintings that we enjoyed. I’m adding links to the images in case you’d like to use these too.

Before the painting began, 4-year old N and I talked a little bit about Edward Hopper while looking at some of his art. I gave her an age-appropriate synopsis of his life and then we talked about what we saw happening in his paintings. This bit was under 5-minutes because she was excited to paint. Fair enough.

ground swell edward hopper inspired

More on Art Looking

I’m a huge fan of an in-school program called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), which helps children build visual literacy and critical thinking skills through the process of looking closely at a work of art. A facilitator sits in front of a group of children and leads an interactive discussion about one work of art. I’ve led many of these discussions myself, and the energy around these conversations is palpable. To see VTS in action, there a some great videos on the Visual Thinking Strategies website. 

More from Explore Modern Artists

Paint like Jasper Johns

Explore Modern Artists: Paint like Jasper Johns

Today on Explore Modern Artists, we’re taking a close look at the work of American Artist Jasper Johns.

Explore Modern Artists with Kids : series of projects on Tinkerlab

For the art historians out there, Jasper Johns is technically a contemporary artist, but the piece that my four-year old and I looked at falls into the time-frame of modern art. I spent years working in modern and contemporary art museums, but love this kind of art because it breaks rules, the materials are often surprising, and the work is often as much about ideas as it is aesthetics.

Explore Modern Artists with Kids: Jasper Johns

I flipped through a 20th century art book in search of something that would appeal to my preschooler and had a feeling that Jasper Johns’ White Numbers would do just that. My daughter is obsessed with writing letters and numbers, which helped her dive into this project, and ultimately made it her own.

Materials

  • Image of Jasper Johns’ White Numbers
  • Acrylic Paint (FYI: acrylic paint will stain clothes so wear a smock or nothing at all)
  • Paint brushes: Flat, Foam, Make-up sponges
  • Paper Plate
  • Stick-on foam or paper letters and/or numbers
  • Foam core, wood panel, canvas or other substantial surface to paint on
  • Paper to cover work area

Jasper Johns. White Numbers. 1957. Museum of Modern Art. Encaustic on Linen. 34″ x 28 1/8″.

Art Looking

Begin with a short discussion about the artwork. Try to use open-ended questions, although this can be more difficult with preschoolers who are just getting their bearings with vocabulary. These are some of the questions I used:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. How did the artist organize the numbers? Are they in order or random? What do you see?
  4. What colors do you see?

Through this line of questioning, my daughter was able to figure out that Jasper Johns created a random series of numbers in rows and columns.  She concluded that Jasper Johns may have been trying to confuse people with his meaningless series of numbers.

peeling stickers

After about five minutes of this, we talked about the materials that we would use, and I asked N if we should use numbers, letters, or both. I also asked if we should use the same palette of paint as Johns. She chose to use numbers and letters, and requested “all the colors.

preschool jasper johns

As we peeled them, my daughter wanted to sort them by color.

Despite Johns’ neat rows of numbers, N also wanted to place her’s randomly on the board “to confuse people.” And then she walked all over them to make sure they were stuck down properly.

We added paint to a paper plate.

This whole activity was set up on the floor, which I highly recommend as it gave N a lot of freedom to move around.

And then we painted. I offered her three different brushes and we talked about which one she preferred (foam brush).

We worked on this together and she really enjoyed the camaraderie. When the painting was dry we hung it up to enjoy. The foam core buckled a bit as it dried, which is something to consider if you’re thinking of hanging this in your home. Wood or canvas would be a far better choice.

More on Art Looking

If you’d like so tips on how to look at art with kids, you can check out one of my more popular posts: Five Easy Steps for Talking with Children about Art.

I’m also a huge fan of an in-school program called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), which helps children build visual literacy and critical thinking skills through the process of looking closely at a work of art. A facilitator sits in front of a group of children and leads an interactive discussion about one work of art. I’ve led many of these discussions myself, and the energy around these conversations is palpable. To see VTS in action, there a some great videos on the Visual Thinking Strategies website. 

More from Explore Modern Artists

 

Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2

Salt Dough Recipe | TinkerLab

In the first part of this 2-part salt dough ornament post I shared the salt dough recipe and how to bake it here. In this post I’ll give you my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

Let me start by saying that these were made as a collaboration between me and my 3-year old. I love how they turned out, and how my 3 year old can proudly share gifts from her heart with her friends.

Supplies for Salt Dough Ornament Decorating

Note: This list contains affiliate links

  • Acrylic Paint. This set gives you a wide variety of colors.
  • Small paintbrushes. A set like this will give you a variety of brush sizes and choices.
  • Table cover
  • Glitter. Martha Stewart makes a set that comes 12 colors.
  • Apron
  • Water jar for cleaning brushes
  • Rag for drying the wet brushes
  • salt dough ornaments

paint salt dough ornaments

 

Less you think everything comes together like magic over here, I found that this project involved a lot of *stuff* and have eight tips that will make it more fun and less headache…

Set up your Ornament Painting Station

  1. Gather your materials ahead of time.
  2. Cover the table. Acrylic paint will not easily come off of surfaces and clothing.
  3. Set this up outdoors. Always a wise move if glitter is involved.Even if it’s freezing, it’ll be worth it. No glitter? Indoors will do the trick.
  4. Palette: Use a paper plate for a palette and squeeze small amounts of paint on the plate.
  5. Paint: Use acrylic paints. Don’t mess around with tempera. Acrylic is archival and the ornaments will look beautiful when you take them out year-after-year. FYI: Acrylic paint will not wash out of clothing.
  6. Add some shine. Use glitter or metallic paint. Make it sparkle. It’s the holidays, after all!
  7. Limit the palette. I limited ours to red, white, and green. For Chanukkah, you could use blue, white, and silver. With young children, fewer paint choices make things simpler.
  8. If you follow these steps, when you’re done, all you should have to clean are the brushes and hands.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

N got pretty good at painting the ornaments while maintaining minimal contact with the paint.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

She wanted to use glitter glue, sometimes all by itself and sometimes on top of paint. The beauty of having a ton of blank ornaments is that they’re ripe for painting experiments. No two ornaments were the same.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

Painting the glitter glue was fun, too.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

And then we pulled out our entire glitter collection! There’s no stopping us from…

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

…dumping the glitter like snow, all over the ornaments and workspace. Once more, so happy that I took this project outside. And lucky that it wasn’t a cold or windy day.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

And there they are, ready to be strung with ribbons and hung somewhere festive. The glitter sticks right to the acrylic paint, but as a final step, you could seal these with clear acrylic medium like this, which would help keep all the loose glitter on the ornament and off of everything it brushes against.How to make salt dough ornaments with kids | TinkerLab