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.


  1. Great post! I love how smart kids are :0)

    • Thanks Tina! Children are sooo smart and pay attention to EVERYTHING 🙂

  2. Girl, I LOVE this. Am getting a setup ready stat. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    • Yippeeeee! Thank YOU for the inspiration too!

  3. I don’t know what it is about this post but I just love it and it makes me want to break out our supplies 🙂

    • Awwww, Heather, I don’t know what it is about it either, but I’m so happy to hear that it inspired you. Your recent posts about paint messes and see-through drawing are LOVELY. Happy art-making!

  4. I love it too! I feel all inspired to create together. Jack and I have never created together; side-by-side yes, but never together. Mostly because I wanted to make sure he felt free to create in his own way, but this article has reassured me that we can create together without me stifling his creativity.

    Thank you for writing this 🙂 xx

    • Kate, I did the exact same thing when my children were little. I’m pretty sure our collaborations started out as games like this one: https://tinkerlab.com/art-games/, which helped my daughter get comfortable working along with me. She’s still very much her own person in these collaborations, and often borrows ideas from me (and me from her), which I really enjoy. It’s a great way to gain skills in the same way that we read with children to improve reading skills.

  5. I absolutely LOVE the creative “conversation” that took place and the easy-going attitude you both had. The result is beautiful!

    • Thank you so much, Monique! I really like how this collaboration turned out as well.

  6. So excited to find your blog (which my favorite fashion blog Ain’t No Mom’s Jeans mentioned today!) I have 5 and 7 year old daughters, and we are always looking for art projects to do together. Thank you!

  7. ah! this is wonderful! i found this article on pinterest and i’m pinning it so when my granddaughter is old enough – i can remember this excellent idea 🙂 thank you for posting it!

  8. This post inspired me. I love the idea of adults and children creating together, especially with your tips on how to encourage without taking the lead—so important, and can be hard to do! I write, teach, and blog playful writing ideas, so I couldn’t help but think of an extension to this activity called Words of Power. This way one word would be included in the different shapes that expresses the feeling or symbolism of the shape. The words could be found from print sources and cut and pasted or printed with decorative hand-fonts to fit in with the art forms. (This is only meant as an extension. The activity is great as it is!)

  9. Hi Rachelle, I am a PhD student doing research on adult-child artistic collaborations and found your blog post. Thank you for sharing this sketchbook collaboration between you and your daughter and describing the process with your readers. I am interested in citing this post for class paper, but I don’t see a date on your posts. Can you please share the date of this post? Thank you.

    • Hi Sue,
      I’m so glad that you found me. I never considered how the lack of dates would make citing my blog difficult! The publish date is 9-30-13.
      Best, Rachelle

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