A friend of mine, Heather Kent, is an exceptional artist. She draws delightful animals and charming landscapes and tucks this artwork into pendant necklaces and wooden box frames. She designed a custom pendant for me of the view from our place in Oregon that I miss seeing every day. So, now I can just wear the view!
Art is something I would love to incorporate into my boys’ day-to-day but we get into the swing of it for a bit and then weeks will go by when we haven’t reached for a box of crayons. Interestingly enough, back when I was a French teacher, I was offered a position to teach half art, half French each day. I didn’t scoop it up because I decided to take a leave of absence to pursue music. (You know that whole don’t quit your day job?…) I do wonder what inspiration that career opportunity would have brought! These days, I’ll look up ideas for creating art with my boys — I love Artful Parent for this — and do a project here and there but I feel like I am lacking in ideas for bringing art into our everyday.
Butterfly painting projects, Artful Parent
Our main art space back in Oregon
Enter that exceptional-artist friend of mine. Heather has three children, ages six, four and almost two. And, sometimes I see art that her kids have created and I think, “Ah! We aren’t even drawing stick figures around here!”
So, I asked Heather a few questions about art, kids and how she incorporates opportunities for creativity into Abel, Olive and Fern’s days. You’ll all be inspired.
Heather at age 7, painting with a chicken
Let’s start by talking about the importance of integrating art and creativity into a child’s day. What is important about art for children? Do you find that you are working on fostering creativity through art on a daily basis with your three kids?
Ah, where do I even start? It’s so important for children to have access to real art supplies, and to be able to create little pieces of art whenever the inspiration strikes them. We personally always have real art supplies accessible to the kids. This includes drawing paper, sharp pencils, erasers, colored pencils, crayons and coloring books. (Whenever we paint I am there supervising.) It is such a confidence-boosting and therapeutic experience to create something beautiful out of nothing. That starts in childhood [but it works the same for adults!] The love of art in kids is part nature, part nurture — some kids will naturally sit and color for longer periods of time than others, but all kids should have access to art supplies and be encouraged to use them whenever they want. Some kids are overwhelmed by a blank white paper, while others naturally view it as an exciting opportunity to create something. But all children will find joy and confidence in creating something their parents are excited about. You’ll be able to recognize these traits in your own children and can tailor activities to suit them. As far as fostering their creativity on a daily basis, I tend to think about it more in the big picture, naturally incorporating it into many areas of life.
You’ve mentioned you don’t like crafts — what do you prefer to spend your time on when doing art with your kids? How do you foster creativity with materials in your home?
Yes, guilty as charged. I avoid crafts. Not because I don’t think they are practical or worthwhile — I think crafts are awesome and I know my kids would be thrilled if we did more. I personally just don’t care for how messy they are and how the finished product usually gets destroyed in a matter of hours. I think part of me feels like making a craft that can easily be broken/ripped/shattered defeats the purpose. I know that’s only partly true though — spending time creating something, even when it’s going to be destroyed was still time well spent. Creating something is always time well spent. I personally also do see such value in a simple drawing or painting, and I would love for my kids to be able to find the beauty in that too. Maybe I’m just partly justifying my laziness around cleaning up crafts!
A while back you posted an amazing butterfly painting that your then-5-year-old had created. It was so inspiring, although I have no idea what my children’s output would look like. 😉What are the best projects to get started with?
Thank you! So, the majority of the time, I just let them draw however they want without any direction from me. But for certain projects I decide beforehand that I will be their Art Teacher and step more into that roll. With the butterfly painting, we referenced a book of butterflies and I helped him notice the shape and proportions of the wings of each butterfly he chose to draw and I looked/breathed over his shoulder as he drew them. Some parts needed to be erased and redrawn – and I would show him why we were redrawing that spot. When it came to the actual painting, I definitely micromanaged, sometimes (OK, most of the time) even dipping the brush into the right color paint for him. The final product looked awesome and he was so proud of it. He didn’t even realize how much I was helping him — in his mind he created the entire painting (because he did!) Projects like this are great opportunities for them to learn some technique while still technically creating the entire thing by themselves.
How hands-on should parents be? What is the ultimate goal when fostering creativity?
This is a great question! I started to touch on it but I’ll continue. I think for the majority of the time kids should be able to draw and create things however they want to, using their own inner creativity, but I don’t think we should shy away from occasionally telling them techniques they can use to improve their pictures, if their goal is to make their drawing more “realistic.” For example: When a child first starts to draw an animal, they usually draw 10 or 11 legs that are essentially straight lines coming out from all directions, sometimes skipping a torso completely. At first it’s best to simply admire their creations, but eventually It’s not hindering their creativity to teach them to draw a torso, or to remind them that most animals only have four legs, or that the legs could be drawn with all sides, not just as a straight line. Even if she doesn’t homeschool, a mother is still the child’s first teacher, and that includes teaching techniques in art (even simple ones like the examples I just described). As far as other areas of creativity, it’s good for them to see creativity from their parents — intentionally point out the shapes in the clouds, or the many different shades of green in the surrounding plants, the beautiful music you hear, beautiful artwork and paintings you see, etc. The ultimate goal in fostering creativity is for the child to grow into an adult who is observant, curious, not afraid to try to create things with their hands, can problem solve, think outside the box, and appreciate beauty in the world. I truly believe encouraging kids to be creative and do art projects helps them in all those areas of life. In fact, often when I am creating a painting I think about how it feels like a puzzle that I am trying to solve as I paint.
I think the idea of “doing art” with kids can be stressful for some parents, especially those who cling to the idea that they themselves are not creative. Let’s destress this for parents – how much time should kids have for artistic creativity? And, any words of encouragement for the un-encouraged parent?
First of all, don’t let your kids hear you say that you are not creative or that you aren’t good at art. When a kid thinks their parents aren’t good at something or doesn’t enjoy doing something, why would they enjoy it? I think a lot of kids miss out on a more creative life because their parents don’t prioritize creativity. Creativity does run in my family, and I’m thankful that my mom always had art supplies out for us, and she even taught art classes to neighborhood kids for some years of my childhood. That said, out of the five kids in my family, three of us caught the “creative bug” and two didn’t, but at least we all had the opportunity.
Let me encourage you: You don’t have to do anything fancy to let kids access and embrace their creative side. The simplest but most important thing is to have art supplies available for them to grab and take to the table whenever they want to. If you have space to leave out the materials, that’s even better. Higher quality art supplies in smaller quantities is better than larger amounts of cheap supplies. I try to avoid supplies specifically marketed towards kids because they tend to be lower quality. We recently simplified our art supplies and we ended up with about 15 colored pencils and 20 crayons. Kids don’t need a huge amount of supplies to be able to be creative — in many ways they end up being even more creative with limited supplies. Prismacolor is a good brand of colored pencils, and the regular Crayola crayons work great too. My kids do end up drawing on printer paper a lot but I also give them real watercolor paper whenever we paint. Buying new coloring books or other supplies every once in a while usually sparks fresh inspiration as well.
I need to point out here that there are a lot of ways to encourage creativity without actual art supplies. Legos, blocks, MagnaTiles, Play-Dough, etc. are all wonderful ways for children to find joy in creating something. I always preferred building Lego creations without instructions, drawing on a white sheet of paper instead of using a coloring book, etc., because it felt more creative than just following directions. These are the kinds of things that kids will figure out about themselves as they get the opportunity to create in different ways.
Do you have a dedicated space in your home for your kids to work on art projects?
Our dining table is where all the art projects happen. The supplies are out on the table the majority of the time but are housed on a shelf that the kids can easily reach them and put them back.
Can you give us a run-down of basic materials for our homes? What’s good to keep on hand?
If I was to make a cheat sheet, this is what I would suggest:
- 12 Prismacolor colored pencils
- 24 Crayola crayons
- Watercolor set. For my own personal painting I use high quality paint from the tubes but for the kids I use a decent quality tray set similar to this
- Five quality paintbrushes in different sizes
- Pad of drawing paper (or printer paper)
- Pad of watercolor paper (any kind is fine — don’t get overwhelmed with the choices, as long as it is called “watercolor paper” you’re good to go)
- Markers, if the kids are old enough. I personally have always loved markers but because we have a one-and-a-half year old who doesn’t put lids back on we are skipping markers altogether for this short period of time. (A key to success is to find ways like this to make it as least stressful as possible!)
Other suggestions for creative tools and toys we like:
- Pipe cleaners
- Play dough
- Dry-erase board & markers
- Etch A Sketch
- Magna Doodle
- Boogie Boards
- Buddah Boards
Abel’s cat and house on a Boogie Board
Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t talked about?
Yes! I have a few little tricks up my sleeve that I would like to share with you.
The first is simply an observation that a drawing / painting that has color all over the paper is more pleasing to the eye and appears more “impressive” (to you and the child) than one that has a lot of blank white spaces.
This next one might be obvious, but take photos of all your favorite drawings and pieces of art. You can’t physically keep every single drawing your children do, but keeping a digital photo of it is a good way to save your favorites forever.
One of my own personal tricks: Sometimes when my kids do a really nice “abstract” piece with a lot of different colored brush strokes across the paper, I choose my favorite section of the painting, cut it out and frame that smaller portion. I will have a frame handy, take the glass out of the frame and move it around the painting until I find a composition I like, then I will trace the frame, cut it out and stick it in the frame! It’s easy and fun.
A portion of Olive’s painting cut down and framed.
One more word of encouragement to those of you who don’t feel like you are creative, or maybe just don’t enjoy drawing or coloring: You don’t have to sit down and do art with them all the time to foster their creativity — I certainly don’t! But the few times you do will go a long way. Plus, you never know — maybe you will find a hidden passion for art you never knew you had!
Thank you Heather! For more of Heather’s inspirational words and work, follow her over on Instagram, Facebook, and at heatherkentart.com and please send her an email at HeatherKentArt@gmail.com with any questions!
Abel, Olive and Heather’s work together