Dollar for dollar (and drop for drop) nothing delivers more brain-friendly fun than a house full of art supplies. My little monkey has passed hours and hours elbow-deep in crayon, paint, glue, clay, and chalk. The best part is our house is festooned with her mini-masterpieces, and all it cost was the price of the materials.
For our purposes, I am going to divide children’s artistic development into three stages. Each is named for a brilliant artist who, in my mind, epitomizes that style.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Jackson Pollack was an American artist known for his colorful, freeform, abstract paintings. We as parents are most concerned with Pollock’s “drip period” where he would fling paint at his canvas in a semi-random manner resulting in an “action painting.” Towards the end of his brief career (Pollack died prematurely at age forty-four) he began to number his paintings instead of naming them. So, if your child is very young and their artwork is about the activity and not about producing a recognizable subject then they are in their Pollock Period.
A baby Pollock is not yet drawing shapes, faces, tress, puppies (…) Instead they are attracted by colors and textures— and the taste of the paint!
Here are two pictures of my daughter during her “Jackson Pollock Period.” Pretty darned cute! But I want you to notice a few things. First, she is outside, not in my living room or even the kitchen, The Pollock Period is all about making a colossal mess. If you try this inside, even with a drop-cloth, you will spoil the fun for both you and the ch(imp). It is just too hard to control. In the summertime I would strip Mason to her diaper and often move the easel into the grass. In the winter we would set up in the garage when the weather wasn’t too cold. When we couldn’t go outside, we would use crayons or markers instead.
Next, her paper is LARGE. This page happens to be from a sketch tablet, but you can use freezer paper if you prefer. Little ones need the large surface to explore. They don’t have as much control over their brush strokes or scribbles as an older child, so give them lots of extra space to work.
Unlike the real Jackson Pollock, a child’s Pollock Period is monochromatic—give them only one color at a time. This may surprise you, but it will save you clean-up time and grief. If art is too difficult an activity for you as a parent, you won’t do it at all. Am I right? Of course I am. So, save your sanity and restrict the color palate. Only one color to clean-up, only one brush to wash, and most important of all… only one color to name. You see, from the child’s perspective this is all about the shape that is forming on the paper (or their tummies). But as a parent, all the time that Mason was creating these oeuvres, I was teaching her the concept “BLACK.” My monologue probably went something like this:
“Wow, Mason! Look at that black paint. You have so much black paint on your paper. The paper is white and the paint is black. Oh, no! You have black on your hands! Oops, now you have black on your tummy! Put some more black on your brush. Ok, let’s paint more black. Mommy will have to wash all this black off you in the bathtub! (…)”
The object is to repeat the word “black” in one hundred different ways. With any luck your child will, at the end, know the color black. If you had given them a rainbow of color, not only would the clean-up be exponentially harder, but you would have missed this teachable moment. You may think that you will prohibit the child from learning their color names, but the opposite is true. People were amazed that Mason could recognize all her primary and secondary colors at such an early age—she even knew a few bizarre ones like turquoise and sliver. The trick is to introduce colors one-at-a-time so the child can understand and see the differences. If you look at the pictures above, Mason has really experienced BLACK.
You can go ahead and buy the other colors, but I recommend beginning with black. Black contrasts the most with the white paper, it is always the same color (think of all the different shades of blue or green), it is easy to find in your environment (“Oh, look at the black tires on the car”), it mimics text (a pre-reading skill), and it looks great framed over your sofa. Even the smallest artist understands that you value their work if you frame it. Not hanging in on the refrigerator, but a real frame in a place of honor. Black will look snazzy in your living room.
After black has been completely explored (and digested) I suggest moving to red. Another strong color. Once the child can say, “black, white, red” and identify them in real life, you can move on to blue and yellow. Secondary colors are next, but then we are getting into the next phase of development…
Art supplies for a Jackson Pollock:
- Easel- Not 100% necessary, but really nice to have. Try to find one with adjustable legs so it can grow with your child. I got ours at a teacher supply company. The easel will not stay pretty so don’t try to keep it nice. You need something you can wash with a garden hose and keep outside. Buy extra clips to hold the paper.
- Child’s table- Again not necessary, but it really made my life easier. We went through several of them because I liked the table to really fit Mason’s size, so I sawed off the table and chair legs to the right hight for her. I didn’t mind since the table stayed inside most of the time and buying a new one every year kept them looking nice.
- Washable paint- You will find the best quality and price at a teacher supply store. Be absolutely sure it is washable. Again, you can buy multiple colors if you want, but wait until the child is recognizing black, white, and red to bring them out.
- Brushes- Mason’s were from the teacher supply store and the handle matched each paint color—a luxury. I also bought the “no-spill” paint cups, but I don’t think they really helped at home, so you can save your money. It was hard for her to get her paintbrush into the cup and they didn’t have an airtight seal.
- Paper- Big sketch pad, rolled paper, freezer paper, or butcher paper
- Frame- Go ahead and buy a frame to match the size of the paper it will save you a trip.
- Crayons- Basic colors only. (I know you are anxious to start with the 164 color pack, but control yourself for now. It will pay off.) Give only one color at a time for scribbling.
- Markers- Fat tip and washable. Give one color at a time and don’t restrict self-decoration. Mason liked making “dots” on her body. She would take a marker and cover her whole body while quietly repeating “making dots.” This is not a big deal if you use water-soluble markers. If you don’t want “dots” then give your child a crayon instead that day.
- Play-dough- Make your own since they will probably eat it! You only need one color, maybe red. At this stage play-dough is about texture and moulding shapes. Even better than colored play-dough is cookie dough! You don’t have to worry about saving it for later- just bake and enjoy.