‘I love painting’

Dear Artist, Last Wednesday, I helped out with Miss Moore’s kindergarten class. The 20 four- and five-year-olds we had to deal with were mostly ESL (English Second Language) students. Gathering closely on the carpet around me they soon understood that artists are people who really like to paint. Watching my brief demo, their hands shot up whenever I made eye contact. “What’s your favourite colour?” “Who told you to do this?” “Is this all you do?” One boy came very close and said, “I like you. I really like you.” I asked him why and he said it was because I let my glasses hang from red strings. At one point the children were made to jump up and down and do various calisthenics to neutralize their energy. “They’re so excited,” said Miss Moore. The kids went to their tables where gobs of colour and actual stretched canvases were provided. Then the fun began. Within a few minutes some had their paint up each other’s noses. Paint was flicked, spattered and drizzled. The tables themselves became Jackson Pollocks. Tiny children are victimized by the same painting problems as adults. Some are timid — they fear errors and are unable to make the first dab. Others enthusiastically keep moving the same wet paint on the canvas until everything is a fairly uniform brown. By far the commonest sin is overworking. Virtually no one abided by my shouted regulation to “leave your strokes alone.” I was beginning to lose it. Full time kindergarten teachers should be granted sainthood, I postulated. I calmed myself with the realization that overworking is probably hard-wired in the DNA. A person in authority cannot effectively tell a student when to stop. One tends to hover like a bandit and just take the work away. “Good idea,” I thought to myself, “I can use that.” A girl whose pretty smile was modified by a red smear like lipstick gone awry, could not put down her brushes. Running out of canvases, we kept her in other material which she filled with lightning speed. “I love painting,” she admitted. At day’s end, after one-at-a-time at the sink, they got their coats and lined up at the door. One by one they exited into the arms of their parents. Bidding the kids goodbye, more than once I heard Miss Moore say, “Tell your mother to launder your clothes as soon as you get home. It’ll all come out in the wash.” Best regards, Robert PS: “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” (Title of a book by Robert Fulghum) Esoterica: As usual in any group, one notices what can only be called “natural talent.” One young girl was using negative space effectively, cutting in and keeping her images general and strong. One doesn’t need to point it out, but it’s noticed. In a kindergarten, one feels the need to encourage equally. In art, everyone who plays wins.   ‘I love painting’

Robert demoing in Miss Moore’s kindergarten class.


Miss Moore identifying the artists of tomorrow.


And a small tableau of expressionism.

              Let kids paint on their own by Colleen Lauter, Mooresville, IN, USA  

“Morning walk”
oil painting, 16 x 12 inches
by Colleen Lauter

About a year ago I started a children’s monthly art class at the local women’s shelter. I quickly learned that they just want to paint! I know from personal experience that art is good therapy, so I offer an idea of something to do, then I let them go and help if they ask. That rarely happens though. They just enjoy the creativity. One boy who was about 14 or so painted his picture entirely in black, with a tiny red heart on the tree that was part of the painting. He then gave it to his mother. It really touched my heart and said a lot about how he was feeling with what he was going through in his life. The joy is in the journey, and offering children a chance to express themselves through painting is such a gift for them.     There are 2 comments for Let kids paint on their own by Colleen Lauter
From: Art Dealer — Nov 29, 2010

Thinking about your own preferences and style before you buy a painting is great way to do…

From: Anonymous — Nov 29, 2010
  Age driven originality by Jacqui Douglas, Australia  

original painting
by Isabella (3 years old)

I wonder what their art play would have been like if you had not shown them a demo and any of your pictures until after they had played with the paint. Children of this age are very influenced by what they see and want to try and copy what they have seen. When this does not work they lose interest. Before this age of kindergarten say around 2-3yrs it is quite different, they do not look or even want to try and copy anyone else’s art. They use their own voice and play. I have found that with little people it is best to have all the colours in pots with a brush for each colour, two large jars of water, one for the dirty water and one to keep the brushes clean before putting into the paint again. I have found littlies do stick to this very well if you set them up from the start. (RG note) Thanks, Jacqui. This group of 4 to 5 year olds went their own way and followed their own inclinations. I think the only thing the demo might have helped them with was that they could go right to it, but they seemed to do that anyway. On a previous occasion with 8 and 9 year olds they all tried something like what I showed them.   Results using a prepared drawing by Dee Dwight, Lake Michigan  

acrylic painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Dee Dwight

I took a different approach with my kindergarten experience. I went to the internet and found line drawings that I printed on watercolor paper on my printer. They were not unlike a child’s coloring book, so each child had two different designs to practice with. They were familiar with coloring books and keeping somewhat in the lines, they practiced learning how to control the medium on these. I told them that after they were finished, they would have a blank canvas to paint on. The paper exercise let them warm up a little and they learned to apply their paint where they envisioned it. When they went to their canvas, I was astonished at what they produced. Little masters in training, all. Their parents were amazed, and truthfully, I was too!! There is 1 comment for Results using a prepared drawing by Dee Dwight
From: Nancy Christy-Moore — Nov 26, 2010

Very good strategy, Dee! Not only are you a fantastic artist, but you’re a creative teacher as well!

  Value of an actual painter by David Ashworth, Minneapolis, MN, USA   Showing up at a kindergarten class trumps them all. The kids will not remember. Not between their ears they won’t. But you were real. You took the time. You, by your presence, said, “I did it. I have the option of “not working” for a couple hours.” The implications are obvious. One can be an artist and successful enough to have options. And one can care. They knew they could choose fireman, doctor, or teacher, “just like Miss Moore!” Because you walked the talk, now they know they could be artists, too. Now THAT’s how to change the world. There is 1 comment for Value of an actual painter by David Ashworth
From: Reggie Sabiston — Nov 26, 2010

It’s funny how one remembers things about kindergarten. I don’t remember much, but I do vividly remember drawing a house and a spider in that first very important year.

  Early kindergarten experience prevails by Ted Lederer (Elliott Louis Gallery), Vancouver, BC, Canada   When I was a child somewhere around kindergarten a teacher criticized my art work (or at least that’s the memory of the memory I have told myself). From that very instant onwards I saw myself as having no artistic ability. That “decision” has had repercussions that I am only now beginning to guess at which have affected my entire life. My son who is now 15 and has grown up with an art gallery named after him, has walls at home and in his room filled with original art and has art as a backdrop to his life, has also been told by his mother that he can’t draw and there must be something wrong with him for drawing a person as a stick figure. “Shall,” to paraphrase, “the sins of the father (mother) be visited upon him unto the third and fourth generation?” Let’s hope not. There are 2 comments for Early kindergarten experience prevails by Ted Lederer (Elliott Louis Gallery)
From: Karen — Nov 26, 2010

It is amazing how we will believe what we are told, even if it goes against what we ourselves want to do and can do. A well known artist here in Canada, Molly Lamb Bobak, told a group of us once that while at the Vancouver School of Art, she was told by an instructor she had no talent, and shouldn’t waste her time! She told her mother this, and her mother said, “you’re not quitting, we’ve paid for it and you’re going!” And Molly went on to become first a war artist, and then a famous artist with a very long career. I took heart from this: if she can rise above such scathing remarks, it is a sign that we shouldn’t believe everything we are told! We should follow our star. But it is heartbreaking to read that people are stopped in their tracks especially as children, but callous and unthinking adult comments………

From: Anonymous — Nov 26, 2010

re: Ted Lederer’s comment about being told his kindergarten painting was wrong, I had the same thing happen to me when I was in Grade 3 in Vancouver – way back in the 1930’s. I didnt start painting until I was 70 yrs old, but I am still going at it at 83 and having a whale of a time. I even sell some of my paintings. I cant quit now!!!!Jean McLaren, Gabriola, BC

  How to get kids stopped by Dar Hosta, Flemington, NJ, USA

Dar giving a workshop

I have always believed that artists who have never worked with a room full of children don’t know what they are missing. You can be experiencing a paralytic bout of self-loathing in your own studio but, the minute you get creative with kids, it all turns around. I especially love the kid who liked you for your red strings. I have learned that children are like little animals who are attracted to shiny things and I have a pair of over-the-top cowboy boots that are guaranteed to make it a great day. You’re right about the overworking. It’s true, they really can’t bear to stop and I believe that, sadly, it is because they are so rarely allowed to make a big mess — at home or at school. One way that I try to combat the all-brown paintings is by creating painting “stations” that are set up with monochromatic or analogous colors and the tools they will be painting with. You can give them a period of time, say on a timer, and then let them move to another station with the rule being that no tools travel with them. This also allows them to stand and work, which I think is better for kids. I also never, ever put out water. Many kids, especially the younger ones, paint rather quickly, so it is good to have extra surfaces on hand when they are done. Newsprint or pieces of cardboard work well. And, if you really dial up the theatrics in the way you tell them that you think it’s finished, you will get more heeling. I get crazy-dramatic, gesture wildly, and shout, “Oh my goodness! I LOVE that painting! BUT!!! I want to stop loving it right NOW!” There is 1 comment for How to get kids stopped by Dar Hosta
From: don — Nov 26, 2010

Dar is the master at working with children and art in the classroom. It’s worth checking out her website to follow more of her adventures…..wish I had her in my classroom when I was a child covered in paint.

  An art excursion by Sean Flanagan, Ireland   One wet Saturday afternoon at my sister’s house in Ireland, where many nieces and nephews had gathered for a family day, along with their many children, the kids were housebound and the inevitable began to take place. My sister suggested I take the kids on an art excursion. It was not long before there was a large sheet of suitable paper on the round table, along with watercolour paints, water and brushes. I sketched a simple landscape scene of a lake, mountains, some trees etc. then showed them how to dip the brush in water and then paint and proceed to mix the primary colours for others. There was immediate fascination and quiet! Each child was assigned a subject. Two of the guys were assigned the mountains, a couple of the girls the lake, others the trees. Yes there was paint everywhere and more on arms and faces then on the paper. The interest and intrigue was uniformly great. Sophie looked at me after she completed her part of the lake as if to say, now what? I said why don’t you put a small boat and a fisherman in the lake, to which she responded, like Uncle Mick? I began the simple boat for her and next thing she was putting a stick man with a bent rod in the boat. The kids were calm, dinner was on the stove and the kids kept coming back to the paper bragging about what they did.   Artistic freedom lost with age by Bethany Shumate   As a retired kindergarten teacher and artist I appreciated your article about demonstrating to a kindergarten class. How wonderful that the children were able to experiment right after your demo! We did a lot of painting in our class. I was constantly amazed at the innate creativity of young children and their freedom of expression and use of bright color. Many instinctively got the composition right, even to one child adding a red spot in the right place, balancing their whole picture! Our room was beautifully decorated by their wonderful art. I also had the privilege of teaching art to primary grades and was impressed at the creative beauty in their work. Children are natural artists, but sadly, they lose their artistic freedom as they grow up. It is our privilege as artists, teachers, and parents, to encourage their talents to thrive and grow.   Child’s practicality defies fantasy by Pat Palermino  

“Cape Hatteras Mermaids”
original painting
by Pat Palermino

Since I am a folk artist, many of my paintings appeal to children because of the colors and child like stories that they tell. One of the paintings is titled “Mermaids Moving Hatteras Lighthouse.” This painting was part of my exhibit at an art show in Alexandria, Virginia and depicts mermaids moving the Hatteras lighthouse attired in hard hats while other mermaids are sunning themselves on the beach, playing ball or sitting in the lifeguard’s chair. A girl about five years old went up to the painting and studied it for a long time. She then turned to me and said, “You know that their fins will get cracked if they sit in the sun like that.” The incongruity of mermaids pushing a huge lighthouse and sitting under beach umbrellas never occurred to her, just the fact that the fins on the mermaids would crack!   There is 1 comment for Child’s practicality defies fantasy by Pat Palermino
From: Sharon Cory — Nov 26, 2010

Love the painting and the story.

  Children and ‘tempera resist’ by Sandra Jones, NJ, USA  

“Art Runner”
original painting
by Medford Students

I had the pleasure of working with a couple of classes of fourth graders a few years ago. I do a technique called tempera resist, where you paint with tempera paint, cover with waterproof India ink and then wash it off. It was my first experience with working with kids and I was amazed at the different levels of ability. One girl had an incredible sense of color. (They were only given primary and secondary colors to work with.) Another girl had a wonderful composition in her painting. Their “theme” was freedom, and I was very happy with their work. In fact, three classes from the school were invited to exhibit in a gallery space in a local hospital, and I’m thrilled to say that one of my classes was chosen to exhibit their work.   Balancing excitement with control by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Little falls”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Recently, I had a special student at a workshop. He recently had a stroke and was paralyzed on much of one side of his body. His wife was an enthusiastic hobby painter and thought he might enjoy accompanying her to the pastel workshop I was leading. Due to his disability, he could not move freely and quickly or control the pastel stick in a typical manner. I quickly deduced to leave him alone as he seemed content to work and possessed a good focus. I taped his board to the table so he wouldn’t have a shifting surface. His paintings continue to fascinate me. They were childlike but endowed with a wonderful graphic quality. I could see them in a modern New York gallery. He started slowly with a heavy black outline in pastel and even more slowly he build up careful strokes of pastel around the heavy black lines. His very deliberate pace interested me. Most of my students start off with great speed like the children in your classroom. Just as quickly they hit the wall and lose confidence. I tend to favor speed in painting, but wonder sometimes if I should slow down. Your child artists illustrate the quandary of painting. We need to be excited but we must exert control over our excitement or we end up with the mess you describe. I heard a quote that ‘talent was the ability to be excited about something.’ I think you might add that a talented person learns to balance excitement with the control gained through study. There is 1 comment for Balancing excitement with control by Paul deMarrais
From: shirley fachilla — Nov 26, 2010

Lovely and vibrant painting.

  The dynamics of child art by Judith Donoahue  

“Little Worlds”
encaustic painting
by Judith Donoahue

Every child is a natural artist. One of the reasons only a few carry on as painters when they grow up is because adults, parents, teachers, and others, reinforce the natural self awareness and critical thinking, we all develop around age nine by too much direction as to what is the “right” way to paint a person, cloud, tree, whatever. There is no “right way” to paint. Every young child knows this instinctively. This why we, as adult artists, are blown away by the pictures a child makes when they are left to just put down paint in whatever way they feel. And it is pure feeling and kinetic energy that motivates a young child to paint. Pablum smeared on the highchair tray at 18 months, even earlier, is the first painting a child makes. Age 4 and 5 kids absolutely do not need anything beyond materials, a place to feel safe, and a care-giver wise enough to just organize the setting, the atmosphere and materials, where they can freely and joyously make their marks. Then butt out! It’s all in the doing for a young child, the process, and this explains why the little girl who declared “I love painting” just kept on doing it until her materials ran out. I would bet she hardly gave a second thought to the stack of paintings she made that day, unless a big fuss about the quantity and quality was made. That could have been the beginning of the end for her as a future artist because focus on the product in a young child thwarts the natural desire to just paint for the feel of it, and instead she may begin to focus on pleasing the praiser. The adults in the room, however, likely put aside some of her paintings, a very natural response. Why? Because her passionately active mark making is a deep memory inside all of us who feel compelled to paint, whether we consciously understand this…. or not. There is 1 comment for The dynamics of child art by Judith Donoahue
From: kathleen Whatmough — Aug 01, 2012

couldn’t agree more. The young should be encouraged to express whatever. So too should the oldI’m trying …still


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for ‘I love painting’

From: Penny Collins — Nov 22, 2010

Great story, thanks Robert.

From: Jean Burman — Nov 22, 2010

Hi Robert :-) I’ve noticed the same thing painting with sick kids in hospital as a volunteer with the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Kids [just like adults]certainly do paint in accordance with their character! One day painting on the wards… Captain Starlight was delivering a magic trick and asked the kids for a magic spell to add color back into the magical coloring book. One cute little two year old turned and complied with the unexpected flick of a fully laden paint brush across the crowded ward. You should have seen those adults duck! [grin]Love this story Robert… you tell it in a nutshell!

From: Richard Smith — Nov 22, 2010

A while back there was a “reality” show on the tube that claimed to be finding the next great artist. Yeah sure. But one project these artistic hopefuls had to do was to create a work of art that would show what early memories they had from their childhood, about art. That made me think about my kindergarten days on a Canadian air force base in France. And what I remembered most was color. A big box of brightly colored beads that we would string together, a package of freshly opened plasticine and jars of paints. Those images are stuck in my mind forever. And while the school system didn’t do much about art once kindergarten was over, those times have encouraged me to keep slapping paint on paper ever since. It’s amazing what being exposed to art at an early age can do for a developing mind.

From: Ryl Mandus — Nov 22, 2010

Such little canvases, struggling to contain so much energy — just like their artists. I suspect the inability to stop, in the interest of preserving the strokes, is due to an instinctive need for full immersion — the thrilling discovery that physical movement can control where colors go.

From: Faith — Nov 23, 2010

Here we go again. A great letter, Bob, but again I take exception to the idea that “only” someone who likes to paint is an artist, as though the word had been coined especially for the painters in this world.

For me, the term “artist” is an umbrella definition for all kinds of creative people doing any number of creative things. Thus, someone who likes to paint is a painter, but not necessarily an artist. The same goes for someone who likes to sing, or dance etc… I think it’s a tremendous compliment to be called an artist in any sphere, but this anointment should come from others and not be summarily attached to all those who pick up a paintbrush. An “artist” does his or her creative thing to a high standard of excellence rather than just doing it. And that’s where the third parties come in. Who am I to judge that what I do qualifies for the artistic label?
From: Suzette Fram — Nov 23, 2010

What a wonderful story. I can just see the scene in my mind’s eye. Thanks for this.

From: Susan Holland — Nov 23, 2010

It was my privilege to work with little ones for five years in an elementary school. The littler they were, the more pure their art was, I decided. Yes, the mess. And yes, the brown paintings. But yes, one can use frisket and stencil to save out parts…and also use separate pieces of paper for certain color choices, and then cut or tear up the papers and put them together in a pattern or picture. One of the most revealing group of classes was when I brought my mild mannered cat in to be our model! The second to fourth graders made really terrific drawings and paintings of that cat. I still own some of that work, and will not part with it.

Children simply look and then make the shape. Painting pictures of things in their lives, they don’t have the thinking problem we adults do. They know, for instance, that Mommys have big smiles and lots of hair. (they usually don’t have necks or knees, though.) It’s only the important things that kids pick to paint about. That’s a lesson for us! (Sometimes the Mommys have frowns. It’s called expressionistic.)
From: Robert Sesco — Nov 23, 2010

I’ve been told that Art is Communication by a successful artist. I’ve also been told that Art is Play by a talented, amateur artist. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the former, but the latter resonates with me. Art as Communication precludes loving and owning your own work, because, as this artist said, “I don’t like talking to myself”. I happen to love my own work, and I enjoy seeing it in my house. I also find that the imagination part of being an artist suits the ‘Play’ framework much better. At any rate, children artists at play ‘feels’ as if something fundamentally important is happening. Perhaps communicating with art is either something totally different or a result of maturing. I haven’t matured to that point yet.

From: LD — Nov 23, 2010

I taught middle school for years (not art though). When art was removed from our curriculum (budget), I was saddened. I wondered where these kids would ever find the joy of experimenting with art and that special discovery and creativity it brings out. I often painted murals, stage sets, and bulletin boards at school…and every time, kids would gather just to watch me on their way to class. Those who had discovered their own artistic muse began to bring me their sketch books, their notebook paper filled with designs, their craft creations and etc. to share; just for the chance to show someone (me) who they thought would understand and appreciate their having done it- young teens who hadn’t had that experience probably since kindergarten. It made me smile that they would want to share with me. But it made me so sad that probably many young artists were left undiscovered. They likely never would develop their artistic side due to lack of opportunity to grow their appreciation for art, their knowledge of art, nor their talents. I hope you will continue to share your art and direction with students of all ages, Robert. They all need it.

From: Dawn — Nov 23, 2010

One of my favorite stories is when my grandaughter was about 8 or9 yrs.old I set her up in my studio whith lots of colored paper, etc. other supplies and a canvas.. Explained to her a little about collage and just let her go at it…

I’d peek in every so often and she was really busy and very focused on her “materpiece”… All of a sudden she came running down the hall..crying MawMaw.. “How do I know when to stop?”.. I just cracked up…
From: Thierry Talon — Nov 23, 2010

I like this sort of item so much more than “Copycat in the Gallery’, ‘Fun in Fundraising’, and others.

The latter invite too many crybabies bothering us with their sob stories, claiming to be proud of their ability to express their feelings. They forget we may not be interested in their feelings such as “This is the most horrible thing I have ever heard”. I love ‘I love Painting’, ‘Light and Shade’ and ‘Morning Walk’.
From: Suzette Fram — Nov 23, 2010

Faith said: …someone who likes to paint is a painter, but not necessarily an artist…. an “artist” does his or her creative thing to a high standard of excellence rather than just doing it…

Here’s another viewpoint: The artist is not the one who can produce a perfectly executed and technically correct work, a perfect little landscape that looks exactly like the place, or the photo. The artist is the one who can put the feeling in the work, who can move you, make you think; who exercises artistic license and creativity to produce something new and different and wonderful. And that certainly does not apply only to painters but to all things in life; if you can put that much soul into whatever you’re doing, then you’re an artist, no matter what you’re doing, dancing, singing, writing, baking, whatever.
From: Beacon — Nov 23, 2010

Hm, this explains some of the comments that occasionally pop up: <a target=_blank href=”http://www.ehow.com/about_5067762_definition-sociopath.html” title=”this”>http://www.ehow.com/about_5067762_definition-sociopath.html</a>

From: Kathy Mayerson — Nov 23, 2010

Having read the “I love Painting” article, it suddenly came to me why my art career started so late in life, age 30.

As a child, one of a family of five children, I would sketch and sketch and sketch some more. Looking back now I kept sketching the same thing with a school HB pencil on lined or plain paper, three mountain peaks, some fluffy little clouds, sometime a sun or moon. In there foreground were foothills and/or a creek. My experience was not expanded because I just used a pencil and paper-no paint. Suffice it to say the missing element in my painting career was “Kindergarden”.
From: Alex Nodopaka — Nov 23, 2010

You hit another tender spot: the exposure of children at an early age to art of any and every kind. I’m the proud grandfather of Joel & Gaby. The boy, older, was first introduced to art at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. By the gate we entered with him on my shoulders and spent several hours through the maze of art. From then on whenever he went with anyone to any art show he always said to his accompanying adults that I made all the artwork they ever saw. At the age of 5 I bound into a book all his school & home artwork and to this day 10 years later he treasures it.

From: Ann Hardy — Nov 23, 2010

For some reason I have he urge to send you some red strings.

From: Grace Landon — Nov 23, 2010

All artists are not painters.

In your letter today about your work with the 4 & 5 year olds in their class you said ” they soon understood that artists are people who really like to paint.” Better yet.. ‘people who really like to paint are artists.’ Also people who work in clay, metal, wire, fibers, wood….. etc are truly artists too. I was surprised to hear something so excluding from you.
From: Bernice Sutton — Nov 23, 2010

Upon teaching a grade 1 class – a little girl tugged at my pant leg to come to her desk. She put her cabbage patch doll over her drawing paper, the doll being much larger & longer than the paper – and commented “see, it doesn’t fit”!!

From: Shirley Fachilla — Nov 23, 2010

For about four years, I was a preschool teacher for two-year olds. One of our favorite activities (for the two-year-olds and me, unsure about the parents) was painting. My husband made a very short, but long two-sided easel so that four could paint together. We used two primary colors to avoid the creation of a mass of brown paintings and let them paint as long as they wanted.

Some children were done in a few minutes; others loved the process and could have painted through lunch! It was indeed all about the process and all about the joy. Amazingly, everyone painted on their own paper and used their own paint rather than their neighbor’s. No one complained, acted out, or envied the painting of another. Each painting was greeted as a lovely accomplishment, but for the child, was totally unimportant. That is, it was unimportant until parents arrived and work was shown. Then it was about validation at its most basic. It was so absorbing as an activity that we might have painted everyday except that I took pity upon parents and the limited display space a refrigerator can provide. Now when I paint, I try to remember both the joy and that all refrigerators are finite space.
From: Carolyn Newberger — Nov 23, 2010

My pre-art career was as a child psychologist and I was always impressed with how often children could jump into the moment, intensely discovering their worlds through their acts of engagement. I think that being in that moment of discovery is part of what makes art so exciting for them and for us. It also has its excesses, as you point out, but the great thing about art is that our final product is a great teacher, too. I’m attaching a watercolor in which I try to capture the intensity, timelessness, and discovery of childhood. I call it, “Playing for Time.”

From: Helen Musser — Nov 23, 2010

There are four grandchildren; all painted before they were three. Some produced gray and black paintings; too much moving around in paint. They liked their paintings and were always ready to paint when they came to visit. For me they were all gifted and encouraged to create works out of the imagination and then as they got older; we added flowers and vase. I’m sure your experience was a joyful one even though you may have had paint all over you. Thanks for sharing and blessings for your gift to the children.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Nov 23, 2010

It is really fun to see kids making efforts creating their work of art. They are so engrossed in their work and watching their faces is so interesting one would be twiddling with her hair with one hand and another would have her/his tongue out of his mouth as if trying to draw with it. One can be so meticulous in trying to put details. When my oldest daughter was four years old she saw me painting asked me if she too could paint. She just came in from playing with our neighbor’s 8 year old daughter who was teaching her to skate in the outdoor skating rink. I gave her a small cardboard that comes from the inside of a new pantyhose I had handy at the time. She then sat down beside me and started to draw after which she gave me the finished picture. It showed a picture of two girls on skates they were so detailed you could really see it clearly. One girl was bigger than the other and she had all the details of the attires and hands with fingers not proportional, hair and face with big eyes and long lashes. She told that it was Judy and her skating. I had it framed and I still have it. My four year old grand daughter also loves to paint. I gave her a box of water color and brushes and paper. She likes painting butterflies and the sun. She loves purple, pink, yellow and green. I encouraged them to do it. I wish I had the same opportunity in my childhood to have materials to paint as my children and grand children do now. Growing up in the Philippines in late 40’s and early 50’s all we did not have art as a subject or course in grade school or even in high school. We just did art for our projects. I was really interested in art then but only had bond paper, pencils and crayons for materials. My geography and history teachers like my drawings of maps in our courses and they provided me with Bristol boards and crayons and assigned me to draw maps of Europe, the U.S. and the continents for displays in our High School Day Exhibits when our school was open to parents. It was one of my ambitions to pursue an education in art or architecture but I was discouraged by my father (a lawyer and wanted anyone of his children to follow in his footsteps). He declared I could not earn a living on these professions unless I was established and well known. I did not heed his wishes to take up law and enrolled in nursing instead. I did not give up my love for art so now I am doing it just for the love of it.

From: Don Cavin — Nov 23, 2010

What a delightful account of your experiences in the kindergarten class!!. Believe it or not, I have often experience similar euphoria in many of my workshops. Incidentally, a painter friend of mine who has now passed on always said that it took two people to paint a picture; one to paint; the other to hold a hammer over his/her head to force them to stop. “Get the Hammer”!!!!!! is now a watchword at frequent intervals on my watch.

From: Nancy Vandenberg — Nov 23, 2010

I have observed to myself, over the years, that the innocent joy, enthusiasm and ability to play, of children all inspire my life and make me furious at that which squished those traits in me. As an “adult” I make an effort to be conscious of the need for joy, enthusiasm and spontaneity. This morning it seems that I avoid painting just when I need it the most.

Where did all that come from? For some reason your article “I love painting” has put me into a very introspective mood. Think I will go mix some colors and see what I can get on the great white sheet.
From: Janet Burgart — Nov 23, 2010

So funny, thanks for sharing your experience. I can totally relate to over working a painting, I think that is why I am now painting in watercolour. It is a medium that limits over working! Just wanted to also thank you for your “Twice-Weekly Letter”, I always look forward to your messages and have been very inspired and motivated by so many.

From: Cindy Davis — Nov 23, 2010

Nice article about kindergarten, Robert. At age 5, I think most artists may produce quite authentic work.

From: Casey Craig — Nov 23, 2010

Wonderful post and great to see you sharing your talent with the younger set. I just did a collage project of Halloween masks with my sons’ 4th grade class. A great age since they are old enough to be self-sufficient and yet young enough to still be enthusiastic. When I was talking to the kids, I told them there were no wrong answers in art and they could do whatever they wanted. Talking to the teacher after class, she said that when I said they could do whatever they wanted it really scared her. Maybe she thought they were going to start swinging from the rafters, but instead they just got busy working. I agree that teachers deserve sainthood….all of them. Whenever I come home from volunteering at school I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

From: Kathy Weber — Nov 23, 2010

I laughed when I read this post. I teach painting at a private club for women, and most of my students are over 60, but my experiences aren’t much different from the kindergarten class. Some are timid, others jump right in. No matter how much I tell them, they won’t leave their strokes alone, but brush them over and over. They get paint on their faces and their clothes. Once in a while, somebody turns out something that’s pretty darn good. And they love it, and keep signing up for the class, semester after semester. The joy of creativity!

From: Paula Timpson — Nov 23, 2010

all creativity ‘s rooted in the young

to retain its magic, is easy simply trust with the heart of a child!
From: Brad Greek — Nov 23, 2010

It’s fun to watch yet nerve racking at the same time to turn loose a new student with paint and canvas. Recently I did a voluntary class for the local art society to give those that signed up a hand at the palette knife. Most of them have been painting for years, only one had never painted, age doesn’t matter. I had them chose a color to cover their canvas with to get the feel of the knife. All was going well until I squirtted out the other primary colors. The mud makers took over and it was the beginner who followed direction and didn’t mix all the colors together. Timid enough not to over work the colors. After some work we were able to salvage the canvases and make some very interesting representational abstracts. I was looking for texture and the movement of color swirled together on the canvas…..is dull greyish brown a color? LOL. We did have a lot of fun.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Nov 23, 2010

I can only smile when I think of your generosity in giving your time to be with those (lucky) kindergarten kids. Some may remember how they were encouraged by a “real artist”, and how it made them feel to be part of that day. That was delightful to read about, I was picturing it all and I did enjoy the images, too, from the clickbacks. Anyway, long may you share your gift and enthusiasm!

From: Kathryn Galvin — Nov 23, 2010

I am forwarding this Twice-Weekly letter to some of my former staff members who survived the perils and joys of Kindergarten. Each September, I eagerly awaited the portraits created of me (the principal and occasionally, the princess); usually I had lipstick still on, sometimes I was gloriously thin and my earrings were usually a focal point. I have always thought between coloring books and grown up rules, we unintentionally but systematically erode the joyful, creative abandon that is inherent in young children’s art. Thanks for being a part of a very special world!

From: mary — Nov 23, 2010

This fall I offered to help, for one time, a first grade art class that had fourty children and one teacher for 80 minutes once a week. I have been back every week since. It is the highlight of my week (outside of a good painting day!) They are wonderful! The best thing about art is everyone produces something special. Hugs and encouragement are stressed here and the atmosphere is all positive. Every dollar of gas money is the best way I can spend it. I drive 90 miles each time, round trip. Just one morning a week can make so much difference in everyone’s life, especially mine.

From: Ken Oberste — Nov 23, 2010

Here at the Arkansas Arts Center, there is an annual exhibit of

statewide childrens’ art. It is a most fascinating exhibit, especially the pre kindergarten through about the 2nd grade. After that, the teachers influence becomes more obvious, but the spontaneities of the younger kids by comparison is amazing. There seems to be a natural tendency to balance their compositions, like a large tree shape close to one side and a smaller tree shape on the other but not so close to the edge. Very seldom is any what might be called, the “center of interest” directly in the center of their picture as is desired in proper composition. It’s obvious that any actual teacher influence is very minimal because of the fabulous spontaneity, and there seems to be a natural tendency to balance. Their natural color choices are also surprising.
From: Joan Polishook — Nov 23, 2010

Your experience with Miss Moore’s Kindergarten was heart-warming and brought back many wonderful memories. I was an early childhood teacher for many years…and used art as my philosophy for teaching in my pre-school and kindergarten classrooms. There the rooms were abuzz of activity…from math to science, English to social studies…art played its role in the teaching, the learning and the enjoyment and fulfilling results of hands-on experiences with varied mediums. When materials were scarce, we painted like Van Gogh using burlap for canvas, like Degas, using chalk on brown paper for pastel effects; tempera paint was plentiful and used on a variety of surfaces. One of my most rewarding experiences came from a parent who followed up a lesson on early cave painting (charcoal or chalk animal drawings on brown wrapping paper), by visiting the Museum of Natural History in NY. There the 5 year old child, exclaimed to his parents, those are cave paintings …just like we did in school!”

Letting children express themselves and learn through the arts is an invaluable way of reaching even the most challenging of students. It is good to know that there are still creative teachers out there and schools whose budgets haven’t closed the doors on the values of art in education.
From: Janice Thayer — Nov 23, 2010

An open minded artist can learn from tiny children. I recommend the exercise too.

From: Bernice Saunders — Nov 23, 2010

Warm hearted, open-minded and totally brilliant. Love it!!!!!

From: Karen Gillis Taylor — Nov 23, 2010

My favorite age group when student teaching was the first graders, age about 6. They had motor skills by then, and could hold a pot of tempera paint and brush it on the paper.

I gave them all a basic few instructions like “draw a circle, draw a line from the top right corner of the paper to the bottom left corner of the paper, etc”. With some thought, the kids had a basic abstract linear composition and then got to fill in the shapes on their own with colors of paint. All paintings were all completely different and full of energy! In all the student teaching I did, from K through age 11, this was the most successful project for the kids. It involved listening and following direction, and then creating on their own. The children loved it and the paintings were wonderful. This is the age when children are still uninhibited. I guess the lesson here is that you give the young students direction and them let them go on their own. By age 7 they are beginning to be frustrated that their drawings are not matching up to the more realistic visions in their mind’s eye. I have battled this all my life until I finally discovered that my own vision is what counts, and is the visual language I am meant to speak. Niwot, Colorado
From: Mary Ann Pals — Nov 23, 2010

This past April I too had the unique opportunity to discuss my trade with a classroom of kindergarteners. What fun! Since I used to teach second grade for many years, being in an elementary classroom again was a real treat for me. Little kids’ enthusiasm for life’s adventures is contagious and refreshing.

I started by telling them about my tools I use—pastels, charcoal pencils, and a kneaded eraser. I showed them examples of each. The kneaded eraser intrigued them the most. Next I talked about my painting of a daisy that I had along. Lastly, I showed them how to render a flower petal and a leaf so that they look three dimensional. I used crayons on the actual coloring paper that they would try back at their tables so they could get an idea of what I meant. They caught on quickly and darted for their tables as soon as I was done talking, ready to try their hand at it themselves, and impress me with their creations, of course. One little boy lingered behind the rest for a moment, wanting to tell me something. He said, “I see that in your painting you’ve signed your name small and in one corner. Did you do that so you could squeeze more painting in around it?” “Yes,” I replied, “that’s exactly right.” I couldn’t help but smile inside. In kindergarten one’s name and learning how to spell it and proudly print it on all of one’s creations is most important. So why not assume that was the case with my flower painting? A logical conclusion, to be sure. I’m sure I’ll think about that remark next time I sign my name on my artwork……and try to squeeze more painting in around my name. Too cute. Chesterton, IN
From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Nov 24, 2010

When I was 5 years old, my kindergarten teacher suggested to my parents that they should look into enrolling me into elementary school a couple years early (normal grade 1 age was 7). My mother took me to a child psychologist for a “maturity” test. I don’t remember the test except for the Rorschach. I said that the smudge looked like an “upside down lady”. The psychologist didn’t understand and I had to explain that it looked like a lady if I turn the page upside down. On our way home I asked my mother if I will be going to school early, and she said no. I asked if it was because of the upside down lady and she laughed and said, yes, that’s why. This soon became a family joke that only I didn’t find funny. I now know that this wasn’t the reason, but at that time it felt as if my creative answer closed a door for me.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Nov 24, 2010

It is so important to understand the world from the child’s point of view. Good job Robert for doing that!

From: Joela Nitzberg — Nov 24, 2010

I have taught children (from 9 up) and am always amazed at what they can produce. I always start out by telling them that they have my total approval and that there is no competition. Many times I have heard a sigh of relief! I once stopped painting and then I realized that in my head I was competing with my idols! (the dutch masters) Once I started competing with myself I could start to paint again!

From: Catherine Taggett — Nov 24, 2010

Your story brings back memories. I taught art to 5 to 14 year olds for over 25 years. With little ones, the physical process is often what is important. Moving the paint, mixing the colors, using the brush, hand, shirt, whatever.

Pure sensory exploration, it is wonderful to behold (although sometimes a mess to clean up)!
From: Donna Robillard — Nov 24, 2010

I taught upper elementary grades for years. It was a self-contained classroom; however, I did incorporate art. The students loved it and I saw their confidence level increase as they were able and free to do more and more with their art. So many of them thought they couldn’t do anything with art. I first had to make each one of them realize that they each did art a different way and that nobody was they same. That, alone, broke down many barriers that so many of them had. It was exciting as the school year went along, how so many of them let their creative juices flow.

From: jack adams — Nov 25, 2010

the art work of a certain kindergarten teacher’s children always were the best of each year on display.When asked what her secret was to get such results she said,

“I know when to take it away.”
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Nov 26, 2010

I have read every word of this letter and all the comments. Reason: I will be doing something similar for my 4 year old grandson’s kindergarten class. The teacher says we only have about 20 minutes or a bit more to keep their attention. I have been agonizing over what art to have them do. Should it be a simple shape — round with pointed ears, whiskers, etc. to make a cat? Should it be just abstract moving around of paint? I am not a teacher of children, but I have participated at an elementary school where every 20 minutes a different class (from kindergarten through sixth grade) came through and watched me create a simple pastel painting of a tree and they were allowed to ask questions. What to do? How to make it only fun and also a memory of “doing art!” Any ideas? I have read some things above that have sparked some thoughts. And, I will re-read it again for more inspiration of what to do for those 4 year olds! I do look forward to it!

From: Jan Ross — Nov 26, 2010

When my older daughter, Jackie, came home from kindergarten with a handful of lovely, colorful drawings of her family, I couldn’t help but be curious about the two large dark circles centered on ‘mommy’s face’ (with legs, arms, lots of fingers, long hair and a smile attached). Jackie’s response,”Nostrils. When I look up at you, I’m looking up your nostrils.” Out of the mouths of babes!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Nov 26, 2010

The first thing they should teach on the first day of Art Education class is that when children are making art, they are extremely vulnerable. This is why many people as adults remember every single snide remark made by an insensitive teacher, or pick up on negatvity. A teacher in an art class is not having casual conversation, she is providing an experience that leaves her students richer for life, or wounded and afraid of making things. They also overvalue famous artists, leaving adults saying, “Well, I’m no Picasso.”). These seemingly indelible ideas provide a cracked foundation for future work, and have to be worked through in order to be vulnerable again.

From: Susan Kellogg, San Leanna, TX — Nov 26, 2010

I guess that persistence pays off!

From: Linda Flaherty — Nov 26, 2010

I enjoyed your column describing your foray into the Kindergarten class. Having taught many art classes with children of many ages myself, at some point I took a tip from the Impressionists and stopped giving them any brown or black – maybe a little only at the tail end of a project, for an accent of some sort – then hope for the best. This helps a little bit.

The other thing that raises it’s head over and over, is that even if young people use a certain amount of restraint, and don’t smear all the colors together into murky brown or purple, and have a nice composition going – turn your back for one second, and you’ll return to find that they’ve scrawled their name on the work in such big letters that it overtakes any design that was happening. I seem to forget this is coming and often do not succeed in heading this one off. There’s a lesson is psychology here somewhere, both for them and for me.
From: Brenda Behr — Nov 26, 2010

I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner watching you with all those kids. I would have been taking notes.

When I was twelve years old I began teaching art though a youth activities program at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. It was a mistake for me to be the teacher. My lessons were all about staying inside the box. I was teaching the basics. I thought at the time I was teaching the rules. That was the problem! Those kids had so much more to teach me, than I, them. It has taken me almost fifty years to write the artist statement that is currently on my website. I share it with you here. “It takes one a long time to become young.” – Picasso “It took me a long time to appreciate Picasso.” – Behr Once in awhile, like most other artists, I feel compelled to prove how well I can copy “reality”, how real I can make my subject matter look, or I am commissioned by someone else to do this. In a nutshell, here’s what it has taken me my life as an artist to conclude… The older I get, the more I know that children know more than I do what drawing and painting are all about. It’s about seeing and showing green the way we saw it the first time. It’s about seeing and depicting our mothers, the way we saw her for the first time. It’s about first impressions and about expressing those first impressions. Further than this, it’s about showing our first, most impacting impressions using value, form, and color in a way that is aesthetically appealing. When I can do the aforementioned and do it consistently, I will consider myself a successful artist. Until then, I’m enjoying the journey, and especially enjoying it when someone else finds pleasure in my perspective. I hope that you’ll enjoy my views.
From: Ruth Quinlan — Nov 26, 2010

Your writing is terrific, Robert–the kindergarten art class piece a treasure. Keep teaching! (And writing and painting and walking and…..)

From: Janet Toney — Nov 27, 2010

I’ve not been reading the newsletters of late, too much stuff to do, but certainly am glad I saw this one.

It’s a good letter and fun to remember myself as a child and how my love of art began. Also fun to remember my grand daughter who is now nearly 17, and how she’s also loved drawing and creating ever since any of us can remember. And! The littlest grand daughter who is four just said to me last Sunday, “Nana, I love to paint.” “I do too sweetie.” I said.
From: Andrew Baker — Nov 30, 2010

As someone who runs ‘Sensory Arts’ sessions for young people and their families, latterly with children and their families with disabilities, I am reminded that your perceptions about what happened in that session through the lens of your experience was only a fragment of what this means to the child.

The play and exploratory aspect was primary in this session and the artistic achiever dimension was secondary. They could have taught you that making and effecting with materials is a validating experience in itself and that this is the same root that belongs to all who take the artistic journey as well as those who do not. This is before the judgment ego provides permission to some to continue and some to not. Every adult in my experience has a time when their love of this becomes validated or blocked. What is crucial to experience in these early years is the importance of ‘flow’. A therapeutic value which is both creative in its productive sense but also vital to emotional depth and maturity in later years. A tutor or enabler has a vital role in protecting this space and understanding that play is a serious business as a way of working the world out and making connections which are pre literate and qualitative. We as adults have largely forgotten this under our natural pressure to order the chaos and to rationalize. We are then subject at some crisis point in our adult lives to revisit a dip into the unknown to recast our preconceptions and priorities and vitally to trust our intuition. We surely draw upon our early experience as a child as we do this and we remember some person with dangling glasses was with us and understood this too.
From: Lorraine M. Bates — Dec 01, 2010

I have a grandchild in 5 year old kindergarten in California and I can really relate to this article. My little guy loves painting and of course I encourage him as much as I am able. When I visit I take paper and paints and we always spent our time together one on one painting each day that I am there visiting. This has kept us so close now at 5 he phones me here in the Okanagan from Cupertino, Ca and we chat at least once a week. His usual opening is Hi Grandma guess wheat I made or did today, the very best was last year when he told me about making, drawing and painting his own comic book. His paintings are hanging all around his parents kitchen and have been since he was about 2 1/2. We all love “painting” and I loved this article, it is amazing how little ones love to be near those of us who just ‘sit around and paint”.

From: SJ Snead — Dec 03, 2010

Painting is like everything else I love. Every now and again I’d like to wring it’s neck.

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Italian Garden

acrylic painting, 15 x 30 inches by Kathleen Turnbull, Calgary, AB, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Michael Fuerst of Urbana, IL, USA, who wrote, “Picasso once remarked something along the lines of that he could draw like a master at age 8, but spent his [adult]life learning to draw like a child.” And also Lynda Pogue of Georgetown, ON, Canada, who wrote, “A kindergarten teacher friend by the name of Dennison told me four year old Joshua said to her: ‘Mrs. Dennis, my heart tells me I need to paint.'”    

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