Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In the Artroom: Abstract Painting and Troubleshooting

I teach this abstract painting lesson to my kindergarteners every year and each time, these fun and funky paintings remind me of them: energetic, colorful and full of life.

 As the tiniest of artists that visit my room finish these paintings, I thought I'd share them with you. Each one painted is like a little celebration of life. They make me pretty happy. I mean, how can you not smile just lookin' at em?

"Wiggly snakes and a pokey tree." Seriously? I don't even think Picasso could have painted such awesomeness.

 Interested in doing a little abstract painting? It's not just for kindergarters, ya know. Although they sure do make it a lot more interesting. 

We began our paintings with black tempra paint on 12" by 12" squares of paper. We'd spent a lot of time talking about lines, learning their names and even sculpting with them. We chatted about avoiding the temptation of just painting our entire paper black (oh, the lure of the Dark Side) and simply filling our paintings with lines. Because many of the kids where just getting the feel of painting for the first time, we painted two line paintings. The examples above show the big difference between our first and second attempt at line painting.

We were all set to add color to our masterpieces when this happened...
You see that big empty spot on the bottom left? That's a hole in the paint tray. Notice the crack in the red paint spot as well. Yeah, no bueno.
I love to use tempra cakes with the little ones and as I was getting them out that morning, I noticed huge holes in the paint trays. This really bummed me out. The company that makes these cakes sells replacement ones with the idea that you can simply add refills to the tray. Sadly, the plastic they use for the trays is so thin that over time (like, one year) the trays crack and break. Obviously, that wasn't gonna work.
 Not wanting to waste any of the cakes, I had the idea that I could just add the bits and pieces of dried tempra paint to cups with water. My fingers were crossed that by the time the kindergarteners got to the art room, the paint would have dissolved a pinch and be ready for use.
 How I set up for painting: 
  • One paint tray, cup of water and "dirty Ol' Sponge Bob" for every two students
  •  Above supplies sit on a "messy mat" 
  • Messy mat (which is usually just junky newsprint or manilla paper) under each painting
When I demo to the kids, I tell them that their paint brush is like a ballerina, she is always dancing on her tippy toes. We should never see our Paint Brush Ballerina scooting across our paintings on her bottom (you know, when they scrub that paint brush into their painting, ruining the bristles and their work). I also show them how to give their paint brush a bath in the cup of water (where no splashing is allowed) and dry off on Dirty Ol' Sponge Bob before changing to another color. To avoid drip drops, the kids learn to wipe excess paint on the lip of the cup with this little rhyme: "if it starts to drip, wipe it on the lip...(pointing to our own lips) but not these lips!"
We also learn that there are three parts to a paint brush: the bristles (aka Ballerina Toes), the handle (it's called a handle because that's where your hands go. If they called it a foot-le or a nose-le, we'd have a hard time painting) and The Danger Zone (technically the ferrel). We call that metal band The Danger Zone because if you put your fingers there, they are in Danger of getting mighty messy.
 The end result? I think the paint was actually more vibrant than previously. There was also less struggle with the kids when it came to loading their brush with paint. As you can see in the photo of the tray, they have a tendency to gouge out the middle of the paint  and claim they "don't have anymore" when there is obviously paint around the edge.

 Back to the project. When chatting about adding color to our paintings, I asked the kids if they would please add color to the white areas. The areas with black paint were already filled in, so no need to paint that.

 As they finished up adding color, we moved on to adding patterns. This proved to be a great exercise in fine motor skills for the kids. They delicately worked that ballerina brush with stripes, dots and lines.
Love the overlapping patterns.
I absolutely love this painting. This artist painted everywhere, skipped that part about Ballerina Brushes and avoided those fussy patterns. And it worked out beautifully.
Favorite part about this photo? That little red Mary Jane.
How do you know you've had a good day in the art room? Masterpieces on the drying rack and a sink that looks like this.
 And...since we are on the subject of the art room, I have a little something to share with you:

 I have a project idea in mind for all 400 of my elementary students: I want them each to create an animal sculpture out of clay. Once glazed and fired, these sculptures will be sold to their parents for a monetary donation of their choice. The funds we collect will then be donated to our local no-kill humane society called Happy Tales Humane. I really want my students to learn the importance of using their artistic skills to help others.

The problem? We lack the funding. We need close to $200 to purchase 200 lbs of clay and glaze. I'm using DonorsChoose.org to help raise the funds. If you'd like to donate any amount (there is no such thing as too small), you can visit this link. Also, if you enter the code INSPIRE, DonorsChoose will match the amount dollar for dollar. 

Thanks for reading!


  1. Beautiful vibrant colors:) Thanks also for the sponge tip for cleaning brushes - I'll be tryubg that one out :) Elizabeth

  2. Love the last photo! That's exactly how my sink looks at the end of the day. Lovely post!

  3. Lovely works! I love how they paint abstract so easily!
    Chris at Hockadayart.blogspot.com

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  5. One time you mentioned giving kids a paint break if they start mixing colors together and making them all a brownish mess.... how do you do that specifically with elementary 1-3 grades?


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