Friday, November 18, 2016

Painting With (and on) Fingers and Hands

“Paint goes on the paper.”
“Use your brush, not your hands.”
“We’re not finger painting today.”

I’ve heard these phrases over and over, as teachers try to guide the children to use whatever painting tool and surface that had been provided, and not stick their fingers into the paint. Or not trace the brush up their hands and arms, or not finish their work by swiping their hands across and around the paper.

The fact that each time a paint is provided, children are drawn to use their hands and fingers means that there’s something compelling to them about using those tools rather than a brush or whatever object the teacher had planned. If this is how the materials are speaking to the children, and we truly believe that art should be focused on process, not product, then why do teachers spend so much time trying to redirect children from their innate drive to create art in the most tactile way?

Last week I put out the paint trays with q-tips (cotton swabs). For the younger children, the small q-tips are easier to manipulate than large brushes. Also, knowing that it’s likely some children will abandon the brush, or use all the brushes at once, q-tips are more manageable for me and are easier to clean up.

The work started with children using the q-tips to make designs and blocks of color on their paper.

But then, the exploration shifted. A finger, and then a hand, became the palette to apply paint to.

 And then, the rainbow striped finger became the tool to apply paint to the paper.

 None of this was random. The children concentrated as they applied paint, layer by layer, observing as the colors blended or not, noticing stripes and dots and waves across their hands. They noticed the shades mixing together, as red and yellow became orange and blue and green and red became black. 

As they moved the paint with precision across their hands, I wondered, why would we value the art created on the palm of a hand any less than the art created on paper?

Why stop the fingers dipped in paint, why send the children off to wash the masterpiece off their hands before it’s completed? Instead, why not move into the child’s world, and appreciate the work before us – even if it’s on a hand instead of paper.


  1. My grand daughter 4 is in my preschool book. She zAkways wants to paint in her body. Thanks for changing my perspective on this v