Saturday, December 17, 2016

Painting Their Way - Pouring Paint

It started as a simple watercolor paint activity. Two colors of liquid watercolor paint in spill proof cups, and sheet of watercolor paper.

The children started to paint with the brushes, but soon one child picked up the cup and began to pour out the paint. “Spill proof” doesn’t mean “pour proof”, and soon drips of paint were puddling on the paper.

I suggested, “Why don’t you try using your brush?” which she did, as she poured, and then let her brush fall to the paper. Obviously, this particular artist wasn’t interested in brushwork today. Another child, observing her neighbor's work, put down her brush and turned to pouring and shaking the paint cups instead.

The paint tumbled into in blue and purple pools on the paper and the surrounding table. I brought out some paper towels to wipe the table. The children took the towels, but instead of wiping the table, wiped their paintings instead, watching as the color soaked through the towel and the paint swirled on their papers.

In the end, their paintings were beautiful blobs of muted color.

The paper towels too were works of art, and the children examined the shapes and designs they had created as they soaked and wiped them through the paint.

Watching this process, I kept thinking of the contrast between how we teach child artists, and how we value adult artists’ work. Even as I watched the intent with which a child was determined to pour paint onto the paper, I still felt a need to encourage her to use her brush. How many other teachers would have put a complete stop to pouring out paint, because “that’s not what the paint is for” or “we’re using brushes today?”

These children were in complete control of their artistic process and were completely engaged in the exploration of how liquids move and are absorbed. Teaching is more than instructing the children what to do, it’s knowing when they don’t need instruction. We look at works by Jackson Pollack, Helen Frankenthaler, and Morris Louis, and are mesmerized by their technique, and by those artists' ability to think outside the limits of conventional art. We need to be able to look at children’s art the same way, and trust that they know what they are creating, and how to create it.

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