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Art to Heart

Art at Home: A Mother's Perspective

Cyndi Young, shown doing art at home with her youngest daughter Georgia, is an art teacher in Louisville. But as she explains in the following article, you don't have to be trained in art to plan and enjoy art activities with your child. You just need the desire to give your child opportunities to create and some simple materials.

I think the fact that I am an art teacher is a testimony to the importance I place on the production of art. However, I was a parent long before an art teacher, and it was that experience with my children that most likely guided me into my career.

My fondest memories from my own childhood were the rainy days on which my mother would pull out the empty containers, toilet paper rolls, scissors, glue, paint, wrapping paper, scrap fabric-whatever-and she would play with us. We created dollhouses, cities, race courses, cars, dolls, game boards, anything we could imagine. She was terrific at letting our interests guide the activity. Upon reflection, this event was astonishing, because my mother did not tolerate a mess. Yet she always provided us an opportunity to create. As we got older and messier, we moved our projects outside or to the basement. Naturally, I wanted to duplicate these types of memories for my children.

Going to the Museum

I believe that children need to be exposed to art over and over again. Children-all of us, actually-need exposure to something visual that isn't on a TV or video screen. Georgia and I frequently go to the museum. However, our stay may be only five to ten minutes long. Georgia leads the way by finding an artwork that fascinates her and tells me about it. If she asks, I will share any information that I think she may want to know. We can then leave or look at something else of her choosing. Either way is great fun. It's enjoyable to find out what Georgia sees in a particular piece of artwork (color, lines, etc.). She had an awesome experience with a Mary Cassatt painting of two little girls at Louisville's Speed Museum when she was just a little more than 2. She talked to the painting. It was charming.

When we visit the Speed Museum, we always venture down to Art Sparks to let Georgia play. (Her first trip to Art Sparks was at 3 weeks old.) On our way out, she often wants to see one last piece of artwork. I have found that these types of experiences inspire her own creativity.

What About Materials?

Georgia has had access to pencils and crayons since she was old enough to sit up. I try to keep the process and materials pretty simple. We have painted on the sidewalk with water, played with finger paint, and modeled with play-dough. Probably the most complicated thing we did was when I took a roll of butcher paper and traced her body outline and let her make marks on it.

As far as working these kinds of activities into our daily routine, I don't allow Georgia to watch TV during the week, which creates an opportunity for her to entertain herself. She draws, decorates her room with Post-its, sculpts with play-dough, or plays in her sandbox. We have a designated area (including bins) for painting and play-dough. Her easel was a junk-day find; you can find one used at a consignment shop or yard sale or new at a discount store. Craft and hobby shops are great sources for materials, along with online sources such as Dick Blick. We also use found materials from around the house or yard.

Drawing can happen anywhere, and we have a backpack filled with sketchbooks, markers, pencils, and crayons. We have worked in terra cotta clay (or Mexican self-hardening clay-look for it at a local art store or online at Dick Blick), which is relatively inexpensive and messy fun. We also love working with plaster (you'll find it at a building supply center for around $7.00 for 25 pounds).

Here are a few of our favorite activities:

Plaster Masks: Casting in the Sandbox

  1. Create a depression in moistened sand. Dig out a star, flower, cactus, handprint, or footprint or any shape desired. It should be no more than 12 inches in diameter and 2-3 inches deep.
  2. Lightly press objects (such as bottle caps, sea glass, marbles, twigs) into the sand facedown. Or draw a face or patterns in the sand with sticks.
  3. Mix plaster: Put two parts dry plaster into a ziplock freezer bag, add one part water, and seal. Mix plaster by gently pressing out all the lumps. You don't have much time; it sets in 3-5 minutes.
  4. To pour the plaster so you don't destroy the mold, place your hand (or your child's) a few inches over the mold. Cut a bottom corner of the freezer bag and pour the plaster onto the hand and then into the mold.
  5. Rinse hand in bucket of water. NOTE: Never rinse plaster out in a sink-it will clog!
  6. After the plaster has set a bit, make a wire loop and place it in the back of the plaster.
  7. After it is hardened (20 minutes), carefully dig it out around the edges.
  8. Rinse your plaster piece in a bucket, gently rubbing off sand. It can be painted if desired.

Plaster Bag Sculpture

  1. Mix plaster in a ziplock bag (two parts plaster to one part water) and let set for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Gently push and press the plaster bag into desired shape. This can be a relief or a free-standing sculpture.
  3. Let it set for 30 to 60 minutes.
  4. Remove the sculpture from the bag.
  5. Paint it with watercolor paints.

Painting Together

Either you or your child makes the first shape. Then take turns embellishing around it until you have filled the page. Connect one shape to another using pattern and line. This can be done on any size sheet of paper, and is also a fun way to decorate and fill in body outlines made on kraft paper.

Helpful Hints

  • Use small brushes. I don't know why we always seem to give the huge monster-size brushes to little hands (no wonder young children get frustrated about losing detail).
  • Use a separate brush for each color. With early supervision, you can teach your child not to muddy the paint by keeping each brush with its color. That way the color experimentation is on the paper where your child can see it and control it.

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