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Artist & Son

Recently I helped my three year old son discover painting for the first time. While we were working, I couldn't help but wonder if my instructions, coming from an artist, differed from others. So I thought I'd share my teaching method in hopes of answering this question.

The first thing we did was prepare his work area. At this stage, he is really interested in process. Any activity that leads to another activity has his undivided attention. So we pulled out his little desk & chair to the center of the living area, cleaned it off and set up his tools. We laid down a few sheets of large paper, his new kid gouache set with its sturdy brush, some extra brushes, paper towels, a few crayons and a small baby food jar of water, set down with the special instruction: NO DRINKING.

We then put on his plastic painting smock and got down to business. I put the best brush, a colorful bristly one, in his tiny hand and took another one. I then showed him how to wet the brush, bring it to the palette and turn it round and round to absorb the paint and then drag it slowly across the paper. He followed my actions in real time and was so delighted to see the color flow off in such interesting ways.

That’s pretty much when he must have said to himself, “Ok, I get it. Now let me see what this baby can do!”

Several minutes went by where he proceeded to smash, smear, speckle, stipple, wash and overlay color after color, all while switching hands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him have so much fun indoors! He definitely appreciated painting much more over drawing which usually only occupied him for two minutes at the most.

Then I asked myself why I hadn’t tried this earlier and I knew the answer. When our son turned a year old, I started to wonder at what age children begin to draw. According to most moms, children could start at a year old, though, as with most things, all children differ. Our son thought fat graphite in a clutch was interesting at around 2.

Here is a video of it.

But he didn’t find it as interesting as trains, THE obsession since babyhood. Mind you, I had no intention of forcing my own creative passion on my offspring. I do, however, find drawing and painting invaluable and wanted to pass on my knowledge if ever I detected the slightest interest. Also, I knew I wasn’t a fan of the “let’s stimulate the senses” through finger paint, flour or some other messy material. I noticed early on that he didn’t like getting himself dirty, much like me (though he is very neat in general and I am not…).

So I decided I wanted to teach him in a more classical sense – these are the tools and here is how you use them. And he wasn’t ready for tools until now. Later, he can study other things which expand the mind for creativity and can be applied once the tools are mastered.

For now, I think it’s fine to just familiarize him with the joy and sensuality of painting. I’m glad he noticed there are many “effects” you can get from a brush just by using it in different ways. While he paints, I gently point out interesting things about his artwork. For example, with this painting, I pointed out the brushstrokes looked like stormy clouds (he’s fascinated with storms at the moment). This really encouraged him in to make more, trying to draw a storm as he imagines it. Then I told him he could use different tools on the same drawing and pointed to his markers. He was delighted and added the red scribble at the top of his painting.

Of course, the painting is a masterpiece! Here is a full shot of the artwork: