The trees have shed their blossoms and filled their branches with lush green leaves. The first blooms of spring have faded and new flowers are beginning to take their places. And at this time, it‘s traditional to celebrate life in all its richness. It’s a period of growth and variety as gardens and fields flourish in riots of colour, filling with birds and bugs. There are many ways to mark this change in seasons, from spring to summer and as an artist educator specialising in facilitating contemporary art based learning experiences for the early years sector I have developed a few activities that engage with the vibrancy of this time of year. Here are some of my favourites:
Damien Hirst’s spin paintings are inspired by an old children’s toy. But while the toy makes small paintings, Damien Hirst’s are enormous. They’re full of brilliant, vivid colour and abstract patterns. If you’re near a contemporary art gallery you might be able to go and see one in real life.
To make spin paintings I use a lazy susan which I place in a box or tall sided tray to catch the mess. Then the children take it in turns to:
1. Put a circle of THICK white paper on the turntable
2. Squirt paint at it from bottles or drip, pour and splat paint from pots or scoop paint with spoons onto the paper while I spin it as fast I can.
This doubles as a great experiment by which the children can observe centrifugal force in action and the effect of applying paint in different ways – slow trickles make circles and spiral as the paper spins. Quick squirts and splats make splashes as the paint gets flung to the edges of the paper and the colours begin to mix and swirl making fascinating radial patterns – there’s plenty to talk about!
Alternatively you could use a salad spinner to spin your pictures:
- Place a circle of THICK white paper in the basket of your salad spinner
- Scoop or squirt blobs of paint in the middle of the paper
- Put the lid on and spin the spinner as fast as you can
- Take the lid off to see how your picture has changed.
- You might decide that it’s finished or maybe you’ll want to add more paint and spin it again to see what effect this has on your picture.
It’s important that the paint is fluid enough to flow well but not too thin. To achieve this, add a little water and a generous amount of PVA glue to some ordinary ready mixed poster paint. Depending on the particular interests of the participating children, this can end up using a lot of paint so adding PVA and water helps to make it last longer too.
You can extend your exploration of colour through the work of Damien Hirst with some spot paintings printed with bottle tops or sponges.
Another artist who makes vividly colourful abstract paintings is Holton Rower. His process is of equal interest to the under 5’s as he creates his work by pouring paint onto canvases placed flat on the floor. Holton Rower typically pours paint into the centre of his canvas, allowing it to spread out in a growing puddle and pouring each colour in the middle of the previous one. It’s a behaviour that I’ve observed over and over in the children that I work with and a process that offers another chance to observe forces in action in a way that can directly meet their interests.
Again this needs lots of thick runny paint, so I mix poster paint with PVA to get a good consistency.
1. Simply scoop the paint from pots with different sized spoons and drip it on your paper.
2. Watch as it pools and spreads out across your paper (thick white paper again).
3. You might want to put some obstacles on your paper to change the course of the paint, bottle lids or cardboard tubes for instance. This can result in petal-like formations and children often tell me that these paintings look like flowers.
Other variations that I’ve experimented with include pouring the paint down tubes (hand held or suspended form the ceiling) or onto wooden blocks, yoghurt pots and towers of lids.
For a less resource-intensive version of this, you can mix poster paint with water and use pipettes to pick up and drip the paint onto sections of kitchen roll, or thick paper napkins. This also creates pictures that the children liken to flowers and they’re often fascinated by the spread of paint as it bleeds into the paper towel, growing and blossoming and creating new swirly patterns and mixtures of colours.
Like many children’s art activities, the works that result from these will need a safe flat surface to dry on (perhaps over the weekend) so it’s worth making sure your drying rack is empty and close at hand before you start!
A final activity, most appropriate for pre-school groups is to use watercolours and/or pastels to make pictures of flowers from observation. Provide some real flowers for the children to look at while they work – pay close attention to the shapes and colours and try to copy them to create a close likeness of a flower. Georgia O’Keeffe is a great artist to look at for an example.
You can even re-use your cut flowers, dipping them in coloured ink and using them to print and paint with – what sorts of marks and effects can you create?
The important thing to remember is that you can’t do anything wrong when you’re making art – this is an opportunity to freely explore the possibilities presented by the materials at hand. And to begin to develop an aesthetic awareness of the environment, its rhythms and changing appearance and to celebrate this creatively.
About the author
Matthew Kay is an artist and early years art specialist with 16 years experience of delivering arts education in primary schools and nurseries. He facilitates contemporary art inspired learning experiences for nurseries and pre-schools in South West London, as Eyes Pie Arts. To find out more, visit his website here or email him.