Updated: Jun 29, 2022
Let’s say you're at home and you notice your child drawing on a sheet of paper. Or your child shares that they like to draw, paint, or create art.
As an artist, art educator, and parent with 30 years of teaching under my belt, I know the thought of being able to nourish an art appetite can be intimidating. Children are natural makers, but many of us lose our creative spirit by the time we reach adulthood. That's why I'm excited to share this handful of simple strategies (and inspirational quotes from 19th century painter and teacher Robert Henri) so you'll be confident in raising joyful, confident, and inventive artists, even if you don’t feel well-versed in art-making yourself!
They can be simple ones–Picasso used crayon, newspaper, cork, cardboard, and other assorted unexpected materials. Assemble a variety of things–paints, pencils, pens, markers, papers of different sizes and textures, buttons, beads, glue, tape, magazines, recycled materials, odds and ends. Working outside with natural materials like Andy Goldsworthy can be awe-inspiring.
Even the most mundane things you have lying around the house–Post-it notes, toilet paper tubes, paper clips, etc.–can find their way into your child’s creation (The artist Vic Muniz has even used sugar, dust, and peanut butter and jelly!). For older children, try investing in some higher quality materials. You might even take your child to an art supply store, to buy a special something, or just to inspire ideas for possible materials.
“Be venturesome. Try new things that appeal to you. Examine others. Have a pioneer spirit. Prevent your drawing from being common. Put life into it.”
Give them space and privacy if they need it.
Some kids may feel inhibited by having someone looking over their shoulder while they work their magic. Ask them if they’d like you around or would prefer alone time to create.
“Don't worry about your originality. You couldn't get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”
Emphasize the process
This is a big one. All too often, we focus on the end product. When given the space and invitation to enjoy the making without waiting for the made, for the outcome, there is a freedom and pure joy that, ironically, allows them to arrive at an authentic work of art that may be beautiful or that may just be, which is okay too. A sketchbook is a great way for your child (and you!) to understand the value of experimentation, practice, and partial and preliminary sketches (even Picasso did this!) as well as to see the progression of their skills (remember to date the work).
“The object isn't to make art, it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”
Avoid value judgement.
Labeling good or bad, right or wrong is counter-productive and will often result in kids losing interest in being a maker. Negative comments are of course defeating, but even positive ones can be detrimental, creating pressure to achieve, to repeat the success, which can result in creative paralysis.
When your child wants to know what you think about their work, ask them questions that will lead to a conversation. Express interest and curiosity in a way that’s expansive, allowing your child to describe what they’ve done. Encourage them to keep going, to keep telling their stories, sharing their visions. More than that you’re proud of what they’ve done, let them know you’re proud that they’re doing it. This will go a long way to establishing a discipline, a practice. Instilling a strong creative work ethic provides the gift of a lifelong expressive outlet.
“Genius is not a possession of the limited few, but exists in some degree in everyone. Where there is natural growth, a full and free play of faculties, genius will manifest itself.”
Introduce them to other artists and their work.
Find inspiration in books and museums that will give them a glimpse into art through the ages. Your local library is a good place to start.
Take them to galleries to see contemporary artists. See if you can set up a studio visit with a local artist.
Check out local art museums too. Here’s some advice for how to make a trip to an art museum fun for you and your child. Many art museums, galleries, or arts organizations offer classes and other opportunities. Virtual visits work too!
"There is no art without contemplation."
Both of my daughters’ parents are artists. We have both exposed them to artwork and artists, and have invited them into our worlds of creation. We have laid out materials and given them space, but we have no expectations. One of my daughters isn’t particularly interested in art, but when she does it, she enjoys it. My other daughter works on her art all of the time; it’s her passion. We have encouraged her in the ways I’ve mentioned above. Most of all though, we’ve gotten out of her way.
If your child is always creating, I say this: you’ve done a great job already, keep supporting and encouraging, and then trust that they will know what to do next. Classes are great, in particular if they request them, but if your child is already flourishing in their work at home, no need to supplement.
As a Co-Teacher, I can offer accessible techniques for teaching art fundamentals to any age (while these are sophisticated ideas, some tried and true tips make them easily translatable for kids). Examples of some concepts and exercises I can help you unlock with your child:
Understanding positive and negative space
Making sense of proportion and perspective
Celebrate your young artist by giving them the tools, techniques, and time to flourish!