Helping kids look at world with the eyes of an artist

Posted July 25, 2011, at 3:06 p.m.

Whether they’re sketching like da Vinci or splattering like Pollock, honing technique or letting their creativity run free, kids can use the long days of summer to dive into art — a skill-building, mind-expanding activity that’s fun no matter how good you are at it.

When kids are resistant to art, incorporating an activity they do enjoy can grease the wheels, said Cassi Griffin, founder of the blog The Crafty Crow, at thecraftycrow.net. For example, a child who loves toy cars could use chalk to draw a cityscape through which his vehicles could travel. A restless child might enjoy a scavenger hunt that sends her searching for certain colors in the backyard.

Griffin advocates recycling used products or finding items in nature to use as art tools. Newspapers can serve as canvas, feathers as paintbrushes and pine cones or sliced carrots can make prints.

Art projects teach kids to pay attention to detail, how colors work together and other principles of visual art, Griffin said. Still, if your child’s attempt to re-create “Starry Night” looks more like a giant blob, it’s important to be encouraging.

“Sometimes you have this expectation that it should look a certain way,” Griffin said, “but you need to … realize it’s really just about the experience.”

Kids — and parents — might be surprised to discover what they can do.

Professional cartoonist Mark Kistler, host of the public television how-to-draw series “Mark Kistler’s Imagination Station,” is traveling across the country this summer holding five-day art camps to teach kids three-dimensional drawing, which he says requires no innate talent.

Kistler, who also offers online drawing courses on draw3D.com, said kids can practice on their own by tracing the work of their favorite illustrators, studying how shadows relate to the light source or by taking a trip to the zoo to draw rough shapes of the animals.

“I can’t think of anything more powerfully self-esteem building and genius building,” Kistler said. “It is such a powerful, joyful thing to learn.”

Pooling their talents

“The Big Messy Art Book” (Gryphon House) by MaryAnn Kohl says a great activity for kids is “wading pool painting.” It goes like this:

1. Cover the bottom of a plastic wading pool (about a foot deep) with sheets of paper.

2. Squirt blobs of tempera paints on the paper here and there. Put tennis balls, golf balls and any other round objects (say, grapefruits and oranges) inside the pool.

3. Several kids lift the pool by its edges and tip it back and forth, letting the balls roll through the paint.

4. Proudly display the resulting abstract paintings.

Such “process art” with no planned outcome is ideal for younger kids who will have fun flicking paint. But even older kids can benefit from exploratory art because they can use the brain break, Kohl said.

Check it out

Three websites that offer art activities:

• Draw3D.com has online drawing courses, sample videos and summer art camp information from cartoonist Mark Kistler.

• Thecraftycrow.net is a children’s collective that compiles great online craft activities.

• Brightring.com offers activities and books from children’s art author MaryAnn Kohl.

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