Do you have a kiddo that just isn’t into doing art projects? Maybe they start a project, get frustrated, and quit. Or maybe they are too timid to approach it in the first place. I used to have one of those kids. I still have him, but he’s gained a new confidence in art.
It all started when he was around 2 or so. I love art and tried to do art projects with him all the time. He’s always been more advanced as far as language and understanding. He had perfectionist tendencies even then. If he tried to draw a picture of a lion, and saw that it didn’t look like a lion, he would be devastated. Sometimes he would ask me to draw the lion. I would draw it and it would kind of look like the animal. Which frustrated him even more. He was only 2 and couldn’t make the marker do what he wanted and every art session ended in a meltdown.
Enter: Process art.
What is process art? It is the creative process that focuses on the artistic journey of actually creating something, rather than focusing on the end product. In process art, you don’t even have an end product in mind.
We started doing process art with him. We wouldn’t draw “life-like” things in front of him for a few years. We would pour big globs of paint on a page and start swirling and swirling. We would drive cars through paint. Stick stickers all over a page. Cut paper just to cut paper.
Coloring books were out. Staying in the lines is the same as following rules and there are no rules in art.
We hit a period where he didn’t want to approach art at all. Even process art. He liked it a little, but he didn’t like it getting on his hands. He also still carried those perfectionist tendencies with him and started trying to create with an end goal in mind.
Fast forward to now. He is 6 years old. We signed up for a 10 week art class that was 100% process-based. Each class began with drawing in a notepad. Whatever they wanted. Then they went into this brilliant paint room with dried paint drippings splattered everywhere! So you wouldn’t even know that you dripped paint on the floor. Everything focused on motions and the experience of creating.
A note about praise. It’s common for parents to want to praise artwork. But it’s best not to because it turns the art from being something the child enjoys doing into something the child is trying to “achieve” to please you. “My mom didn’t say this one was amazing. It must not be very good.” The best thing to do is ask them about it. “Tell me about your painting?” That way it leaves the joy to them. We can cheer for them on the inside!
What does process art teach?
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills (one art class was everyone dancing and painting at the same time)
- Spatial reasoning
- Sensory exploration
- Literacy, math, reading, language, science (we are learning about outer space by creating paper-mache planets)
- Art history and techniques
That isn’t even an exhaustive list. Process art can also teach emotional intelligence, meditation, and social skills.
How can I do process art at home?
This is a great answer for those that think they aren’t artistic. Although, honestly, I think everyone is artistic. I think people that think they aren’t artistic are ones that have been raised in a way that the focus was always on the product. Anyone can create! Process art will even give you, “non-artistic people,” the confidence in yourself again that you are artistic. We all express ourselves in different ways. Art isn’t any different.
You can do process art at home easily. It doesn’t require much preparation beyond acquiring some awesome supplies. Some supplies we like to always have on hand.
- All kinds of paper (we like card stock, watercolor paper, and drawing pads). We like drawing pads like this one. We used drawing pads in art class so the child can just flip to the next page. It allows you to see your child’s work over time too, which is fun. And it’s much easier to manage one notepad instead of fifty sheets of loose paper.
- All kinds of paint (tempera, acrylic, and watercolor are our most used). We like this tempera paint. As far as watercolor paints, I kind of despise those kind when I was in school with little dried blocks of paint. They are so dull and a pain. We like liquid watercolors. Kids just need a little guidance on using them.
- Glitter (Don’t be scared. Everyone needs a little sparkle in their lives. And on their floors. And in their eyeballs.). We just bought this big container of silver glitter. I just portion some out into a bowl for them to use however they like. Usually it is sprinkled on a painting or mixed into the paint. But it’s great quality and will last for awhile.
- Paint brushes. Buy quality paint brushes. Nothing is more irritating than supplies that don’t work properly because they are terrible quality. Like those plastic paint brushes with plastic bristles that basically scratch through your work without actually spreading the paint.
Other supplies that are useful to have around.
- Glue. Glue sticks. Liquid glue. Sparkly glue.
- Sponges and other shapes and objects for stamping or sculpture building (even saved up wine corks, toilet paper rolls, birthday ribbons, tissue paper).
- Beads, pompoms, sequins, googly eyes.
- Glow-in-the-dark paint. We like this one.
- Natural materials like rocks, pine cones, sticks, and leaves that you find on a nature walk.
Seriously. It’s hard not to be a supply hoarder. Organization is helpful. Although I haven’t quite mastered the whole organization thing at all (my kitchen table is covered in markers and paper-mache planets as I type).
To set up, just lay out the supplies. This is sometimes called “an invitation.” It could be a sheet of paper (even printer paper if that’s all you have on hand), a bowl of glitter, an egg carton (or some bowls) with a few paint colors in them, paintbrushes. And that’s it. Or paper, tape, and tissue paper bits and pieces. Or clay, little beads, and glitter. Basically, you are just putting supplies out that look beautiful and interesting and letting the child explore them however feels good to them at that moment.
But the mess!!!
There’s no way around this one. There will be mess. It is something that you have to embrace. Maybe it will be a healing experience! Why do messes bother you? Were your parents weird about messes growing up? A lot of times that could be the beginning stages of the culprit inside of you that cringes when you see paint touch the table, or an arm, or clothing, or, gasp!, the floor! I promise I’m not making fun of you. I experience these moments. They remind me that if something is going to make me start trying to micromanage their movements, then I need to be proactive.
- Put down a big tarp if it makes you feel better.
- Put down newspapers to catch drippings.
- Do the art on a hard surface to make it easier to clean.
- Wear old clothes.
- Create near a sink. Or a tub. And throw them in it when you are done.
- If it’s nice out, you could always create outside. But the weather is not dependable, so finding a way to do activities inside could be a sanity saver when you are stuck inside because of bad weather.
But for the love of all that is holy, please do not tell your child not to make a mess or not get paint on their clothing. That’s too much stress and they won’t be able to create freely.
Process art is a great activity to incorporate into your everyday. When my son started the 10 week art session, he was anxious about creating. He watched a lot of times, or would stop before the time was up because he was unsure about the whole thing. We finished the session today, and he was so into it. His drawings and paintings were so detailed. He was focused on them and gave them thought and time. He got his hands dirty molding and shaping clay for beads. He created a marker obstacle course with cardboard materials and “drove” around the obstacles with the marker. Then removed the pieces to see what he created. True process art is so healing. It builds confidence in your ability to create, because everyone can create. You just have to let down those walls of “am I doing this right?” and turn them into “this is right because there is no wrong.”