Art with Children

Last winter, Emilio, who was two-and-a-half at the time, started to get interested in drawing and painting. I had gotten him an easel with a dry erase board on one side and a chalk board on the other, and a roll of butcher paper to use for painting. He took to painting right away. I was amazed by how careful he was in his choice of colors and strokes. He actually seemed to be thinking about what the painting needed next. I consider this a spiritual approach to art, an inner knowing about what the piece needs as if its future were predetermined. I discovered abstract art in this way. 

As a child I made hundreds of little pen and ink drawings in little black notebooks. I remember the day I discovered this particular style of drawing. I suddenly realized all I had to do was listen to what the paper needed next on its surface, and then draw it to the best of my ability. Much like improvisation. It was if the unconscious had its own particular destiny. And sometimes the most appropriate language of the unconscious was abstraction. One school morning when I was about eight years old, I was drawing a picture in the little office of our house. I was supposed to be getting ready for school, but somehow I got entranced by a little sketch I was making of a monster who was pooping out some sort of abstract shape. My mother, who is a painter, suddenly discovered me and was about to scold me for the fact that I was going to be late for school, but when she what I was drawing, she couldn’t help but praise me because she saw how intently I was drawing and she liked the drawing. She saw that I was discovering a new way of drawing. It was then that I realized the idea of art being holy on some level, and that it may be more important than other more practical things, like getting to school on time. This was a wonderful thing growing up in my family. Art came before other activities. Both my parents value art as a form of communication and presence. When I was in high school, I started making abstract paintings--my parents gave me a book for my birthday called The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985. This book expressed my language.


I love watching Emilio discover his own painting and drawing styles. He had one phase that lasted a few weeks where he experimented with little groupings of energy connected by line. (Drawing above on left is an example of it.)  It’s very inspiring to watch him discover and play with form and line and color. I think we all need to draw this way sometimes. Creating marks because we want to see what it will look like and feel like. Not because we have a plan. I started to draw with Emilio and he would sometimes make marks on my drawing. At first I was annoyed because he broke the rule we’re always taught: “you’re not allowed to draw on someone else’s drawing.” But then I started to get curious about the idea of embracing the presence of his haphazard marks over or near my more controlled marks. Again, I learned to let go of my preconceived notion of how something is supposed to look, and realized his style with my style was really fun to look at. So I got out a bunch art cards and had him draw on one, and then give it to me and then I added something to what he drew. Then we tried the reverse, where I drew on a card, and he got to draw on it next. This is what we made:





A few months ago, Emilio’s friend Georgie, who is one year older, came over for a sleepover. The three of us sat and made a drawing together. I had the middle of the paper, and each boy had a side of the paper. This is what we drew:


Drawing with children is inspiring and fun. I recommend trying it. If you don’t have a child at home, try drawing with your inner child. I am sure s/he would love the attention.