Art Ideas For Kids: How To Make Ginormous Canvas Art.

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One of my all-time favourite art ideas for kids is the ginormous canvas art you see in the images on this post.

There’s something exciting about making BIG art.

Working on a tiny surface encourages tiny, minutely-detailed art. Using a big surface allows for huge expansive movements, big brushes, bold swathes of colour.

This is also the perfect project to take outside when the weather allows. (Really, any chance I get to replace floor-scrubbing with hosing down the patio and kids, and I’m all in).

I’ve got a whole post about messy summer art projects that you can check out, but I wanted to share a bit more detail about this particular art idea for kids.

Why Should You Try Process Art Ideas For Kids?

First up, do you actually know what process art is?

My definition is that it’s any art project where the focus is on the process rather than the finished item.

That’s not to say that the finished item won’t be a beautiful piece of art that you’d love to hang in your home. Often it will be. The point is that the finished product isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Process art ideas for kids are also perfect for grown-ups who don’t have much confidence in their own artistic abilities (like me).

This post on getting started with process art for kids might also interest you if you’re keen to learn more.

My Own Art Story.

I’ve got a couple of very vivid art memories from my childhood, and I’d like to share them here.

I reckon at least some of you will have had similar experiences.

If you can draw beautifully, paint like a pro, and make things look exactly the way they do in your head, feel free to skip ahead. If not, see if my story is familiar.

If you can draw beautifully, paint like a pro, and make things look exactly the way they do in your head, feel free to skip ahead. If not, see if my story is familiar.

  1. Thunderstorms – my friend and I had painted thunderstorms. I can clearly remember the process of mixing the right colours for our storms – moody midnight blues, black-purples, deepest black. I can remember the stormy movement of my arms as I covered my paper.

    I also remember the shouting, the paintings being thrown away, and the two of us being packed off to bed in the middle of the afternoon.

    My memory is a bit hazy when it comes to the paint EVERYWHERE that my mother remembers.

    This is a story that has evolved into family folklore. It’s a funny story that’s been rolled out time and time again, but, actually, it’s something that’s stuck with me. I’m sure no-one intended to suggest that our creativity wasn’t welcomed or valued, but that’s definitely the message I received.

  2. Fireworks – this one happened at school (at around the same time that another teacher told me I couldn’t sing – I’ve still not managed to convince myself otherwise).

    We were tasked with creating firework pictures using wax crayons and then painting over them with watercolours. My picture was held up as a shining example of how not to do it before I was told to rip it up and start again.

There are countless other stories about my artistic shortcomings, but those are the two that have stuck with me. They’re the ones that can still rouse strong emotions in me even now.

They’re also one of the biggest reasons why I love trying out different process art ideas with my own children.

Making Big Art.

Sometimes making big art in our house is just about unrolling a length from our paper roll, and letting the kids loose on it with whatever art supplies they want to use.

That big roll of paper is great for footprint painting, for drawing around people, or for making big pictures of The Magic Faraway Tree.

Sometimes it can feel a bit ‘disposable’ though.

That never-ending roll of paper is always there, it’s freely available for anyone to use at any time.

R: Can you help me make BIG paper so I can draw the Faraway Tree.
Me, a few minutes later: That tree is smaller than I expected…
R (rolling her eyes): That’s because it’s Far Away!
Obviously…

That’s fine, and it’s definitely not necessary, or even desirable, for every piece of art to be kept and treasured forever. (With five children I’d need to buy a whole new house just for their art if we went down that route!)

Sometimes it’s nice to have something that feels a bit special or different though.

That’s where a canvas can come in.

Big Canvas Art.

We usually buy our canvases from The Range, but Amazon has them too.

Another option is to keep an eye out in charity shops for a big canvas that you can paint over and re-use.

A canvas feels special.

It feels like you’re making ‘real’ art, something permanent, something that can take pride of place hanging on a wall.

If your kids have never tried working on canvas before, they’ll probably be excited about the prospect, and maybe a little daunted.

Making The First Marks.

Much like the blank page for a writer, a blank canvas can be a scary prospect.

If your children have perfectionist tendencies, then they might be worried about getting it wrong or spoiling the canvas if they make a mistake.

For process art to be successful, children need to feel free to just have a go, to try different things, and to understand that the marks they make don’t have to be permanent.

I’ve got a couple of ways that I try to encourage this kind of freedom when we’re working on big canvases, and on other big process art ideas for kids.

art ideas for kids - huge canvas art

1. Work Collaboratively.

My kids are just as likely to fight and argue as anyone else’s.

They’re not angelic beings who always cooperate with one another. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

But they’re able to work together on this art project quite happily.

If a painting is entirely your work, then you will feel responsible for making it the best you possibly can. Any shortcomings will be entirely on you.

If you’re working with someone else, it’s sometimes easier to let go of that perfectionism and just enjoy the process.

I always join in and work alongside them. I don’t know how harmonious the experience would be if I truly just left them to get on with it.

By making art with my children, on the same giant canvas, I can model all kinds of behaviours. I can talk about the choices I’m making, I can show respect for someone else’s work by adding my own ideas around it, I can speak out loud as I figure out how to fix something I don’t like.

2. Get Them Started.

I usually like to break up the big white expanse of canvas by making some kind of marks before we start.

Sometimes I’ll draw shapes, maybe a few large circles, or dividing the whole surface up into a grid. Sometimes I just put some wavy lines across, diving it into a curvy 3×3 grid.

Those lines won’t be visible by the time you’ve finished. I often find that everything we do in the first session completely disappears by the time we’ve finished the canvas.

Don’t overthink it, just do something to create different zones on the canvas. Some children will determinedly work within those lines, some will disregard them completely. Either approach is perfect.

Providing Art Supplies.

The canvas you can see in the images on this page is one we’ve been working on for a few months.

We’ve used a lot of different materials over that time:

  • Sharpies
  • Paint sticks
  • Oil pastels
  • Watercolour paint (some from tubes, some liquid)
  • PVA glue and tissue paper
  • Probably some other stuff too, but it’s not coming to mind right now.

We don’t do all that at once though, otherwise, we’d end up with a big sludgy mess. Sometimes it’s fun to make a big sludgy mess, but I prefer to give our canvases a fair chance of being able to go on display down the track.

With that in mind, we tend to have just one or two different things out at a time.

Watercolours and oil pastels are a good combination.

Sharpies and PVA glue, not so much.

So, we talk about what will happen when we mix different materials. We discuss the need to wait for one layer of work to dry before we add something else.

All of this is great learning, and it’s information that they’ll transfer to their own individual art projects as well.

If one of the children particularly wants to bring something else into a session, then I usually go with it, unless there’s a good reason not to (Sharpies and PVA).

The First Few Sessions.

If your children have never worked in this way before, there’s going to be a period where they just have to settle in to this new approach.

Explain what you’re making, sit down and work with them.

Tell them that the whole canvas belongs to you all. It’s not a case of this bit being for me, that part for you. You’re going to end up all working on top of one another’s work eventually, and that’s fine.

If someone has something that they really want to have on display in the finished product, then maybe it’s best kept for an individual piece of art. Explain that most of what you do in these first few sessions won’t even be visible at the end.

We usually just put the canvas on the dining table and space ourselves out around it. I encourage the children to move to different seats so that they can reach more of the canvas.

If I sense that someone’s getting too attached to their particular piece of the canvas, I’ll gently remind them that most of this is going to be covered up anyway. That’s tough for some children to understand.

Which Materials To Start With.

This time around we just started with Sharpies.

Other times we’ve started with watercolours and big brushes. When we do that, I encourage them to try to cover the whole canvas with colour by the end of the first session.

It doesn’t really matter, but I would just start with one thing.

Keeping The Conversation Flowing.

One of my favourite things about collaborative art ideas for kids is the conversation that happens around the art.

My five-year-old’s drawings are mostly not recognisable by the time he’s finished, but if you listen to him talk you can see the story he’s putting down on the page.

“I’m drawing a circle dog, and it’s in water. Now it’s got a line bone and it’s swimming to find some pirates.”

If I hadn’t been watching and listening while he worked, there’s no way I’d have figured that one out!

You can also use your own talk and your own art to encourage your children to try different things:

  • “Oh, there’s some white space over here. I really like that blue you’ve used there, I’m going to use the same colour to fill in this space.”
  • “It’s really hard to make the tissue paper stay flat, but I like the bumps in it when it dries out.”
  • “I don’t like how this looks. I was trying to make it like the sea, but it didn’t work out.”

It’s good for children to see us fail. They need to know that we go through the same processes they do. Show them that it’s hard for you to make things look the way they do in your head, just like it is for them.

In Between Sessions.

It’s good to let the canvas rest a while in between sessions of working on it.

If you can, find a way to display it during that resting time.

It’s a beautiful piece of art now, even though you haven’t finished yet.

Ours is just propped up on top of the (turned off) radiator in the hallway at the moment.

It’s good to have it somewhere where you can all see it while you’re not working on it.

I try to make a point of talking about the canvas during this downtime. I’ll ask the children which are their favourite parts, which colours they like best, which way up they think it should go.

No Wrong Answers.

There isn’t a wrong way to do this, and there are no wrong answers to your questions. It’s not about coming to an agreement.

This discussion process lets everyone have a chance to share their opinions, and it gives an opportunity for people to think about what they might do next time they have the chance to work on it.

Sustaining Interest.

So many art ideas for kids are just one-off things. They’re activities that fill an hour or two at best.

Creating a big, collaborative, evolving piece of art like this lets them experience the creative process over a longer period.

They get to go back and fix things they don’t like. There’s plenty of opportunity to experiment because there’s no pressure to get anything right. There’s no need to finish this.

When you know you have to pack up your work and be finished before dinner, you work differently than if you know you’re going to come back to the piece again and again.

Growth Mindset.

Growth mindset is a hot topic in education at the moment, for good reason. As adults, a fixed mindset is often a reason for being stuck in particular areas of our life.

Art is a brilliant way to nurture a growth mindset in our children.

Model that risk-taking, experimenting, lack of attachment to the outcome, and let them see how you approach things.

If you’re there working alongside your children (literally sitting with them, putting your own marks on the canvas rather than watching and taking photos), you’ll be able to see and hear how they’re experiencing the project.

You can respond to them in the moment with questions that help support a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

  • Encouraging them to try different approaches: “I can hear that you don’t like how that turned out. Maybe there’s a way to change it?”
  • Suggesting experimentation: “What happens if you…?”
  • Praising specific techniques: “I love how you’re using a small brush to make those little details.”
  • Encouraging them to make changes in the way they approach a task: “It was really hard to colour that big space with that little pen. I wonder if there’s a faster way?”

Continuing The Canvas.

After letting the canvas dry out fully, and rest for a few days, you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes.

If you’ve kept up occasional conversations about it during the downtime, then you’ll probably find your children already have some ideas. If not, just put out some art supplies and see what happens.

Once you’ve done a few layers, you might want to start talking about how you’d like the canvas to look at the end – even though the end might be many months away.

With this piece, we all liked the texture created by the glued-down tissue paper, and we agreed to add a lot more of that. It’s still a work in progress, but the images you can see here are now completely obliterated by a layer of coloured tissue.

Finishing.

Finishing can be the hard part.

It might seem like they’ll never want to finish working on the canvas.

You can nudge them in the direction of stopping, though.

  • Talk about where you’d like to hang the finished piece of art.
  • Are there particular colours they love, and that will look good in that space? Can you include more of those colours in the top layer?
  • Encourage them to look at the work others have done on the canvas, and to consider which areas they think should stay on display when the art is ready to hang.
  • Tell them that you have two more sessions to work on this piece, and then you’d like to move on to something else.

When you reach that end point, it’s important to get that canvas hung as soon as possible. Let them have that experience of seeing their work hanging in pride of place – I know you probably display their art all the time, but a huge canvas like this feels different.

I’d love it if you pinned this post so you can come back to it later!