Process Art For Kids: How To Get Started.

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This post is about art for kids. It’s about how you can facilitate art, even if you don’t consider yourself an artist (I definitely don’t). If your schooling knocked your belief in yourself as an artist, then you probably feel a bit daunted at the idea of helping your children develop their own artistic skills.

Process art is the perfect solution to this problem.

Maybe you haven’t heard of process art before? Or maybe you’ve heard of it but you’re not really sure what it’s all about?

Process art activities for kids - this image shows one of the watercolour 'worlds' made from Meri Cherry's Play, Make, Create book

If you’re the kind of person who just likes a book to show them what to do, you can skip right down to the end of the post and find out about my favourite book of art projects for kids.

What Is Process Art?

Process art is, as the name suggests, about the process of creating something, rather than the finished product.

It’s the antithesis of the kind of cookie-cutter craft activities you’ll often see aimed at preschoolers. Process art isn’t about a specific finished product, it’s all about the doing. It’s the act of creation.

I Am Not An Artist (Or, Maybe I Am).

I have some vivid memories of childhood art projects, that I’d like to share, to set the scene for the level of art skill you need to successfully facilitate process art for kids.

  1. Aged 6-ish. My friend and I painted thunderstorms. I can remember clearly that we were mixing colours, and enthusiastically painting our storms. I also clearly remember the telling-off we got from our parents, and being banished to our room. (My memory is hazy concerning the black paint everywhere that my mum insists was the main reason for our banishment).
  2. My Year 6 teacher told me that my firework painting looked nothing like fireworks, and then screwed it up and put it in the bin.
  3. Everyone could draw Garfield and make it look like him, and could do bubble writing that was neat and legible. I just couldn’t.

So, it’s fair to say that I did not grow up thinking of myself as an artist.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." - Picasso quote overlaid on image of evolving canvas created using process art techniques for kids.

Nothing in any of my school art lessons indicated that I had any talent at all. I’ve often used the line, “I can’t draw a stick person that looks like a stick, let alone a person.”

And yet, art is one of my favourite things to do with my children now.

I haven’t magically developed an artist’s eye, I still can’t really draw things and make them look like they do in my mind’s eye. I haven’t put in hours of practice.

I’ve discovered a secret weapon though: process art.

Process Art For Kids.

I’m planning a bigger post soon, with details of more process art projects you can try with your children. Right now, though, I just want to share a few things we’ve enjoyed recently. I’m also going to talk about my all-time favourite resource for process art inspiration.

You might also want to look at my list of messy summer art projects, because a good number of those fall under the process art umbrella too.

Tissue Paper Art.

This probably marked the beginning of my process art journey.

We’d done other open-ended art activities before, and, in retrospect, I’d call them process art, but I didn’t know the term then.

I’ve got great affection for this tissue paper art for kids, because it works so well for mixed ages. (That’s important in my house!)

Little ones are happy tearing the paper, slathering everything in glue, and very much enjoying the sensory experience.

Older ones can engage on the same level, but they also often get more intentional about creating the effects they want.

Pulled String Art.

You probably remember this art technique from all over Facebook a year or so ago.

We watched a lot of video tutorials before trying this one out. There’s something mesmerising about the whole process, and it’s as much fun to watch as it is to do (almost).

The TinkerLab post gives great instructions for seeing successful results with this kind of art for kids.

We tried different kinds of paper, different kinds of string, and different paint consistencies. It’s a great art project for encouraging a scientific approach to making changes and predicting the results.

Stacked Cardboard Sculptures.

My five-year-old has spent whole days cutting up pieces of cardboard (with tools from Makedo that might just have been the best birthday present ever).

Now he has a box of bits of cardboard that are like the most precious treasure to him, but which are rapidly spreading throughout the house.

This is the perfect art activity to funnel all those little pieces into. You might not have a saw-obsessed five-year-old to help you out, so you might need to put in some time and effort to cut up a big pile of cardboard shapes beforehand.

My Favourite Process Art Inspiration.

I’ve followed Meri Cherry for a long time now, and we’ve tried lots of her ideas over the years.

One of my favourite things about her approach to art is that she makes it feel completely accessible to everyone. I’ve never yet read a blog post by her and thought, “That’s too hard,” or, “I’m not artistic enough to do that.”

I ordered the book as soon as it was available for pre-order, and have been eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Play, Make, Create finally landed this week, and I am already in love.

It’s given me a little nudge to sort out our overcrowded, disorganised art space. (I could honestly just look at her beautifully arranged art supplies all day.)

Watercolour Worlds.

We’ve tried out one of the projects so far – the watercolour worlds right at the start of the book.

Watercolour planets and worlds, circular process art from Play, Make, Create, by Meri Cherry.

This is a super-simple activity with almost no prep time. It provided an hour’s worth of entertainment here. (And not just for my littlies either … some of the pictures in this post are the work of my 16-year-old).

We used oil pastels and Sharpies to draw on circles of watercolour paper. (It’s lovely listening to them talk as they do this, even when their mark-making doesn’t always reflect what’s in their head, the talk that goes alongside the drawing is fascinating).

Then I let them loose with the liquid watercolours and just let them get on with it.

No matter how often we use these paints, the children are fascinated by the way the colours blend together.

In Play, Make, Create, Meri Cherry describes liquid watercolours as being an ‘advanced’ art supply. It’s true that there’s a lot more potential for mess with these paints than there is with a standard set of children’s block watercolours, but the vivid colours make it well worthwhile.

We don’t have these paints out for everyday use, but I do try to bring them out as often as I can. The best way to reduce the mess created by art for kids is to teach them to use the supplies carefully and intentionally, and to give them plenty of chance to practice.

(As it happens, there’s only one new paint stain on my table from this activity, and it’s entirely my fault – oops!)

Play, Make, Create, A Process Art Handbook.

If you’re keen to change the way you approach art for kids, whether that be in a homeschool setting, a preschool, or just as part of your family culture generally, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

It contains more than 40 creative invitations to play and make art for kids.

process art for kids - picture of our current evolving canvas.

Process art is so much more valuable than the mess you might envisage when you think about creating a huge canvas with several children. (Here’s our current evolving canvas project, a couple of months into the process, and I don’t think they’re anywhere near finished yet).

Every step of every process art activity you do will be packed with learning for your children.

Listen To Them Thinking.

You only have to listen to the not-yet-internal monologue of preschoolers to realise that they’re figuring things out all the time.

  • “I’m going to make a dog on this planet, but it’s going to hide because it’s only yellow and the next paint is brown.”
  • “The pastels are scaring the paint away.”
  • “I want more water to make it light again.”

Process art helps your children continue to be the competent, capable scientists and artists that they were born to be.

You’ve probably encountered this Picasso quote before, but I think it fits beautifully here: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I really believe that facilitating process art for kids is one of the ways I can make sure my children remain artists.

What next? Pin this post for later, or hop over to Amazon to pick up your own copy of Play, Make, Create, and see what magic you can create.