Scrap Heaven


I have just returned from a visit to the Wotever Scrap Store in Welwyn Garden City.  It is such a fabulous treasure trove that I felt I ought to share it here, although I must admit it is tempting to keep it to myself.  I use this place regularly for my art classes and it never lets me down.  It is part of the Connect Club charity and offers therapeutic employment to vulnerable adults.  You can join for £25 for the year and then visit as many times as you wish and help yourself to as much as you can carry.   They have virtually everything you could think of, from ribbons and boxes, to card and plastic pots and any number of weird and wonderful bits and pieces that leave you guessing what they were originally intended to be.

During a ‘Robot’ topic I took a trip there to gather boxes and bits and pieces that might be useful for modelling.  It was only during one of the sessions did another adult walk through the room and recognise that the ‘funnel’ shaped boxes were actually bed pans (unused, of course!).  I must say that despite their rather unsavoury intended use, they made fantastic robots!  Often when I visit I go with a list and come out with a hundred other ideas for future projects such is the variety of scrap available. My own children love to come along when I go to stock up and never fail to find inspiration for their makes amongst the bottle lids and cellophane. It is a truly inspiring place, doing such great work for the community.  If you are ever passing, pop by and have a look around.  I’d be surprised if you don’t come out with your hands full!

Fun for a warm day

ice chalk

It looks like summer may finally be here and the weather looks good for the next few days.  The perfect opportunity for little ones to get creative outside (leaving your house intact!).  I love the idea of painting with coloured ice-cubes and have done this activity quite a few times in Art Explorers Mini Classes.  The only problem with this as an outdoor activity is that it requires paper (for the colours to show) and this can sometimes be annoying if there is a breeze which results in sheets flying off all over the garden.  As a solution to this, I have come across a great idea to make frozen chalk paint instead.  This means that the colours are chalky and opaque and can therefore be used on pavements and walls and still show up nicely.  Children can use them to draw with, carry our colour mixing experiments, use them to make patterns and ‘sculptures’ and even look at how long they take to melt for a bit of a science and maths twist.  You can get some great silicon ice-cube trays now in a huge variety of shapes so the sky’s the limit.

You need:

Water and Cornflour (50:50) and plenty of food colouring. The more colours the better!


Mix it up and pour into ice-cube trays.  Freeze and pop out.  It’s that easy!

It may look messy but don’t worry, a bit of rain (or a hosepipe) and your patio will be back to normal!


Guided Drawing



Initial bird drawing by Eady, age 6


Rainbow Bird by Eady, age 6

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had become interested in the Mona Brookes method of teaching drawing and that I was going to give it a go in some of my Art Explorers After School Clubs.  Well, I am pleased to report that it has been going pretty well and, although I have adapted bits to suit my style of teaching, the general idea of guided drawing is really paying off. The pictures above illustrate ‘before’ and ‘after’.  This was not deliberate; when told we were going to be drawing birds one girl said ‘I can draw really good birds’ and proceeded to sketch out the picture above.  I am so please she did though as it is lovely to see the improvements that can be made with a bit of guidance.  This girl is six years old and I love her initial take on a bird.  She clearly knew that birds have beaks but then when she came to add the eyes she reverted to the standard face of eyes, nose and mouth.  She also, as many children are, was unclear about the idea of what we can not see when a face is in profile, placing both eyes on one side of the head.  The picture does show a good idea of the basic shape of a bird and good control of her pen which stood her in good stead for bird number two.

For the second bird I provided all of the children with black fineliners and paper and fixed a large sheet of paper onto the wall for myself.  The idea here is to guide the children through the drawing by talking about decisions such as placement, size, type of line so that they can begin to understand the necessary thought processes. We all started with a dot surrounded by a circle for the eye of the bird and we talked about how if this bird is in profile we would only see one eye. We then used a series of angle lines and straight lines to make a beak.  I asked them to think about what type of bird they wanted to draw.  Would it be a humming bird (long beak) or a parrot (shorter beak), for example.  A couple of curved lines later and we had our birds head.  What I love about working with children this age is that they all have their own style and even when following a set of instructions it is impossible for any two picture to turn out the same. We added the body of the bird (straight line, followed by a curved line) and then let our imaginations go wild, adding wings and tail feathers.  A couple of straight and curved lines for the feet and they all had a bird that they were already pretty proud of.  Some were sitting, some were flying, some were tropical birds, some were ducks.  They all used their imaginations to give their bird an identity of some kind.

I then showed them how to add in a background by thinking about where their bird would be found.  Would they be flying in the sky? Sitting on a branch? On a nest? By a pond? Once again, even the youngest children, some of whom are only four, rose to the challenge and added some wonderfully detailed and creative backgrounds.  Some careful colouring later and voila! Beautiful bird pictures that they were rightly extremely proud of.

What I liked about this method is the balance between allowing the children to use their creativity and providing them with a structure so that they can achieve their aim and feel satisfied with the outcome.  It was lovely sending them home with pictures that they were dying to show their families.  Getting pleasure from art is what it is all about, after all.

You can see some more wonderful bird drawings by children aged from 4 – 7 on our facebook page


Being constructive, not constrictive


As anybody who works with children knows, all children learn differently and need different kinds of support at different times to help them on their learning journey. The key is to identify when support is required and when to stand back and let them figure it out on their own.  I know many parents of younger children find it hard not to intervene and push their child towards a particular outcome even if it’s not one the child is very interested in.  In my experience with pre-school children,  this is a losing battle.  It is much more fruitful to let the child lead the way.  They often come up with completely original ideas in this way and often the ‘mistakes’ turn into the best learning experiences.  Little ones often need practical assistance, such as help with scissors or sticking.  When it comes to decisions such as what goes where they should be left to make up their own minds as much as possible.

With older children the process becomes more finely nuanced as they will require help in order to develop their skills but the help often needs to be given in a subtle way which doesn’t dent their confidence.  I try to be conscious of the language I use when talking to children in these situations.  I use phrases such as ‘why don’t you try…’ and ‘what would happen if…’ rather than direct or negative instructions which can make them feel they are not in control of their own work.  I also use A LOT of praise.  By saying ‘I really love the way you have done x’ you can almost guarantee that they will do x again, thus consolidating that skill.  If this is a group situation, and the praise is given loudly enough,  at least half of the group will also probably have a go at it too and in this way skills are shared and confidence is boosted.

All that being said, there are times when I have had to resort to saying (or pleading) ‘don’t’.  The blame for this sits squarely at the door of whoever came up with emojis.  Such is the emoji obsession amongst some of my six and seven year olds that I have had to go against my own advice and finally had to issue a direct order…’NO EMOJIS’.  This hasn’t made me popular but I am yet to see a picture that has been improved by the addition of a smiley face.  They don’t agree of course but, luckily, I’m the boss!Image result for winking face emoji

Managing Mistakes


It is inevitable that in the course of producing their wonderful art work, children will make mistakes.  For some children, this isn’t a big deal, they just carry on regardless and accept that imperfections are part and parcel of making art.  For other children, the fear of making  a mistake can be virtually paralysing, making them hesitant to a degree that results in work rarely being finished.  This is something I come across a lot in our After School clubs, particularly with older children.  To combat this, I have rationed the use of erasers and have been asking them to draw in black fine liner as often as possible.   Many find this scary at first as a mark made in the wrong place cannot be undone.  However, it forces them out of their comfort zones and eventually results in bolder, more confident ( and finished!) drawings.

I am not a complete meany though and obviously it is upsetting if a small mistake disturbs a picture that the child would otherwise be pleased with.  In this case, I am teaching the children a couple of ‘tricks’ to help them out.

The first if to see if they can change the mistake into something else and by doing so camouflage it.  One child at Art Club recently drew the line of a field through the trunk of a tree by accident and the horizontal line was upsetting her.  With my help she managed to add some bark textures to the trunk and in the process made the line all but disappear.  One happy artist!  Most small mistakes can be disguised in this way, all you need is a bit of imagination.

The other technique is to trace the picture minus the mistake and then carry on as if nothing happened!  This is a great way of preserving all of the elements the child is happy with while allowing them to ‘start over’ at the same time.  This can be done either directly onto another sheet of paper if it is thin enough to trace though or the image could be transferred using tracing paper.  This is also a handy method if the drawing is good but the composition has gone slightly awry.  Don’t like that tiger on the right side of the picture?  No worries – try him on the left!  Once children have been taught these techniques they feel quite liberated and the fear of mistakes diminishes greatly.  The irony is that most also find that the knowledge that they can remedy their mistakes increases confidence, hence less need for fixes!

Outdoor Art Ideas


It’s been pretty chilly here recently and with the bank holiday on the horizon, I think it’s fair to say that we are all praying for some warmer weather.  Thankfully, it does look like things will be looking up at the weekend which is great, as it means the children can get outdoors and get creative.  Here are a few ideas of fun arty activities that should keep your little ones busy whilst you start to tackle to gardening (or enjoy a quiet cup of tea!).

1.Trampoline Art

I love this idea.  So many people have trampolines in their gardens and they take up so much space.  Why not put them to good use and deploy them as a canvas?  Large, playground chalks would be great for this – they can just draw directly onto the trampoline and then, once they are done, they can have fun rinsing it all off with the hose pipe.  Double the fun!

2.  Decorate Leaves

My children love making ‘families’ of various objects so this is perfect for them.  Send them on a mission to find a family set of leaves – Mummy, Daddy, Baby etc.  The give them pens (sharpies would be best) and let them add faces and clothes.  They could then use them in a story (maybe add sticks to make puppets) or stick them down to make a picture.

3. Mud Art

Children love mixing things so they’ll love this one!  Give them a couple of bowls and spoons and a jug of water.  Let them scoop soil into the bowls and add water to make ‘paint’ .   They can then use an old paint brush to spread the ‘paint’ onto a piece of card. Challenge them to find mark making equipment in the garden such as sticks or feathers. They can use these to add marks and pictures to their muddy sheet – maybe even decorate with some leaves!  Lots of squelchy fun!

mud art


An Inspiring Visit


With a growing number of classes to plan for, I am always in search of inspiration, and the David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain certainly came up trumps when I visited recently.  I have long been a fan of his work and knew I would enjoy it but it far surpassed my expectations.  It is one of the best retrospective shows I have ever seen and provides a wealth of inspiration for young and old alike.  The shows walks us thorough Hockney’s career to date and in doing this demonstrates how the artist has developed over the years and how, even now, he is experimenting and trying new techniques.  I think that is is a great message for any child interested in art.  Learning to paint or draw is by no means a finite process.  It is something that is constantly evolving; the key is not to be scared to try something new and to look for subject matter to which you have a personal connection.


Children will love the huge landscapes and this is certainly something that can provide a starting point for their own art.  They will be interested to see how these paintings started their journey as charcoal sketches before becoming vast, colourful works.  They will also love the ipad part of the exhibition which allows visitors to see how Hockney created his most recent work, step by step.  Usually I would advise avoiding the shop when gallery visiting with children but in this case I would make as exception as there is a fabulous children’s activity book available which is full of inspirational activities based on the work in the exhibition.  It covers all of Hockney’s themes from creating photo montages to thinking about the link between colours and emotions.  My children have really enjoyed working through this and we now have a very ‘interesting’ photo montage of a pet guinea pig as a result!  (A good example of a personal connection, albeit not necessarily what I would have chosen for my wall!)

The exhibition is open until 29th May.

Egg-citing Eggs


With Easter fast approaching it seems about time to start thinking of some fun arty activities to keep the little ones entertained during the school holidays.  This is a great time of year for art and craft and the possibilities are endless.  I have noticed over the last few years that shops seem to have cottoned on to this and are now selling lots of ‘Easter Craft’ packs.  These are not only often very over-priced but I have also found that they can limit creativity.  My children would really rather be given a few basics and set off to do their own thing rather than following instructions to create a finished product.

Good news though -the great thing about art and craft with children is that it really doesn’t have to cost a lot.  In fact, some of the most fun activities use only a few materials, most of which can be found around the home.  Take these marbled Easter eggs, for example.  Who doesn’t have a few eggs, some shaving foam and a bit of food colouring?  This is all you will need for a good half hour or so of messy, sensory, colour mixing fun and I guarantee that it will be much more of a hit than a ‘craft pack’.

You need:

  • Shaving Foam
  • Food Colouring
  • Eggs (with the inside blown out – you can watch how to do it here)

Squirt shaving foam into a tub or cake tin.  Add a few drops of food colouring (gel colouring is best) in a couple of different colours.  Allow your child to use their fingers or a selection of tools such as straws to swirl it around.  Drop in an egg and cover it with the swirly shaving foam.  Lift out and allow it to sit for around half an hour before scraping off the shaving foam. You should have a beautifully patterned egg! Children of all ages will enjoy getting stuck in with this – it could even create a short window of sibling harmony!  You could hang them to make Easter decorations if you wish.

Teaching children to draw


I have recently come across a method of teaching children to draw which has caught my attention.  In the past it is something that I might have shied away from on the grounds that it is quite prescriptive.  It follows a set approach and claims that it can help anyone (including adults) to draw better.  In the past I have been more of the ‘happy-clappy’ mindset that drawing comes from within and that it should be a free medium in which children can express themselves.  While I still very much believe this and definitely think that no child should ever be told that what they have drawn is ‘wrong’ I am being slowly won over by this more steps-driven approach.

 There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The creator of this method (Mona Brookes)makes the point that if a child is learning a musical instrument, we do not expect them just to pick it up and get on with it.  I can imagine that this would be very demoralising for the child and any potential self-expression would be hindered greatly by not being able to technically operate the instrument.  In the same way, drawing is a technical skill that needs to be learnt before it can be adapted and used creatively.
  2. I have seen in my after-school clubs how children, particularly as they get a bit older, start to feel unable to draw certain things.  This is not down to a lack of ability but more down to not having ever been taught the skills required.  Once they are shown (often with a few simple tips) a whole world is opened up to them and their confidence soars.

The more I think about it, the more odd it seems that Art is just about the only subject in which children often don’t get any clear direction (certainly in the primary years).  No wonder so many are put off art as they get older and say they can’t draw.  If they had been left to figure out Maths or English by themselves I imagine they would feel much the same about that!

So, with this is mind, I intend to alter my approach and see what happens.  I look on it as giving the children a ‘toolkit’ of skills that they can adapt and use in their own way.  I am going to  break down drawing into its basic elements of line and shape through a series of fun exercises and help the children to deploy this knowledge to tackle challenging subject matter.  My hope is that this will put them on the right track to being able to draw how they would like to and give them a sense of achievement. Watch this space to see how it goes.  I will come back to this in a few weeks with an update!

(The book I am reading is called ‘Drawing with Children’ by Mona Brookes)

Mind the Mess


I was recently chatting to some parents in one of my mini classes and we all agreed that children seem to fall into two distinct categories when it comes to getting messy: Those who love it and dive straight in, happily spreading paint all over their hands (and arms) and taking great delight in it; and those who become tense at the very thought of putting their fingers in paint and endlessly worry about the smallest paint blob on a finger.  Often it is assumed that mess-averse children have mess-averse parents but in my experience this is rarely the case.  It seems that some children naturally enjoy this kind of play and others are much more cautious.

As I am sure I have previously mentioned, messy play is important to the development of young children.  It has so many benefits.  It can help with language skills, mathematical development, motor skills development to name but a few.  Don’t worry if you have a little one who isn’t keen on mess but it is worth persisting and encouraging them to get involved.  Here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Try to tap into what your child really enjoys.  For example, if they love cars but are wary of paint, why not let them drive their cars through some paint and make tyre tracks on paper?
  • Make sure that you continue to offer messy options even if they don’t seem keen.  Just popping a squirt of shaving foam on a tray may be enough to trigger their curiosity.
  • Let them see you getting messy.  Modelling is so important with little ones and they need reassurance that it is o.k (and even fun) to get messy.
  • Avoid negative language when doing messy activities such as ‘dirty’.   This can be off-putting and create negative associations.
  • Let them see other children getting messy and enjoying it.  In our classes this has really helped some children come around to the joy of mess!
  • Keep wipes at hand so that they can see nearly all mess is easily remedied.  Don’t over-use though as this can compound the problem.
  • Offer lots of different activities so that they can find one they enjoy.  Some children don’t like glue but are happy with paint.  It is worth experimenting.
  • Play-dough is great way in to messy play as it is feels odd but doesn’t leave any mess behind.
  • Don’t force it.  Gentle encouragement will help them find their own way.

Happy creating! x