Children Painting, Laughing, Learning and Your Valuable Advice

I recently assisted my granddaughter, Amanda, as she painted with water-soluble tempera colors in our backyard. Like most four-year-olds, she loves to draw and paint, and although her drawings have become increasingly controlled pictures of herself, her parents, five pets, and her home, the paintings are still joyous explorations of color.

On this particular day, I suggested that Amanda paint a representation of one of the flowers she has been learning to identify in her grandmother’s garden. “I don’t know how,” she told me, so I showed her a simple way of painting a long line for the stem, short marks for leaves, and circular shapes for the flowers. I suggested she think about one of the flowers she has watched grow, and Amanda immediately began to expand on the techniques I demonstrated. While painting, she offered a running commentary about the developing image. “The flower has green here, orange there, yellow inside the green, and blue over here,” she said with absolute assurance as she moved a brush loaded with dripping paint across the paper.

A few minutes later, Amanda announced that her painting was finished and she would put it aside to dry so that she could give it to her mommy, and then she clipped another sheet of paper on the easel so she could paint a flower for her grandmother. The second painting was also of a specific flower Amanda had in mind.

What I most enjoyed about listening to and watching Amanda was the way she quickly put aside her concern about not knowing how to paint a flower, and how seamlessly she moved between worlds of reality and fantasy. Like most children, Amanda’s imagination exerts a strong influence on her thoughts and actions. Her mental image of a flower was only loosely connected to the knowledge she gained from walking through her grandmother’s garden and learning the names of plants and how they grow.

Drawing and painting are so important to the intellectual, physical, and emotional development of children, and that’s the reason all artists, art-material retailers, and art-material manufacturers share a concern about the decrease in support for the visual arts in schools. If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or teacher, you have seen how drawing and painting can increase self-expression and self-awareness, and how those activities help connect real experiences to abstract concepts. I’d be interested in reading about your experiences in working with and observing young artists.


Your Valuable Advice

The internet has become a valuable way for people to express their opinions and have a strong influence on legislation, political campaigns, reality show contests, product developments, and news reports. Answering questions in an online survey is one of the ways we can all earn discounts, enter contests, shape the daily news, and influence the development of new products and services.

American Artist is participating in a comprehensive study to find out how you currently use artists' paints and surfaces and what products you might want to try or have changed to better suit your needs. What do you like best about acrylic paints? What would you change about oil colors? Do you use watercolors because they are portable or because they are water-soluble?  Those are the types of easy questions you will be asked to respond to if you participate in the survey.

I recently completed the survey and really liked having the chance to speak directly to companies that make products I use for drawing and painting. I encourage you to click on the link below and take a few minutes to offer your opinions.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

6 thoughts on “Children Painting, Laughing, Learning and Your Valuable Advice

  1. I have a 2 3/4 year old who paints with me at least 3 to 4 times a week. I set up my watercolor stuff and her tempera paints next to each other on the island. We have a discussion of what she is painting and who she is painting it for (typically it is for Grandad). When I paint with her, I paint very loose, quick abstract watercolors. i don’t worry if I have a painting in the end because I have enjoyed my time with her. I believe painting with her has improved my watercolors. I have also framed a number of her paintings. In addition to being bright and colorful abstracts they bring back memories of the happy time we had painting together. When people visit she likes to point out the paintings she has done. I have also given a number of her framed paintings as gifts to family.

  2. Absolutly wonderful little story about Amanda. I did the same things with both my grandsons when they were 2 to 6 years old.
    I got more out of the paint sessions than they did although the youngest who is now 14 years old still dabbles in watercolors and ocassionaly shows real intrest.

  3. I have to say that I think that the school system is depriving many young people the opportunity to be exposed to the joy of making the mark by leaving art out of the cirriculum in public schools. I teach art classes and know from experience that some children do learn much better if the visual arts are used in the teaching process. It helps the children learn to use their imagineation and creativity, such an important part of the business world. I for one did much better in school because I used my art work for presentations. I was fortunate that there still was an art department that was well stocked when I went to school. I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not had the experiences that I did in school with the arts.
    It makes no sense. All through school we have to write reports, do science projects, history presentations and having to design a display or do illlustrations is a large part of the project. We teach our children now how to read and write, and to the math but what about the presentation? So much of what we do in the real business world requires a presentation for selling the products or projects in our big companies. If a computer is needed, we offer that class, but why not teach the children how to draw and design a page effectively from the beginning? Certainly when they grow up to be engineers or are in the business world they have to have those skills. Why is it not considered important? It boggles my mind.

  4. My grandchildren all enjoy coming and painting in my home and I treasure the time I can spend with them. My seven year old grandaughter comes often to “learn to paint”. I accessed a how to draw website for kids and she chose to paint a baby duck. I sat with her and demonstrated drawing shapes, connecting them and then filling it in with acrylic paint. We then added sky, land (including the duck splashing in a puddle) and she proceeded to add a “quack” by the beak.
    I framed it for her and she gave it to her Dad for father’s day.
    If I were writing a book about a duck, I would use her duck for the illustrations. It is adorable and treasured by her parents.

  5. Working with young people in the visual arts has always energized and rewarded me.

    Over thirteen years as a public school art teacher I created and instructed an art history based studio curriculum for thousands of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. My curriculum included multimedia experiences in drawing, painting collage, sculpture , mask making, printmaking, bookmaking, puppetry, jewelry, ceramics, installation design, 2D and 3D design, and lastly, garden design. I utilized diverse instructional strategies to achieve the greatest individual growth in skills, knowledge, creativity, and attitude through cooperative learning, peer pairing, cross age tutoring, and mentoring young people. My students were encouraged to express their ideas openly with daily creativity, brainstorming, problem solving, evaluating, self critiquing, and discussing their own work. I worked in an interdisciplinary team setting where teachers met daily and together we created innovative cross-curriculum art units involving math, science, social studies, language arts, and community service. Children experienced the connection art has with many of the other areas of their lives.

    Years ago I designed a project for my I. B. Middle School that involved the entire school community of children and parents in creating a garden for an otherwise boring entrance to our school. I wrote the curriculum to include all aspects of the I. B . Learning Model as they applied to garden design and the topiary sculpture of Pearl Fryar. I met Pearl because of my persistence and interest in drawing topiary myself. He is a topiary master. He graciously agreed to be our guest artist and gave numerous presentations teaching our students how to cut topiary in his unusual style. Pearl is an artist of great depth and interested in improving the community and inspiring children. He is the subject of a film titled “A Man Named Pearl” which was featured in the Sundance film festival. I hope you watch the film.

    Our schools arts programs would not be cut back if the general public understood how art is taught in K-12 school classrooms. It takes accessible artists reaching out to schools to change dated viewpoints by volunteering their time to their community and school programs. Art directly impacts a child’s development in overall school and community performance. If every artist gave a day of their time to a school, over time it would facilitate change and awareness, strengthening the art teachers’ programs in K-12 education.

    I took maternity leave with the birth of my first son after thirteen years of teaching. The decision to stay at home was not easy but raising my children and developing my art work simultaneously presented another valuable opportunity. As a parent, I realize that what I do, and how I live with a life of passion and purpose is one of the most valuable life lessons my children learn. They are involved in my studio with their own easels and art projects. We have a lot of fun learning together.

    I also receive a lot of intrinsic rewards for volunteering at my son’s school as a guest artist. I am always happy to bring student groups to my exhibitions. I love the interaction, energy, and the magic of children with inquiring minds.

    Can your magazine help to bring artists into K-12 schools?

  6. How true are your statements. Just think of all the young kids out there who like the arts but don’t understand why or they are not given exposure to nurture their raw talents….what a great world they would enter.
    If only they could be exposed to it more and have someone show an interest. We would have lots more artists,

    Also by the way, I noticed that you are from N.O. as you mentioned in one of your articles….I am also from N.O., a place you never forget.