Category Archives: Art

More on Art Supplies

In response to the question about paints from the other day (on Lilting House), my pal Joann writes:

C’s favorite media are Prismacolors and
acrylic paints.

Acrylics are water clean-up, mix nicely. She likes

She uses Daler-Rowney acrylics from Dick Blick or and they are made in ENGLAND! Not China! Not sure about the lead content. I
would think that oils would probably be prone to have heavy metals in them as
some of the pigments are from earth minerals. (I don’t remember why I know
that.) BUT I did see in a Dick Blick catalog some "H2Oils" that are water
I LOVE oils for myself. The richness, the
thickness, the globs. LOL

We love Prismacolors too—the soft creamy feel when you’re coloring with them, the gorgeous hues. I bought a huge set almost ten years ago (!) from Timberdoodle, and we are still using those pencils! (I do think I replenished with a smaller set several years later, because the kids had used up their favorite colors. But those pencils really do last a long time.)

Some Questions about Art Supplies

Martha asked:

have a question…
Why use watercolors? Do you also use other art mediums for painting?
Oils? Pastels?
Also what about lead in the pigments? After all the issues with
products from China, I’m being more vigilant about this and it’s nearly
impossible to find non-china art supplies in my price range!

Wow, good point about the question of where our art supplies are coming from. I’ve been on the toy watch for a long time, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to me to look at where our paints were made. I know you can get German-made watercolors from Stockmar, but as you say, those are pricey, and I have an uneasy feeling about Stockmar anyway. (Edited to add: There’s a long story here! This is a shift for me. I have enthusiastically recommended Stockmar many times in the past.)

Hmm, this bears looking into.

As for "why watercolors"—for me, there are lots of reasons. I’ve never used oils, but my sense is that they’re expensive and messy and harder to clean up…don’t you have to clean your brushes with turpentine or something? You see how ignorant I am on that subject.

We do use tempera paint sometimes, and my kids love the little jars of acrylics for painting those unfinished wooden things you can pick up cheap at Michael’s. (More made-in-China stuff? Probably. Sigh. Hadn’t occurred to me.)

But we like watercolors best for painting pictures, because of the luminous, swirling colors, the easy blending, the pleasure of watching the heavy paper absorb the translucent paint.

Oil pastels are a rare treat: again, their mess factor is too high for regular use.

My three oldest girls are taking an art class right now, and the medium for many weeks has been chalk pastels. They are really enjoying using them, and they’ve learned an awful lot about tone and shading and texture. I think chalk pastels are an easy medium to use for experimenting with shading techniques. And the cleanup is a snap.

(You can see where my priorities are.)

On the same post, Amy asked another excellent question.

Where and how do you store/display the finished artwork? I find this
even more daunting than the creative process. How do you (any of you)
respectfully manage the output of your oh-so-productive junior artists?
I’d love to hear any thoughts.

Ha! On this topic, my thoughts amount to a dull buzzing in the head. Our current storage method is: pictures hung on the fridge, and a large and ever-growing pile of beautiful finished work on the laundry-room counter, waiting to be hung or stored or something.

When we moved last year, I had to sort through boxes and boxes of such treasures. I tried to pare down to the best or most adorable work, but it was sooo hard to part with any single painting or drawing, you know? The masterpieces that made the cut are now languishing in a box in the closet, most of them.

So I’d love to hear other people’s answer to this question.

Related post: Watercolor Painting: How It Happens Here.

Of Fowls and Fun

Yesterday my three oldest kids went to a workshop at the San Diego Museum of Art. A docent gave a short talk about elements of art—line, shape, color, etc—and then they split into small groups and went to look at four paintings up close. Afterward, they did an art project focusing on copying details from the paintings they’d viewed. I missed most of the workshop, because I was outside with the little ones. The girls had a splendid time, and Beanie was especially impressed by the dead chicken.

"Huh?" I asked her, ever so articulately, upon receiving this report.

"A dead chicken! In a painting! I saw it, and I drew it!"

I do remember seeing a painting with a dead fowl in it when we first visited the museum. I think it was a duck, not a chicken: Merganser by William Michael Harnett. (I don’t know if that link will work—the URL says "index." I don’t think the SDMA site has direct URLs to the paintings. But if you’re really interested in seeing the deceased bird, you can click around to get there. Beanie thinks it is worth the effort. Me, I prefer a nice landscape with haystacks.)

During the workshop, a couple of the other mothers and I walked down to the Science Center with our little ones. There’s a kiddie room upstairs where a mama can park herself on a bench and watch her younguns play with all the interesting toys. Wonderboy loved the air chute made for putting balls in: whoosh! Up goes the ball and pops out the top of the tube. Rilla enjoyed filling the toy shopping cart with plastic fruits and vegetables. It was so easy and pleasant to sit there chatting with my friends while our toddlers and preschoolers bustled around. I remember when I thought tending two little ones in a children’s museum was a tiring day’s work. Now it’s a mini-vacation.

One thing I’m really enjoying about our proximity to Balboa Park is that we can drop by for short, frequent visits without feeling like we have to do and see everything all at once. We’ve barely begun to explore all the park has to offer. After I picked up the girls, we were strolling back to our car and we passed the little Timkin Museum, a small, free-to-the-public art gallery next to the big SDMA. Erica had mentioned that it’s an incredible collection. Jane and I noticed a huge sign advertising a special French Neoclassical exhibit, which is exactly the movement we’ve just been reading about in Young People’s Story of Fine Art, so that was a pretty exciting discovery. We’ll have to squeeze in a visit sometime soon.

Jane is also keen to see the Journey to the Copper Age exhibit at the Museum of Man—she wondered aloud whether her daddy could take a day off and take her. And I’d like to get to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Natural History Museum while it’s still there…but tops on the girls’ wish list is to go climb a certain enormous, low-branching tree they spotted on the way into the park. And when I was watching how happy my wee ones were yesterday in the kiddie playroom, I made a little mental note to remember that as important and wonderful as all this cultural stuff is, it’s even more important to allow ample time for Climbing Very Big Trees and Dipping Fingers into Fountains. Sometimes the dead chicken really is the best part of the art museum. Even when it’s a duck.

Watercolor Painting: How It Happens Here

I have often remarked to close friends that for me, logistics make or break everything. I can have the best idea in the world, but if I can’t figure out how to pull it off on a practical level, it is no more useful to us than a cloud: something pretty to look at, but impossible to take hold of.

Painting is one of those "nice ideas" that floated airily overhead until I worked out a system to make it feasible on a regular basis. My pal Sarah asked me for the details, and I thought I’d share them here. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but you should know that I am the easily frazzled type who really must think things through on the most basic level or else my plans go all kablooey.

I use high-quality watercolor paints, the kind that come in little tubes. These are very rich pigments and a little goes a long way. We used to use paint jars but they took up so much storage space, and the lids fell under the table and rolled away, and there was always mess involved.

Then I found these cute little plastic paint palettes at Michael’s for 99 cents each. They have six wells, perfect for mixing colors. I put a dab of the three primary colors in one well each, and a smaller dab of each in two more of the wells, so the kids can mix their green, orange, and purple. Each child gets her own paint palette.


I have written before about investing in good watercolor paper and brushes. (Here’s my long art supplies post from Bonny Glen, and its sequel.) These tubes have lasted us for over a year.

For painting boards, we use some markerboards (dry erase boards) I bought on clearance a long while back. I had actually ordered an official painting board from Paper Scissors Stone, and when I arrived I smacked my forehead because it was—a markerboard. But way more expensive. Doh.

Here’s a tip from a Bonny Glen reader for another inexpensive kind of painting board. Whatever you use, they sure do make painting a lot easier to clean up. The boards wipe right off, and we stack ours near the closet when they’re not in use. Voila—nice clean table.

We use pickle jars for water and a cloth diaper for drying brushes. Oh! And here’s a great tip from—I think—Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources (whose First Grade Syllabus I’ll be reviewing here later this week, by the way, and whose work I praised in my Waldorf series in the spring). If this wasn’t Donna’s suggestion, it was a speaker from a Waldorf homeschooling conference on a DVD I watched a while back. I should tell you more about that, too, sometime. But I digress. The great tip I was getting to: it’s a sweet way to teach children to properly care for their brushes. You take the brush and tell a little story about a gnome who doesn’t like his beard to stay wet. We never leave the brush sitting in the jar of water because that beard will be soaked and oh, what a sad little gnome. And we mustn’t push too hard and bend his beard every which way. He doesn’t like that at all.

Ever since I told this tale to Rose and Bean, they have treated their brushes with special care. No more leaving them soaking in the pickle jar. They carefully dry the "beard" on the cloth and smooth it into a point. It’s nice.

I explained to the kids about the expensive paper, and how in order to use it for our paintings, we have to take great care not to squander it. They understood. They’ve painted on plain white copy paper, and they can feel the difference.

Rose says she "needs to paint at least two pictures a day" or she just doesn’t feel right. She finds it a calming, peaceful activity. Here’s a painting she says was inspired by a poem called "The Little Rose Tree" by Rachel Field:


(As you can see, we don’t bother to tape our paper down flat, as most watercolor technique books recommend.)

When they were younger, I usually wet the paper with a sponge first, per the wet-on-wet watercolor technique you’ll hear about in every Waldorf resource. My very little children, like Wonderboy now at age three, loved touching a brushful of paint to the wet paper and watching the paint swirl around the page. But past the age of five or so, I find that they much prefer to have more control over where their colors go. They know how to use water (either before or after applying paint to paper) to help the paint go where they want it to go, and to blend colors. They love to keep wetting the brush and "pulling" paint from one darker section across a wider area, making a rich blue sky or a lush green meadow.

Sarah had some great art-supply advice of her own to share:

Here is the address for the discount art supplies I was telling you about:

The company reminds me of Rainbow Resource only it is (nearly) exclusively
art supplies.  I have bought things in person at conventions and ordered by
phone and online.  I highly recommend them.  The prices are hard to beat.  I
purchased my class supplies for VBS this summer from them.  Even with
shipping they were the least expensive alternative (and I always love
supporting a small business anyway).

One of my favorite items is their sketchbook journals.  They have all sizes
in both 60 and 80# paper.  They are $3 for a 6×9 size which are perfect for
little laps in the car.

Always good to know where to stock up on more supplies. We get very excited about painting around here, as you can see. (Kindly ignore the girls squabbling in the background.)

(This clip doesn’t keep replaying every time you load the page, does it? It isn’t supposed to.)

Got More Monet than Time

We’ve been meaning to visit all the Balboa Park museums since our
arrival in San Diego, but the zoo and the aquarium kept wooing us back
for repeat visits this summer, hogging our outing time. Then a couple
of weeks ago, Alice discovered an incredible art museum
near her San Fran abode, and her stories of close encounters with works
by Rembrandt, Cassatt, and Monet fired me up to move "take kids to San
Diego Museum of Art" from the Sometime list to the Do It Now one.

Yesterday, as I mentioned in my somewhat grumbly tale at Lilting House, was the monthly Free Tuesday there, so off we went.

Lesson number one: You might think you are being all kinds of clever
and responsible by spending the morning cleaning house before packing
up the kids for the big museum outing—"We’ll come home to a nice clean
house, won’t that be nice?"—but you are wrong. The parking lot police
officer took time out from writing tickets for cars illegally parked in
the handicapped spaces to tell me, jovially, that you have to arrive
before 10 a.m. if you want to get a (legal) parking spot. It was 11:45
when he was telling me this, so: whoops.

He very kindly told me where to go to find a parking lot I could
drive around in for 25 minutes hunting for a space. I took his advice,
and figured out all on my own how to stalk a pedestrian strolling into
the lot with keys jangling, suggesting the possibility that she was
returning to her car and therefore about to vacate a space. The space
was approximately four inches wider than my minivan, so I spent another
18 minutes backing-and-filling in order to get into it.

By this time the kids were fed up with Balboa Park and asked if we
could go home. I laughed like a crazy person and told them if they
thought I was going to give up this parking space, EVER, they were
sorely mistaken. "We are going to LIVE here from now on," I told them.
"Forever. I worked too hard for this space. I am never going to leave
it, you can bury me here. Hold on, I need to call Daddy and give him
our new address. Honey, we now reside at Space #16, The Lot Behind
Spreckles Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park, San Diego, I don’t know the zip
code yet. Can you change the mail forwarding? Because I can’t leave
this spot to go to the Post Office."

Then one of the kids pointed out the sign that said the lot closes at 6 p.m.

"Shoot," I sighed. "We’d better go see that museum before they kick us out."

The facade of the museum is currently hidden behind plywood and tarps,
presumably for a restoration of some kind, but you scarcely notice that
as you herd your children up the stroller ramp, because your gaze is
transfixed by the lovely pensive face of the Young Shepherdess, the gem
of the museum’s collection. Painted in 1895 by William Bougereau,  the
Shepherdess is arguably the gallery’s most beloved work of art. My
daughters want to be her (because she is pretty, goes barefoot, and has
sheep) and were desperately eager to see her.

Turns out she is off gallivanting around the country right now. A
museum guard told me (very chatty these Balboa Park personnel are, and
don’t I appreciate it!) that the painting is making a U.S. tour this
summer. But she’ll be back in a few months, and that’s fine because it
will probably take me that long to find another parking space.

Instead of the Shepherdess, we visited Giverny.
Oh! Giverny! The word is magical. It whispers: Monet, poppies,
haystacks, light-streaked skies, picturesque laborers in wheat fields
drenched with sun. We made a beeline for the visiting exhibit, a large
collection of Impressionist works by the artists who congregated in the
little French painters’ colony during the late 1800s. They took their
easels out to the woods and fields in a golden frenzy of plein-air
painting. All right, the wall placard describing the exhibit didn’t say
anything about a frenzy per se, but it did talk a lot about plein-air
painting, a term whose pronunciation I managed to fake quite passably
but of whose definition I was ignorant until a kind-eyed Englishwoman
explained it to Jane.

She was quite a knowledgeable woman and shared many tidbits of
information with us as we strolled from painting to breathtaking
painting. Monet was everywhere, shimmering in leaf green and spruce
green, plummy shadows, frothy blues. Forget my parking space, I want to
live in one of those paintings.

I particularly liked the work of American Impressionist Theodore Robinson, about whom I probably ought to have known before but didn’t. (Oh look! I just realized he’s the same guy Elizabeth posted about a few days ago. Maybe that’s why his name jumped out at me.) We also
greatly admired the work of John Leslie Breck and Guy Rose. But it was
Monet who gave us the goosebumps. Jane and I could not believe we were
standing there in front of his actual paintings, a dozen of them at
least. I lost count. I was too occupied with counting the heads—and
more to the point, hands—of my own children. "Don’t touch the wall,
honey. Oh! And don’t point at the paintings. What if you accidentally
touched one! Good heavens! Oh! No, Wonderboy, don’t poke the nice
English lady. She’s your sisters’ only chance of having their questions
answered here because Mommy is distr—Oh! No, Beanie, you can’t eat
string cheese in an art museum!"

I do not pretend our outings are serene.

If I get a chance later, I will link to some of the paintings we got to look at. This one, Morning on the Seine Near Giverny (which looks washed out in every image I could find online but is in reality saturated with color so rich it’s like light poured itself into pigment) is the one I mentioned in yesterday’s Lilting House post, the print Rose fell in love with in the bookstore. There were other paintings we liked even better: I think all of us favored the golden haystack ones (and there were many—mighty fond of painting haystacks were those Impressionists) over the misty river paintings.

Not that there’s any reason to choose. The world is an art gallery nowadays. I foresee many virtual pilgrimages to Giverny in our future. As there have been in our past—Linnea in Monet’s Garden and Katie Meets the Impressionists have ranked highly in our book catalogue for many years.

After the Giverny exhibit, we toured several other galleries in the museum, encountering Goya, Renoir,  O’Keefe, Warhol, Fra Angelico, and Giotto. We missed Picasso, Rembrandt, and Chagall, but we’ll be back.

As soon as I find parking.

Amazing Art with Mark Kistler

I’ve written before about how much Jane has enjoyed working through the drawing lessons in Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad. When I saw that Mark Kistler himself was offering a summer art camp right here in San Diego, I jumped at the opportunity.

"Hey, Jane," I said, ever so casually, "would you be interested in taking an art class with Mark Kistler?"

"WHAT??????!!!!!!!!!!!" she shrieked, puncturing my left eardrum. (I think I counted the number of exclamation points correctly, but there may have been more.) "REALLY????!!!!" :::pop:::: There went my other eardrum.

"I take it that’s a yes?"

I couldn’t hear her response, but fortunately I have learned a lot of sign language. I interpreted the jumping-up-and-down and maniacal grinning as a yes, and signed her up.

On Day Two of the camp, Rose demanded to know why she wasn’t part of this experience. She fit the age range, so I’m not really sure why I didn’t think to sign her up as well. Perhaps my powers of thought were thrown off by the shrieking and the ruptured eardrums and whatnot.

Happily, Day Two was "Bring a Friend Day," so I was able to sign Rose up for the rest of the week-long camp.

We could have signed up for two sessions—"Draw! Draw! Draw!" and "Beyond Pencil Power"—but I had some scheduling conflicts with the larger chunk of time, so we (to the children’s disappointment) limited our participation to Draw! Draw! Draw!, a one-hour session five days in a row.

They have had the most fabulous time.

They love Mark Kistler. He’s a great guy, every bit as engaging and funny as his books. My girls love his sense of humor and his energy. They come out of class full of laughter and stories—and the drawings, my word, the drawings.

Mark teaches the basics of 3-D drawing. His style is cartoonish, which appeals to the kids. His technique is rock solid, and the concepts they have learned will serve them well for a lifetime of drawing: foreshortening, shading, finding where light would hit the object you are drawing. The kids walked out of the very first class with impressive and delightful drawings. They are thrilled. They are bubbling over with excitement. They are distraught because today is the last day of class.

Never fear!, I told them. We can take Mark Kistler home with us. Of course we already have the cherished copy of Draw Squad, and now (thanks to a little bartering action, heh heh—Mark has a young daughter who is just the right age for Little House) we have his Imagination Station book as well, along with a couple of his drawing-lesson DVDs, which contain episodes of Mark’s popular PBS show of the same name.

And then there’s his website, which is loaded with good stuff.  You can download art lessons and even sign up for Mark’s online drawing school. There are some free lessons to give you a taste of how it works. It’s a nifty format, with animations to walk you through each step.

My girls couldn’t wait to try out the new DVDs, and I have to tell you, I was blown away by the drawings Beanie—six years old, you know, and the only one who did NOT attend Mark’s workshop (next year, I promised her, if he offers the camp here again)—produced after watching the show: a whole page of 3-D cartoon ghosts chasing each other around.

My point being: Mark’s methods are highly effective, probably because they are so much fun. I only wish I could sign up for the class myself next year. (Actually, parents can sit in on the classes for free, and there’s a kids-and-adults mixed session in the evenings. I couldn’t swing it, what with the baby and the toddler, but the opportunity was there.)

I’ll just have to content myself with watching the DVDs. These kids are having too much fun. I’ve got to get in on the action.

Saturday Morning Rabbit Trail

I was catching up with my friend Silvia’s blog, Po Moyemu, and saw this post about her brother’s Google Sketchup tutorial.

Google SketchUp? This was new to me. I liked the sound of it (probably because it rhymes with ketchup) and went to check it out. Ooh, fun. It’s a 3D drafting program. You can draft buildings, furniture, all sorts of stuff. You can even plunk your buildings down in Google Earth.

This, I thought, might be useful for Alicia’s Architecture for Kids blog. Have you visited that yet? Gorgeous photos, interesting links.

Every time I visit it I mean to ask Alicia (aka Love2Learn Mom) if  she has read our favorite kids’ architecture book, Round Buildings, Square Buildings, Buildings that Wiggle like a Fish, which I wrote about on Bonny Glen a while back.

Back to SketchUp. I wanted to read Silvia’s brother’s tutorial, and that clicky-click introduced me to Make Magazine. Wow. Who knew? It’s a quarterly magazine full of techie projects. You can subscribe to the paper edition or a digital version (or both). You can also purchase single issues, if there is a particular article that catches your eye on the website. (I was able to watch Silvia’s brother’s SketchUp video tutorial for free, but I couldn’t read the article.)

There is even a Make blog, the top post of which right now is a link to a video podcast of How to Make a Balloon Flinging Siege Weapon—guaranteed to make any teenage boy’s heart go pitty-pat.

And! And! Are you ready for this? Make has a sister publication: Craft! (Did I just hear a collective Oooh… from the homeschooling mom crowd?)

What is CRAFT?

CRAFT is the first project-based magazine dedicated to the renaissance
that is occurring within the world of crafts. Celebrating the DIY
spirit, CRAFT’s goal is to unite, inspire, inform and entertain a
growing community of highly imaginative and resourceful people who are
transforming traditional art and crafts with unconventional, unexpected
and even renegade techniques, materials and tools; people who undertake
amazing crafting projects in their homes and communities.

There’s a Craft blog, of course, as well as a Projects page which includes links to project instructions elsewhere on the net, such as these gorgeous felted beads at Maryjane’s Attic.

All this from one post at Silvia’s blog. Oh, internet, you are a marvelous, terrible thing.

500 Years of Women in Art

Was mesmerized by this at my hubby’s blog. He got it from Charlottesville Words. I imagine it’ll be making the rounds, because it’s fascinating.

One thing that struck me was how you get to the twentieth century and the dehumanizing begins. It was strange to feel so repelled by that, because I have always found cubism and abstract art to be interesting and often quite beautiful or striking. Something about seeing the fracturing happen in this progression, after so many lovely images celebrating the female face and form, is a shock to the sensibilities—perhaps a taste of what a shock those styles of painting were to the audiences who first viewed them.