Painting is probably one of the most accessible art forms in Primary schools other than drawing despite the fact that getting painting right can be incredibly complex. Do we really engage the children in exploring how paint can be applied, how subtleties in colour can be explored or is it more of a “ok paint this here are your brushes?”
Paint is a wonderful medium to use and offers endless possibilities. Here are some simple ideas which can be used in the classroom to support the development of children’s painting.
- Colour mixing
When I say colour mixing I mean going beyond the mixing of two primary colours to make a secondary colour. I am talking about what happens to the shade of green you get depending on the amount of blue you add or the shade of brown you get depending on the amount of red you add. This requires a methodical approach and could be set up like an investigation – how many different greens can you make? The children will need a mixing palette and primary colours plus black and white. The children can start with a base colour and see what happens as they gradually add another primary colour bit by bit painting a colour swatch in their sketchbook each time. This might require the teacher modelling how little paint is needed in order for the colour to change.
2. Thick or thin
Watercolour paint will behave very differently to acrylic paints and will create very different effects. This is about giving the children different types of paint and letting them see how they behave. How watercolours will blend and merge together, what happens when you use water colour on a dry surface and what happens when it is used on a wet surface. How acrylic paint can be applied with a palette knife to create texture and depth
3. Change the consistency.
This is more about play and how you might change the consistency of the paint. General purpose poster paint is perfect for this. Give the children a range of things that could be added to the paint to change it and then how it changes the way it would be applied to a surface. PVA glue, sand, flour, woodshavings, shaving foam etc. could be great starters for exploring this.
4. Change the surface
Paint will behave differently depending on the surface it is being applied to. Give the children squares of different materials with different surfaces for them to experiment with how the paint will behave with them. Sandpaper, anaglypta wallpaper, newspaper, cartridge paper, fabric such as calico or hessian and corrugated card are all good for this. To extend this you could get the children to investigate what happens if they put wax crayon down and then paint over it or how paint will behave depending on if the surface is wet or dry. The possibilities are endless for this.
5. Mark Making
This is about the children seeing that a range of marks and effects can be achieved to create texture using just a paint brush. The children are to have black and white paint and see how many different marks they can make with the brush. What happens when they use a dry brush, what happens when they stipple, or twist the brush or use it at an angle? Also what happens when they combine the paint – use is thickly or thinly? What happens if they use the stick part of the brush to scratch into the paint? They can also experiment with different types of brush and different size brushes. Each time the children create a new mark they should annotate their sketchbooks explaining how they made the mark using the correct vocabulary.
6. Mix it up
Children need to learn that you can paint and make marks with more than just paint brushes and understand how these tools behave and work with the paint. For this provide the children with a range of tools such as palette knives, forks, sponges. You could even get the children to collect different types of foliage and some sticks and make some natural paint brushes. The children can then experiment with how these materials can apply paint or even take paint away from a surface to create different effects.
7. Stepping away
Children are quite used to sitting or standing at their table painting a picture at quite close range. Why not put paper on the walls and ask the children to paint standing up, holding a paintbrush further up and at arm’s length. The way that they will paint and the marks/ lines they will make will be very different to those they are used to. This might be easier in small groups due to space and ensuring any mess is kept to a minimum.
8. Change the scale
Scale is always interesting with children I find. How many times do we see a tiny drawing in the centre of a large piece of paper? I know I do a lot. Large scale drawing and painting can be challenging and also require being rather brave. Why not give the children large paper and large brushes to paint with to create an observational painting to start with. Using large decorating type brushes will force them into creating thicker marks which will dictate the size of their painting.
9. Take it outside
This requires a very understanding caretaker and an open minded head teacher. Some really interesting effects can be created depending on the surface that is painted on and also by the weather. Why not take the children outside and ask them to use water soluble poster paint to paint onto the bark of trees, the playground floor or even a wall. Each day the children can go out and take photographs of their painting as it changes. What happens to the paintings on the ground and how they wear as they are walked on? What happens to the paintings as the sun fades them or the rain starts to wash them away?
- Make your own.
There are so many natural materials that could be used to paint with when mixed with other materials. Why not try making your own oil paints with turmeric and oil or paprika and oil. You could even use vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, beetroot, raspberries, carrot juice etc to mix with water to make your own watercolours.
I hope these ideas give you ways in which you could take painting forward in your classrooms and happy painting!