Teaching Children Art as Young as Possible at Home
So, how do you teach kids to paint? Children are born with art skills. They can develop motor skills quickly if they are focused on a project like drawing or painting. We will go over some step by step Acrylic Painting Techniques for Kids.
As art and music programs deteriorate in schools due to lack of funding, the only way children are going to learn art skills is if you teach them. I recommend giving a one year old colored pencils in a high chair where they can't escape to decorate the walls. By the time they are potty trained they will be able to use a spoon and fork with ease. Gradually introduce children to other mediums like crayons and markers.
Be patient with kids. They are going to spill water, drop paint on the floor and get covered in paint somehow. It is part of the process. Clean acrylic paint with water before it dries and it won't be too much of an issue. I have never seen an adult artist that didn't wear part of the paint either. Dress children in paint clothes or a paint smock. Eventually they will be able to identify each painting they did by the paint colors on their smocks. Throw down newspaper or a drop cloth or an old sheet you can use over and over. Don't expect them to be good at anything without practice but do compliment everything they do anyway.
|Acrylic Landscapes||Large Canvas Painting|
Step 1 — Simple Landscapes Children Can Make
Step 1 — Painting the Background
Step 2 — Landscape Finishing Touches
Step 2 — Sketching the Main Image
Step 3 — Landscapes Details
Step 3 — Filling In the Sketched Image
An Easy Introduction to Painting for Kids
- The wonderful thing about watercolors is that the expense is minimal. You can pick up a set of watercolors and a watercolor book for about $2-3 and it will keep a kid busy for hours. Let them have fun learning on their own or you can work with them and teach them about mixing primary colors.
- Blue & Yellow = Green
- Red & Blue = Purple
- If you watercolor along with children they will watch you and imitate. Each child is different and their artistic style will be different. I started by teaching children to paint backgrounds. This consists of the simple side to side strokes to make the sky and land features. Creating horizons helps them develop perspective, etc. We later used straws to blow black watercolor paint into scary trees on red or orange background skies. There is no right or wrong in children's art. Experimentation is key. Children often think of things you never though of because they are not limited by experience.
- Sometimes I print out a black and white image that is fairly large, not too detailed, and allow them to watercolor their own color ideas. Children tend to get the paper very wet so I recommend placing several layers of newspaper under their art paper and perhaps a plastic grocery bag under the newspaper as well.
- Let children develop with watercolors for a little while and then move them to tempura paint or acrylics. Tempura and acrylic paints are kid safe but make sure they wear clothes for painting because dried acrylic may not wash out.
- Children will naturally add too much water to begin with. That is not all bad because they will learn to paint in layers and colors will vary giving their paintings interest. You can teach them to increase pigments with acrylics.
- Photo: This watercolor is by a 2 yr old student. She water colored this dog by looking at a black and white computer print out of a similar dog. The basic lines are there: the ear, eye and nose. The rest is fill in the blank.
"Every good painter paints what he is."
— Jackson Pollock
Teaching Children Acrylic Painting On Miniature Canvases
- Canvases come in all sizes. I like to use little canvases for little kids. I can pick up a package of three — 4 x 6-inch canvas boards for around $2.00-3.00.
- Today I am teaching 3 children, ages 2, 5 and 7 years old to paint a landscape on a miniature 4 x 6-inch canvas.
- Each child has chosen a different color of blue for the sky. The child then paints in a side to side (horizontal) motion, painting about 3/4 of the canvas starting at the top and working down. The brush is about 3/4 of an inch wide and is turned so the thickest part spreads the paint on the canvas.
- Once the sky dries, each child picks a different color to paint onto the sky, either a different blue or white. Using the same brush that has been cleaned well, they use the same side to side motion with the brush now turned to the narrowest side to add contrast to the sky with their new color while leaving most of the blue showing underneath. They do not cover the first layer but add stripes to the sky with the new color.
- Once that is dry, we clean the brushes and get ready for the landscape. Each child picks a color of green. We do the same thing as the sky, a side to side brush stroke with the thickest part of the brush doing all the work laying down a first layer of color for the grassy area. If the green is too light or they didn't paint too well we let the paint dry and do a second coat. Do not attempt to cover the area while the paint is wet because you will just be removing what is already there. It must be dry to add another coat of paint. This takes some patience and is worth the wait.
- Recap: So far, all the children have done is side to side brushing motions by turning the brush first to the thick side then the second coat on top using a side to side motion with the thin side of the brush both for the sky and grass and we cleaned the brush for each application.
- Photo: This acrylic painting by 7 year old, Alesia, shows her two-tone sky, two-tone grassy field. Now we are going to see how she made trees.
- Once the first layer of green grass is painted and allowed to dry we then pick another color of green. It must be a darker or lighter color green than the first color. It doesn't matter. Children are more interested in picking colors they like than the final outcome. It is important to let them experiment and learn mistakes with color on little boards. Sometimes they pick combinations you wouldn't think of that turn out just great.
- We apply a little green on top of the first green and there is room for experimenting. Grass grows up so they can use their brush to give the illusion of growing grass by making upward strokes. If they like the side to side idea they can move the brush in a waving motion and give the illusion of hills.
- We made bushes and trees by turning the brush to the narrow side again and just pushing the brush full of paint onto the canvas letting trees form themselves. Making the bottom a little thicker will form the correct tree shape.
- Photo: This landscape is by 2 almost 3 yr old, Kashmere. Great job on the trees. Notice how close and far away her trees are creating depth. Kashmere added a little darker color green to her trees once the first color dried with a very small brush.
- Now that the sky and ground is dry and the child can go back and add a few more trees. Turn a flat brush with the narrow side vertical (up and down) and use a paint filled brush to dab in trees right on the horizon line to give an illusion of trees in the distance. They can make the trees wider at the bottom and come to a point. Kids know instinctively where their trees must go. I never tell them where to put trees after the first one is placed on the horizon. Flat brushes work well for trees.
- If they want to make bushes, a small round brush and some dabbing will do the trick. Once the trees and bushes are dry a little lighter color green or even yellow on top or in front will push the foliage back and add depth to their trees.
- Any age child can create a masterpiece like these. It may take a few canvases but once they get a painting they like they can do it over and over. By changing colors such as oranges for the sky or blue for water instead of grass they can create one landscape after another using the same method.
- Photo: This landscape by 5 yr old, Aaliyah, features a lighter blue sky with white highlights and a darker green grass field.
- When children get ready to paint animals and more complex images there are two easy ways to help them master the skills.
- The first option is to stamp an image on an already painted canvas by inking the image in rubber stamp ink and pressing the image onto a canvas. This works great if you want the stamped image to show well and to be part of the painting.
- You can also make the stamped image faint by first stamping on paper, and then on the canvas. This will leave a fainter but definite image that can be painted over. Let the ink dry. Once the lines are painted over you can't tell it was stamped.
- This Elephant Painting is by 7-year-old Alesia, using the stamped method.
- Stamping is putting paint on something and pressing that something onto your painting. The stamping material you choose could be anything organic or synthetic. Try the classic potato, pencil eraser, or leather, lace, burlap, leaves, grasses or your fingers. Use your imagination, possibilities abound.
- If you want to try the stamping method, we have lots of kid friendly images available in our stamp store.
Every Great Artist Starts Somewhere
- Picasso starting painting at 9 years old. What if his parents said no?
- If you start a young child in art (say painting) and they stay with it, imagine what they will paint like when they are 20 or 30 years old. You may be raising the next Picasso.
Carbon Copy Painting
- In this lesson, I used carbon paper that I laid directly on the paint canvas. The image to be traced is then placed on top of the carbon paper. Simply pencil trace the image and the carbon paper will leave a basic image on the canvas. Once the child paints over the image the lines disappear. It looks like they painted the image themselves.
- Notice the black carbon paper in the top of the screen.
- Is the image painted perfect? No. Do pigs have black hooves? Well, this one does. Is the eye in the right place? Maybe not. Are the legs long enough? A couple are, but the painting is definitely a pig and everyone can see that. That is the only point of this lesson. I think this is a great first attempt, especially since my student is only 4 years old! Adults have trouble with this concept!
- Photo: This hot pink pig was painted by 4-year-old, Aaliyah, using the carbon paper tracing method
- You'll find keeping a kid from wanting to paint on the large size canvases almost impossible if those are the size canvases you use. It is like holding a tiger on a dog leash. Once they get the chance to paint on a giant sized canvas, that's it. There is no going back. They want the large canvas all the time and they want to paint all the time...and they can change their mind for no apparent reason.
- In this lesson, I painted a 20 x 24 inch canvas with black gesso. I paint with gesso when there are no children around and let it dry well because it is a chemical.
- We started out making an entirely different painting but after an afternoon nap inspiration sprung from somewhere and the painting suddenly and critically needed to become a blue dog, a giant blue dog!
- This is a step by step painting by a 3-year-old of a giant blue dog. She starts by painting over the entire canvas to make a background for her dog. Great artists do this all the time. It's called under-painting.
- Once the background is completely painted and dried, we pencil sketched a giant dog with a light blue pencil. This is after several tries on a smaller paper to insure the right tail shape and dog's position.
- First, the pencil outline is painted over, then the body is filled in, leaving the eyes and nose unpainted. They will be painted in black and white later. If the child goes outside the lines it is to be expected and only adds to the character of the painting. It's great for animals and makes them look like they have fur.
- You will see in the end this Giant Blue Dog turned out to be anatomically correct quite by accident. Notice the little blue dog hanging above the painting for inspiration.
- Once the first coat of blue dried we added 2-3 more coats of blue paint. It's not that the painting really needs to be that dark blue, but because painting with a color that is so enjoyable it means you never want it to end! So when we were just about out of blue paint, that was the sign that we had better wrap this up.
- Now it was time for the eyes and nose. The eyes required several coats of white for the eyeballs since the background was coming through. Once the white held it's own and dried well she added the black circles for the eye pupils. Outlining the white of the eyes helped hide her imperfect white eye balls. She then added the triangle shape for the nose. I could have helped her paint blue with a smaller brush around the eyes but it was important to let her do this all on her own.
- Yes! They are overly big features and his legs might not be perfect or even the same size, but that is the way she sees a dog. We added a white dot to each eye to add "life." Unsatisfied with the final outcome this 2 yr old Kash decided her dog needed whiskers and toe nails. With a small line brush and she created whiskers and maybe too many, way too long toenails. Once the dog and all his parts are dry we go back with the background color and clean up any blue marks that are not needed. She painted the paintbrush errors and cleaned up mistakes with a couple of background color coats.
- Lastly, it needed to be signed. We have been working for weeks on writing her name. And the final completed project brought a great deal of satisfaction. She is entering this painting in the county fair in 3 weeks. We will let you know how it does.
- Photo: Famous Blue Dog by 3-year-old, Kash.
Comments, ideas, feedback, etc
Lorenzo Ditieri on December 28, 2018:
Wow so many good paintings this website is super great!
marie mccubbrey on January 15, 2018:
this is marvelous. I enjoyed your story telling and the end results are wonderful. I lead my bible class in a painting project every year - they so love to work at an easel and on canvas. Some may never have that experience again. This year my students will be the youngest I have had and I was a little wary until visiting this site. Thank you
Amy on June 10, 2017:
This is great! I am a layperson volubteering to teach a step by step class to young children and this tutorial is descriptive enough to remind me of how just how detailed tailed I need to be... or don't need to be. Lol. Thanks for sharing.
Rock Artist on April 09, 2014:
I started painting when I was a child by being inspired by my friend's mom, stopped when I was a teen/young adult and found it again years later and love it. I painted on rocks as a child. Most kids love to paint rocks because they just can't mess it up. This is a wonderful and inspiring lens, thank you so much for sharing and it shows that anyone can be artistic, that's the beauty of art!
Lee Hansen from Vermont on April 01, 2014:
My granddaughter has been painting since she was about 18 months old. She's now 4 and is delighted with our latest experiments using acrylics on stretched canvas. Kids are natural artists! This lens is now listed in the award winners plexo at Purple Star Pastiche.
teelover on March 10, 2014:
Great tips, thanks for sharing!!!
mcsburlea on June 29, 2013:
wonderful lens. if only all parents would understand that it is ok to let their children express themselves artistically.
AceofHearts (author) on May 25, 2013:
@Cynthia Haltom: Yes! What a wise woman!
Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 25, 2013:
Art is important for children it not only develops eye hand coordination, it is also teaching children about math and creativity.
Shannon from Florida on May 23, 2013:
Wonderful ideas and tips! Thank you for sharing!
Aunt-Mollie on May 07, 2013:
These are terrific ideas for helping kids discover their creativity.
dellgirl on April 08, 2013:
You really put a lot of thought into this lens, it's a very good one.Love this lens, thank you for sharing.
makorip lm on March 27, 2013:
Can appreciate your lens, my granddaughter really loves art.
mcspocky lm on March 26, 2013:
Cool lens! :)
anonymous on March 14, 2013:
kabbalah lm on March 03, 2013:
Art is great therapy for kids
Vikki from US on February 25, 2013:
Wow..so many awesome ideas! This had to take you a good while to put together. Blessed.
Writewell on February 17, 2013:
I like what you have done with the kids. Very creative and nice they are awarded for their efforts.
RomeoWriter on February 02, 2013:
Wow! So little to be learning such a difficult skill and so good at it already. Must be a great teacher.
UKMarkWilliam on December 13, 2012:
TheGourmetCoffe on July 15, 2012:
Fun lens, will remember it for the next Community Group activity which includes kids. Also "liked" your lens!
anonymous on April 02, 2012:
My daughter would love this, will have to dig out my art case my sister, mum and dad (all adopted) by myself as I am only child but my daughter would love to have a go with my things.
goo2eyes lm on March 30, 2012:
kids need some kind of hobbies not to get bored.
moonlitta on November 24, 2011:
My girl is 4 and I really want her to learn to draw- yet, we'll need some more patience...:)
squidooboys on September 10, 2011:
my kids love painting very much.., nice share and plase visit my lens.. ^_^
biznartz8 on August 01, 2011:
Very well done just love the 1st dog and the landscapes. Bravo Bravo!