I love watercolor painting with my kids. It’s less messy and usually quicker than using acrylic, plus it has such a nice fluid quality to the final results. It’s a lot of fun, but it also has its own challenges. Here are my tips for helping kids get the most out of watercolor painting.
1. Choose a great subject, and paint from life, looking at the actual object(s). We especially love to go outside and cut a bouquet of fresh flowers from our garden, then bring them in and put them in a colorful vase. Even toddlers enjoy looking and choosing which flowers to use. Fresh fruits or vegetables are also great subjects.
2. Use good materials. It can be really frustrating for kids to try to paint using pale, thin paint on copy paper that quickly disintegrates when wet.
I love the Prang Oval Pan Watercolor Set. These paints are semi-moist and create rich color with little effort. I use them in my own artwork, but they’re relatively inexpensive and non-toxic so they are also great for kids.
The brush that comes with the Prang set is good, but a bigger brush that holds more water is often nice too. A Bamboo Brush is a great, cost-effective option.
3. Guide kids as they compose the image on the paper and encourage them to fill the whole page. I often have my kids trace with their fingers on the paper where they will place the top of the vase, the rest of the vase, and the mass of flowers. Sometimes with older kids I’ll have them lightly draw a very simple outline on the paper. I don’t really want them to draw in every flower, but just a shape where the flowers will go. The idea is not to micromanage, but to help kids think about filling the entire page so they don’t end up with a teeny tiny vase of flowers in the middle of a vast expanse of empty paper.
4. Observe the subject with your kids. Ask them questions — What colors do they see? What shapes? Do they see any shadows? What other details do they notice?
5. Encourage your kids to use enough water mixed with their colors, and a big enough brush, to fill large areas evenly, without scrubbing. (Not too much water, though — they don’t want to flood their paper or cause their colors to look too pale.) It often works best if they let each separate area of the painting dry before they work next to it, unless they want the colors to mix and run together. I often let my kids use a hair dryer to speed up this process. Then they don’t have to be as patient, plus they love using the dryer.
6. Be sure to have your kids sign and date their artwork!
Blue Hydrangeas by Jay, age 8