Friday, December 4, 2009

Arts in Infancy Part 2: Visual Art

"My newborn son is asleep on my lap, and I am finally doing what I had hoped to begin ten weeks ago- document in words and pictures his first year. He was born in early December and the days since have provided many challenges and joys. I feel like there is already so much that I should have captured, so many experiences to commit to paper and yet there has been so little time to do much more than simply live. We've been in survival mode."

These are the first words I penned in a journal I hoped would serve as a keepsake of our first year together. I imagined an artist's book complete with new writings, images and other memorabilia collected on a continual, even daily basis. Before my son's birth, I naively assumed I would have plenty of time during my three months of maternity leave to care for a newborn as well as continue the creative work I was accustomed to producing as a child-free artist. Of course, it was weeks before I even had the presence of mind to brush my teeth and wash my hair regularly. Every free moment was dedicated to the pursuit of sleep in a desperate attempt to recoup what was lost during the night nursing my son for thirty minutes every two to three hours. The only creative energy I could spare was applied to finding ways to entertain him during the day. Unloading the dishwasher became an introductory art lesson as I described the circular and rectangular shapes of plates and baking pans and clanged them together in a multi-sensory performance piece. To bathe myself, I secured my son in his bouncy seat just steps away from the tub and rippled our geometrically patterned shower curtain with my left hand to create a visually stimulating OpArt experience for him as I attempted to wash and shave with my right.

As soon as the baby's eyes could focus more closely, we lay side by side on the floor together looking upward at illustrated children's books like Harold and the Purple Crayon. He kicked his feet excitedly in response to the bold lines and distinct shapes of Crockett Johnson's simple purple and black drawings. He responded similarly to pictures in books by Sandra Boynton, Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss, which have comparable design characteristics.

I must admit, though, that I was finally motivated to make art at home with my son when I discovered my friend's boy, just a month older than mine, was already creating paintings with his feet in preparation for an "art opening" or Open House at daycare! I scoured parenting chat rooms and books for ideas on how to I could introduce my infant son to the visual arts in age appropriate and safe ways. I was specifically on the lookout for projects I could easily do with him at home myself (read: without an extra pair of helping hands) while my husband was at work during the day. I discovered some lively on-line debaters disputing the merits, even the possibility of making art with children less than a year in age. But I was not to be deterred; it was not too soon in my mind for Artful Son (AS) to experience the joys of art making.

Of course my greatest concern was finding nontoxic art materials that would not irritate his sensitive new skin or accidentally be ingested. Instead, I found ways of preventing AS from needing to touch the art materials at all! Inspiration first came from a surprising source, author and mother Ruth Yaron's bestselling book Super Baby Food. This is primarily a resource for feeding your baby and toddler, but it has a wonderful arts and crafts section filled with many thrifty ideas. She even includes a recipe for making your own playdough and other art materials that are so safe for children they are even edible! What's more, Yaron is very conscientious when it comes to creating a safe home environment so her tips are always both child and earth friendly.

For our first endeavor, I squeezed a dollop of tempera paint in each of the primary colors, red, blue and yellow, onto a white paper plate. Then I carefully inserted the plate into a clear gallon-size Ziploc and sealed the bag closed. AS was propped up on a pillow with the plate placed beneath his feet. I encouraged him to begin kicking which started the paints mixing into secondary colors, green, purple and orange. After a few minutes, I removed the plate from the bag and allowed it to air dry. We then experimented blending cool and warm hues. For AS, the process was the most enjoyable part, but I was delighted to have the finished products, tempera paintings, to keep and share. In times to come, we explored (with varying success) basic printmaking, finger paints, and air-drying clay.

While safe children's art materials, such as Crayola paints, crayons, clays and construction paper, can be purchased relatively cheaply, I am a big fan of artist and educator George Szekely's concept of "environmental shopping". Szekely encourages his own children and students to search in unlikely places for non-traditional media and techniques. For example, cardboard boxes can be cut and recycled into sturdy painting surfaces, and sponges or even small tree branches can be used to make marks with paint in lieu of expensive brushes. Want to learn more? Check out his website or excellent book Encouraging Creativity in Art Lessons.

Do you have an infant art making idea you'd like to share? Please post it in the comments section.


  1. Don't forget about face-painting with yogurt!
    ... Oh, you mean the baby is supposed to EAT the yogurt?

  2. You are quite prolific and informative with your ideas. Awesome stuff!

  3. "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." ~Pablo Picasso

    I don't think a child is ever too young to make art or have his/her art proudly and prominently displayed. When I was growing up, my mother transformed our home into a gallery. To this day, I remember my brothers' Civil War and WWII battle scenes, G's Psychadelic Cat and embroidered Martian, K's manga-y comics, and my own Sunset with Crows. One of my favorite holiday treats is to look at all the kid-made ornaments on the Christmas trees. The ones made by children are always the best. In college, I worked at the faculty daycare center, and we always hung artwork near the floor so the crawlers, toddlers, and walkers were able to easily view it. A cool sneaky art project for moms in the city - moms everywhere - would be to hang artwork near the ground for all the babies to enjoy on their walks.

  4. I love the ideas of edible art and home art galleries to showcase childrens' art. Many foods like pudding and cookie dough can be used for finger painting and sculpting, then eaten by little ones! The home gallery can go beyond putting artwork on the fridge to painting bedroom walls with chalkboard paint and dedicating a room or hallway of your house for the framing and hanging of your child's creative efforts over their school years.



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