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Catholic Culture News

Catholic Activity: Home Equipment for Junior Grade Artists



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As a mother of seven children, Newland has had extensive experience with young artists in the home. Here she tells parents what they will need to encourage creativity in their children.


All a two-year-old needs to have a great time drawing is the want-ad section of the Sunday paper opened out six or eight sheets thick in the playpen and a fat bright crayon. He will scribble and crumple for maybe a half hour, and that's a long time for a two-year-old. When he is outdoors, all he needs is a pan of water, a spoon, an old pie plate, and the inevitable dirt, and he will sculpture and model and bake and pour in an orgy of creation.

When he is older, he needs big paper, lots of room to swing his arms, bright crayons, and big jars of bright paint. If possible, hide the pencils. Pencils make fists tighten and tend to draw faces close to the paper to see where thin little lines are going. They inhibit the freedom and sweep that are so important to keep children from tightening up inside, becoming fussy too soon about unimportant details. Suitable smocks, aprons, something for wiping hands on, are very important. No one can have any fun trying to splash around with paint if he has to worry about getting dirty — and this applies especially to finger paints.

Easels are good if they are big and sturdy and do not tip over. Low flat tables to which paper can be thumb-tacked (low enough to paint standing up) are often better than easels because paint does not drip down so persistently and turn sunny-day pictures into rainy-day pictures. (What else could one do with the blue drips from a cloudless blue sky?)

Powdered poster paints can be bought in bulk in the primary colors — red, yellow, and blue — and mixed for painting sessions in old jars with screw tops. They are a better investment than children's paint sets and all the colors but black can be mixed from the three primaries. Good brushes, instead of the waggle-ended monstrosities included in paint sets, are important and not very expensive. For little children (or older ones painting mural projects on large paper, wall board, or wall surfaces) sash brushes from the Five and Ten do very well. They are narrow enough, they stroke the paint well, they are supple, yet stiff enough to hold up under the scrubbing with soap and water afterwards. It is good to have mats for framing, as everybody knows what glorious things a frame does for a good picture. These are easy to cut from illustration board with a mat knife. Matted, family art can be displayed seriously on any wall, singly or in groups, or on a bulletin board.

A large bulletin board (as described in chapter 6) can be the focal point for all these creative activities as well as for relating displays with school work, catechism lessons, exciting family events, and the continually changing message of the liturgical seasons. A large blackboard is an equally valuable feature of a house with children and the best incentive of all to get children to "draw big." Nailed to the wall, it is an invitation to draw, print, write, number, play games, or scribble for the joy of scribbling (which few children can resist). If there is a smooth paintable wall, the whole wall may be covered with blackboard paint, which comes in colors now, as well as black.

Brown wrapping paper, shelving paper, newspaper stock, the backs of old wallpaper rolls, large pads of manila, even tissue paper (which we print with potato block prints and use for gift wrappings), lend themselves to experiments with crayon, paint, hard chalks, pastels, colored inks, india ink and lettering pens, leftover paint from home decorating projects. It is just a step to doing variations of these with pastings, montage techniques, glitter, sequins, tiny beads and buttons, and all sorts of odds and ends families save because "there must be something we can use it for."

Colored construction paper for cutting and pasting projects, gilt papers, aluminum foil, lace paper doilies, designs or multiple figures cut in folded paper, colored felts to cut and appliqué, fabrics to cut and paste and sew — all such treasures as these can be used to illustrate the mysteries and the feast days, to serve as valentines, Christmas and Easter greetings, gifts, to explain lessons in schoolbooks, in catechism. We are working right now on the catechism lesson about the three theological virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost — such meaningless mouthfuls when encountered the first time, but easy to learn when the three theological virtues are three yellow knights, cut on a threefold piece of paper so that they stand hand in hand, each one decorated with a symbol of faith or hope or charity (charity has a gold crown because St. Paul said, "and the greatest of these is charity"). The gifts are sevenfold doves cut the same way, flying wing to wing. A child carefully lettering on one dove after the other the words Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord, can hardly avoid learning them. Then if the figures are posted on the bulletin board, they are easier to remember and explain: "You know what those men are? Well, they are Three Theological Virtues — see?"

Then there are the modeling and carving materials. Plasticine, water clays, and soap to carve, salt blocks to sculpture (these sell for 20 cents each in feed stores), dough to twist and weave and tie into shapes, plaster of paris and plastic materials to pour into homemade molds, papier-mâché for masks and puppets (made with shredded newspaper and flour paste, wet buckram, gummed brown paper tape), soft woods to whittle, animals to make from vegetables, cookies to cut freehand and decorate — all these and more suggest the variety of media with which children should experiment in order to find which one is particularly "theirs" and says the best the things they want to say. The local library is full of books on how to do all these things, and the Catholic Art Association's Elementary Art Guide has excellent projects worked out in detail with diagrams, texts, and photographs of children with finished art.

As the children learn how to use their heads and hands, slowly they begin to understand that it is proper and fitting to make rather than merely to buy. The little boy who once said, "When I grow up I'm going to buy a statue factory, so I can give my mother all the nice statues she wants," discovers that making statues requires time, and thought, and love, and that you can do better at this than factories can.

Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961