I pulled out all the paint bottles we had in our art closet and lined them up on the floor.
“Eli, please choose three colors.”
He helped me pour his choices into small bowls, we grabbed a few paint brushes and his new canvas, and we shared the responsibility of carrying all his materials out to the backyard. I leaned the canvas against our fence and told him, “You’re free! Paint to your heart’s content!”
He looked at me to the canvas and then back to me as if unsure.
“Yep. That’s all yours,” I smiled.
He walked over, bent down to grab a paintbrush, dipped it into the paint, and started his painting adventure on his own canvas.
But, why a blank canvas?
It’s open-ended. I’m not sure when “art projects” became a popular activity with young toddlers and preschoolers, but there have been plenty of articles written about how stifling they are to creativity. A child is a born artist. Just think back to beautiful smeared baby food masterpieces left by your 6 month old on his or her weaning table. Ha! Now, give him a few colors of paint, various tools, and a canvas, and very little, if any, instructions will be needed. Let the inner artist loose! As the days and weeks have passed, Eli has discovered he can pour the paint onto the canvas and spread it with his fingers. He has learned that he can make a circle “stamp” by tapping the small paint bowls on the canvas. He has explored painting with the canvas flat on the ground in addition to leaning against the fence. And I’ve added more painting tools for him to explore such as a sponge, whisk, baster, and spray bottle, and he’s added tools as well: a fallen leaf and a collected stick.
It emphasizes process. A large canvas may take weeks or months to complete (if then). Eli has been working on this canvas for a month and a half so far. I love the natural lesson that the process, the time spent, the joy of painting is just as (if not more) important than the finished product. I hope Eli is beginning to learn he can take his time to work on big projects. He can work, step back (even for a day or week), and then work some more. Then, his pride is in the progress of today, not simply that he completed a task.
It promotes freedom. With a canvas, especially a large canvas, a young toddler has freedom to move and to explore the art space. This is not a “sit and do art” kind of experience. Eli spends the entire time on his feet, walking around the painting, crouching down, leaning over, and yes, occasionally running across the yard and running right back to paint some more. He has the freedom to choose when to paint, how to paint, for how long to paint, etc.
Eli is an artist like all children, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that, by simply giving him the freedom and space to be the artist he is, he will always remain one.