Here’s a simple and engaging art idea for kids: Take art outside! In this post we’ll be covering ideas for where to go, what to bring, tips for enjoying an outdoor art adventure and an introduction to watercolor painting for kids!
After a crazy wet winter in Southern California, my kids and I have been dying to go outside; the first thing we did in the backyard? Make art!
This post was sponsored by Sakura of America. All opinions of them (and they are all gushing) are strictly my own!
I think a lot of people, myself included, get hung up on creating art INSIDE at a dedicated art table with access to a host of materials. While I love our home studio space, the reality is you don’t need more than a sketchbook and some drawing/painting tools to start making art. Taking a break from a classroom/studio setting and getting outside to create focuses on outdoor observational skills and art techniques like sketching and watercolor painting for kids.
As a young adult I had the opportunity to spend a year studying in Italy and the ONE required bit of reading before prior to the trip was a book called Chambers for A Memory Palace. It was written by two architects who did a lot of traveling and even more sketching. While it’s been years since I read it, the main take away was that sketching and art making outside of the studio/classroom is a powerful way to preserve memories and hone your skills of observation, two reasons why I believe more kids and adults need to take their art making OUTSIDE!
5 reasons to take art outside
1. It’s meditative.
Watching nature and using it as inspiration for a sketch is simply relaxing.
2. It teaches you to observe.
Learning to draw through observation rather than your imagination teaches you to notice details, understand perspective, and capture movement. One of the fundamental lessons artist Corita Kent used to instill in her students was the act of looking. She would have her students do countless exercises of observation, including sketching and watching shadows for long periods of time. All creative endeavors begin with an observation, whether it’s the shape of a leaf, a problem people are struggling with, or recognizing the hurt feelings of a friend, if you can’t stop and notice the events and details that surround you, a lot of important ideas and moments will pass you by.
3. It‘s a way to record memories.
As Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon encouraged in Chambers for A Memory Palace, sketching is beautiful way to document the places you’ve been and note the particular things that you found special about those places. A sketchbook is a beautiful visual journal you can look back on.
4. It engages the senses.
A breeze blowing through your hair, the smell of native sage, the quacking of ducks, these are a few of the things I noticed on our recent visit to a local duck pond in the hills near our home. The kids sat and sketched as we listened, smelled, and felt the nature that surrounded us. Sometimes just taking yourself out of your home frees you from distractions and allows to you notice and experience more.
5. It teaches resourcefulness.
Forgot your paintbrush? No bench to sit on? The wind blowing your paper away? Sketching outside require resourcefulness. Use a stick to paint, sit on a rock, tuck your paper under your backpack, solve the problem and make it work! Making art outside forces you to solve simple challenges.
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A quick primer on watercolor painting for kids
Of course there are many art techniques to try outdoors but the one I find the easiest and most travel friendly is watercolor. The reason being that watercolors are compact, the brushes are small and can be easily and quickly cleaned, and most folks carry water with them when traveling. Plus there is something about the washed look of watercolor that lends itself beautifully to sketches made outdoors. Here are a few things to tell your kids as you introduce them to this painting technique:
- You choose the gradient. Watercolors are directly affected by how much water is on the brush. Using lots of water with a small amount of pigment will yield very light colors, dip a slightly wet brush into a watercolor cake and you can get a very rich and deep color.
- Dip the the brush in water between colors! To get the color you want you will need to clean the brush between each color. Bring a small bowl or even a bottle cap with some water in it that you can use to clean the brush between colors. Sakura also makes this incredible Koi water color brush that you squeeze in between colors and it washes off the brush tip itself! Perfect for traveling!
- Mix your own colors! You can mix your own colors on a scrap paper or plastic palette. The wonderful thing about watercolors is that you can mix up the specific color you want really quickly. The brush sets below have a palette inside you can do this with OR bring along scrap paper to use as a quick palette.
- Use the right paper. Watercolor paper or a thick card stock/sketch pad is best with watercolors. If your paper is too thin it can tear as it gets soggy and if it’s coated the colors will take along time to be absorbed into the paper. Because watercolor pads can be pricey I use 67 lb card stock like this with watercolors.
Art Idea: Go on an Art Adventure!
What to pack:
These travel water color sets by Sakura of America are a lovely way to introduce watercolor painting for kids! They are really compact, the watercolors are vibrant and the brush pen has it’s own water capsule so you can use watercolors at a moments notice without any spills. My kids took one look at these and practically begged me to take them out on a trip!
2. Watercolor Pad/Sketch Pad
3. Pen and pencil
I love the Micron pens by Sakura because they are waterproof. You can sketch with them and paint over them immediately without worrying about smearing. They also come with tips in a variety of sizes.
4. Q-tips (optional)
Q-tips are perfect for sopping up extra water; stash a couple in your travel kit before you leave.
6. Snacks & Water!
Ideas for Outside Art Activities
- Draw your own house! Go outside and sketch/paint a picture of your own house. Notice the details that make it special to you.
- Document nature Collect items on a nature walk. Sketch and paint them in a journal. Label the drawings if you know what they are.
- Record a trip or event through images. Many people keep written journals, try documenting a trip or event solely through sketches. A sketchbook and watercolor set would make an amazing accompaniment on summer trips!
- Follow your interests! Use sketching to engage your child’s interests. Is your child obsessed with trucks? Find a place you can safely observe construction and sketch bulldozers, excavators etc. Your child loves horses? Visit a stable and sketch some of the animals.
Tips for Sketching Out and About
- Choose a simple and lovely place to go. It doesn’t have to a complicated plan, your own yard works! Just choose a nice quiet spot to sit.
- Stay out of the way. It’s frustrating to go somewhere and be bumped or get unfriendly stares because you are sitting/standing in an awkward spot. Choose a place to sketch that will not stress you out! This is particularly important if you have chosen to sketch in a busy location, such as a public plaza or the zoo.
- Don’t bring along too many materials! You want to be able to pack up and go quickly. Take along a sketchbook, one pen, and a travel watercolor set.
- Sketch then paint Use a pen or pencil to sketch first then overlay watercolor on top.
- Don’t worry if your drawing gets messy! A little dirt or sand trapped in the pages of your journal will simply remind you of the places you’ve been! Sketch journals are about observing and documenting, not creating finished artworks.
- Don’t be intimidated. It can be intimidating to draw something in front of you rather than something from your imagination. Remember that you are learning to observe, the picture doesn’t have to be realistic looking, just inspired by something you see.
- Start simply. Don’t choose and entire building to draw, choose a window. Instead of a tree try a leaf! Pay attention to the details.
- Be prepared for stares. People love to watch and comment when they see artists out and about. Most of them will be intrigued and supportive. A nice smile and polite nod will send them on their way if you want to be distraction free.
- Inspiration is everywhere! Don’t limit yourself to nature. Corita Kent also used to take her students on field trips to car washes and the heart of Hollywood to document billboards, signs, and other graphics they saw while out and about.
Great Places for an Art Adventure
- Your backyard
- Botanical Garden
- Museum of Natural History
- A hike in the woods
- The zoo
- Your own neighborhood
- Your local park
- The beach, a marina is particularly full of wonderful sketching inspiration
- Your next vacation
- A public plaza
- A historic part of town
John Muir. John Muir was a naturalist and environmental advocate whose activism helped establish Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in California. I just started reading John Muir’s landmark book My First Summer in the Sierra. In it he documents his observations of the flora and fauna he encountered spending a summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. His sketches and observations were some of the first to document the variety of wildlife in the area and his poetic descriptions of the landscape have prodded countless people to visit. Above all his love of the American wilderness was contagious and changed the way many Americans thought of the vast expanses of untouched natural land, instead of seeing it as a place to exploit, they started seeing the importance of preserving it for everyone to enjoy and find beauty, peace, and solace.
I want you to try this: Next time you take your kids to visit a museum or park bring along a sketchbook and something to draw/paint with.
Your kids may scoff at the idea, but watch as they settle in and become engaged in looking at their surroundings and sketching something from it. One of the most important skills kids and adults should have is the ability to make observations. A really engaging way to hone this skill is through making art, particularly taking art outside and into the world.
If you enjoyed this post hop, over and see another fun project we did using Sakura of America’s Oil Pastels
And Sakura of America has an amazing website with loads of project ideas for kids. You can see more of them here.
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