Thinking About What’s Behind “Art” for Babies + Our “Abstract” Project

Art and babies is a tricky combination.

For this project, I set out with a few goals:

1) Have fun.

2) Expose Kingsley to paint and colours.

3) End up with some abstract masterpiece.

Okay, so the abstract part is a bit far fetched. Those who know art will tell me it is not truly abstract. The idea behind abstract tends to be lost when making art with kids. Abstract art is, in some ways, intentional. It’s something that has been taken and then abstracted, so that it is viewed through another lens or perspective, and then rethought about by the viewer. Babies have no frame of reference for art; in fact, they are building this frame of reference when exposed to these kinds of activities. So how, then, are they to abstract reality when they aren’t yet able to represent reality? The moral is, they aren’t yet able to, so we must help them build the skills and fill their toolkit with experiences.

I wanted this to be intentional. Not a craft, and not predetermined, but still intentional.

So I selected 3 colours to use. I also selected a small canvas so that my very busy boy would be able to cover it quickly, and then move on. I also held the canvas for him, stood him on it and let him jump, and opted to pour more colour on in certain spots while he watched, mesmerized.

I did not: write some cutesy words all over; use masking tape to reveal some other design because I saw it on Pinterest; spaz out when he put the paint in his mouth; use every colour of paint resulting in diarrhea-brown.

So what is the project, anyway?

I started by selecting the right room. I chose the bathroom for a number of reasons:

1) It is tiled, not hardwood, and there are no animals upstairs, so no hairs to fly into wet paint.
2) It’s a tight space, and the table cloth from the dollar store would fit and cover most of the floor.
3) I really don’t care about these cupboards. They’re ugly.
4) The tub is right there, and we did this right before bath time. Following the activity, I picked him up and put him into the tub.


Here he is when I popped him onto the tablecloth. I hadn’t set out the paint yet. I wanted to see his reaction before getting too deep in. He was happy (clearly), so we pressed on. (For you cloth diaper parents like us, you may be wondering what our diapers are. We use Best Bottoms, and we use the ones with snap buttons. This white one has a velcro instead, and we don’t use it normally, so it is now Kingsley’s “Art Diaper”. No need to worry about messes and painted diapers. If you don’t have one you’re willing to use, just throw on a disposable, take the risk and have them go in the buff, or put some pants on them!)

1510831_10101094147857441_602893396220732919_nNext, I poured out some paint and lured him over. He is currently army-crawling, so my goal was to have him power through the paint and get some on the canvas.

It did not really go according to plan. He wasn’t that excited to come see me, and the tablecloth was hard to slide on. So, I picked him up and placed him by the paint. At first, it was slow.



He kept grabbing the paint bottles. At first, I let it go, until I noticed that he was getting paint in his mouth. I wiped the paint out, and put the bottles behind me. That, apparently, was a GREAT lure! He was very enticed by the paint bottles and kept grabbing for them. His grabs = paint marks!


I decided to sit him up and give him the canvas.


He was very intrigued by the canvas. I held it for him and he would grab at it, swat at it, and play it like the drums. At this point, I noticed that the colours were beginning to muddle, so we set it down and I dripped paint from very high up onto the canvas (orange). This was exciting for him to watch and we talked about the colour (okay, I mean, I narrated to him what was happening and focused on the colour as I did so).

11390186_10101094147972211_8212457305968689450_n 10313078_10101094148062031_4188076526988649179_n

Clearly having a GREAT time


I consciously determined when the end would be, based on two things:

1) his interest, and
2) the painting.

I noticed that it was starting to get a bit old. He was having a great time, and I wanted to stop the activity before he lost complete interest. I want the experiences to be positive, so that he is engaging with art in positive ways. His enthusiasm became very heightened, and then it started to settle. His focus was back onto the paint bottles, and I knew that this was my cue.

I also was quite pleased, personally, with the balance of the project. Sure, Kingsley has no idea why this piece works artistically, but I set him up for success: I selected the colours and did so in a limited palette; I also ensured that there would be some orange on the canvas that wasn’t entirely saturated into the blue and green, as to give some composition to the swirl of colours. I also talked about this as we were finishing up. I know that right now, he doesn’t know what I’m talking about, or care, but I believe that if I make this a habit now, it will become a regular part of our talk when he is engaging with me in a few years. I want to slow this down and make sure that art is valued, not rushed. His bath and bedtime were around the corner, yes, but all it took was some patient talk while cleaning up to make it part of our routine.

Here’s the finished product, when wet:


And here it is, framed in a chunky frame from the dollar store:11392993_10101094147029101_3758613579393835565_nI want Kingsley to be exposed to art activities, but I don’t want him to think that his creativity is dependent on the parameters I set out or create through things like contrived crafts and “art” activities.

In fact, I wonder if this was even an ART activity, or simply an experience in colours and textures. He is nine months old – but I am keeping in mind that with every choice we make, we are building his frame of reference, his personality, vocabulary, and his confidence.

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