Finding Form

Originally Published in Tuesday News September 27, 2017
Kindergarten students have been working with Ms. Graf on free painting using tempera paint. Given only the primary colors, students were free to mix colors if they chose. “I do not tell them how to mix colors, believing that through exploration they will discover on their own how to make new colors,” says Ms. Graf. “It is this act of discovery that allows students to internalize their newfound knowledge.”  Ms. Graf provided the following description of their recent project, which is much more than just putting paint on paper.

“There are several steps in painting that every young artist goes through in their journey to represent something in their work. Children will develop these skills at different times, and will briefly fluctuate back and forth between stages when they’ve made a big jump. What is so fascinating about kindergarten, is that there are so many examples of pre-representation and representation present in every class. The first stage shows as “mud paintings,” which as parents, we are very familiar with from preschool days. From amorphous paintings, we start to see more defined areas of mixed colors, but still no representation as seen above. These are nevertheless delightfully spontaneous and full of color.  Often children will tell a story while painting, their brush moving quickly around the page. These 'action' paintings tell a story in the moment but are soon forgotten by the child, and most often resemble the pre-representational stage.  

In the art above, this child started with a big blue circle. These roundish forms are called enclosures. This is the beginning stage of representation. It is within these enclosures that the action of the painting takes place. Often, I see the self or the family represented in these spaces. Here, the artist created a giant heart. Once the heart was in place, she filled in color around the heart.

Students will then move away from these enclosures and start painting representationally using the entire canvas as seen here in this train chugging across the page. It’s common for children of this age to be able to draw representationally with crayons, pencils, or markers, but perhaps not yet with paint. Paint is a very different medium. It’s much harder to control and then there’s the process of color mixing, as well, which adds further challenge.
At this stage in a young artist’s life, it can be difficult to understand what it is that a child is expressing. Parents may find the following questions helpful when reflecting with their child on an art piece:  ‘Can you tell me about your painting? Which color did you use first? How did you make that color?’ It’s also helpful to talk about the concrete. For example, ‘I see you put a straight yellow line down the middle of your page.’  
It is my goal to create an art curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for each individual child, engaging my background as a fine artist, art educator, and an art therapist. The children are sharing experiences of their internal and external worlds through their artwork, and that is quite a gift that I get to be a part of everyday!"