Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Little Things #4 - Brush Work

In the past I have written about the "little things" that artists do almost instinctively that not all children do without instruction. I have noticed that using a paintbrush effectively is one of those "little things."

I was thinking the other day that we often design art projects for kids to practice various skills without giving them an opportunity to practice before applying the skill to their "real art." However, as a kid, I remember often thinking, "I wish I could do this over now that I have practiced ....  I could do it so much better." So, before we get into painting concentric circles with tints and shades, I thought I would have 3rd graders do a little warm up with their flat brushes. I want them to experience turning the brush as they paint, and following the line made by one side of the brush.

How many times have you asked students to paint a circle with a flat brush and they sort of swipe the brush in a circular motion, ending up with something like this (or worse)?

See the ragged edges on the right?? This is sort of like when right handed kids try to cut on the left side of a line and wonder why there is a big space between the cut and the line. (See my scissor post from last year here.)

So I decided to have kids do a short warm-up lesson on "using the brush." First, using a Sharpie permanent marker, they'll draw 2 straight lines, a curved line and an angled line on a practice paper (I just used copy paper from the computer because I have a lot of it!)

Next comes the directed lesson: right handers paint, following the line, trying to get the left side of their flat brush right along the line. Left handers will do the same, only their eye should be focused on getting the right side of the brush even with the line. I think it is a skill for painters to follow the line created by the side of the brush, rather than the whole, thick paint line.
Left handers

After that, we'll try following the 2 lines of an angled line, practicing picking up and turning the brush when the line changes directions.

Since our art project includes painting concentric circles, the last practice line is the circle, where kids have to actually turn the flat side of the brush (or the paper) as they progress around their drawn circle.

I am anxious to see if this little warm-up exercise makes a difference in kids' dexterity  in using their paintbrushes in our project. (I'll post more about the actual project soon.)


  1. Wow. I would never have thought to do this. I'm impressed. I do talk about how to use the brush, but I'm much more casual about it, often guiding a child individually. I'll be interested to hear if this pays off. I think the big thing is often having the child realize how much moisture is needed in the brush - what is to much, what is not enough. I think these skills come so naturally to so many of us that we don't think of teaching them.

  2. Great idea!
    I am still in college, but after having 3 field placements I firmly believe that children need exercises like this. As you have said, there are skills that are not intrinsic to children. And nothing is worse than when a child feels that they have "messed up" their art work and doesn't have the confidence to try and fix it.

    Let us know how this goes!

  3. You are right about the moisture, Phyl. I see that a LOT, too. I usually tell the kids when they start seeing white streaks of paper it is time to turn over the brush and use the paint on the other side or go back and re-load their brush with paint. When I start breaking down all the little components of painting, I realize that there's a lot going on between the brush, the paint and the paper!!