Crayon Pointillism for Kids: St. Patrick's Day Rainbows

Fri, 02/24/2012 - 3:29pm -- Jessica Baudin-...

St.Patricks Day is still a few weeks away, but I wanted to give you time to try this fantastic project Bria and I worked on last week. This project is the perfect balance of artistic process, art appreciation, and a beautiful final product you will be proud to share! It should be noted that this project did take us 4 hours (we split it up over two 2 hour sessions) and would work best with children 5 or older who have a decent attention span.

If you're saying to yourself "What the heck is pointillism?", don't worry I thought the same thing at first. But chances are you ARE familiar with pointillism! Wikipedia defines Pointillism asa technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. The technique was developed by neo-impressionist artist George Seurat. The technique relies on the optical illusion that is created when two dots of color beside each seem to blend together to create a new color.

Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte - 1884 is one of the most famous pointilism pieces using over 3 million individual dots of paint to create the 6.5x10 foot mural. I had the pleasure of seeing this piece up close and personal when I was 15 on a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (on loan from the Chicago Art Institute). What an inspiring work! It is also the inspiration for, one of my favourite musical theatre composers, Stephan Soundheim's Sunday in the Park with George.

If you google "Pointillism for Kids" many great resources come up to help focus your project and how to explain this technique to young children. Bria and I have been discussing color and texture so I decided to take these as our starting point to the project. I asked Bria how she can create new colors. Since we have been doing color mixing for a few years I think I almost insulted her with this question. She rolled her eyes and said, "By mixing 2 colors together" (with a Duh Mommy tone LOL).

I showed her some different pointillism pieces and explained that these artists used tiny dots of color side by side to trick our eyes into mixing them into new colors. "Coooollll!" she said leaning forward, instantly engages and relived that this wasn't an art project that wasn't going to challenge her mature 5-year-old self ;) We then went on to discuss how using this technique added texture and depth to the paintings. She was sold!

What You Need:

  • Large box of wax crayons (we got a 24 pack of crayola crayons from the dollar store)
  • Tea lights (buy many!)
  • Small Canvas (we bought two 6x8 inch canvases at the dollar store)
  • A pencil

Step One: Plan your picture

Any kind of simple picture would work well for this project. Since we were creating a St.Patrick's Day piece we decided to create a rainbow picture. On the canvases Bria and I drew a rainbow coming out of a cloud in the sky. We then labeled each section of the drawing with the colors we would eventually put there. 

Step Two: Sort your Crayons

This step is optional but I am always looking for ways to integrate other subject areas into our art exploration. Sorting is a great math concept for young children. I asked Bria to sort all of the colors into their color families from lightest to darkest. We also discussed which primary colors could be added to each color family (for example, yellow and red could go with orange) based on the pointillism color mixing illusion. 

Step Three: Melting crayons to create picture

Once our crayons were sorted into their color families we began the pointillism process. Using a knife I cut the paper wrapping off the crayons. Decide what section of your picture you are going to start with and keep those crayons near by.

Next, hold the bottom end of the crayon about 1 inch away from the tea light flame (another reason this project should not be done with children under the age of 5 and children never left unsupervised). The crayon will begin to melt. Before it drips, quickly dab the melted end of the crayon on the desired location on your canvas. Repeat this process over and over again using all crayons from that color family throughout the section until the entire section is covered. This does take awhile. 

A few things we learned:

  • Don't fret if you drip crayon wax in the wrong section. You can simply cover up any mishaps by dabbing the "correct" color over top.
  • Try NOT to let the crayon wax drip into the tea light, it kills the candle's ability to keep the flame lit. We had many tea light casualties during the process (buy a BIG bag of tea lights from the dollar store)
  • Some colors work better then others. Light colors such as reds, oranges, greens, and pinks looked great! Blues and purples came out very dark (almost black). Make sure you have a very light blue and/or purple crayon to mix in with the darker colors so it turns out. We found an old light blue crayon to use in our sky but had to settle mixing in some maroon to give our purple a better look. 

The Finished Products:

Don't they look amazing! So much color and texture! Malia loved to run her hands over the pictures over and over again.

Everyone we have shown them to has been thoroughly impressed. We have them up for display on our fireplace mantle. It did take some encouragement (especially towards the end) to keep Bria engaged but she was ecstatic with her finished piece. She has asked if we could make Easter Egg pictures using this technique in the spring.

I think next time we do this project I'll break it up over more sessions (so I don't have to nag her to keep going). Maybe one color section at a time? Let me know if you give this one a try! I'd love to hear your comments and see your results!

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