Erin Farnsworth Studio



    Monthly Newsletter

    February, 2020

  • Kids and Art
    I have kids (5 of them). I also make art. I also love to see art. Sometimes it seems kids and art don't mix very well--but they don't necessarily need to be mutually exclusive!

    This month, I'm excited to tell you all about three topics involving kids and art:

    1. Making Art around Kids
    2. Teaching Art to Kids
    3. Showing Art to Kids (or, experiencing art with kids)
  • My family and I outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, France a few years back
  • Making Art around Kids
    We all have a need to create.
    But how do you do it around little (or even big) people who have the capacity to destroy just as fast as you create?
    First, a few personal stories...
    At some point, each of my five kids has messed up something I was working on--but a few of those times were doosies. 
    Early on in my "Arranged Stones" series (watercolor paintings of polished rocks), I was doing all my work from the kitchen table. While painting a row of green and pink unakite stones, I stood up and turned around just long enough for my 3-year-old son to grab a paintbrush, dip it in thick, wet, red paint (fresh from the tube), and paint a big, red stripe across the clean white paper above the rocks in my painting--an area that was supposed to stay clean and white. 
    After a momentary panic, I grabbed the painting, ran to the sink, and started to scrub under running water. I scrubbed and scrubbed that big red stripe. Red is a staining color, but I scrubbed, dried and scrubbed again until all I could see was a very slight, lingering pinkish hue--light enough that once it was dry (& I'd burnished the watercolor paper a little to make the scrubbed fibers lay down more), I was the only one who noticed it. That painting was in several shows and now graces the wall of my mother and father-in-law's home. You can see an image of it below.
    The experience taught me a few things: One, that using good quality, thick watercolor paper can save your painting! Two, when working on a project with kids around, things can go south in a heartbeat. I was a fairly new mom at the time, and this was one of my early experiences in just how fast kids can get into trouble.
    Unakite Spread, 10.5 X 13 inches, watercolor on paper
    A more recent example...
    Fast forward a bunch of years, and that 3-year-old is now 6 feet tall and has 4 younger siblings who have given me their own gifts of momentary panic.
    Just last week my 12-year-old daughter proved that it's not just the little kids you have to watch out for...
    It was almost time to be leaving for her piano lesson, and my daughter was nowhere to be found. I finally located her in my art studio (problem #1--my kids aren't allowed in there without me). She was at my easle painting blue onto one of my freshley gessoed canvases (problem #2) with something that I first thought must be acrylic paint. Turns out it wasn't acrylic--it was my recently bought, quite expensive Vasari oil paint (problem #3). She had squeezed out a good amount of every color she could find (that's #4) onto my enamel watercolor tray right on top of the dry watercolor paint (and #5).

    On the left is the photo I took to show her when she's a mom and her kids get into her things. Just so she knows it's all part of the process. ;)
    Why do I have to re-learn the same lessons in life?
    Here are some things I know from experience (and then got lazy about last week):
    1. Know the kid. Some kids have zero interest in your art supplies. Some kids have a ton of interest and are literally waiting for you to turn around to pick up the brush. Some kids are just busy and will get into pretty much anything & everything. If you don't know the kid very well, it's best to assume they are the busy type. Of course, the younger the kid, the more unpredictable. If my 2-year-old wanders into the studio, I don't take my eyes off of him.
    2. Put it up, put it away. After the red-stripe watercolor incident, I learned that if I need to get up to do anything, even briefly, my paint and the painting get put away or put up high. Then, I know my house if safe from the paint, and my painting is safe from disaster. For years I stuck mostly with watercolor because I didn't have a studio and it is so much faster and easier to clean up and put away. But over the years when I worked on commissioned oil paintings I'd follow the same rules--often the painting, my palette, and other dangerous accessories would live up on the refrigerator when not being worked on. This is especially important with oil paints, as the solvents (and sometimes the paints) are more dangerous for kids to be around.
    3. Lock it down. Now that I have a dedicated studio space in my home, I lock the door when I'm away--especially when I'm working on a painting and all the paint/supplies are out. When I get up and walk out of the room, I just lock the door behind me. It works great, but the fridge system worked just fine too.
    • Prioritize your work time. Work when the kid (or kids) are safely occupied. I've had to learn to organize my time so that my creative work happens when I don't have to worry about the kids: Kids are away at school or a neighbor's house? Work time. Kids are sleeping (and you don't need to be)? Work time. Kids are happily watching a movie? Work time. I try not to waste these precious moments with tasks that can be done with them around (cleaning, chores, errands, etc.). For me, this tends to mean that I work for a while very early in the morning, then again during nap time and occassionally after bed time. Give yourself permission to prioritize your creative work, whatever it is, during your kid-free moments.
  • Teaching Art to Kids
    When and how should kids learn to make art?
    I've taught many art classes over the years, and I've had many private art students as well. Here's what I tell parents who want to know what to do with their art-minded child:
    • Young kids (usually 10 and under) just need positive experiences creating. Let them play with materials, sculpt imaginary animals, and make constructions out of cardboard and tape. Little kids just need to have fun with art.
    • Older kids (usually over 10 or 11) who are interested in making art that matches the idea in their head, need good instruction and quality materials. Ask some adults you know, and you'll find a trend of people who say they used to love drawing as a little kid, but stopped sometime in their tween or early teen years. Why? Because their desire to produce art had outpaced their abilities. Kids at this stage reach a point where the art they want to make and what they are capable of have come at odds, and they're old enough to recognize it. This is a frustrating feeling, and most people at this point give up and decide that they're just not good at art after all. 
    • Just like learning math, or how to play an instrument, or learning a foreign language, you can struggle along by yourself (or watch 1,000,000 YouTube videos), but it's a lot easier to become proficient when you have an instructor who really knows the subject and how to teach it. We would never expect a kid to learn to play the piano by themselves. Why do we treat art differently? Sometimes you can find an art teacher who will teach fundamentals at a local middle school--but unfortunately, often not. A kid at this crossroads needs an instructor who will teach them how to really draw. Just like in piano you have to learn the basics before you can play "Rhapsody in Blue," in art you have to learn to draw accurately before moving on to all the other stuff. If you have a kid in this situation, and you want to get them a teacher who can help them progress, consider finding a private art teacher and ask them about what skills and aspects they will teach. For reference, I take students from about 12 and up, and they all start off with a set curriculum focusing on technical drawing skills. Once the student is with me for a few years and we've gotten through all the basics, I may start teaching them about watercolor or other art media. Drawing is the "bones" of art, and every new artist needs to start there.
  • Showing Art to Kids
    Kids can be unpredicable, so taking them into a museum, gallery, or other space with expensive, breakable items can be panic-inducing. Don't fear! You can take your kids to places where you both experience great art without incident.
    Let me tell you how I've done it.

    My family and I have lived in Asia and in Europe, and we've dragged our kids through many foreign cities and many museums, galleries, castles, and other fancy places. While it's not going to be the same experience you have with no kids around, you can go to these places with little ones and still have a great experience.
    Here is my list of things to remember and tricks to employ:
    • Be willing to move quicker. Like I said, going through a museum with kids isn't the same as when you go through without kids. Anyone who has been to any kind of museum with kids already knows this. You won't be reading all the information signs--instead, look at objects and appreciate them, then move on. If you have another adult with you, you can switch off who gets to linger longer and read signs, and who moves more quickly with the kids. 
    • Pick a few key things you must see, and get to those first. This is especially important in very large museums, since all kids have at most 2 hours of time before they need a break! When going to the Louvre or other large museums with our kids, I look up all the pieces I absolutely have to see, we print or download a map, and we get to those works first--and we see lots of other interesting things along the way.
    • Big, busy museums are usually easier to bring kids to than smaller ones. We've had many people express surprise when we tell them that our kids have been to the Louvre multiple times. It sounds like such a fancy place, and parents are worried about bringing their kids into a situation like that. The reality is that big, busy museums are easy to bring kids to--because they're big and busy! They aren't super quiet, and there's lots of people around, so nobody is going to be paying special attention to you and the kids with you. There are lots of museums that fit into this category--we've gone to some of the most famous museums with our kids--the Orsay, the British Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and they were all great places for kids. In contrast, we went to a small museum in Northern Japan once that was exibiting gigantic Marc Chagall paintings, and we (along with our friends and their own small children) were the only people there. A very quiet museum with just you, the museum guard, and your kids is not a super fun situation--because the guard has nobody else to watch.
    • Strollers and baby carriers are a must. Kids who are small enough that walking a lot is tiring, and those who are super unpredicable with what they'll do (touch, climb on, etc), are easiest to deal with when they're confined. Having a stroller with you also means everyone can take off their coat (or put down their water bottle, etc.) and walk around without it, which is a big bonus.
    At left, my husband Dave packs our little one and holds the three-year-old's hand while in the Pantheon in Italy.
    • Hideable treats are helpful. Most museums don't want you wandering around eating food, but I almost always have a bag of non-messy candy with me so that as the kids wander around happily, I can occasionally hand them a gummy bear or hard candy to simultaneously reward and pacify. It helps keep the mood light and everyone happier.
    • Games make it fun. We've made up lots of games while going through museums, castles, galleries and the like. Here are a few of my favorites:
      • "I Spy". Each time you enter a new space, take a moment to pick an object and give clues for the kid to guess what it is.
      • "Can you find?" A variation of "I Spy" that I use even more often is to enter a space and say something like, "I see 8 horses. Can you find them all?" or "How many horses can you count in this room?" Then they spend their time looking for all of the horses in the room.
      • Give a camera. We discovered an especially helpful method while taking a very long tour through a castle with lots of artwork and antiques: hand a camera to the kid and let them document whatever they think is most significant. They'll have fun, and you'll get some very interesting (sometimes blurry, sometimes really funny) pictures later on.
      • Play "Statue". When my third daughter was 3, she and I played this game a lot while going through cathedrals, but also museums and the like. She would look for a small step to stand on like a pedestal, and then stand there as still as she could to look like a statue. I'd often take her picture and show it to her or pretend she was really a statue.
      • "What's your favorite?" Let the kids pick their favorite piece of art in each area and take their photo in front of it. We've done this one LOTS of times. It really helps them to engage and actually look at what is around them, rather than just focus on not wanting to be there anymore. :)
    Three of our kids with some of their "favorite" works in the Louvre from a few years back.

    Well, there you have it!
    My advice about Kids and Art. 
    Was any of it helpful to you? Would it be helpful to someone you know?
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  • From the Studio
    Self Portrait at 40, oil on board, 16x16"
    So far 2020 has been productive! I've done lots of business work and continuing education in both photography and social media that I hope will have a positive impact on my work in the future.
    I also worked on and finally finished my first painting in a new series of yearly self-portraits. It will be entered into several big shows this year. Check out Instagram or Facebook soon for more details and process images of this painting.
    And wish me luck! 
    I wish you a great Valentine's Day
    and continued progress on your own 2020 goals!
           -- Erin

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  • Erin Farnsworth Studio
    Mountain Green, UT
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