Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tiger Mom Art Project

My five-year-old daughter, Elana, absolutely loves art. She adores paint, glitter and glue. She relishes pom-poms, foam stickers and feathers. And she delights in any project involving colored sand. That said, Elana is truly a terrible artist!

While most five-year-olds can sketch a discernible picture of a favorite animal, her “drawing” of a cat is basically a circle with two wobbly triangle ears and four lines comprising the body, two legs and a tail. She may or may not add a whisker or two but usually doesn’t bother to take the time.

I don’t think her problem lies in the special needs category; it appears to be more an issue of rushing each activity to get to the next. She can complete three coloring pages in the time it takes me to go to the bathroom. Although I have never been a “draw within the lines” kind of parent, and her preschool is also free-form, I expected her to do this on her own. Frankly, I am a bit tired of asking her to “tell me about this picture” each time she presents me with a purple scribble next to a pink one. While I am totally on board with the notion that art should be about the process, not the product, at this point, I was hoping she would have created a few pieces worth saving.

I decided that it was time to go Tiger-mom on the little preschooler’s slipshod behind; an art-intervention, if you like. Together, we would paint a real picture, one that would not require simple explanations of “it’s a house.”

We began our project by discussing what it is that she would like to paint. Elana wavered between kittens and fairies, before deciding that a Pixie Hollow setting would be the perfect scene to complement her bedroom.

Next, we took a trip to the art store to choose a stretched canvas, acrylic paint and a few nice brushes. Although she made a strong appeal for the 36 by 48 inch canvas, I convinced her that the 18 by 24 inch size would be more manageable. I was also pleasantly surprised when she selected a variety of paints in blues, greens and silver, in lieu of her standard pinks and purples.

Now, we were ready to paint. While Elana was ready to jump into painting the lake and fairy wings, I explained that our first task was to cover the background.
Using a wide foam brush she slathered the sky in blue and the ground in green. After two and a half minutes with the green paint, Elana was ready to call it a day. However, I continued to channel Amy Chua (the original tiger mom) and pointed out all the spots of white still visible on the canvas. When she began to hastily spread the paint where the green and blue intersected, I reminded her to slow down and work carefully. With the background complete, we were done for the day.

Two days later, we were able to steal another fifteen minutes of alone time to work on the next steps - a pond and the fairy wings. With chalk, I sketched an outline of each new shape, then Elana would fill it in with paint. My usual laissez-fair attitude was replaced with “Watch the lines”, “Be careful”, and “Let’s wipe this off and try again.”

After painting the fairy wings, we waited another few days for the paint to thoroughly dry and then we tackled the bodies. I must admit that it took every ounce of self-control not to take the brush from her hands and add some touch-ups. And more than a few times, I used a wet towel to wipe away excess paint. (When starting this project, this was not at all not my intention. However, I can only take so many jagged lines and careless strokes.)
The project may have been less of a lesson to Elana in careful concentration and more of a lesson to me in patience and restraint. However, we both (mostly) enjoyed our one-on-one time together, and Elana now has an original work of art to hang on her wall - one I won’t toss in the recycling.

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