8 Easy Ways to Support A Young Artist

Raising an artist can be challenging! Over the years, before and after class, my staff and I have had the honor of meeting many highly encouraging parents, grandparents and other adults, some who feel the need for ideas to help encourage their offbeat kiddo, and many who have successfully nurtured some of the most amazing young artists around. According to our resident experts, the most effective ways to support a creative youngster are usually low cost or, most often, totally free. Here is some of the wisdom we’ve collected:

1. Art, In the Bag

79cce37f670082d200efed1b10de057e Throw some markers, pencils and a sketchbook into an eco-friendly shopping bag and pop it into the car. Easy peasy. Now, anywhere you go, your toddler, tween or teen can draw. Restaurants, parks, siblings’ lessons and friends’ houses become opportunities to practice. Seems almost too simple, but over time, these practice opportunities add up to make a BIG difference in skill, which will pay dividends by high school.

2. There’s an App for That

In case you missed the memo: kids love tablets. With more and more fine artists working digitally, electronics have simply become one of many other kinds of media, where even classical, realistic drawing skills can be practiced. Recently, in fact, this year, uber-famous artist David Hockney turned out an entire show printed from work created on an iPad.   Our favorite app, used by everyone from toddlers to professionals, is Brushes, which is free for iPad. It even creates a cool little movie your child can show off to chronicle his or her path towards the finished piece. Many other art apps can be found with a simple search. Where it comes to screen time, I, for one, would rather that my kids spend more time creating content than consuming video games made by someone else.

Tip: During artwork time, tune Pandora to Beethoven. Perfect!

3.  Beyond the Fridge

Art Steps student J.T., with his sister Amanda’s work and his own, proudly displayed near their front door.

When a child’s art is displayed neatly, with care, in a place of honor such as the entryway or living room, she will feel a shot of encouragement with every visitor, especially if people talk about the piece. This doesn’t have to cost much, if anything at all. Use an old frame or two, visit the dollar store, or head to Ikea, where you can get 8×10 frames for $2. Display a few pieces long-term, and rotate an exhibit of newer work in frames or even neatly pinned to a bulletin or magnet board. Artwork in plastic sleeves within an 8×10″ binder, prominently gracing coffee table can help display the rest. Beyond feeling your support, the point is for kids to feel that each piece they create has a life of its own, and so it’s worth striving for excellence. Who would continue acting or making music without an audience once in a while? Some visual artists rarely say it, but we secOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAretly love for our artwork to be seen.

4. Kids Know: Facebook Rocks!

Kids today seem to get more excited about Facebook posts than exhibits on walls! They are keenly aware of the vast audience your posts will reach, with eyes on their work from all over the globe. We’ve seen kids literally jumping up and down at the prospect of mom posting a single piece.  Parents have shown me that their students’ Art Steps pieces outpace all other posts in terms of likes; friends and family can really be bowled over by your child’s talent! Whether Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, when a child’s work receives a “like” or a kind comment, it all counts as first class-encouragement. Oh, hey: “Like” Art Steps while you’re there!

5. Powerful Positive Speech

How you talk about your child’s work matters. Be sure to point out specific things that you notice about the piece; the way a section fades from light to dark, smoothness of lines, combinations of colors. The artist has paid attention to every square inch of that piece; demonstrating that you are doing so as well becomes enormously validating. If you feel so inclined, it never hurts to let a child overhear you saying nice things about their artistic hard work to your friends.  Did anyone ever brag about you? How did it feel?

My two kids proudly showing off sketches of their encouraging dad, who sat still so they could observe him, and refrained from all judgment.
My two kids proudly showing off sketches of their encouraging dad, who sat still so they could observe him, and refrained from all judgment.

Show enthusiasm, and never nitpick. Once a piece is done, whether in class or at home, it’s done. Artists grow with every piece. If you find yourself tempted to highlight a concern, ask questions instead, like: “Why is the highlight there?”  “How did you manage to feather the edges of your tones?” and “What makes your color so bright?” Talking about their work can help art students to process it in a whole new way, and you might be surprised at what you learn.

6. Free Art History Education? Yes, Please!

Did you know that the groundbreaking academic website Kahn Academy provides an comprehensive set of art history tutorials, completely free? Without talking down the viewer, art historians discuss and debate dozens of artworks in each of a litany of art historical periods, from the ancient Lascaux Cave Paintings up to the present. For kids as young as eight or nine through teens and adults, looking at one painting per week provides a tremendous foundation, creating an amazingly well-informed artist over time.

7. A Little Privacy… Or Not

Does your child want you to watch while they draw? Or want to be left alone? Sometimes a quiet space, free of judgments of any kind is in order. Read their desires carefully, and respect what circumstances help them to concentrate best, to practice, practice practice. Help them work quietly, free of older siblings’ commentary, and little siblings’ intrusions.

Part of Jordan's home studio, where she peaceully worked away on a Van Gogh copy.
Part of Jordan’s home studio, where she peaceully worked away on a Van Gogh copy.

One wonderful young artist we know, Jordan, is a twin. While she loves her brother, the section of her garage that serves as a studio is her private, personal sanctuary. Even a corner of the house with a reliably restocked stack of typing paper and a mason jar (free with pasta sauce!) can become a powerful art space. Pinterest has tons of fun home studio ideas. We’ve heard from several parents that a cheap easel ($15 at Ikea) in younger kids’ bedrooms have served as the launching point to a future art career. Create an optimal space and dedicated, unhurried time, take off the pressure, and watch the creativity flow.

8. Open Your Eyes… Together

When reading to your child, take time to notice details in children’s book illustrations. Where is the light source? What colors are shadows? What is the shape around objects (negative space)? Do we see warm colors? Cool? What sorts of visual decisions has the illustrator decided to make?

If you feel so inclined, kids LOVE it when parents draw, too! If you don’t have talent, younger kids will never judge. If you’re not too “good”, older kids will a nice ego boost by being “better” than Mom or Dad.  Kids of all ages get warm fuzzies knowing a parent chose to spend time with them, doing something they love.

And always, always, notice the beauty in the world around you. Talk about the details in the landscape, the colors in the sunset, the shapes of the buildings and trees.  As you do, watch your own young artist grow and bloom.

Enjoy making the most of these precious, beautiful years.

Enjoy every moment!

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