Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Pablo Picasso
My husband is an artist, and has been since he was a very little boy. Many times I’ve heard him tell the story of starting school where every single one of his classmates was an artist. Everyone drew and everyone created. But as each year went by, fewer and fewer kids saw themselves as artists. Fewer kids used their free time to draw. By 5th or 6th grade there were only a small handful of kids sitting together and drawing or creating. And that number continued to shrink from there. Hearing that story, always made me sad. And it made me purpose in my heart to raise my kids in an environment where they’d stay artists, even when they grew up. Because, no matter what career they end up pursuing, having the creative mind of an artist will be a tremendous benefit to them.
It’s funny then, that when I’m asked what I’ve done to raise kids who are creative and artistic, that I often brush that question aside, attributing their artistic ability to the fact that their dad is an artist, and that they inherited all their talent from him. But recently I thought about that promise I made long before we even had kids, and my plan to raise them in an abundantly creative home. I thought about the ways I have purposefully created an environment that fosters their creativity. And I realized that, while their raw artistic talent is all from their dad, I have had a little something to do with the blossoming of it.
I compiled a list of 5 things I’ve done to cultivate a creative culture in our home and to help my children thrive as artists. None of them are difficult or expensive to do. Nor do they require you, the parent, to have any special artistic ability or know how. After all, I can hardly draw a stick figure! But that’s ok. Because what I can do is to raise my kids in an environment where creativity and art are celebrated.
I hope that this list leaves you feeling inspired and empowered to cultivate creativity in your home. Because the world needs more people who will fill it with beauty. The world needs more artists.
The first, and one of the most impactful decisions we’ve made to help foster creativity in our kids, is to enforce strict limits on technology in our home.
We’ve never had cable tv in our home. And for the past 18 years, we’ve not had television at all. We do have Netflix on the computer, but we’ve made a conscious effort not to allow our kids to watch very much of it. We especially limited screen time before the age of 5. Now that the kids are older, those limits are looser, but the limits still exist. In addition, the kids don’t play video or computer games of any kind. We don’t own gaming systems or tablets, and the kids don’t have phones.
Because tv, video games, or spending time on a tablet or phone are not available, my kids must do other things with their time. They are forced to use their time in creative ways. Any time I relax the limits and allow for more time watching shows on Netflix, there is a dramatic decrease in their ability to pursue other, more creative, activities. That only encourages me to keep the limits in place, because the thing I want so much for our kids is for them to be creative, imaginative people. And when screen time is limited, their creativity and imagination thrives!
Be brave enough to live life creatively.” Alan Alda
The second thing I’ve done to promote creativity, imagination and artistic pursuits is to allow plenty of unstructured free time.
In our busy world, it is so tempting to have our kids enrolled in many different classes and activities. We feel like our kids are falling behind if they are not playing a sport, learning a musical instrument, acting in plays, getting extra tutoring in math, hiking with the girl scouts, perfecting their Russian, and learning hula dancing.
But what I have found is that by allowing my kids whole afternoons of unstructured time, they naturally fill that time with things they are passionate about. They draw, paint, build doll house furniture, create stop motion movies on the camera, sew, write stories, build lego creations, sculpt, or build elaborate mazes with dominoes. In short, they are busy creating!
Making art takes time. It takes time to come up with a creative vision and then it takes time to execute it. Therefore, if we truly want our children to be creative, we must allow our kids time to create. We mustn’t consider free time wasted time, but rather an essential tool of creativity. And then, we must steel ourselves against the notion that awards and accolades are the only measure of our children’s success. After all, their creations may not win them trophies or be anything more than a growing stack of drawings in a drawer. But those creations, I believe, are the building blocks for a creative future. Which is the kind of life I want my kids to have.
Almost all creativity requires purposeful play.” Abraham Maslow
The third thing I have done to cultivate a creative, artistic environment in our home, is expose our kids to lots of great art.
From the time they were tiny babies I read my kids books with beautiful illustrations, and even showed them paintings and drawings done by great artists. I have tried to fill their heads with beautiful pictures to help them create their own. We also give books with gorgeous illustrations for gifts each Christmas and birthday. Our home, and even the walls of their bedrooms, have always been full of all sorts of visually stimulating and inviting art. There are shelves filled with great art books. I pull them out often and leave them lying on the coffee table for the kids to thumb through and be inspired by. We read biographies about the lives of great artists, from the ancient times to modern day. Because learning about people who make art, inspires them to make our own.
I’ve made art history one of our subjects in school. Learning the history of art makes it interesting and approachable to my kids. When we know the names of pieces of art and of the artist who created them, the art becomes familiar to us, and then it becomes loved. Even when they were small, we took our kids museums and art galleries. And we’ve always made sure that we admire, talk about, and appreciate art in many forms: design, illustration, architecture, painting, set and costume design, animation, sculpture, furniture design and fashion, to name a few. Art and creativity are a daily part of our lives and our family culture. We celebrate beauty, and therefore we celebrate the creating of beauty through art.
A picture book is a small door to the enormous world of the visual arts, and they’re often the first art a young person sees.” Tomie dePaola
The fourth thing I’ve done to help my kids create lots and lots of art is to make creating a habit.
From a very young age, probably 2 or 3, I encouraged creative activities while we did life. While my kids waited for breakfast, I gave them paper and washable markers. Or, if they weren’t ready for drawing yet, a large stack of books with beautiful illustrations to capture their imaginations. Now that my kids are older, they consistently sit down at the breakfast table with a book or a piece of paper and a pencil. Creativity has become a way of life.
They have clipboards full of paper and a pencil case of markers and pens to use whenever we drive in the car. They draw or build legos while we do many subjects of school. I’m reading aloud and they are creating. I know some people think this is an incredible distraction, but I found my kids always listened better and were more focused if their hands were busy. Our family listens to audio books constantly, and while we do, the kids are drawing or building. When we go to the doctor’s office or have to wait somewhere, they pull out a book or clipboard and start reading or drawing. We even draw out in nature when we are on a hike. Or when we are at a museum looking at beautiful paintings or taxidermy animals. There is creative inspiration everywhere we go.
Being creative is not a hobby, it is a way of life.” Author unknown
The last thing I have done to help my kids grow as artists, is to have art supplies always ready for them to create whenever inspiration strikes.
There is a huge stack of drawing paper in the dining room so they can grab a piece any time they want and draw or paint. On the dining room table sits a tray filled with markers and good drawing pens and pencils. There are also colored pencils pastels, and paints. Erasers, tape, glue, pencil sharpeners, and rulers are also stored in the tray. It’s always there so they can plop down art the table and draw any time. Or they can take supplies and go draw in their room, go outside, or make art while I read to them for school. All day long they can draw or create with ease because the supplies are easily available. We also have a variety of art books to look at for inspiration and instruction. They cover everything from hand lettering, to figure drawing, embroidery, and cartooning. I keep a glue gun handy and glue sticks stocked. There are building materials always ready—things like popsicle sticks and small squares of fabric, bottle caps, buttons and shoe boxes. We have endless bins of legos, wooden blocks and train tracks for all the engineering and architecture they want to experiment with. Hammers and nails and big pieces of scrap wood for paintings or building things. There’s a big box of dominoes for making amazing domino tracks that tip over onto one another with the touch of a fingertip. I never know what will inspire my kids’ imaginations, so I just like to have a lot on hand always ready for them.
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” Mary Lou Cook
I don’t know what my kids will be when they grow up. I’d love to see all of my children grow up and pursue careers in art. But what I want most for them is to pursue things that bring them joy and fulfillment, and allow them to be a help and blessing to the world around them. And I know that whatever they end up doing with their life, having a creative, artistic mind and spirit will be such a gift to them, and help them find success in whatever they do.
Remember, “You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.” Ken Robinson. With that in mind, here is a list of resources either my children or I have found helpful in this pursuit of cultivating a creative life. All of them are books. Because we are a book family!
Books for the babies:
- Andy Warhol’s Colors by Susan Goldman Rubin
- Counting with Wayne Thiebaud by Susan Goldman Rubin
- In the Garden with Van Gogh by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bobner
- Art by Karen Salmansohn
Books about artists:
- Meet Edgar Degas by Anne Newlands
- Norman Rockwell—Story Teller With a Brush by Beverly Gherman
- Linnea In Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork
- An Eye For Color—The Story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing
- Michelangelo by Dianne Stanley
- 13 Artists Children Should Know by Angela Wenzel
- Beatrix Potter’s Art by Anne Stevenson Hobbs
- Magic Color Flair—the World of Mary Blair by John Canemaker
- Mid Century Modern Women in the Visual Arts by Gloria Fowler
- Ansel Adams: 400 photographs by Ansel Adams
Books to learn about art:
- The School of Art by Teal Triggs
- 13 Art Techniques Children Should Know by Angela Wenzel
- A Child’s Introduction to Art by Heather Alexander
- 13 Pantings Children Should Know by Angela Wenzel
- A Child’s History of Art by V.M. Hillyer and E. G. Huey
Books about making art:
- Art Camp by Susan Schwak
- Archidoodle by Steve Bowkett
- Yellow Owl’s Little Prints by Christine Schmidt
- Figure Drawing—Design and Invention by Michael Hampton
- Hand Lettering for Everyone by Cristina Vanko
- Make A World (and other drawing books) by Ed Emberly
Special note! I can’t say enough about these drawing books by Ed Emberly I believe they were foundational for all of my children learning to draw and then learning to love to draw. These books teach that all drawings are simply made from a series of shapes. They allow a child to have quick success in drawing and we all know success breeds success. These books are just wonderful!
And lest you think these are just simple, cartoon drawings, you should know that Ed Emberly is beloved amongst many artists today. He is considered to have had a profound influence upon many them while they were young artists growing up. You can learn more about Ed Emmberly by watching this video here.
Photo credit: Wesley from Texas