Watercolor and Imagination

Take a deeper look at the surprisingly rich activity of watercolor painting at Sparrow in this article by Alexandra Ott, our wonderful first and second grade teacher.

We experience our world through color to the point that a bright sunny day can put us in quite a different mood than a dark and gloomy one. Create a calming scene in your mind and what sense of color do you have? What color do you feel when you think of strength or power?

When we paint with children, we want them to truly experience the colors without form. The technique we use,wet-on-wet, allows the children to feel free from the sense that they must form or design something for it to be a piece of artwork. The purpose is to allow their creativity and imagination to flow through the colors.

As we get older and our imagination seems to wane, we get stuck in needing to label, categorize, and define. Luckily, children can still be in this world of imagination without confines if we only let them. Thus, after teaching the basic techniques of handling the materials and introducing the children to the concept of formless painting, we lead them into a story. One such example might look like this:

Shy Blue went out to look for some friends to play with, searching in all the corners, when friendly Yellow dashed out in the middle, saying, “Here I am, Blue! Come play with me!” So Blue and Yellow began to play (and Green appears!). Red showed up calling loudly for everyone to come quickly to his house, and soon Orange and Purple were there too! What fun they all had!

The stories can change according to the grade, the teacher and his/her class. The teacher would use the opportunity to gather from the children what inner sense they have about each color, encouraging them towards feelings instead of naming fire for red, or sun for yellow.

After much practice, simple forms are then introduced. Second graders are usually introduced to the forms as it takes a lot more skill than one might think. It is important that the children feel successful or they can become disenchanted or judge their own capabilities. These forms appear out of the painting as the teacher tells another color story. When the children finish painting, they realize they have created a picture! “It’s the man crossing the river from our story!” they shout. The teacher has left this part as a surprise, resulting in a very different feeling than just telling them from the beginning, “Okay children, now we are drawing the man in the boat…follow me!” Their imaginations have been left open through this process, rendering every painting an individual creation.

After the painting session is complete, the paintings will be displayed and the children will gather to look at them and share compliments and observations. Neither the teacher nor the children judge, praise or compare the pieces, but might say, “Wow, his sky is bright blue!” or “I like how yellow looks like he is dancing across the page.” This allows for each child to feel pleasure in what they have created without a feeling of competition or doubt. It is all in the process of creating something inherently beautiful.

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