Monday, January 21, 2013


During class last week, one of my little art students was in tears because she made a mistake while working on a drawing exercise. She furiously scribbled over it, declaring that she wanted to throw it away. To make matters worse, she was sitting next to another student, who executed each drawing with ease. Though I gave her several pointers, assured her that this was just practice and encouraged her to not worry about it and just do the best she could, nothing eased her frustration.  Switching gears, I showed her how to turn those unintended marks into something else….a fish, a flower, and a beach ball. The tears dried up and she happily completed the rest of the exercise.

Learning to turn a “mistake” into something that works in a painting, drawing or other artistic endeavor can be a hard concept for young children to grasp. Even an older child, who has worked diligently on a piece and then has a paint spill, can be just as upset. Ink blobs, paint splatters, or having a classmate accidentally knock your beloved sculpture to the floor can happen daily in any art room. So how can you teach children to roll with mistakes instead of giving up?

A picture book I have found helpful in addressing this problem in the art classroom and beyond is: Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzburg, (Workman Publishing Company; September 23, 2010)

This book explains to children how a mistake--a ripped paper, a paint splatter, a smudge and more can be turned into an unexpected opportunity to make something beautiful.

A fun exercise to try with students that demonstrates this concept is the following:

Creating Imaginary Creatures

1.     Using any type of fluid water based paint, place a large wet “blob” in the middle of the page.
2.     Slowly turn the page upside down and left to right until you achieve an interesting shape.
3.     After the paint has dried, study the shape from all angles and pick an interesting view.
4.     Using a black marker or additional paint, turn your shape into an imaginary animal, monster or mythical creature. The results can be quite spectacular!

When a child makes a perceived mistake, first try to work with them to incorporate the “oops” into the art. Of course, as with all endeavors, sometimes you just have to start over. However, after working through a few mistakes and achieving positive results, students will likely be less frustrated and even proud when they come up with a solution to their “oops!”

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