I have wanted to write this post forever. Large Scale Collaborative murals for kids have remained a staple in the studio and in our art classes since I began teaching years ago. There is something so magical about watching children create something large, over an extended period of time, that has stunning results. Over the years I’ve learned some really fantastic tricks to make them work. I’ve even thought of writing a book about collaborative murals for kids. They are my absolute fave.
I thought I’d share some pictures of murals we’ve created over the years and share the basics of how they can be done. First, check out one of the first collaborative paintings we ever did in my backyard years ago, when my girls were toddlers. Now they are 5 and 6! Here’s another one, a Jackson Pollock inspired mural, with toddlers. This one (featured in the pic above) is hanging in the studio now, thanks to the suggestion of my friend Ana at BabbleDabbleDo. When we made it, she said, you have to save this and hang it when you open your own studio and that’s just what we did.
The one above is totally insane. I’d hang it in my living room if I felt like it was mine to take. It’s hanging in the light room (paint room) in the art studio. This one was created by 6 three and four year olds. It’s amazing! They worked on it for 3 weeks. Here are the steps, and down at the bottom of the post I’ll share some tips to help make sure your mural is extra successful.
First, the paper is super important. If you’re familiar with my blog and instagram, you’ve probably heard me talk about Double Sided Drop Cloth. It’s ridunculous. You can buy it at the hardware store in the paint section. There are a few kinds. One is a brownish paper with plastic on one side and paper on the other. The other is white, with absorbent paper on one side, kind of like a table clothe and plastic on the other. I love them both. They are cheap and big and you can easily cut down the paper to the size you need. The one above is made on the white paper. The collaborative mural in the first pic is on the brown paper.
Start with sharpies. Invite kids to make important marks all over the paper. Sometime I make squares or circles on the paper as an invitation to create. Do this on the shiny side of the paper.
Next, turn the mural over and use chalk pastels.
After that, try oil pastels.
After that, liquid watercolors and droppers/pipettes. The white paper especially is super absorbent, like a sturdy paper towel and the liquid watercolor seeps in, mesmerizing the kids.
After that, tempera paint.
After that, if you want and it’s dry, chalk pastels again. Or mixed media papers and glue, stickers, washi tape, etc.
You must give these items in stages, never all at once. This is a process. That’s why it’s called process art. Be patient. Creating successful collaborative murals with kids is an art form onto itself. If you hand all this out at once the kids will be done in five minutes and it will likely look kind of…well…lame.
The pic below is after I had given out several materials. I don’t take materials away because some kids might still be using them.
I give out an art material, demonstrate how I might use it and wait while the kids work. I often work with the kids, unless it’s for a family art session, and in that case, I don’t want my work on the mural. If I’m engaged, the kids tend to be more engaged. When I hear the first child say the words all teachers dread “I’m done,” that’s when I say “Oh, great, because we’re just getting started. I have these amazing oil pastels. Would you like to see them?” I have all the supplies out of sight and bring them out in that same fashion one after another. With a mural like this we probably will just get to a few and then I wait for another time to bring the mural out again.
Next time the kids come, I have the mural set up and new materials to try on it. The liquid watercolors are always a favorite and you can see why. The colors bleed beautifully onto the absorbent paper, leaving an incredible stain that seeps in between all the writing and coloring.
The collaborative mural above started with five concentric squares that I drew in sharpie, prior to class. I thought it would be interesting to see how the shapes inspired the kids. I’ve done this with circles too and the effects have been remarkable.
The one above has gotten a ton of attention and I can see why. It’s pretty incredible. This collaborative mural was created at one of our family art sessions. We basically rent out the studio for a family to come and create a large scale masterpiece together on primed unstretched canvas I buy on the roll at at art supply store. The trick to this mural is to use ink, rather than paint. It flows over the canvas inspiring wonderful creativity and imagination. We also offer tons of different painting tools to go with it. Brayers, rolling pins, large and small brushes, sponges.
Like I said, we use primed, unstretched canvas for our family art sessions and families get it framed afterwards to their size specifications. We’ve used it for mixed media murals as well and they’ve been incredible. Here’s one my daughter Gigi and I have been working on. It’s really cool. We definitely have a few more sessions in us.
Pacing is everything. Take your time but pay attention to when the group is petering out. That’s when it’s time to introduce a new material or take a break.
Get creative with your supplies. There are so many ways to make a collaborative mural for kids interesting. Get creative.
Know when to stop. We often take breaks, back up and look at our work to decide if it’s finished. Something I say to the kids when I’m concerned if we don’t stop, it will all turn to a mush, is “Artists have to make important decisions, like knowing when their art is done.” Then we take a step back, talk about what we see and decide.
It’s ok to manipulate colors. Be really careful when you use black oil pastels and chalk pastels. Sometimes they can take over a mural in a way you don’t want. I tend to leave out blacks and browns all together. The one above was from the 4th of July, so I limited the colors to red white and blue, silver, gold and black at the end. It all worked really well together.
Play music. Kids love music. Music feeds the soul and adds a great rhythm to the art making.
I said this before, but it’s so important to pay attention to the timing of the kids. It’s the job of the facilitator to monitor the pulse of the project, know when something new is needed and know when it’s time to take a break. These things take time and practice. It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to offer this to families with confidence. Now that I have 20-30 murals under my belt, I am able to tweak them each time to make something really special happen.
I hope I’ve answered your questions about collaborative murals. If I left anything out, please leave a comment below. I’m happy to try and answer it. Thanks for reading along and please tag me on instagram if you give this a try. Thank you! Meri