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Ingredients: Any old shelf or plank of wood, white paint to prime, tester pots of paint / acyrlics, paintbrushes

The Big Sell: Let’s make a totem-pole painting of our favourite place!

Strategy:        OK, I did this over the summer with my eldest who is already a confident creator, so some children may need to build up to this. We went to visit the Open Houses event (see if they have something similar in your area and were inspired to have a go ourselves. Strapped for cash, I trawled the loft and found an old shelf and tester paint pots. On the first evening I divided and painted the shelf in thirds in three horizontal stripes (light blue for the sky, yellow for the beach, dark blue for the sea). The next day I presented the idea to the eldest and we sketched out images on the background (his drawings were much better than mine!). That evening I painted in his images, left them to dry and then finished off round the edges with a black marker and a final coat of varnish.

The Verdict: Eldest son was very impressed when presented with the professionalism of the final artwork. It’s an idea I’ve been using with him since he was small whereby he starts an image and I finish it. I think you can strike a delicate balance here – it’s not about improving but enhancing the original creation. When he was much younger (age 2 – 3) and still at the stages of joyfully creating splashes of paint I would sometimes keep his artwork and, when dry, turn a splodge into an aeroplane, face etc… and show him the wonderful images I had seen in his artwork. This led into discussions (on his level) about the subjective nature of art and how everyone sees different things in a painting (I’ll follow this up in a future blog about abstract art and how children can find this much more accessible than you’d expect). This was the start of the ‘dialogue’ which now accompanies our collaborative artwork together. You can tailor the extent to which you intervene to each child – my son tends to get bored after the initial sketching stage (as in this activity) and is happy to let me ‘colour it in’, another child may request more control of the whole process.

The totem pole landscape now lives proudly in our dining room!

Catchphrase: “Wow, did you do that?!” (visitors comments)

Left wanting more?

  • Add some heavy-duty garden furniture varnish and you can plant your artwork in a flower bed or screw to a garden fence.
  • Discussions about artistic cultural references can accompany this process. Look for other totem pole / Native American art on the web, or discuss the difference between a landscape and portrait.