I should note that my parents weren’t artists. They were doctors.
Dad hauled a massive canvas onto the lawn and handed us paintbrushes and cans of paint. “Do whatever you want,” he said. “Throw paint. Drip paint. Splatter it all around.”
This was different from our past experiences with paint. Preschool taught us to color within the lines in coloring books. Art teachers emphasized realism as we painted the likeness of a fruit bowl or a kitten statue. It took us a few minutes to let loose and roll with it.
I have fond memories of that day laughing and making a mess with paint. It was a liberating way to paint at an age when you’ve started letting go of childhood, rushing your way to adulthood. For years that painting hung on their living room wall.
I later studied art history in college and worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I laugh to think that my family thought they could paint just like Pollock did, but that isn’t the point. Action painting is a fun way to engage kids and free their creative spirit.
Like Pollock and other abstract expressionists, I want my own child to learn that she doesn’t always have to color in the lines, that she can color the sun blue and the sky pink. I want her to get messy, be creative, and have fun with art.
When my daughter was three-years-old, I handed her a blank canvas, paints, and various painting tools (paint brushes, sponges, spatulas, spoons, a turkey baster). I told her there were only three rules to this art activity: get messy, have fun, and cover up the canvas.
I forced myself to step back, keep quiet, and just watch. First she didn’t know where to start. She dripped a little paint. Then she picked up a circular sponge and started stamping circles on the canvas.
Eventually she went wild. Spatulas smeared paint across the canvas. Bright pink hands smashed down, a three-year-old’s signature.
That was her first canvas, and the painting still hangs on the wall outside her bedroom.
Sometimes I find myself asking my daughter to color inside the lines too much. Sometimes she gets frustrated if her drawing doesn’t look just like it does in the picture. It’s times like this I remind her and myself that sometimes you just need to get messy, be creative, and break the rules.
Try action painting with your kids. You don’t need paintbrushes. All you need is a large canvas, paint, and any utensil you can spare. It’s a fun activity for parents to do with kids or teachers to do with a class.
Here is a video from the Museum of Modern Art explaining how Jackson Pollock painted to share with your kids.
You can find a Jackson Pollock lesson plan here.
If weather or space doesn’t permit you to get too messy outside or indoors, you can find a marble action painting activity here from Today Box.