Gardens have inspired great scholars, artists, and writers for centuries! When, for example, the great artist Claude Monet wanted peace, quiet, and creative inspiration, he often headed straight to his own back yard. Lucky thing, too, because his lush gardens in the historic town of Giverny, France, inspired him to create some of the world’s most beloved landscape paintings.
In fact, together with other nature-loving artist friends and colleagues such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, and the American-born artist Mary Cassatt, Monet pioneered a whole new style of art known as impressionism, a richly colorful style of painting that sought to capture fleeting moments as light and seasons changed. For kids, these works of art can be especially fun, because their colors are so vibrant and joyful.
This is a simple activity idea that brings together an appreciation for flowers and gardening with a little hands-on lesson in art history. It also make a great gift! Here’s how:
What You Need:
- Plain, unpainted metal watering can (available at hardware and garden stores)
- White primer paint made to adhere to metal (available at craft and paint stores)
- Paint brush and 2-3 small sea sponges
- Outdoor water-based semigloss acrylic enamel paint in white, blue, yellow, and red (available at craft or paint stores)
- 3-4 small wide-mouth jars for mixing color
- Protective covering for your work surface
What You Do:
- Warning, parents: this activity, while huge fun for kids, can also make a big mess. Start by setting up a spacious, protected work surface (we especially recommend the great outdoors), and have your child wear a junky tee shirt that can stand a little ad hoc decoration.
- Take out your metal watering can, and make sure it’s clean and dry. (Paint will not stick properly if your can is wet or dusty!)
- Paint the entire exterior of the can with one coat of the white primer paint. You can explain to your child that this layer is a sort of “glue” for your painted project. It sticks to the metal layer, and then other paints will stick to it, in turn.
- As your primer layer dries, take a minute to look at some of Monet’s famous paintings, either in a book you may have at home, or on one of many websites on the Internet. “Water Lilies,” for example, is a massive work that Monet created for the curved walls of his dining room. Take a good look: you’ll see washes of color that leave you with the “essence” of the scene without bothering with exact photographic detail. You’ll also notice that there is no black paint, only lustrous, bright pastels!
- Once the primer layer has dried, paint one more layer of white, or of very light sky blue, in semi-gloss acrylic outdoor enamel paint (usually available in small cans in the paint section of your hardware store).
- Once that second coat dries (usually within an hour), you’re ready to help your child paint some impressionist scenes of his own. Have him use the wide-mouth jars to mix colors: start with a dollop of white and then add one small drop of color at a time, taking care never to make the colors too dark. You can go with your child’s color favorites, of course, but we especially recommend some luminous blue, grass green, and light pink!
- Invite your child to work either from a Monet painting he likes, or from a corner of your own yard that appeals to him, and capture the “impression.” If he’s a nervous artist, you can invite him to practice on some newsprint paper first, but remember that he can also just work straight on the can and then cover it over and start again with a new layer if he doesn’t like the first one.
- To create his “impression,” your child should dampen the sea sponges slightly with water, dip them lightly into the paints, and then touch them to the can. The goal is to capture the “essence” of garden greenery and of blue sky above it, and there’s no limit to the creative possibilities. Do remind your child, however, to avoid globs that can drip down, or that mix together into muddy tones.
- When you’re done, you should have a stunning piece of garden art—and fun lesson in art history as well. As the great Impressionists taught us, sometimes all you have to do to make great art is to check out your own back yard!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.