Mondrian Art Activity

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Updated on Jul 24, 2014

Paint and easels are staples in early learning environments, and there’s an important reason why, other than the fact that painting is loads of fun. For younger children, the hand grips and wrist motions required to handle a brush happen to be just what they need to help them as they learn to write and develop their fine motor skills. 

So now’s the time to break out those paints, and have a blast. There’s plenty to be gained, of course, from letting your child just go wild. But here’s a slightly more structured activity that incorporates a little art history—the style of the great modernist painter, Mondrian—and gives your child a chance to work with geometric shapes and practice the vertical and horizontal strokes he'll use to form letters. Get ready for some stunning paintings and some happy kids, too.

What You Need:

  • Black, water-based tempera paint
  • 3–4 other jars of water-based tempera paint in strong colors (Mondrian often used primary colors)
  • One long-handled tempera paint brush per color
  • A piece of newsprint or other large painting paper for kids (at least 18" x 22”)
  • An easel or a spot of blank wall you’re willing to risk for a potentially messy activity

What You Do:

  1. Start by showing your child a photograph of one or two of Mondrian’s works. Ask him: How many rectangles can you see? Squares? What colors do you see? How does this painting make you feel? (Many critics have pointed out that there can be a particular kind of “calm” in such structured work, even when it’s quite bright).
  2. When you’ve had a chance to savor Mondrian's work, turn the attention back to your child’s world and explain to him that he'll now have a chance to paint like Mondrian! 
  3. Start with the strong black lines, and expect some challenges; it can be hard for kids to stay in control of a paintbrush. If you’ve got a particularly wild brush-wielder, you may even want to start by drawing some vertical and horizontal lines in pencil, and ask your child to paint over them.  Whichever path you choose, make sure your child ends up with at least three lines, vertical and horizontal, crossing enough to make a few rectangles and squares of different sizes on the paper.
  4. As your child works, encourage strong horizontal and vertical brush strokes; remember that this activity is a beneficial precursor to successful writing.
  5. Now your child is ready for color. Invite your child to paint a different color in every box, and see what emerges.
  6. At the end, you may want to invite your child to go over those black lines one last time; during the color phase they have the potential to bleed or get painted over. 

No matter what happens, however, expect some strikingly attractive results and maybe even some new artwork for your living room. Perhaps Picasso put it best when he said, "It has taken me a lifetime to draw like a child."

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.

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