Art Activities and Family Time

With a few long weekends and holidays looming on the horizon, what better time to stock up on art-related activities, aka fun and games?

And by stocking up, I don’t mean going shopping for them. All you need to do for these activities is to gather some supplies you probably have around your home (or your classroom). With a little preparation (really minimal), you’ll be all set for those times when you need to keep assorted children occupied – and for creative and enjoyable family fun that will engage both young and old (and older).

Bonus: all of these activities are portable and/or reproducible with minimal effort whether you’re going to granny’s house or the restaurant.

Here are three of my favourite, tried-and-true artful games and activities:

1 . The unbeatable colouring pages:

Who doesn’t love colouring pages? There’s a reason why adult colouring books kind of exploded in popularity recently. Colouring is such a calming and enjoyable activity for all ages – and a godsend when you need a quiet activity.

I’m constantly on the look-out both for well-designed colouring books in bookstores and for interesting illustrations online. There are tons of free colouring pages on the web – not all of them good, and many not really worth the paper you’ll print them on. But with patience and a little digging, you can certainly find a few gems.

Incidentally, children love intricate designs to colour. Don’t hesitate to give them something a little challenging to work on, they will surprise you with what they can do.

I have a few favourite sources for printing out beautiful illustrations. One of them is Dover publications. If you sign up for their free printables, you’ll get access to a treasure trove of beautiful illustrations to download, print and colour. Here’s a freebie they sent me this week, I’m certain they won’t mind if I share it with you.

Another favourite of mine is looking for public domain illustrations.  You can find vintage images that are old enough to have become copyright-free, like this gem of an illustration by Helen Stratton from a 1899 collection of Anderson’s Fairy tales. (Newsletter subscriber bonus this month: 2 additional free colouring pages)

2. Play a collaborative game: Exquisite Monster™:

  • Drawing instruments: pencils, crayons, pens or even ball-point pens – anything that won’t bleed through to the other side of the paper (so no Sharpies or markers). You can use colours or not, it’s really up to you.


3. When all else fails, play a game of Pictionary – or a home-made variation

I’m just kidding, you don’t need to put this game at the bottom of your fun and games list, it’s a great family game. I still have the first Pictionary I bought many moons ago – but you don’t actually need to purchase the official product. You can easily create a fun and interactive version yourself.

What is it? Essentially a word-guessing game with drawings. As easy or as difficult that you care to make it.

Who can play?

  • Kids as young as 5 can play (provided the other players remember to be patient and kind), and everyone else will want to join in. The more players, the more fun it is.
  • The game can be played with teams or as one group – depending on the number of players, the dynamics involved, age differentials, etc. (a reasonable adult gets to decide that part).


  • Paper and markers (pencils and crayons, even pens works fine too) or a dry erase board with dry erase markers if you have them lying around (and something to wipe the drawings off with). Or a chalkboard with chalk. You get the idea, you need something to draw with and something to draw on.
  • A timer (human or otherwise) to be used for each turn. Not absolutely necessary, but helpful.
  • A set of prepared words, divided into easy, not-so-easy, and not-easy-at-all categories. You’ll need at least 10 of each to begin but I advise to have a lot more for each category.

How to play:

First: What to draw:

  • Prepare pieces of paper (or small cards) ahead of time with words on one side and level of difficulty on the other (easy, medium, hard). Cards are preferable to paper in my opinion, because you can store and re-use them more readily.
  • Easy words would be something like: lady bug, butterfly, glasses, paintbrush, fireworks, pony tail, ice cream – simple enough for the little ones to draw and guess.
  • Medium words may include: schoolbus, teacher, ballet slippers, puppy, pinwheel, hot air balloon, blanket, pirate – a little harder to draw but still easy to guess.
  • Harder words would be a good challenge for teens and adults, and might be items like: sumo wrestler, bicycle, hotel, vacation, WiFi, soft boiled egg, download.
  • Try to have a couple dozen words for each category at least. If you run out of ideas (you will), you can find lots of free word lists online – just Google “Pictionary words”.
  • Players can also pick their own words, of course. It adds to the fun to see how inventive and imaginative everyone can be.

Next: Time to draw!

  • The first player picks a word from one of the sets (easy, medium, hard) – it’s best to start with the easy ones, especially with a younger crowd. Armed with their drawing tool, the player has to illustrate the word while the others come up with guesses. The first person to guess correctly takes the next turn.
  • The playing group can be divided in teams of at least 3 members who will compete against each other, by drawing the same word at the same time. The team that guesses first wins. Word to the wise: if you don’t enjoy tears and meltdowns, don’t divide younger players into competing teams.
  • You can use a timer for each turn, but it’s not absolutely necessary if a kind and fair adult volunteers to be the time monitor. Some kids don’t do well with being rushed, and the whole point is for everyone to have fun.

I hope you’ll enjoy trying out all these fun art activities – let me know what you think!




Give your brushes some TLC

I’m forever salvaging distressed brushes in my classes. Sad, flayed and bloated from the murky container that once contained clear water or left to dry on the table, forlorn and caked with paint.


But it really doesn’t take a whole lot to keep your brushes happy (and extend their life). Just give them a little TLC and they’ll be forever grateful. Promise.

Note: I don’t use oils in my classes (or for my own art), so this applies to water-based mediums (watercolour, gouache, acrylic paint and ink).

Acrylic (and other water-based stuff) Brush Care Tips:

1. Quick clean to reuse:

  • Don’t drown your brush! Leaving your brushes to soak up water while you’re continuing to paint is possibly the worst thing you can do to them.
  • If you want to clean and use your brush again right away, remove excess paint with a paper towel first (sometimes a dry clean is all you need to do).
  • For a more thorough clean, swirl your brush in a container filled with water to get rid of the remaining paint.
  • This bears repeating: do NOT stand your brush in the water container.
  • Blot gently on a lint-free towel (or paper towel) and carry on.

2. Clean and store:

  • Once your painting session is done, always take the time to clean your brushes thoroughly, right away, and dry them carefully. You don’t want to end up with crusty, sad brushes that need CPR to come back to life (more on that below).
  • No need to run out and buy expensive brush cleaning potions – these do a nice job but all you really need is a gentle liquid dish soap to adequately clean your brushes. Organic bar soaps work fine too but I prefer liquid soap.
  • Add a few drops of liquid soap to a small container filled with lukewarm or cold water and swish to mix. Never hot water though, that’s really bad for the brush.
  • Blot away any remaining paint on your brush then dip in the soapy water. Clean the brush by running it back and forth on the sides and bottom of the container.
  • If extra help is needed to get every bit of paint out, I find that a spiky plastic brush cleaner disk like the one below left gets all the paint out (art store find for around $1). A silicone make-up brush sponges (middle pic) works well too. In my home studio, my favourite is a round silicone dish brush (right).


3. Brush CPR:

Sometimes brushes end up laminated with dried paint (or heaven forbid, dry medium). It happens. Even to me… more often than I care to admit. No need to panic, I have the perfect remedy and a secret weapon – guaranteed to work every time, without too much effort or toxic chemicals (or not very toxic at least).

My secret weapon is … plain old hand sanitizer.

I have to admit, once I figured out how well this works on dried up acrylic paint, I stopped using it to clean my hands – I mean, can you imagine what it does to your skin if it can slough that gunk right off your brush? Shudder…

Anyway, here’s how it works:

  • Place a dollop of sanitizer (plain, unscented, no beads) on a small plate (or a folded paper towel or the sink).
  • Rub the brush on the plate so the sanitizer really gets into the bristles and starts to break down the dried-up paint.
  • Keep rubbing the brush with the sanitizer until you feel that there aren’t any stiffened bristles.
  • For really bad cases (e.g. dried up medium, sigh), the plastic cleaning disk pictured above works wonders in combination with the hand sanitizer.
  • Rinse well. Clean with soap and water as outlined in No. 2.

4. Drying and shaping:

  • Air dry brushes by laying them flat on a lint-free towel (paper or cloth).
  • You may need to reshape your round brushes (the ones that taper off) by gently squeezing the bristles to form a point.
  • Do not stand them up when they’re still wet – the moisture will seep into the ferrule (the metal doohicky that holds the bristles tight) and the handle and ruin them. You may have seen brushes where the lacquer on the wooden handle is cracked and flaking – that’s because it stood in the water for too long. Brushes with wooden handles suffer the most by standing them upright while still wet, but this is true for brushes with human-made materials as well.

That’s it for today – I hope you find these tips helpful. Let me know if there’s an art-related topic you’d like to know more about, I always love to hear from you.

Canadian Icon

Iconic Canadian Painter Alex Colville would have been 96 today. The extensive exhibition of his works at the AGO two years ago was both exhilarating and oppressive. His work is at once unbelievably controlled, yet teeming with deeply unsettling emotional undercurrents. It could just be me though.


Enter a caption

Dog and Priest, 1978 © Alex Colville

I love this painting. So deceptively static and so smooth. The man and the dog almost meld into one, the cloth and the fur so alike at a distance but so detailed up close. The man, anonymous (except for being a priest), maybe lost in thought, maybe gazing at the horizon,  while his companion stays alert and protective. Every hair bristles on that dog, and the suit is impeccable, velvety, rich. You can almost feel the wind, smell this shore, touch that beautiful dog. Amazing.

Yikes! It’s almost back to school time. Woohoo!

You know this commercial with the dad gleefully skipping through the aisles of an office supply store to the tune of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, while the kids mournfully drag their feet behind him?

That’s how I feel!

Gleeful, that is – but not because I’m happy to get rid of my kids like the commercial implies (I actually love being with my girls, they’re adorable), but because YAY! new pens and markers for less! I’m stocking up! Fresh, pristine erasers and pencils, new packaging smell, stacks of paper … I love this stuff, always have.

Of course, this wonderful time of the year also means actually going BACK TO school. Which may or may not have been one of my most favourite ways to pass the time as a child.


Fall Trees, Acrylic, Tween/Teen Workshops. © Art just for me, 2016

Fall Trees, Acrylic, Tween/Teen Workshops. © Art just for me, 2016

I do have another favourite, lifelong pastime though … or occupation, or obsession – whatever… I love trying out new art materials and techniques. These new creations with black gesso from my tween and teen mixed media classes are a good example of time well spent this summer 🙂

Another reason to love back-to-school time:
it’s also back-to-regular-schedule workshop time!
You can now register for my September workshops online here.
The registration process is now much more streamlined and a lot easier to use. As usual, you can also contact me directly if you’re having any trouble doing it through the website.

Andy Warhol would have loved 2016

Andy Warhol, Pop Art’s enfant terrible, would have loved today’s celebrity-obsessed, selfie-driven, gnat’s-attention-span North American culture – and he would have celebrated its profoundly consumerist heart with twinkling relish. His birthday is on August 6.

By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0,

By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0,

Mural at the lesser-known Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce, Slovakia

Everyone knows what this is, right? Fair use,

Everyone knows what this is, right? Fair use,

A Little Arts & Crafts at VAB

Copy of papiers colles 2

I don’t know who’s been having having more fun this spring at Visual Arts Brampton, me or my adorable 6-9 year olds. So far, we’ve played with watercolours, rubbings and textures, paper weaving and zendoodles. Check out the kiddos’ work:

If you’d like to book some really fun workshops for your group of 6-9 year olds in English or French, check out my school page here or contact me. For my in-studio workshops for this age group, follow this link to Little Hands/ Mon petit atelier.

A Doodle By Any Other Name Is Still Fun

Have you tried art doodles yet?

They’ve been called (and trademarked…) Zendoodles, meditation art, Zentangles®, and Yoga for Your Brain ™. Whatever you want to call them, they are really cool to get into.

Patterns with simple shapes

Patterns with simple shapes

Patterns on coloured art paper

Patterns on coloured art paper

Hand of Fatima pattern (Y., age 14)

Hand of Fatima pattern (Y., age 14)

It’s not really all that complicated: You’re essentially using repeating patterns with varying degrees of complexity to create some wonderful designs.

They are a great exercise to add to your practice, even if you’re not a “drawer” – you can use simple shapes like lines and dots, and still achieve something you’ll be proud of.

The upside is that you’ll also be practicing pen or pencil control. You’ll also be surprised at what your hand-left brain connection can come up with. The bigger upside is that – probably because the human brain really likes patterns – you’ll find this kind of drawing blissfully relaxing (hence the meditation, zen and yoga part).

Art doodles are great for relaxation and flexing that creativity muscle. If you’d love to give it a shot but don’t know where to start, or if you want to try out some new ideas, sign up for one of our doodly-do workshops.