Painting with Toddlers: Black and White

Painting with Toddlers: Black and White

“Before launching into the full spectrum of color, stand at its edge with white and black, the beginning and the end of color.   Black and white provide a frame through which we more clearly see and understand color. Side by side on paper, the contrast between black and white call each more fully to life.”

– Ann Pelo, author of The Language of Art

We just started our first parent/child toddler art group in the Playful Learning Studio. After doing a lot of research on how to develop a program where each experience builds on itself and opens new avenues for exploration and dialogue with toddlers, I found myself drawn back to an old favorite—the work of Ann Pelo and her book, The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings. Originally, I thought it best to start with an investigation of one color at a time, but Ann brings it back one step further with an exploration of black and white—brilliant!

So, as I was browsing the aisles of Michaels and stumbled upon these sweet little black canvasses, it all came together in my mind and I made the commitment to start our journey into toddler art with black and white painting.

Each child was given a white canvas, a black canvas, white paint, and black paint. This allowed them to fully explore the bold contrasting colors and how they interact with each other.

A couple aspects of this set-up that I really liked for younger artists were that each color had its own brush and that we left out the extra water jar, which was new for me. This allowed for a smoother exploration and less steps that needed to be explained and followed. Of course, as children become more comfortable with the medium, it’s important to establish clear routines for painting, but for our particular situation, a simpler set-up was perfect!

I also loved keeping the art work contained in a tray, it seemed to give the children a defined work space and made for an easy clean-up. This tray is also the perfect size for 11×15 size watercolor paper, which is what we will be using for our next project.

Of course, no art experience is complete without the lovely discussions that ensue. Below are some possible topics and questions that Ann Pelo recommends for enhancing this exploration:

  • What story is the black line telling? The white line?
  • Where does the line begin?
  • Where does it end?
  • Where is it going?
  • Can you see the difference between the paint and the canvas?
  • What does the black make you think of?
  • What does the white make you think of?
  • Notice the way that black and white dance with each other on the canvas (this one was a big hit).
  • What do you notice about the way the colors are moving with each other?

More to Inspire…

Book Love…

Playful Learning: Black and White Painting Playful Learning: Black and White Painting Playful Learning: Black and White Painting


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