Like A Kid Again: Playing House
Guest Blog Post by Mandy Russell
I get quite excited over children’s artwork and often find it more beautiful than the most famous and revered masterpieces. The freedom of a child’s artistic expression is moving beyond words. The crooked lines, the strange shapes, the odd perspective, the accidents; these often become the most wonderful parts of the piece. I find great artistic inspiration on the walls of my child’s elementary school and in fact, I love to make, for lack of a better term, my own type of child-like art. I’m compelled to create pieces with a playful flair, often depicting cute chubby subjects, a simple composition, saturated color, and/or nonsensical wonkiness. I’m quite convinced that I actually make this kind of playful art for my inner child, like a loving gift of sorts. Without getting into too much therapy-like detail, I think the act of making this art accomplishes some much needed self-nurturing, while at the same time squashing the voice of my inner critic. It’s as if this art says, “Hey there inner critic, look at me! I don’t make a lot of sense, I’m a little crooked and my composition breaks a lot of rules, but you know what? That’s totally my intent, so there!” For me, this is as close to the definition of artistic liberation as I can get, thus far.
Over the next several months, through a series of guest posts, I have an exciting opportunity to impart to you several playful, nonsensical art journaling techniques that I hold dear to my heart. Get ready to play like a kid again, on the journal page at least!
One of the very first things I remember drawing as a child was a house. You know the type, a basic square with a triangle for a roof. My house drawing had a door with a door knob, a window or two, a horizon line and occupants; usually a family with a dog or a cat.
The following art journaling exercise explores the idea of shelter at a very playful and basic level. Begin with a blank journal page. Use a colored pencil and journal about what it would be like to live in a small, make believe shelter of your choice. Be playful; this could be a submarine, an igloo, a rocket, a tree house, a sailboat, a house boat, a giant shoe (with a roof of course), a cute camper, a toadstool, an upside down teacup, a tent or a teepee. This shelter protects you from the outside world and provides warmth (or air conditioning, if needed). Write about what the space is like inside your imaginary shelter, what the scene looks like outside the window, and maybe how you share this home with your family.
In a central location on the page, I make a print of a window using one of my hand-carved rubber window stamps and a jet black Archival Ink pad by Ranger. Visit my website at for an easy tutorial on carving your own window stamp. Need window inspiration? They are everywhere, just look out (or at) your window! If you prefer not to carve a stamp, you can simply draw a window using a black Faber-Castell Pitt pen or other black waterproof marker.
Next, with a wide flat brush, apply one layer of gesso on the entire page just up to the window stamp. Don’t cover the window or its interior. Let this dry. Then with a pencil, sketch the shape of your shelter around your window. Try to keep it simple, chubby, cute and/or abbreviated.
Next, fill in the different areas on your page (minus the window) with acrylic paint colors of your choice. I like to use Golden Fluid acrylics mixed with Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Satin). I use about one part paint to two parts glazing liquid. This mixture extends the paint a bit and gives it a slight transparent quality.
Add another light layer of paint to each area on your page. This time, change each color slightly by mixing in a drop of a different hue. Still mix in the glaze medium to keep it slightly transparent. Play with your brush strokes, have fun, experiment to see what you like. I also like to use my finger tips and rub the paint on my page. While this is drying, paint the interior of the window with a light watercolor wash of choice.
Now is the time to embellish your shelter scene with other acrylic painterly techniques, such as flicking watery paint from a toothbrush, stamping with bubble wrap or thread spool ends, journaling into wet paint with a pencil, stenciling, or whatever you have in your artsy tool belt. Make it as busy or simple as you want. When finished, let the page dry completely.
Give your little home a bit of a three dimensional feel. This works especially well if you are dealing with a rounded shape. Draw a thick line using a water-soluble crayon of choice (I prefer Neocolor II by Caran D’Ache) just to the inside of the perimeter. Using a round wet brush, activate this entire line and pull a bit of pigment into towards the center, “feathering” it out.
Next, with an extra fine tip white acrylic marker, I prefer Sharpie brand water-based paint markers, doodle on your page adding elements that might make sense in your nonsensical scene. A chimney? Weeds? Stars and planets? Some decorative trim? Draw whatever you think puts the finishing touches on your pretend abode and its surroundings.
Lastly, create an inhabitant by collaging a person or an animal inside the window. Using a vintage children’s story or coloring book, carefully cut out a subject that will reside in your shelter. Collage this element in place in the window using extra heavy gel medium by Golden. Sign and date your playful page.
Mandy Russell lives in a beautiful Maine town with two wonky kids, an incredible husband, a darling German shepherd and a shady black cat. She is on a constant quest for artistic self-expression and particularly enjoys making hand bound books, carving rubber stamps, and painting with encaustic medium. She is currently having a love affair with the color chartreuse and absolutely cannot keep her house clean, even if her life depended on it. Thank goodness it doesn’t. You can read more about her myriad of artistic endeavors at www.mandyrussell.com.
Find more playful acrylic painting techniques in Roxanne Padgett’s book, Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media: Layer, Scribble, Stencil, Stamp.