I’m really excited to share this guest post with you from Rachelle Doorley of Tinker Lab:

 When it comes to outdoor play, kicking a ball around, cooling off in the pool, or spending hours at the park probably come to mind. But how often do we consider making art outside? Outdoor art making is one of my favorite things to do with young children because it’s a great way to fully embrace messy activities, it can be a new way to meet the neighbors (chalk drawing on the sidewalk, for example), and inspiration can come in new forms with birds flying by and trees overhead.

This project came about with the idea that we’d craft a book of patterns from textures collected on our weekly walk to the farmer’s market. As you’ll soon see, my daughter couldn’t wait to get out of her pajamas to get started, and we never made it to the farmer’s market. But this is how we like our art projects: spontaneous and improvisational!

Here’s what we used:

  •  Home made booklet, made from four sheets of printer paper, folded in half and stapled at the spine
  • Assorted crayons without paper wrapping
  • Found textures

We began by talking about “textures” as an opening into this activity.  We happened to be barefoot, so I asked my daughter what the ground felt like under her feet. “Bumpy,” she said.  When I facilitate similar actives with elementary children in a school setting, I may ask them to feel their shirts (soft, silky, bumpy, etc.) or their desks (smooth, slippery).

I then opened up the book and talked to my daughter about how we couldcollect textures by rubbing the edge of the crayon on the paper when it’s layered over a bumpy (her language) surface. Once the “rules” were established, we took our booklet to the sidewalk and began collecting.

We had to be sure that the pages were all folded back so that we worked with just one sheet at a time. Here’s the water meter grate. I really like that diamond pattern.

With the first texture complete, I asked, “what else has a bumpy texture?” With that, she found some cement to collect. She used a pink crayon (her favorite), but was disappointed at how the color didn’t show up very well. This was a good lesson in color selection, and we hypothesized about which colors might work best for this activity.  After the driveway rubbing she darted off to pick up some leaves to rub and needed help holding them steady while she captured their

While the original idea was to collect textures along our neighborhood walk, it ended up being a book of textures taken from the front of our house. When I’ve done this withe school-age children, I’ve seen them get excited about the hunt for textures, and I imagine that the project would have had a longer life if my  daughter were just a bit older. But I also know from experience that once an idea is planted in the mind, it will pop up again as a footnote to a conversation or an experience that can be built upon at a later point.

What are your favorite outdoor art-making experiences?

Rachelle Doorley has extensive experience in the arts, from costuming for Warner Brothers to lecturing at Stanford and on to exploring creative thinking with her “muses”, her two daughters.  Rachelle writes at Tinker Lab where you will find experiments, art explorations, and provocations designed to develop creative and critical thinkers.  If you’d like to see more projects from TinkerLab, subscribe to Rachelle’s blog.



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