Zoom In

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. This year’s theme "African Americans and the Arts" highlights the many contributions Black Americans have had on the arts, cultural movements and more. 

At Tinkergarten we know that artistic expression and creativity are critical skills—not only for artists or musicians, but also for kids as a way of thinking about and being in the world. Introducing kids to the work of diverse artists helps kids to see the infinite possibilities for how and what they can create and provides models for how they can remain creative throughout their lives. 

In honor of this year’s Black History Month, we share this activity inspired by the work and techniques of Lilian Thomas Burwell. Burwell is an abstract painter and sculptor known for creating abstract forms inspired by the shapes in nature. At 96 years old, she is still creating and exhibiting her work—a true model of remaining creative for life!  As featured in our February Activity Calendar, in this activity, kids take inspiration from Burwell's work as they create art that expresses the shapes and colors they observe in natural objects.

If you do not yet have your free copy of the February Activity Calendar, download it here.

The Guide

Step 1: Get inspired! 

Look at images of Lilian Thomas Burwell’s artwork with kids. Ask kids what shapes, lines and colors they notice. What does it remind them of or make them think about? How does her art make them feel?

Step 2: Zoom in! 

Head outside and invite kids to find something in nature that they would like to look at more closely. Welcome kids to use their eyes, a camera or a magnifying glass to zoom in on the object. Talk together about what you see, focusing on colors, shapes, lines. If you can, take a photo of the object or if you found it on the ground, take it with you. You can also welcome kids to take a pretend photo with their eyes to help them remember what they saw.

Step 3: Create! 

Head to a space where kids can create with art materials (or bring some paper and a few drawing tools outside with you).

Offer some paper and a few simple art materials (e.g. colored pencils, markers, crayons, watercolor paints, tempera or earth based paints) and invite kids to use the materials to show you what they noticed about the nature object. 

You can offer glue as well to enable kids to blend nature objects with marks that they create.

Let kids lead the way by allowing them space to choose which materials they would like to use and how they would like to represent their observations of the object. 

Step 4: Support the creative process.

Try to resist the urge to direct, guide or model for kids as they create, and do not be surprised if their creation does not look anything like the object you observed together. Creating representational artwork (art that looks like a model of a real object) requires cognitive and fine motor skills that young kids are still developing. 

And, just as Burwell creates abstract art that is an expression rather than a true representation of the natural world, kids’ art can and should be a true expression of their own ideas, thoughts and feelings. You can support kids’ creative process by inviting them to tell you about their art and by sharing aloud what you notice about their choices of colors, shapes and lines.

Step 5: Share your creations.

Take photos and share your creations with friends, making sure to include the name of the artist who inspired them. What a wonderful way to honor Lilian Thomas Burwell for her contributions and get friends more curious about creativity! If you do share them publicly, be sure to tag #Tinkergarten. We'd love to cheer on your creative process!

Why is this activity great for kids?

Zooming in to look closely and observe objects in nature supports kids’ focus skills and deepens their connection to the natural world. Using art materials to express their observations supports a wide variety of skills including visual communication, fine motor skills and creativity. Finally, introducing kids to the work of diverse artists helps kids to see the infinite possibilities for how and what they can create and provides models for how they can remain creative throughout their lives.

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