Friday, 13 September 2013

Tips & Tricks to Painting with Kids

This post is coming along now  mostly because of Parcival's comments and questions  on my Bell of Lost Souls article "Hobby: WFB Summer Camp Bretonians". It was always something I planned to write and post eventually but I don't mind doing it now. I will probably touch on it again later too.

Parcival's comment was:
Cool, thanks a lot for your reply. :-) Yes, they sleep 16 hours a day, but when my daughter was born I didn't have the energy to do *anything* because of getting up at night so often. :-/ It wasn't until she was six months old and started to eat regular food (and thus sleeping through the night) that I started to paint again.
Now she is four and wants to paint miniatures, too, but I am sort of nervous to let her paint with acrylics. Any tips on that, too?
Where to start with answering this....

When my oldest was born I had post pardum really bad so getting out of bed to do anything was a challenge and yes, I was constantly tired from having to do feedings and laundry and typical household stuff as well as dealing with the depression. I found that despite not having the energy to do it that I would start out forcing myself to paint, or on occassion sit and stare at my desk or my models and decide how I planned to paint them would usually relax me. There are plenty of times to this day when my husband will poke me and tell me I should go paint (I have 2 half finished monsters and about 7 infantry models sitting on my painting desk at the moment) and I will whine that I have not got the energy. 

 Most of the time I will still go sit at the desk, fiddle with paints, shift things around and eventually pick up the brush. We often will set ourselves up with a TV show or movie and work on projects while we watch Bones, NCIS, Criminal Minds or whatever documentary or movie we find that peeks our interest or turn on a podcast to listen to (most often for me it is Chumphammer or Dwellers Below). It is amazing how much painting you can get done if half your attention is relaxing and the other is controlling the paintbrush.

 Forcing yourself to paint when you have no energy to do anything can certainly backfire, you could wind up with more paint spills than usual or more nicks in your fingers if you're building because you misjudge the blade but by forcing yourself you're developing a habit and eventually it will be easier. I also find that sometimes it is healthy to steer clear of your painting desk when you don't have the energy to paint, its like taking a sabatical and refreshes your creative juices.

I also found that my son's desire to paint--he started his first model at the age 3--meant that I would be sitting at my desk with him so I might as well paint too instead of just sitting watching him make a mess.

We started him with wooden trains that we found on sale at Michael's but you can get wooden or ceramic toys at any dollar store, or general hobby store. I didn't have the same hang up about the acrylic paints that Parcival does.

My theory was that if he was going to paint I wanted him to learn to respect the same tools he saw me use, and we all know kids mimic their parents so I worried that if I gave him anything different than he saw me using that he would get upset. I fully expected a mess and to keep it to a minimum I would make him sit there in his diaper or underwear while he painted. His models were always overtop of papertowel or a bag of some kind and I always let him choose what color he wanted. 

My experience with acrylics (we use the GW paints) is to keep them off the carpet. Kids will spill no matter how hard they try not to or the paint brush will slip. It washes off their skin pretty easy and worst case if they take a few bottles and decide to paint their bunk beds it comes off with a spray of Simple Green and a lot of elbow grease behind a Mr Clean Magic Eraser (I have experience with this). If it does get on the carpet, if you're quick enough you can get most of it out. Do not rub it or spray chemical on it. Mix vinegar and warm water and go grab your wet vac! You dab the vinegar/water mix directly onto the paint and immediately suck it off with the wet vac. Its not a perfect method but I was able to remove many, many colors of paint off the floor this way. The wet vac is so the water doesn't seep into the carpet and wood under the carpet and get musty and moldy. If you can afford to call in a carpet cleaning service as quickly as possible because they might be able to get some out as well, but the main thing to remember is the faster you do it the faster you can salvage the carpet becasue the paint won't be able to set.

The biggest thing to remember with kids is their attention spans are a lot shorter than ours. When my oldest was 3 it was all he could do to sit and paint one side of the train without getting wiggly. I found that immensely frustrating because I would spend ten minutes getting him sorted out and he would paint for two. I tried forcing him to sit longer but that wound up with him rushing and getting sloppy in his painting just trying to finish so I would let him go.

Eventually I figured out his pattern and his neds and it was a lot easier to do. I stopped painting at the same time in order to help show him how to hold the paintbrush properly and where he was pooling paint. Sometimes he didn't care, but he still remembered it. Now it is immensely easier to paint with him because he can set up most of it himself and instead of choosing three guys at a time to paint he will take ten and do an assembly line.

So my tips for painting with kids:
  • Find somewhere you can buy wooden or ceramic models they can paint instead of letting them paint your expensive Warhammer models.
  • Don't just shove a brush at them and watch them splatter paint everywhere, sit them on your lap or next to you and teach them the basics.
  • Teach them proper care for the paints and brushes, paint palette and water cup
  • If they're bored or don't want to paint don't force them.
  • When they want to paint go do it, even if you're in the middle of watching the news, eventually they'll stop asking if you keeping saying "we'll do it later" or they'll try to do it themselves.--this is the hardest one for me, especially when they're all asking. 
  • Praise them even when it looks like they held the model upside down in the paint pot.
  • Give them somewhere near your own models to display theirs.
  • Don't be afraid of the mess they'll make, it washes off everything except carpets and fabric.
  • Get them some playdough, plastercine or other child friendly putting they can sculpt with, they will be better at conversions down the road if they're given chances to sculpt and discover how putty works.
  • Reward them when they finish a project (we buy ourselves new models to paint, maybe let them do the same)


  1. I need to try this with my nephews. they are always interested in my figures. Perhaps i will buy some cheap plastic dinosaurs from Micheals and primed them. They are big and should be easy to paint.

    1. We found ceramic piggy banks at a few places too, the ones we got were dinos, then they painted them and have them to use.

  2. Brilliant article, Jen. As an aged hobbyist with a 2+ year old, it is nice to see that my lament over lack of time/space/freedom may not only come to an end...but give me another outlet to interact with my daughter as she grows!

    1. (and I hope you don't mind, I linked this to my blog)

  3. Cool article. I have been painting with my now 4 year old for over a year. I have 2/3 of our finished basement dedicated to my hobbies (computers, painting desk and 4x6' gaming table) so we set up at the gaming table with a waterproof cloth down on the table (floors are laminate). I used to work retail and sell GW products and was allowed to keep many of the miscasts and returned products when I left the business. These are what I first offered him to paint. I pledged for the first Reapermini kickstarter and got 244 of their "bone minis" for $100 and most of these are destined for his paintbrush. They don't require priming, weigh next to nothing, are rubbery plastic so if they drop won't break and are just as detailed as their metal counterparts. I would highly recommend these to get kids painting.
    I do paint with him while he's painting (one color per model these days) and he'll slap paint on 3 or so models in 1 sitting which lasts anywhere up to 15 minutes.

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