10 Art-making Prompts for Families

10 Art-making Prompts for Families

It's school holiday time again, and if you're anything like me feeling a little fatigued at this point in 2020 - it's been a very BIG year. The thought of having to reinvent the wheel each school holidays after long stretches of isolation and woking from home can feel pretty daunting, after all, as parents I know we want to keep brains active, little souls inspired and bring fun into our family downtime. I know we also want to make doing things in the real world way more attractive than getting lost in a screen for hours on end.

After raising three kids, working as a visual arts educator and maintaining two creative studios I'm full to the brim with ideas to help you out when your kids say "what's next!". Here are my top ten creative prompts to entertain and inspire your tribe these holidays, there's something for the very small ones, tweens, teens and adults too!

Everything below is really do-able with only very basic art supplies needed, things you'll find in cupboards and art draws in every home. You can always make a day out of it too and factor in a trip to your local art supplies store, let you kids choose their own materials, you'll probably be totally surprised.....kids LOVE beautiful materials, they have innately great taste and the care they put into their artworks will reflect this. I've included some old school classics, some well tested ideas used by some of art histories giants and a few of my own prompts that I use to kick start a new body of work in my own studio. 

Enjoy, and please feel free to share your amazing creations with me on IG or via email, I'd love to see what you end up creating.

Exquisite Corpse Drawing Game Jo Olive

1940 André Breton, Jacques Herold, Wifredo Lam  ink, pencil, coloured crayon and collage on paper
 29.8 x 22.9 cm
© Philippe Migeat - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 No. 1 The Exquisite Corpse

Used by the Surrealists in Paris around the 1920's it was a playful parlour game that ended up becoming  a rich source of inspiration for their artworks about dreams and the subconscious mind. Players start by drawing a "head" on a sheet of paper then fold that over leaving only the bottom part of the drawing showing, the next person continues the body, folds that over again and so on until the sheet is full!


No.2 Draw The Bird Calls

Often, when I start a new artwork I like to disrupt the perfect white sheet or canvas by making marks inspired by the sounds around me. Sit outside or by a window, close your eyes gently and take a moment to be still and really listen for a minute or two. Keep your eyes closed and respond to the bird calls you hear on the page. These marks can be left as nice little abstract artworks or can suggest animals or landscapes that you can continue on with. They can also be used to add to collages or other artworks at a later point.


Matisse Collage

Henri Matisse The Snail 1953 Tate © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2020

 No.3 Collage for Balance & Harmony

Take inspiration from the wonderful Matisse and create collages that speak of harmony and balance. Try to transform random elements cut from magazines, gift wrap, envelopes and packaging into serene compositions that speak of balance - as if the world is in perfect harmony. Try to avoid using faces or images that suggest "reality", try to avoid the need to make the image "about something" you're going for a feeling here - just let go and see what happens.


No. 4 Destroy To Create

When we look to nature, we find that destruction can often lead to creation; a perfect seed pod splits to release seed that becomes a seedling, a carcass breaks down to create rich fertile soils, the snake relinquishes it's skin and leaves it to deteriorate so that it can grow. Like nature, I want you to create something beautiful, a painting, collage or drawing and then I want you to rip it or cut it up into pieces. Your job is to reassemble it to create a new thing of beauty. Again, your new work does not need to "look like anything" but "feels right" when it is complete. Does a story emerge from the new artwork? Is it hard to destroy something you find so beautiful?


No.5 Found Object Stencils

Collect object from around the house or garage that have open areas or shapes that you can draw in; for example a piece of circular plumbing pipe, the interior of the sticky tape roll, the sides of a milk crate. Create an artwork using these shapes, either connect them together as you "draw" on a sheet of paper or cut them out to use in collage or elements in a painting.


Yves Klein Jo Olive

Charles Wilp's studio, Düsseldorf, Germany © Photo : Charles Wilp / BPK, Berlin © Artwork : The Estate of Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris

 No.6 Body Prints

We've all done hand prints and footprints but have you ever printed your cheek, elbow, arm or bottom? Get inspired by Yves Klein and print parts of your body on large sheets of paper in the backyard. Yes this is wonderfully messy! Let them dry as beautiful minimal print works or use them as inspiration for larger drawings or paintings - an arm print could become a giraffe neck or tree trunk, a bottom print could become an apple! 

No.7 Mr Squiggle

As a kid I thought Mr Squiggle was a rock star! If you don't remember him, look him up on Youtube, but he has a pencil for a nose and made amazing drawings out of incidental marks made on big pieces of paper - often upside down! Be Mr Squiggle and make three strange marks on a sheet of paper then get someone else to complete the drawing - your brain will want to make something out of those marks to make sense of it (the rational brain detests not knowing!) - what will it make? Make sure to turn it in all directions, something will click!


No. 8 How Does My Heart Look?

More of a meditation than a traditional method of drawing, I love this idea because it encourages us to sit still and connect with ourselves before we make a mark. Often in the studio I will meditate for around 20 minutes before I work, this allows me to calm my nervous system after a busy morning with family and allows me to fully transition into the studio space. Sit somewhere quiet with few distractions, have paper and a pencil in hand, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Place your hand over your heart and sit for a minute or so, when you feel inspired, start drawing what your heart FEELS like, not necessarily a realistic picture of a heart, but a response to how your heart feels in an energetic sense. This is a chance to connect with your deeper self - good for teenagers if they'll do it! Keep drawing and making marks until you feel called to open your eyes again. What does your drawing tell you about yourself and how you are feeling? Is it heavy, light, down low on the page or high, are the marks vertical or horizontal, how do these marks make you feel?


No.9 Potato Printing

It's a classic! And for that reason I'm adding it to the list. The good old potato print - or any veggie or fruit really. Use any paper and acrylic paint, cut up your potato (check that it's surface is kinda dryish) and paint it up and stamp it. You can also carve the surface of your potato or cut it into unusual shapes. Print onto fabric with special fabric inks and you've got custom textiles to sew with too. Practice making repeating patterns or use shape play to create stylised characters and scenes.


Jasper Johns Jo Olive

Jasper Johns, 0 through 9, 1960 

 No.10 Blind Continuous Line Drawing

I've seen this prompt used in both University and Kindy classes and I'm yet to see anyone NOT find this fun and funny! The idea is that you draw without looking at your paper and without taking your pencil off the paper. You keep your eyes glued to the subject, be it a face, a shoe, an apple or the dog. Faces are by far the funniest. Even the great Jasper Johns used a technique similar to this to draw numbers  The key is to take your time and include as much detail as you can.


Fig.1. (left) Albrecht Dürer’s The Great Piece of Turf, 1503. Watercolour and opaque, 41x31.5cm. Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina. (right) Leonardo Da Vinci’s Star of Bethlehem, 1510. Pen and ink over red chalk on paper, 19.8x16cm. Royal Library, Windsor.
Albrecht Dürer’s The Great Piece of Turf, 1503. Watercolour and opaque, 41×31.5cm. Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina. (right) Leonardo Da Vinci’s Star of Bethlehem, 1510. Pen and ink over red chalk on paper, 19.8x16cm. Royal Library, Windsor.

 Bonus No.11 If I Were A Mouse

I adore artworks that explore different perspectives of the landscape and this one is inspired by Albrecht Dürer's drawing of a small clump of grass in which he envisaged a whole wide world in there. This is great for the younger folks but equally as interesting and imaginative no matter what your age. Imagine you are a mouse (insert any animal here!) and ask yourself what would my world look like from down there? Is there a corner of a room where a cheeky mouse gets in or is there a spot outside that they might like? Draw that space or alternatively use your imagination to think of a safe place a mouse may hide? Try to include lots of details, the smallest of textures, shadows and shapes.


Inspired to create? Shop Notebooks here to house your new creations and write down these creative prompts for the next school holidays!