Painting, Playing #SmallWonder Link-Up

Sophia asked for art supplies for her tenth birthday and a friend dropped off a huge bag filled to overflowing a few days later.  “I should’ve asked for art supplies for my birthday!” I said, admittedly jealous.  She opened them that night and sprawled them all around the living room floor.  But in the days and weeks after, they sat in her room untouched.    

“When are you going to paint?” I asked the one night after dinner. 

“When I think of something really good to paint,” she said.

“Then you’re never going to do it,” I said.  She huffed and shot me a deflated look. 

“I don’t mean you can’t make something great,” I said, “It’s just, if you wait until you have something great to make, you’ll never do it.” 

She shrugged.

The next time we went to the library I stumbled across a book, Painting Lab for Kids.  Each project focused on a specific skill set.  The ideas were bright, fun, and encouraged experimentation.  I grabbed it for me among the usual stack of Geronimo Stilton and Super Heroes for the boys as well as Sophia’s stack of Nature Encyclopedias.  I looked through my painting book quickly one night before bed and saw Sophia paging through it later the next day.    

Then one random night in the middle of the week I pulled out the book, some hand-me-down canvases, and dug in.  The project I chose involved layering thick swaths of paint in different colors, swirling, then scraping them to make designs.  I tried it once, it was interesting.  I tried again. 

Dipping and scraping, I used an old driver’s license to smear paint, while the kids swirled in and out of the kitchen.    

“What are you making?” they asked.  

“I’m just playing,” I said.  And I was. 

I took a toothpick and carved elaborate flowers in the wet colors.  Then I painted over it, hoping it would somehow show through.  It didn’t and I moved on.  I found a glass jar and began stamping circles, twisting the jar upside-down in two shades of blue.  I liked it, so I kept going.

“What are you doing?” my daughter said.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I’m just playing.  Why don’t you pick one of the pages and try it too?” 

Miracle of miracles, she did. 

The technique she chose didn’t work terribly well and she grew frustrated, but I kept minding my own business.  “You can always paint over it if you don’t like it,” I said, over and over again. 

Finally, she loosened up.  In the end she found a color scheme she liked, swirling greens, yellows and oranges on the canvas.  She grew pleased with her painting when she stopped forcing it and started playing.  No longer so focused on the outcome, she began to enjoy the process.
We were just playing. 

It’s been a week or two since then and I'm feeling the urge to paint again.  I’m eyeing those canvases, wondering if I have the chutzpa to start all over again, painting over the old with something new.  

*   *   *   *

Only 16 spaces left!  I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.   


  1. What great fun! I've hoped to encourage my very creative Littles with cool art projects this summer. Your post is right on time and truly inspiring. "She grew pleased" .... so much hope in those words.

    1. I think the biggest thing I'm realizing is how much I need to model and verbally express play and improvisation. Kids automatically assume adults know what they're doing and are happy with the results. My play was as important to her and me as her own. Thanks for being here, Lisha.

  2. I think we do the same thing with our words when we write, and I see my taller-than-me-by-almost-a-foot teen tinkering with wood and metal and engines in the same spirit. Now . . . if only I could manage to make dealing with food and laundry into a creative play experience . . .

    1. Yes, I agree, Michele (the writing as play) but something about painting helps me see my stuck-ness in a way that's not clear when I'm writing - I think I have less at stake with paint because I never trained in it and if I make anything I like, it's by sheer luck. And yes, laundry as play . . . I'm gonna have to think about that one!

  3. It's when we "do" that we sometimes open doors for them. I hope you paint all summer - and the kids will come. They always do!

  4. “It’s just, if you wait until you have something great to make, you’ll never do it.”
    Ooh, this is wisdom for the ages, Kelly! I have to remind myself of that when I write blog posts too. I can't wait for the latest, greatest insights; I just share what I have today, as measly as it is.

    "No longer so focused on the outcome, she began to enjoy the process." Yes!

  5. Kelly, this made me smile so much--great words about creativity! (and spaces are filling for the writing retreat--woohoo!) I'll be praying for you guys.

  6. Kelly, this made me smile so much--great words about creativity! (and spaces are filling for the writing retreat--woohoo!) I'll be praying for you guys.

  7. Oh my friend... you know I love this so much! Isn't that the thing? Even when we are learning something new - it's when we let go and play with it a bit that we find we are learning on a deeper level and enjoying the journey as well!

  8. I loved reading this post. I used to be very hesitant at times because I thought I had to have things just right. I had a canvas and acrylic paints for the longest time before I finally tried it. I wondered why I had waited so long because it was so much fun! It really does help to not worry about the end result, but have fun. It was my daughter that encouraged me by telling me I could always paint over it if I didn't like it. Blessings to you, Kelly!

  9. "Enjoying the process"...You've got me thinking, Kelly. I want to relax into my days and enjoy the processes of gardening, writing, and babysitting our granddaughter--all opportunities to be creative and playful, enjoy the moment, and not worry so much about outcomes. Thank you, GW friend!

  10. Play has the added benefit of releasing our creativity from it's normal constraints... it frees us to be inspired. Sounds like a great idea, and allows the whole family to explore together. Creative play is one of my favourite ways to de-stress too.