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Our Adventure into Process Art: Chapter One

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Our first art projects on display.

Once upon a time, our house was ruled with an iron fist. A tyrant enforced specific orders for even the smallest tasks. She had to get her own coat and art project when leaving preschool--no one touch any of the things! I joked that the rhyme about the "little girl who had a little curl" was my daughter. Every day we flipped between Shirley Temple and pre-Miracle Worker Helen Keller. All the daily tasks became rituals I had to memorize. I wondered who my Miracle Worker would be. When things did not go to her specifications, we wished for a time machine. Or a sudden case of amnesia for everyone in the room. Anything. OMG. In vain, we would frantically begin the ritual over. "It's OK! Let's do it again!" we would say, desperately clinging to a cheerful tone. The descent into madness would be swift. And loud. And usually enduring.

We didn't understand why it was so important to her that life unfold in the ways she had envisioned or why she would be so overwhelmed when other kids seemed fine to just ride the river. Our oldest moved countries twice and attended five different schools before the age of eight. He was king of the river.

A Shirley Temple moment!

Of course, I read books and blogs on highly sensitive, perfectionist children. I followed some of the advice, talked with her about these tendencies and tried to be a good example. I also got some new insights on the advantages for these children later in life, but I needed something NOW to move through the tantrums and into the gifts of her temperament. We needed to go out as a family and not fear the unexpected outcome that would unleash the beast.

For us, the answer was art--the kind of art that has no clear objective other than just being made. Art that is full of surprises that are opportunities to create something unexpected--something even better than you could have planned. This, my friends, was a revelation: to see the delight on her face as she created beautiful things with resilience, confidence, wonder. The unexpected would, at times, almost thrust her into the abyss, but we became experts on "happy accidents." We quickly brainstormed for solutions. The watercolor paper with a torn corner got four rounded corners and looked even cooler. The paint drip in the wrong place meant we were going to splatter that whole thing with paints--and it looked super awesome when we were done. And this went beyond just art. These were life skills she was gaining. It was redemption and transformation at my dining room table.

I don't have a background in art. All I knew was that school was difficult for her and that she was just holding it together until she got home and released all the emotions that were unexpressed. The last school we tried was a Waldorf, and I could see she was interested in the art they did there, but otherwise it was meltdown city. Since she didn't have to be officially in school until age six, I pulled her out of the Waldorf kindergarten last October and decided to make pretty things that make us happy until further notice. The first thing we made was a mixed media project. It came out beautiful, and the coloring was to her standards because of the masking tape guides I placed for her. I don't know how I thought of that. I think an angel whispered it to me. She was so proud of that picture. I discovered this was called process art and began finding more and more projects to do. I gradually collected a library of craft supplies. I also enrolled her in a local dance school to give her a physical outlet for her emotions. I explained her temperament to her ballet teacher, and the teacher just got it and let her be her.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, everything changed. And I have my vibrant, highly attuned, creative daughter to thank. We make beautiful things; we explore nature; we take our time. She loves smelling all the flowers in bloom, bouncing on the trampoline and then lying down to watch the sky. She loves the distant sound of the neighbors' dog barking in the night and the sound of the pencil moving across the paper. She gifted me the ability to see her world, and it's a sensory place of simple yet profound beauty. I am transformed in her world.

We are just beginning our journey, and I hope you will join us. I'm excited to experience what is down this road of allowing my children to become more of what is already within them. I hope you will find inspiration here and share how your children have brought new ideas and ways of seeing into your life, whatever that looks like. My kids are mostly learning at home now, but I hope this blog will resonate with everyone--public or private schooling, unschooling, homeschooling. If I have learned anything, it is there is not just one way to climb this mountain.

P.S. We like these fun picture books that celebrate mistakes becoming opportunities:

And my favorite books on process art:



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