Rosie Johnson Illustrates
Freelance illustrator

Notes from the studio (it’s a shed)

Children's Art: Real Creativity that won't Trash your Kitchen

"Can we do some painting?" the wide eyes, the innocent tone. You know you should but you'd really, REALLY rather not. 

You know what I'm saying. You're a parent/ carer/ Early Years professional living or working with little people. You know you should be giving them opportunities to express their creativity and emotions. You might even be a creative person yourself, but you know that the creative output is minimal compared to the huge amount of effort to prepare such an endeavour. 

You don't want to be prescriptive in your arty sessions but you have to sit on your hands as they mix ALL THE COLOURS within seconds. (See this spot on French and Saunders clip for the perfect illustration.) 

You've probably seen the rows and rows of identical sheep/ daffodils/ hearts that pass as children's creative work. Pah!

Like many people, I spend a lot of time scrolling through Pinterest being simultaneously aspirational and scathing. I scoff at the constructed realities whilst hurriedly writing down the Top 5 Ways to Nail Parenting and Foster Creativity.  A recipe for goop actually had me considering sourcing borax from America. Really Rosie? For what will be 5 minutes of fun followed by 3 hours of sobbing and scrubbing the food colouring off the tiles? Step away from the 'Buy Me' button. This is not the only way.

Luckily, I have a technique picked up in my teaching days which is a real winner. It allows children to be themselves, to draw and paint freely without you being left with reams of sodden or scribbled on paper, which lead to surreptitious recycling-bin runs while you pop on a Fireman Sam to distract them. 

There's something so exciting about the way this works. It's a little bit magical and yet very, very easy. You almost certainly have all you need to get going now!

Chering is Caring

As you may know, I'm all about sharing, so...

Enough appetite whetting: here's the technique. 

You will need:

  • A felt tip pen, - or several if you want different colours;
  • A small paintbrush;
  • Some water (filtered, organic and fair trade. Or from your tap;)
  • Paper - lining paper is great as it's thick, big and cheap - (there's a 1970s comedian's joke in there somewhere ) but any paper will do. 

When I'm working with children (and when I'm drawing myself) I find I get much better results when drawing from real life or at least from a photo. After tracing in the air the lines we can see, we have a go with a pen on the paper- just doing the outline and basic features. Then the magic... 

Dip, tap and wipe the paintbrush in the water and run the brush over the outline. It will pick up the ink from the pen and bleed out into your image. 

Instant, stand-out, watercolour. 

No palettes mixed up and mushed to brown. No rivers of poster paint, running like mascara streaked cheeks over your laminate floor. Just containable, manageable art that looks great, is fun to do and is genuinely creative. I've done it with 90 4/5 year olds without needing gin afterwards. And, more impressively, one snotty 2 year old on a wet day when Netflix seized up. 

You're very welcome. 

Have a go and share the results with me! I'd love to see how you get on. 


Huge thanks to the Reception classes of Stoke Hill Infants School in Exeter and to my own children for modelling the procedure. The 2 year old is particularly pleased with his addition of seaweed.