If you visited Boston Children’s Museum on a Monday in June, you may have noticed that the hordes of children playing in the museum looked…very colorful. Why? There was Messy Monday face painting in the Art Studio! Twice a month we give “big kids” the chance to engage in extra messy (and extra fun!) art activities. (Read art educator Alice Vogler’s blog post on Messy Play to learn more about Messy Mondays). I have really enjoyed working in the Art Studio on Messy Mondays because it is wonderful to see the children having a blast playing and creating without grown-ups telling them to stop making a mess! However, I also think that it has helped me to let go of some of my own expectations of art. As we get older, we tend to shy away from getting our hands dirty and forget the simple pleasure that comes from the specific slimy smooth texture of oobleck or the cool temperature of finger paint. However every Messy Monday I am reminded, as I see children of all ages with HUGE smiles on their faces, that life is messy and sometimes we have the most fun when we have oobleck dripping through our fingers.
I was lucky enough to spend an entire day facilitating our messy face painting activity last month and the joy, creativity and confidence that I witnessed in the Art Studio really highlighted the power of Messy Monday for me. What made our face painting day so awesome? Well, we did not ask children what they wanted us to paint on their faces. Instead, we invited them to paint their own faces. This not only made the activity very fun and messy for kids, but also empowered them to create and discover through a medium of art that they are not often allowed to use themselves.
Children used watercolor pastel crayons, which are very easy to use and clean, to decorate their faces, arms and hands with all kinds of colors, shapes and designs. We provided table top mirrors as well as inspirational images of Tribal face paint designs from Africa and Papua New Guinea. Children turned their faces into cats, dogs, butterflies and abstract canvases. They layered colors, covered their entire faces and painted imaginary bracelets for their arms. A boy told me that he painted himself “half computer/ half man.” One side of his face was filled with a grid resembling wires of all different colors. Another girl created “face biology” by painting the sky, land and trees on her face. What was especially inspiring is that lots of grown-ups got involved too and willingly sacrificed their faces, arms and hands for the sake of art, as their children proudly decorated their parents (Remember it was VERY washable!).
By the end of the day, I had tribal designs on my face, painted bracelets abound my wrists and patterns on my hands. I had also gained not only a newfound appreciation for the art of face painting, but also experienced a powerful reminder of how important it is to trust children with challenging materials and provide them with a safe, inspiring and fun space to create and be messy!