Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Painting Printmaking

Painting with Found Materials

Sara Ottomano

When thinking about creating a painting project during a pandemic, we thought about all the different ways you can paint without a paintbrush using every day materials that you can find at home. We were inspired by one of Eric Carle’s artistic processes, where he paints tissue papers to later use in collages. While he uses a paintbrush to paint, he has also used found materials to make marks including carpet squares and brooms. Inspired by how materials can be stamped, pulled, and pushed across the paper, we decided to create a project that allowed for color-mixing and painting with found objects.

Materials for painting, including paint cups and paper tools, surrounding a painting.

To encourage paint mixing, we chose to provide all three primary colors of Crayola washable tempera paint in condiment containers. Over time, we discovered that a little paint goes a long way! So within the 2-ounce condiment container, we only needed to put in a thin layer of paint at the bottom of the cup.  

With sustainability in mind, we decided to experiment with paper found materials as tools to paint with. Each bag has 10 items to paint with, including cardboards, cotton swabs, and cups. 

Painted cups and cardboards.

Using paper materials allows us to provide materials to give away in our Art Project to Go! bags as well as create beautiful painted materials that we could use again in collage or sculpture projects.

Abstract painting on a wall display with blue, red, and green paint and a cotton swab and cardboard stamp attached.

Having facilitated the project for three weeks at this point, we are confident that the materials and paint provide rich opportunities for printmaking, color-mixing, and self-expression. And our choice of cup sizes and paint amount means that there isn’t a lot of paint to wipe up before the next group if it transferred to the table or stools. Our choice of paint, Crayola washable tempera paint, also helped with clean-up as it is truly washable and wipes off of surfaces very easily with just a damp cloth. In addition, over time, we decided to reduce the number of painting supplies (from 16 to 10) in noticing that most people didn’t use all the materials. It significantly cut down on our cleaning time, allowing us to quickly reset the table before the next group. 

Painting with stamped red circles, stamped blue cardboard pieces, and energetic orange brushstrokes. The cup used to stamp in red is stapled to the wall next to the artwork.

For the installation, we encourage guests to leave behind their favorite tool they used to make their painting. It has been fun to match up the marks to the tool, while also providing a variety of examples for inspiration. 

Installation of paintings with painted tools stapled on the wall next to them.

We found with this paint project, as with all of our other paint projects, the time spent working on the materials and design was worth it. Clean-up and material management will always be a big factor when using paint with young children, but the joy and learning children get from the medium is so apparent whenever we use it. We hope that some of the things we have learned along the way about paint in a busy Art Studio are helpful to you as you design and plan your own painting projects and spaces! 


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator since 2016 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.