My Toddler Tried Expressionist Painting

image source: lily glass
image source: lily glass

Line is the most basic of form — the beginning of every larger shape. It’s the first mark we learn how to make with a pencil, whether it’s curved, zigzagged, or broken. Over time we’re taught how to make straight lines and combine them together to make larger, recognizable forms.

I studied art in college where we spent a lot of time trying to “unlearn” the perfect line — how to let go of restriction and tap into the naive form and flow we so easily achieved when we were young.

One of my husband and mine’s favorite artists is the abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline — his monochromatic paintings offer dynamic and fluid brushstrokes on a large scale. Like his contemporaries, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Kline involved his entire body in his work rather than restricting the motion to his hand and wrist — this method became known as “action painting” (and is still enjoyed by many a toddler around the globe).

Image source: Lily Glass

So before my little girl perfects her squares and rectangles, I wanted to try and preserve a similar fluid motion on a large scale. And to encourage full use of her body, I attached the paintbrush to a long dowel rod. This required her to stand and bend from the waist and to walk around the poster board, allowing her to create bigger movements and lines.

Image source: Lily Glass
Image source: Lily Glass


Having never painted on that scale before she was giggling through the whole thing. I let her paint both sides of the poster board — one with the larger paintbrush attached to the dowel rod and the second with the smaller brush in her hand.

We’ve hung the painting in our bedroom and you can see her face light up with pride when she sees it. When I asked Ruth what she thought about the process she answered: “I like painting outside! But I don’t like the stick. I like the paintbrush in my hand. And I like to color the whole paper.” Perhaps impressionism is next in the curriculum, then.

Image source: Lily Glass
Image source: Lily Glass


  • Large buffer layer (Could use a shower curtain, brown paper bags, etc. We taped a few old poster boards to the cement to catch the paint.) 
  • Large poster board for acrylic paint (found near the water color paper)
  • Tape
  • 2 large paintbrushes (2-3″ and 1-2″)
  • Dowel rod (at least 1/4″ thick)
  • Paint tray
  • Black acrylic paint

*Why let the kiddos have all the fun? Grab an extra poster board for yourself and see how it feels to paint with your whole arm. Allow yourself to create for creating’s sake — no restrictions, no right way, or wrong way. 


  1. Secure a background to catch wild paint.
  2. Tape each corner of your poster board to the background. 
  3. Tape the larger paintbrush to the end of your dowel rod. 
  4. Fill the tray with black paint and let your kiddo go wild.
  5. Let them paint both sides of the poster board. Once this side is dry, turn it around and have them use the smaller brush in their hand.
  6. Sign, date, and proudly display.

Note: if they’re having trouble knowing where to start, prompt them with “Can you make a line from one edge of the paper to the other?” 

Image source: Lily Glass
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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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