What I learned watching a 4 yro Painter

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
― Pablo Picasso

I had the lucky opportunity to spend a few hours this weekend with a young painter. Everyone else was busy doing other stuff, so I got to really watch and learn from her in her own environment.

It was amusing watching my little friend, she took her work so seriously! It really is true, children are artists and we must relearn this as an adult, and it isn’t easy.

I couldn’t resist thinking about what she had taught me by letting me watch her for awhile.

Be extraordinary in your focus

What is your experience getting young children to concentrate on something (other than a screen!) for more than 5 minutes? It isn’t easy. This artist was special. She is an unusual self-entertainer. She can amuse herself for hours alone, and she always preferred to comfort herself rather than have a hug from mom.

She treated her painting the same way. Intent, focused and not accepting disturbances. The artist doesn’t need company although it isn’t necessarily unwelcome

Think what we could accomplish if we were like that too. How good it would feel to tune out distractions and be free to put our attention where we need it. Sounds like a dream! I could sure use some greater focus in my day.


As I watched her over the course of an hour, I saw her becoming more experimental as she worked. She began with little cups of neatly sorted paints. She started with solid color fields on her paper before she moved to mixing paint over paint, creating new colors. Then she started pouring the paints together in their cups and stirring it together. Next she was grabbing the bottles of paints and pouring them into the cups, she even poured a bunch of paint into her water and was getting ready to experiment with that before she was finally interrupted.

Her paintings became globs of paint that took forever to dry.

And it wasn’t just her paper, she started painting her hands and stamping with them before progressing to her arms and even her hair. It was just a few strands she selected out!

Aside from what you think of her mixing and choice of substrates, I couldn’t help be impressed by her creativeness in mixing the colors, and her willingness to experiment and see what happened. For me, it was funny to watch her freedom to try what seemed interesting at the moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to feel such freedom to go down new paths too? No fears, no doubts, just full on presence.

No rules approach

My little painter friend really had no rules.

I wasn’t there to be her boss, so I didn’t supply her with any either. I was just there to keep her company as she needed it. I got the job of washing her brushes since she didn’t want to rinse them, and to shift paper for her when she was ready for a new page.

The majority of her paint ended up on the paper, so she wasn’t random or haphazard in her approach, but she was free to do what she felt like. She mixed her paints, and put it on the paper in any way that suited her. She was free to express herself.

I couldn’t help thinking about my rules when I undertake an art project. I have things I do a certain way, many of which I am not even fully aware.

What rules do you keep for yourself? Are there some that are up for review?

Be prolific

She painted an impressive number of paintings! There was no stopping her. I struggled to find places to let them dry.

For me, I sometimes struggle because I am way too serious about picking the right subject instead of just painting. Some subjects really work, others are flat, but that is part of the process of becoming an artist. Learning, and we learn much more by doing a lot rather than a perfect few. I have heard people say don’t do mediocre art, and that is a good thought, but the reality is that it’s hard to always be at our peak.

We need to do a lot in order to find our way out of mediocrity.

So how can you find a way to increase your output? How can you break through whatever blocks you have that keep you from expressing yourself?

Detach from the outcome

This was one of the best parts of watching the painter. She really didn’t care what became of her finished works or how they turned out. She readily accepted it when I gave her a new paper and moved aside the current work. And neither did she feel any need to show what she had done to her parents. The paintings just were. They had served their purpose in allowing her to create.

This is a lesson I am not familiar with. My works always need some kind of acknowledgment, some sort of review of the outcome and what could be better. I have to ask how well this serves me. What if I just let my art be as it is and gracefully move to the next?

I do know one thing from reviewing my previous work and that is, I’ve been way to hard on myself. There is no need to be critical or think your work isn’t good enough. It is what it is and the next will be different.

Keep your tools near you

For the rest of the afternoon she carried her paintbrush around with her. She seemed quite attached to it.

I thought, what if I did the same? Can we use a prop like that to keep us in the mindset for creating at any time?

It could be sort of a primer, so we are mentally and emotionally ready to get to work when the time comes.

In the end it was a lot of fun to hang our with a fellow young painter. I called her hardcore and much more of a painter than I can ever hope to be! It’s true! She already knows the truths of being an artist.

Ida the Painter

She is truly fearless.

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