White & Black: The beginning and the end

Reggio Painting Explorations - Exploring opposite ends of the colour spectrum - An Everyday Story

“Before launching into the full spectrum of color, stand at its edge with white and black, the beginning and the end. Black and white provide a frame though which we more clearly see and understand color. Side by side on paper, the contrast between black and white calls each more fully to life.”

~ Ann Pelo The Language of Art: Reggio-Inspired Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings

How do you feel about black paint? I remember last year at the Reggio-inspired playgroup we used to attend, a parent queried offering black paint to children. She said black was a ‘selfish colour’ and that it dominated all others.

I hadn’t thought too much about it before, but she was right. When black was offered along side other colours, for Jack (4 yrs) and Sarah (2 yrs), and with the children on this particular occasion at playgroup, it was used more often and in greater amounts than the other colours.

Reggio Painting Explorations - Exploring black paint with toddlers - An Everyday StoryI like black paint though. I like the dramatic contrast to the white paper. I like the feeling of painting with black paint; seems almost powerful as the deep lines move across the page. I think this might be what draws children to black paint; the sensory explosion they get when it splats and spreads, covering the white paper entirely.

Whenever we are painting, I always think about what colours to offer Jack and Sarah; how will the colours look next to each other? What new colours and shades will they make when they are mixed together? Will this be a pleasing colour or a brown murky mess?

I might put out blue, red and white or red, white and yellow, depending on the exploration; colours that will blend nicely. Since Jack and Sarah still enjoy mixing paints, it’s nice for them to have a colours that will mix beautifully.

Reggio Painting Explorations with Toddles - exploring black paint - An Everyday Story Exploring black paint with toddlers - An Everyday StorySo I usually offer black on its own.

Black with white paper and a range of differently sized brushes.

“Encourage children to try a range of brush sizes. Large brushes work well for spreading paint, and small brushes work well for making intentional or representational lines.” ~ Ann Pelo

Jack and Sarah will paint, Sarah spreading paint and Jack making more representational lines. Jack enjoys learning how differently sized brushes work and so will experiment with small lines and thick lines, he’ll use just the tip of the brush sometimes and other times he will use a heavy hand and the whole brush.

Sarah too is learning to use a smaller brush. I needed to demonstrate to her how to gently hold the brush so as not to bend the bristles while painting as well as how to remove excess paint from her brush by wiping it on the side of the pot. But mostly she likes to get her whole hands in there and really explore.

Painting with Toddlers - exploring black paint - An Everyday StoryI think there is a lot of exploring and experimentation that can happen with black paint and white paper. Next time you get the paints out, consider just offering black paint. Give each child their own clear jar of paint, a thick brush and a fine brush.

What kinds of lines did they make? How did they interact with the paint? How did they use the two differently sized brushes? Did they like the black paint?

Pop back and let me know how it went.


21 Replies to “White & Black: The beginning and the end”

  1. I’m definitely going to do this! I will try to get photos. I always let Cameron choose his paint type and colours. He has never painted with black on it’s own. I’ll let you know how we go!

    1. I loved seeing Cam’s black painting. Did he seem to approach it any differently?

  2. Hi Kate, it’s very interesting what you write about black…
    I also noticed that when my son has access to black paint along with other colors, the black one tends to dominate others. I don’t think it’s because my son uses more black than others, but it results from physical feature of black paint – it probably has more pigment and therefore dominates other colors. That’s why I usually ask my son not to use black, when he paints with other colors – they will go muddy.
    On the other hand – I paint myself, I’m a big color lover and therefore… I often paint with black and white and only add a touch of color. It sounds strange, but I use b&w because I love colors 🙂 I guess I need a good background for color… I really don’t know…

    1. A good friend of mine is an artist too. She likes to use black in much the same way you do too it sounds and then uses pops of colour. Her paintings are really striking.

      Jack and Sarah noticeably choose black more over other colours. But also like you said, even if they didn’t, the black still dominates the other colours and makes them all murky. A friend of mine said she takes out the black from watercolour palettes which I thought was a great idea. Our watercolours are all a little tainted with black which is a shame. I’ll be popping the black paint out next time we need new watercolours.

      1. Can I find paintings of your friend on Internet? I’d love to see them! What’s her name?

      2. Another thought about black color – when I paint (with acrylics) I do not use black paint itself (it’s “flat” and boring in my opinion); instead I use a mixture of red & green which gives almost-black – a little brownish, a little greenish, a little ruby – depends on how much of each paint you add and which hues do you use.
        I don’t know if you can apply this tip to your children paints, but maybe one day you’ll give them acrylics, when they’re big enough 🙂

  3. I remember long ago an educator who I really admired suggested that young children should be given black paint or crayons etc first. Because for very young children it is not about colours, or painting a ‘picture’ it is about cause and effect, making marks, contrast and experimentation with paint, paper and brush. Black paint on white paper allows us to explore those things without the distraction of colour, or the ‘adult oriented’ interpretation of what colours are pretty or important…

    This idea has stuck with me and while I adore colour and offer lots of colour for my kids to paint with (and when I was teaching) I also tended to offer black crayons on white paper as a first experience and revisit black on white often… and I always got interesting results.

    Often parents would comment with concern when their children bought home a paper covered in black, but once you explain that children do not associate a simple shade of paint with all the connotations of an adults experience and ideas, and that it is simple about paint on paper they are usually more comfortable… if not happy! LOL

  4. You have inspired me to try this with my children. I am very interested to see the ways in which my children explore and experiment with this.

  5. Wow
    I just remembered why i don’t put out black paint, that’s so true, it’s always first choice in huge amounts and overtakes anything else.
    I will be trying this but without any competing colours, just to explore the contrast 🙂

  6. I’ve tried black and white paint with kids a bit older and they make all shades of gray but these pictures are so classic. toddlers so dont care about the colors yet and all they want to do is get into it…perfect depictions

  7. I just love this concept…and I’ve never quite thought about black paint this way before…so thank you!

  8. What a great and thoughtful post. I honestly never thought about how I feel about black paint. But when I think about it, even in my own art I rarely use black alone. I only use it for mixing. I am definitely drawn to brighter colors, but after reading your post I now really want to explore the color black with my son. I think it would be such a lovely contrast some bright canvases we painted the other day.

  9. I have never even thought of using black with my kids.How horrible is that! Why not? It’s a colour too. I feel a but mind blown about that. I guess I just assumed, kids like bright colours but I’m sooo going to try this. I’d love the combination of black and white too, that would be spectacular!

  10. I really love your thoughts on this Kate…just realised i haven’t put out black in quite a while and i think i will follow your lead and try it as it’s own medium! Those messy photos are just glorious!

  11. What a brilliant post. I feel silly but I never have considered giving a child one colour, and for it to be black! I totally understand now why this is such an important part of being creative and so much more. Thank you so very much for introducing this to me.
    Love all the pictures too!

  12. What I love most about this post is how much fun and mess there is:)

  13. My eldest has always loved black paint. I never really thought about it before now. I love the way black paint looks on white or orange or pink paper. I always offer it as an option. Thanks for the thought provoking post. 🙂

  14. To be honest I’d never given using black paint much thought. Although my kids do tend to enjoy using it, or will mix their colours into that typical muddy colour! And what an interesting thing the lady said to you about black, such an emotive was to express it! Interestingly, many Waldorf/Steiner schools will discourage wearing black or using black colours in preschool… although others do not agree that Steiner intended this.

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