As goofy and carefree as our daughter is, she has a lot of the same rigidity that I always had growing up.  I can see it in her, how she wants things to be a certain way, and how, without some coaxing, she can be very inflexible on how things should look.  I have tried my best to instill in her the “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents” idea that my mother instilled in me, and that Bob Ross reaffirmed, and she actually does pretty well with that.  But this day, I thought I’d try something new with her.  Before she got home from school, I set up some washable paints, had a dropcloth on hand, a big bowl of water, and some drawing paper.

And I taught her how to Pollock.


You can read all you like about Jackson Pollock.  And you can like his paintings or dislike them.  I didn’t used to appreciate him.  For me, it finally took understanding what his process WAS to really appreciate his work.  (It’s still not my favorite work, but I have learned to see the value in it.)

Surprisingly, it was a unusually, beautifully, chilly but wonderful day in central Texas, so we were lucky enough to be able to go outside for our project.

And so I told her there was an artist named Pollock, who liked to make a mess.  That got her attention.  I told her that he made paintings where he stood over the paper with a bucket of paint in his hand and splattered paint on the paper.  He danced around the canvas, he literally moved his body all over the room, splashing paint around, not caring if his shoes got splattered or if he got dirt in the paint.  He made beautiful messes.  For me, Pollock was more about the experience of moving with the paint, not so much about the final product.


So as we splattered and as she danced around the paper with her paintbrushes, I asked our straight-laced daughter (who doesn’t like scribbling at ALL), what she thought Pollock was trying to paint.  She looked at the painting.  She wasn’t quite sure.  To her it just looked like a fun mess.


“Well, how does it make you FEEL to jump around with the paintbrush and make splatters?”  “It’s super fun,” she said.  “Maybe it just made him feel GOOD.”

Yes!  I think it did.  “Maybe that was what he did to feel better if he was frustrated.  Or maybe he was showing how he feels when he’s angry.  Or frustrated. Or excited.  Or happy.”

She liked that idea.  “I like to DRAW when I’m happy.”

Afterward, I brought her the head of Pollock I had drawn earlier in my sketchbook.  “Would you like to draw on Pollock? What do you think he would be doing?  Maybe he could have a bucket in his hand or a paintbrush or something?”

Excited to get back to her comfort zone, she happily picked up a pen and said, “Bathtub.”  I wondered, at first, if she had lost interest in this project.  “What?  Why a bathtub?” I asked.

“Because he’s so MESSY!  He’s getting paint everywhere!”

And of course it makes sense that when presented with splatters and chaos, our kid wants to tidy it up and make it pretty again.

pollock in the tub

15 responses

  1. Dear busymockingbird, I love this collaboration you and your daughter have. With permission, I would like to share “Pollack in the Tub” on my timeline. I helped to start a program in Santa Barbara to provide art education to underserved grade schools. We took very highly qualified working artists who were willing to volunteer an afternoon a week to interact with children. We started as a loose group of friends in the early 70’s and today our program is still providing services now integrated into the Santa Barbara school system. I was a fine wood worker and put sharp tools into the hands of children. We rarely had blood spilled. thanks, Tom Powers


    1. That is wonderful! I make a point to show my 4-year old the right way to use tools, VERY SUPERVISED, so she doesn’t become afraid of them. Good for you!

  2. That was wonderful! I was much the same and can still be quite inflexible ~ think I’ll have to try this! thanks for such a lovely post!

  3. I especially enjoyed this post! And loved the outcome of the whole thing.

  4. Your approach is very refreshing!

  5. deweydecimalsbutler | Reply

    Wow, you finally made Pollack make sense to me. I appreciate that so much! And your daughter’s idea of a bathtub is priceless!

  6. I LOOOVVVVEEEE Pollock in the bathtub! great stuff.

  7. I too have introduced my daughter to the sheer joy of pollock, and looking at your photos, I see you use the exact same crayola paint that we do! (although my 4 year old uses a coffee saucer as a palette to mix her own colors). Very inspiring, thanks for the posts.

  8. I love the connection she made to the expression of Pollock’s work! I did some Pollock projects with my elementary art classes and there is something about making messes with paint that I think all children gravitate towards.

  9. Kids make the best art critics, philosophers, and world leaders! My son’s take on poverty: “Why don’t we just share what we’ve got with the people who don’t have any money?” A “wise” adult, who once wondered that exact same thing as a child, found herself saying the words, “Yes, well it’s not as simple as all that…”

  10. So much fun! What I LOVE about Pollock is that children can relate to his art and his method. It is easy for them to make their own Pollock-esque masterpieces too! I have done fun projects with my own children as well as art students using Pollock as the subject, and the outcome is always delightful! Who doesn’t like to splatter a bit of paint and see what comes of it?

  11. I’m looking for the right words to express how great I think what you’re doing is, not just because I like art and I think the outcome is whimsical and you are very talented, but really because you relate to your daughter, and you engage her, and you have this world that you’re creating together in what you do – and there’s a lot of heart and kindness in all those things that goes unsung. Every time I read one of your posts, I wish more parents were this open to talk, play and create with their children, to teach and share and learn together. This blog is important, this blog matters

    1. Thank you so much, I appreciate it! I’m glad you enjoy what we’re doing… 🙂

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