22 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Lori Borgman: Mixing paint, kids and art

Our columnist hoped her grandkids would paint like pros, but then they had designs of their own

9 Sep 2016 | 12:00 am

I was one of those mothers who believed that every moment was a potentially teachable moment. Not having learned my lesson the first time around, I continue exercising my somewhat misguided beliefs with our grandkids.

Since a number of them enjoy painting, I thought we might do some intentional painting instead of just slinging paint on paper, on the table and chairs and the walls, like we usually do.

So we had art camp. It was more like art afternoon and camp was in the kitchen, but I was full-boar intentional. I dug up a wonderful children’s book on the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, known for her bright, bold close-ups of flowers, found jars to mix water and food colouring in, and even scored some canvases on sale.

‘I’m going to tell you about an artist named Georgia O’Keeffe,’ I said.

‘Did she live long ago?’ one asked.


‘Is she dead?’


The inspiration meter flatlined. 
I tried to rebound by showing them O’Keeffe’s paintings of eye-popping poppies, rich purple petunias and regal morning glories.

‘What do you like about O’Keeffe’s paintings?’

‘I like how O’Keith stayed in the lines.’


‘Yeah, O’Keith.’

‘I like that she made the flowers BIG!’ said another.

‘I like that she didn’t have a fit.’

‘Who said she had a fit?’

It wasn’t going the way I envisioned. Life rarely does.

I tinted jars of water with food colouring to show them how to make different shades of colours. They tinted the jars of water with food colouring and turned them all a dark, muddy purplish brown – not a great colour for painting flowers, but not bad for painting raccoons in the forest at night.

They picked flowers from the yard and placed them on the table next to the prints of O’Keeffe’s. We talked about layering colours, painting something larger than it is in real life and filling all the space on the canvas.

I explained that Georgia worked slowly, perfecting composition and layering colours for weeks and months at a time.

They whipped out their paintings in 15 minutes.

One who had picked a black-eyed Susan to paint looked at her work, looked at an O’Keeffe painting, looked back at her work and seemed satisfied. Then she rolled a big paintbrush in the blob of yellow on her palette and drew a big sun in the corner of her painting.

Another one painted a zinnia. 
She too seemed pleased, but then she finished off her piece by painting her name so large it filled a third of the canvas.

I think they were implying O’Keeffe had room for improvement.

Don’t we all?

Tell us what you think


Lori Borgman

finds the funny in everyday life, writing from the heartland of the US. Now if she could just find her car keys…