Follow a visit to the National Portrait Gallery with an at-home fingerpainting activity, inspired by Chuck Close.
Fanny/ Fingerpainting by Chuck Close (National Portrait Gallery)
Let's face it. An art museum can be a challenging place to take children simply because there is little to touch and there is an expectation to observe the artworks quietly.
But for me, after years of working with children of all ages, I've known few children who did not love creating artworks themselves. I've known few children who were not delighted by pictures and the stories they tell.
Consider an art museum an opportunity to inspire a child's creativity.
For example, take this artwork by Chuck Close. Found in the Concourse level (lower floor) of the East Wing at the National Gallery of Art, people are naturally drawn to stop and take a long look. From a distance, the painting looks strikingly like a photograph. Chuck Close's paintings were often based on real photographs, blurring the background out of focus the way a camera lens would.
When you approach this large painting, approach from a distance. Stand several feet away and ask the child "What do you think this is?" Most likely, the child will tell you that it looks like a photograph. Now, step close enough to see the artist's fingerprints. Let the child look and try to figure out how the artist put the ink on the canvas.
If the child is old enough, you may talk about how the artist made the painting look realistic through the detailed wrinkles and the shading.
Finally, tell the child that they are going to try this artistic technique at home with a photograph. Who would they like to paint? Why? What do they think it will be like to paint with fingerprints?
Find a photograph of your child or one of your family members. Place it into a Word document and enlarge it to fit an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper. Print.
Set up a fingerpainting station for your child with different colors and plenty of newspaper or paper towels. If your child is older, you may consider having them use an ink pad for the fingerpringing, just like Chuck Close did.
Give your child the printed photo and show them how to make fingerprints to create the image. They can use any of their fingers to make a print, but cannot make strokes.
After the activity, compare the child's painting to the original photograph. It's okay if it doesn't look the same. Remember, every artist has their own style.Some tips for visiting the National Gallery of Art:
- The National Gallery of Art's East Wing is located at 4th St NW and Constitution Ave. The closest Metro station is Judiciary Square on the Red Line, Archives on the Yellow/Green Lines and Smithsonian on the Blue/ Orange Lines. Public parking is limited to the surrounding streets and commercial garages.
- For gallery maps, hours, and more information to plan your trip, click here
- To plan your route on the Metro, use the Metro Trip Planner.
- For lunch or a snack, consider walking through the underground concourse that connects the East and West Wing's of the museum. Your family will enjoy the series flashing lights in the tunnel as they approach the Cascade Cafe. The espresso and gelato bar adjacent to the Cascade Cafe may provide a good pick-me-up for a tired parent. On your way out, check out the children's section of the museum store.
While you are visiting the museum, you will want to spend some time
galleries. Let your child explore and respond to artworks that interest
him/ her. When you look at an artwork together, the following questions
should be helpful in developing observation and analysis skills:
- What do you see?(let your child list details throughout the
artwork, really take the time to explore different details)
- What colors does the artist use?
- What kind of materials does he/ she use?
- How does the artwork make you feel?
- Do you like it? Why or why not?
- Is there a message the artist might be telling us?
- Is there a story the artwork is telling? (Let your child make up a story, if he or she is inspired)