Painting with the Dumpling: Difference Between Modern Art and Smeared Crap

The Dumpling recently showed interest in learning colors, so I set up a series of activities to help explore her newfound curiosity. I have been waiting to paint with her for some time but have held off in fear that more of it would end up in her stomach than on paper.

The four ingredients used in the homemade finger paint recipe were flour, water, salt, and food coloring.

I set out to make my own edible finger paint because I found comfort in knowing that whatever the Dumpling could potentially put in her mouth was indeed familiar and non-toxic. I also purposely stayed away from any recipe that required sugar as an ingredient – just because the paint was edible didn’t mean I want to encourage the Dumpling to eat it!

The Dumpling at work.

I kicked off the art session by naming each of the four paint colors available and showed the Dumpling how to dab paint with her fingers onto a piece of card stock. At the beginning, her art seemed promising with bright splashes of color that channeled Pollock. To encourage dialogue, I offered her only one color each time and kept the other jars of paint out of her reach. This restraint forced her to ask or point to a different color she wanted to use.

The fine line between art and a colorful mess.

The Dumpling eventually got tired of dotting paint and started smearing globs of it on her work area, face, and arms. In the end, I had a very colorful child to clean and a painting the resembled smeared crap on canvas. I mean that in a quite literal sense because everything just turned brownish.

While the Dumpling learned about colors through this activity, I got a refresher on color theory and how brown is made, which apparently is all the colors mixed together based on empirical observation. I also discovered that timing is the difference maker between my daughter creating art versus something that looked like doo doo. The key was to switch to a fresh piece of paper before she had the opportunity to turn everything into a mess.

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Super Mario Party (top); Murky Water (middle); Waves Crashing on a Beach (bottom)

From the onset, I was excited to finally start my very own collection of bad kid’s art. When I framed her work, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the finished products actually looked!

Even though I was careful about not letting the Dumpling eat paint, I’m now eager to see if she would have rainbow colored poop tomorrow.

The Doodle Wars

The magna doodle started out as a relatively benign toy in our household. Its purpose was to introduce the Dumpling to drawing without giving me the anxiety of having to scrub crayons off the walls. Although the most I could get out of her were a bunch of scribbles, I would also take turns doodling to keep her engaged. I turned my sketches into a game where I would ask her to name or pick out the correct animal, object, or letter on the board. The ever changing artwork and the interaction kept her interested and bringing me the magna doodle has become part of her daily play.

Everything changed one day when jigg sketched a “rabbit”. I commented that it looked nothing like what it’s supposed to be and drew my version next to his. He obviously disagreed, so we turned to the Dumpling for the tie breaker. I showed her the board and asked her to find the rabbit. Without hesitation, she pointed to mine.

jigg cried foul and claimed that I had more practice. There was only one thing left to do whenever we have a trivial disagreement – we took our case to Facebook. I posted the below picture and asked our friends to decide: who drew the better bunny? The consensus was that jigg’s looked like a rat.

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Winner: Mrs. jigg (left)

Then came the rematch and then another. What started out as an educational exercise for the Dumpling somehow morphed into an ongoing doodle war between jigg and me. The rules are simple: jigg and I each have half the board to draw the same animal that we take turns selecting (the Dumpling currently can correctly identify 30+ animals, so we have a sizable pool to pick from). We then present our work and ask her to point out the animal. Whichever one she selects first is the winner.

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Winner: jigg (right)
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Winner: jigg (right)
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Winner: jigg (right)

As the Dumpling assessed our work, it was interesting for jigg and me to analyze her thought process. At 20 months, she is able to pick up certain physical traits unique to specific animals even if they’re poorly drawn: cats have pointy ears and whiskers; crabs have claws; fish have fins; etc. Although her speech is still limited (we were told that speech development for children growing up in bilingual households take a bit longer), she displays her understanding by identifying an animal in one of three ways depending on what is easier for her to vocalize – by its English or Chinese name, or the sound the animal makes. It’s assuring to know that she can connect the same thing in multiple forms.  For example, she understands that “moo”, “cow,” and “ngau” (Chinese for cow) are associated with cow, but she can only say “moo” and “ngau”.

The Dumpling also turned out to be a fair and honest judge in our doodle wars. Sometimes she would just stare and stare and wouldn’t be able to find the animal she was supposed to be looking for. In that case, it means that jigg and my drawings both suck.

To be honest, my art skills are probably slightly better than average at best. Even though jigg is currently ahead in the doodle wars, it makes me happy when my daughter picks mine. That means she [sometimes] “gets me”.