Guest Post: All About Process Art

Remember when we put out a call for guest posts? It’s still open if anyone is interested in contributing! Today we are excited to share a guest post from Katie O’Brian. A native of the Chicago suburbs, Katie works as a Librarian at the Sam Gary Branch of the Denver Public Library.  She has worked with children and families since 2012 and loves providing storytime and programs for children of all ages. In her free time, Katie reads, knits, and watches The Great British Bake Off.

Read on to find out what process art is, why it’s great for kids, and ideas for trying it out at your library.  Thank you, Katie, for this amazing post!


I used to think that every craft program I ran had to have a specific product the kids could take home at the end of the day. I gathered all the right supplies, tried to guess the right numbers, and made sure directions were clear. While this kind of craft has its place, it’s certainly not the only option! You or volunteers could spend hours cutting out tiny pieces to make a very specific product. Alternatively, you could put out a variety of supplies and watch what happens. This is called process art, and it’s a magical thing.

In process art, the emphasis is on exploration. Participants explore a material, a technique, a color, etc. at length. There is no sample to follow. The activity is child focused and directed. The goal might be to explore painting, for example, by using a water bottle as a kind of stamp. Do we roll it? Stamp with the bottom? The top? Inevitably, someone will decide they want to discard the water bottle and spread the paint with their hands or a brush. That’s great! They’re seeing what happens when all the colors are combined. They’re getting messy. They’re having fun!

The developmental benefits of process art are numerous. Because every child explores differently, process art allows each child to engage in self-directed learning. They have the control. When we ask a child, “What would happen if…” we’re asking them to answer an open-ended question. This is a powerful learning opportunity.

These are some of the many reasons I love process art:

  • It gives children autonomy
  • It takes away the stress of trying to get something exactly right (for them and for us!)
  • Children learn about cooperation, decision making, and sharing
  • It allows kids to have fun while creating something completely unique to them
  • Many programs use materials parents have at home, meaning they can easily translate craft ideas to at-home art making
  • It gives kids a chance to be messy!

Multiple parents have told me that they would never let their kids paint at home because of the mess. They appreciate the chance to let their kids explore the art of mess making in an environment where they’re not responsible for cleanup.

For those of us who are responsible for the cleanup, I advise using dropcloths or some other kind of table cover. Limit the amount of supplies you put out at once. If using paint, I squirt a color or two onto a paper plate and refresh as needed. Inevitably, someone paints on the plate, but that’s part of the process, too! If we’re painting with watered down glue or liquid starch, I put a limited amount in a cup. I have been fortunate to have access to multi-purpose rooms with sinks, but if you don’t have access to a sink, try filling a basin with water and bringing it into the room. Wet wipes are also super helpful.

I’ve mostly done these programs with preschool aged children. Some examples of programs I’ve done for that age range are:

  • Bubble wrap art
  • Q-tip pointillism (painting with Q-tips)
  • Playdoh monsters
  • Coffee filters and watercolors
  • Paint and symmetry (what happens when we fold the paper while the paint is wet?)
  • Circle art (using different circle-shaped objects as stamps)
  • Bright colors on black paper
  • Water bottle stamps
  • Leaf art

If you’re hesitant to do an entire program around a process-based craft, it’s also quite easy to incorporate into something else. Planning a big event with several stations? Maybe put out a bunch of materials at one station and let kids go to town! Don’t really have a lot of time for a whole program? You can also incorporate process art into passive programs like make and take crafts.

Exploration and process-based learning are important for older kids, as well. I did a DIY Board Game program for families with kids of all ages. I was interested to see how the process might change as kids got older. I provided a list of questions to consider in case kids needed more guidance. Among other questions, it asked, “How many players?” “What is the goal?” “How do you win?” Some kids methodically answered every question. Others ignored it completely. Some had very involved sets of rules. Others focused on the design of their game board. It was really cool to see individual personalities come out in the process of board game design. One girl, with her arm in a cast, made a game called “Hospital” in which the goal was to get to the patient’s room first. Real life inspires art, perhaps?

Ideas for process art can be found all over the world wide web! Here are some of my favorite resources:

Do you have any favorite process-based crafts or programs you’ve done or recommend? I’d love to hear about them!

12 thoughts on “Guest Post: All About Process Art

  1. I LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing this. I think process based art is so important for kids and Parents. It really takes our the “perfection” and explores “doing it for the process!” 😉

    1. I couldn’t agree more! It reduces the stress of perfection for them and for us!

  2. Thank you for sharing! I’m a firm believer in arts and crafts for kids at storytimes, but I need the encouragement to be willing to let kids get messy sometimes! After reading this post I feel I could do some one-off programs based around process art, keeping my less messy crafts and projects for post-storytime 🙂

    1. Absolutely! When I did a craft after storytime, I usually did something less messy. A coworker recently clued me in to the existence of tempera paint sticks, so that might be something to try, as well!

  3. I love the idea of the DIY board game activity as well. Would you be willing to share your question list? Also I noticed a bunch of random game pieces in your picture…did you steal those out of other games or buy pieces somewhere?

    1. Great questions, Jandy! I got the game pieces from a store in Denver called RAFT. They have a ton of random, used odds and ends that they sell for very low cost to educators. They had dice, dominoes, spinners, and bingo markers. I know that when I lived in Champaign, IL, there was a store there that was similar called The I.D.E.A. Store. If there isn’t a similar store in your area, and you have time to gather materials, I would probably scavenge old games at garage sales and thrift stores.

      Here is my list of questions:
      What kind of game do you want it to be? Is it based on luck or skill?
      How many players?
      What is the goal?
      How do you win?
      What are the rules?
      What will your board look like?
      What will your pieces be?

      I hope this helps!

  4. I learned everything I know about process-oriented art from the book Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art by Susan Striker. Her tone is a bit bananas, but she’s absolutely right about everything. I remember learning that when nannies and parents start “helping” their kids do art projects, they get their own project to work on. It’s a really excellent resource.

  5. One book resource I’ve used is “I Made It! Process-Oriented Art for Kids” (Preschool-grade1 )from The Mailbox c.2004 by THE EDUCATION CENTER, INC.

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