Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

Process Art

You don’t have to be artistic or crafty to do art programs at your branch! As a kid, I hated (really hated) art class, easily frustrated when my creations didn’t live up to my standards. Early in my library career, I started doing art programs simply because the kids loved the programs and caregivers expected them.

Doing specific types of programs because your patrons enjoy them is a totally valid motivation. Like nearly everything in life, I’ve gotten more confident with practice and experience. But I’ve grown to truly love art programming – and it’s not because I’ve become a more skilled artist or gone through a creative growth spurt.


The key shift for me has been embracing process art rather than crafts.




Crafts are product-oriented, with detailed step-by-step instructions. There might be some variation, but the end results look very similar. Process art emphasizes the process of making, which should be open-ended, relaxing, and exploratory, experimenting with different methods, materials, and mediums.

Sometimes the difference between doing crafts and making art is subtle

With art making, the focus is on empowering the child artist and their choices, rather than controlling the results. For example, making a lion mask out of tissue paper and paper plates is an example of a craft. Using the same materials, a process art approach would be to invite kids to make masks (maybe you encourage animal masks, maybe you don’t).

Process art is about embracing mess and risk and effort, rather than talent. And I’m all about that at the library – whether it’s an art program or something else. Crafts have their time and place – and if you are a naturally crafty person, that probably comes easily for you. But if you’ve been avoiding art programming because you don’t identify as an artistic person, I’d really encourage trying a more process-oriented perspective!

These are the 3 biggest lessons I’ve learned from facilitating process art:


  1. Don’t make samples

Not only does this save time and materials, it forces kids to be creative and ensures everyone’s work will be uniquely theirs because they can’t copy your sample. Some kids will find this freeing, others will find it frustrating. School age kids will often push back on this, accustomed to having an example to work from or live up to. On rare occasions, I’ll make a small sample to demonstrate a new technique if it’s hard to explain what the finished product will look like. For example, when we did paper marbling with shaving cream and food coloring, I made a small square, so the kids could get the idea of marbling. Paper marbling always comes out differently, so the kids couldn’t have produced an exact replica, even if they had tried. Not making examples has also removed a lot of the pressure for me.


  1. Think in terms of techniques, not outcomes

This one starts to flow naturally when you get away from creating sample projects because you’ll start to see art projects based on the underlying technique(s). For example, some of my favorite techniques include watercolor and wax resist, collages, and stamping, which I’ve used in endless combinations, varying the color palette or paint type or base material (e.g. using a different type of paper or cardboard or foil or parchment instead). Because the participant’s creativity guides the product, you could put out watercolors, paper, and paint brushes every week and you’d keep getting new art. Learning how to vary a base project opens up possibilities, getting you more programming bang for your planning buck. I’m always amazed at how small substitutions, additions, or limitations can transform something I’ve done dozens of times before.

Also, when I introduce a new technique, I’m not upset if the kids don’t use it or use it differently than I intended. It’s their project, not mine.


  1. Limit the size of the projects

Art takes time, especially for kids. It’s easy to overestimate how much you can accomplish during a single event, particularly if you don’t regularly lead art programs. Giving kids a smaller piece of paper, less clay, fewer material choices, etc. is less overwhelming for you and them, saves materials, and allows kids to focus on making something meaningful, rather than simply trying to fill the page. I mention this tip every time I discuss art projects for a reason – it was one of those “eureka!” moments that instantly improved my art programs.


What do art programs at your library look like? Do you have a favorite art technique? I’d love to hear!


Kyra Nay is writing this post on behalf of the School Age Programs and Services Committee. She is the Branch Services Librarian I – Children’s at the Maple Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. When her nose isn’t in a book, she enjoys yoga, hiking in the Cleveland Metroparks, and playing tabletop board games.

One comment

  1. Bina Williams

    I have a program called :LIttle Hands for ages 0-5 and a caregiver. Sometimes the caregivers are more intent on a sample when I have one…Even if I do have a sample, the kids do a much more interesting looking creation than I did. A favorite for them are the paint Dot stampers…They LOVE them…
    I have started to slip in a few projects that are based on an artists work like Henri Matisse. I plan to paint some tissue paper so we can do Eric Carle type pictures. There is a Kandinsky work with concentric if not exactly round circles in bright colors that I want to do too. I have more fun those mornings! How do you use shaving cream and food coloring to do marbling?

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