Guest Blogger

Creativity without Rules

Crafts and children’s librarianship go hand in hand. The library system in which I work hosts several annual programs that are quite popular. Our Children’s Services department always provides some type of make-and-take craft for these types of events. Part of me loves the process of creating several hundred craft stick stars for kids to decorate with sequins and pom poms but other than a fun craft, I do not think kids get much out of these types of programs. I think that creativity is an important skill children need and we, as children’s librarians, can help foster that creativity. This is why I regularly offer process art programming at my library.

Paper weaving made by a child for a paper sculpture program.

I started a monthly program a few years ago entitled, Make Art. The premise of this program was simple: each month I would introduce an artistic process or medium to participants and then give them time to experiment with whatever we were exploring that month. I designed this program to be open-ended, exploratory studio time. After a brief demonstration or discussion of the process, participants were left to create on their own terms. I started this program initially because I first graduated college with a fine arts degree and I wanted to share my love of art with my library community. The more I conducted this program and got to know the participants, the more I realized how important this open-ended style of art programming is for kids. Although, I didn’t really understand why this type of programming was so important, I could see every month that it was making an impact through the discussions I had with the kids about their art, art history, and what inspires them. Discussions with co-workers and research helped me to better understand exactly why this type of art programming is valuable to kids.

If you are not familiar with process art, process art is art that does not focus on the result. Process art is a type of art that focuses more on the creating of the artwork instead of the outcome. Process art celebrates the experience of discovery. There is no wrong way to do a process art activity. This type of art encourages kids to experiment and play around with a certain type of material or process. We know that children learn best through play. Process art is just one way of encouraging learning through play. With these types of programs, children practice fine motor skills, creative thinking, problem solving, and self-expression. The final product is unique to the individual creating it.  

These are faux glass sculptures created by kids during a Make Art program that took a closer look at the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly.

I have found that this type of programming can help kids gain confidence in themselves as well. Kids are empowered to think of themselves as artists, because the simple act of creating something makes them artists. There is no pressure to create something perfect when the focus of the program is experimentation and learning something new. The outcome is an example of their hard work and creativity and that is an amazing thing to have a child share with you.

If you are interested in trying your hand at a process art program but are not sure how to get started, here are a few tips I have picked up over my many Make Art programs.

  • Make sure your program is open ended. There should not be a specific product that participants are trying to make. A process art program can focus on a medium that participants are working with such as clay, watercolors, paper, or wire. However, you could also introduce a technique like Pointillism, watercolor resist, painting with non-traditional brushes, collage, or printmaking. There are endless ways to create art without giving participants a single result they should try to achieve.
  • It is important that you offer your participants an explanation or demonstration of the process at the beginning of the program but keep it brief. You do not want kids to feel like they need to follow you step by step. I try to keep my opening explanation to under 5 minutes and I end by encouraging kids to ask questions if they get stuck or need help.
  • Make sure kids have many opportunities to experiment. I always make sure to have lots of extra paper on hand if we are using paint or other drawing mediums. I want kids to be comfortable with trial and error. If we are creating art that is best suited for a canvas, I encourage them to play around with the medium or technique on paper first before they work on their final canvas piece.
Natural paintbrushes created for an Earth Day mural program.

Example of string painting.

The best part about this type of art programming is that you do not have to be particularly artistic yourself to be successful with it. I may have a lot of background knowledge due to my education but my artistic skills in execution are still rudimentary in many areas. During my Make Art programs, I either demonstrate or discuss the process and show participants an example. Most of the time, I preface my demonstration or example with the words, “I am not great at this but I had a lot of fun trying it and here is what I created.” Do not let your artistic abilities (or lack thereof) discourage from offering process art programming. I encourage you to try adding process art programming to your programming arsenal. The kids will love it!

All photographs courtesy of the Allen County Public Library.


Our guest blogger today is Katie Brege. Katie works as a Children’s Librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is passionate about process art programs and any programming that encourages kids to think creatively. You can contact her at kbrege@acpl.info.


Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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