Arty Party

We have way too much STUFF. I dread birthday parties, as they usher in a parade of new things for which I have to find a place. It drives me bananas, especially for the kids who are too young to need 30 new toys or to understand what they are missing if we were to declare a present-free birthday party.

I desperately want my children to learn to appreciate a celebration where they get to spend time with the people they love to see, do things they love to do, and eat things they love to eat. I have cringed watching Little Hippie go through marathon gift sessions, opening present after present in rapid succession when she could have gleefully stopped and played for 20 minutes with the very first thing she opened. Even worse, she has started to get sucked into the “open it – toss it aside – grab the next one” pattern. I just hate it.

There are lots of options for a gift-free party, but this one was a ton of fun for Baby Hippie’s 1st birthday. We invited the neighbor kids who play with him on a regular basis for some cake and an art project. The gift would be a piece of art for BH’s bedroom.


From a very early age, Baby Hippie was entranced by Eric Carle’s books. His favorites were (and still are!) The Very Busy Spider and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. BH would stare at the beautiful artwork in all of Carle’s books as we read, and every reading was followed with the “More” baby sign. He couldn’t get enough of these books. I thought he would get a kick out of having this style of art in his bedroom, but I didn’t just want to get prints of Eric Carle’s work. I checked out all of the Eric Carle books from the library, laid them out on the coffee table, and asked the artists to get a feel for how Carle created his characters. Then, they chose what they wanted to create and got to work.

The materials for this party were pretty cheap. We used Tempera paint, a multipack of 8×10 canvases from a craft store (using a 40% off coupon), paintbrushes, Mod Podge, and a pad of art paper intended for acrylic paints. The canvases are optional – it is actually easier to do these pieces with paper glued onto another piece of paper, and it’s certainly less expensive, but I did not want to go through the process of framing the pieces.

If you are working with a larger group, you can order classroom packs of canvas board in small sizes (Dick Blick has classroom packs of 24 canvas boards for less than $5). Imagine how cool an installation of 20 tiny 4″x4″ canvases would be, each painted by a person at the party. Choose a theme or color scheme, if you like. Ours was “animals.” You can see that half of our artists went rogue – one did an ice cream cone and another did a heart, but you would probably have better results if you were working with artists over the age of 9. Probably. You can also reduce the time/hassle factor by using a different inspiration for your art. The Eric Carle-style pieces take a lot of time and fine motor skill. Straight-up painting is easier and faster, especially if you are dealing with a younger crowd.

Here’s the process we followed:

First, the artists sketched out what they wanted to create and figured out the colors and textures they wanted to use. Then, they got to work painting the pieces that would later be cut into the shapes they would use to assemble the final pieces. Each kid had a piece big piece of paper, and they painted different sections with different colors and accents.

While those dried, my artists painted the backgrounds of their canvases. They need to use a light touch with the paint so that the components dry in time to finish

Check the color mixing on that worm!

Check the color mixing on that worm!

the projects before the party is over. This wasn’t a huge issue for us, as it was a lazy summer day and the neighborhood kids just hung out for the whole afternoon.

Cutting all of the components took some time, especially with the younger artists. Then they dabbed a bit of Mod Podge onto the backs, transferred all of the pieces to the canvas, and covered the piece with a thin layer of Mod Podge. I went back and applied a second coat of Mod Podge the following morning. The artists all signed their work with Sharpies.

I cannot tell you how much I love the results. Our artists were 5, 7, 10 and 13. You can click on the gallery above to see pictures of each canvas. They put together some pretty wonderful pieces, wouldn’t you say?

IMG_2140_v1This is now one of my favorite walls in the house. Every time I go into Baby Hippie’s room, I can see these beautiful memories of the children who have been his companions since birth. At least once a week, BH asks me to tell him the story of each picture. We talk about what’s in the picture, who painted it, what kind of cupcakes we ate that day (Aunt Bridget’s Snickerdoodle cakes. Mmmmmmm), and how many balloons were tied to BH’s high chair. The artists still spend lots of time with us, so they get to tell their stories, too. Best of all, these presents are semi-permanent. Two years later, we are all still getting lots of enjoyment from them. I can’t think of too many other 1st birthday presents for which this holds true.

Give this a try. I think your partygoers will get a kick out of knowing that their signed work will be on display every day, and you will love having guests give hangable memories as their birthday gifts.


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