Activity: Art-isms

By Marjorie Sarnat Posted 7/21/12 | Updated 3/4/23

Take your place among the masters in art history by inventing your very own art movement, which I call an art-ism. Find examples of masterful isms in books and online. Observe the special look of Pointillism, Cubism, Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism along with your kids.

Practice fluency as you and your child dream up your own “ism” words. Flexible minds come up with various kinds of ideas. Select one or two unique isms for showing your originality in paint.

Visualize your ism words, then roll up your sleeves and paint them. This is where elaboration comes into play as you tailor tools and refine techniques to create your visual concepts.


  • Heavy paper, 8-1/2” x 11” or larger
  • Scrap paper
  • Water-based paint such as watercolors or acrylics.
  • Brushes — large and small, any style you like.
  • A mixing palette. White paper plates are an inexpensive alternative to disposable palette pads.
  • Paper towels
  • Non-tipping container of water placed on a paper towel.
  • Special “ism” tools such as sponges or a chopstick for making drips and dots.
  • Pencil for sketching

Note: Crayons and pastels work well, too, but colored pencils and markers may not be adaptable enough for this project.

SAFETY NOTE: If you’re working with young kids keep safety in mind. Especially avoid pointy tools and toxic materials.

Activities and Procedures


Define a special style of expression for painting a subject. Writing down your ism word helps you keep it in mind.

Here are some ism ideas from the palette of infinite possibilities.

  • Dab-ism
  • Dash-ism
  • Dot-ism
  • Drip-ism
  • Mop-ism
  • Purple-ism
  • Rain-ism
  • Round-ism
  • Splotch-ism
  • Sponge-ism
  • Square-ism
  • Stripe-ism
  • Swirl-ism
  • Thumbprint-ism
  • Wiggle-ism
  • Zig Zag-ism

Experiment with Combo-isms, too, such as Stripe-ism combined with Dab-ism.

A “field trip” to the 99-Cent Store is a creative activity in itself as you and your kids seek and discover things that can be used as ism painting tools. Pot scrubbers, fake flowers, toy parts, and hair accessories all hold artistic potential. Tour the store together, brainstorming for ideas as you go.


Abstract designs, backyard landscapes, and still life set-ups work well. Still life subjects don’t have to be boring bowls of fruit. Kids enjoy portraying toys and plush animals. Anything colorful that you or your child loves is a good choice. Simple shapes are easiest to paint but since this activity is about creative expression whatever inspires can work beautifully.

3 & 4. PAINT IT

Lightly sketch compositional guidelines onto the heavy paper. Ignore details and sketch only a few lines to designate big shapes. The goal isn’t to fill in your sketch with paint coloring book style, but rather to apply paint spontaneously.

Practice paint application techniques with brushes or tools on scrap paper to see what works for your ism. Experiment with colors, as well.

Artists know that brushes can express any ism you can dream up, but it’s amazing to see what unusual tools will do, as well. Stripe-ism, for example, could be achieved by many kinds of brush stroke techniques. But combs dipped in paint, edges of cardboard dragged through wet paint, and who-knows-what can produce exciting striated effects, too.

It may take some trial and error for artists of any age to find their way. Encourage your kids to explore; discovery is part of the creative process. Unexpected ideas lead to more ideas.

©2012 by Marjorie Sarnat. All rights reserved.