Mixed Media Painting Inspired by Basquiat

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This week we wrap up our Black History Month artist tribute with Jean-Michel Basquiat whose choices for art materials and expression were acrylic paint, oil crayons, and text. He made art on the whatever the nearest surface was that he could find — even on clothing and furniture. Using Basquiat as an inspiration, we invite you and your child to experiment and create art with a sense of improvisation and adventure. Basquiat’s paintings are a mix of abstract style, figure drawing, scribbling, and writing. 

What We’re Learning & Skills We’re Building

  • Creativity — making independent choices about color, marks, materials, and images
  • Trial and error — working with different materials with little or no direction from adults
  • Color identification — seeing/naming colors and learning that they can have many shades
  • Shape identification — seeing/naming shapes in everyday objects

Parents and caregivers curious about early childhood development and scribbling, mark-making, and drawing may want to read this article by Zero to Three. It provides an overview of the stages of these activities during the early years.



Optional Materials 


Painting and Scribbling for Toddlers and Preschoolers

  1. Have your child paint the entire surface (or just part) of a piece of cardboard, cardstock, or a repurposed painting.
  2. Let the painting dry (30 min to an hour).
  3. Once it’s dry, have them scribble or draw on it using crayons, markers, oil pastels, or chalk.
  4. (Optional) They can glue more media onto their artwork (fabric, old photographs, magazine cutouts, for example), then continue to scribble and draw on top of the glued-on additions.

Ages 6 and up: Writing, Reflection, and Further Exploration of Mixed Media

The activity steps described above can be adapted for elementary-school-age children ages 6 and up who can be encouraged to add text by writing words on the dry painting. Much like Basquiat did in his work, your child can choose words based on feelings, current events, gratitude, or anything else they’d like. Texts and photos can also be cut from magazines and glued onto the dry painting. They can even take it a step further by cutting up an old family photo, and then gluing the pieces onto the painting as they see fit. This could either be a personal piece of art or an experiment with materials that have no obvious contextual meaning.


Learning More about the Artist

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s world was filled with art from a very young age. He wrote his first book with a classmate at the age of 7. Watch and listen to a moving read-aloud by Javaka Steptoe (PBS Kids) of “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.” This book covers his earlier years living with his family including his Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother. Adults who’d like a tour and brief summary of Basquiat’s art can watch this short video.

Basquiat was a Black American painter, writer, and musician who created colorful, playful, poetic, and provocative paintings and drawings. His body of work on large canvases, graffitied walls, and postcards achieved critical and commercial success during the early 1980s. Since then, his work has sold for millions of dollars.