toddler block painting

Color Block Painting With Your Child

If the thought of setting up a block painting project for your child sounds messy and more trouble than it’s worth, I’m here to tell you there are ways to make it rewarding!

Better yet, it can be a teaching moment for your child. The colors are vibrant and exciting!

It’s never too early to play with color harmony— let your child experience how colors mix together. Color can affect mood.

In this post, I’ll explain how I set up painting projects for my toddler. I use color harmony, good quality paper, and some insider’s tricks (painter’s tape and cropping) to turn paintings by my toddler into framed artwork you can give a loved one— or display in your house!


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Try Color Blocking

Color blocking achieves a bold look with not too much hassle. The simplest way to describe color blocking is that you combine two or more different colors in a specific way to create a harmonious look.

Consult the Color Wheel

color wheel painting

When you look closely at a color wheel, you can see the strategic placement of colors.

Sir Isaac Newton invented the first color wheel in the early 18th century. You may want to brush up on the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors if it’s been a while.

No doubt you have certain colors you are drawn to, and so does your child.

If you consult a color wheel, you will start to understand the basics of color harmony— a concept that goes back centuries. Relationships between colors are either harmonious— or not.

No-fail Color Harmonies

Painting with your child can be more productive— and less chaotic— if you go into it with paints ready, grouped into color harmonies you want to explore. I usually set up several groupings of paint-pots.

You can explore different ways of combining color, here are a few:

  • One Color (Monochromatic): Literally one color in varying levels from light to dark.
  • Two or More Colors (Analogous): Colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel.
  • Two Colors (Complementary): Colors that are directly across from one another on the color wheel.
  • Three Colors (Triad): Any three colors that form a balanced triangle if you were to connect the points inside the color wheel.

Tip: Browse color palettes on coolors.com. I love this site! You can also upload a photo that you love using Image Picker and the site instantly grabs colors and creates a palette for you! Voilà!

Warm (Energizing) vs. Cool (Relaxing) Colors

Have you noticed that color can affect your mood? From fashion to product to interior design, color is used to impact emotion. It’s fun to play with different color combinations and see which colors your child is drawn to!

Warm colors range from shades of red to shades of yellow. In design, warm colors make you think of sunlight, heat, happiness and energy.

Cool colors range from shades of blue-green to blue-violet, including most shades of grey. Soothing colors make you think of water, sky, peacefulness and calm.

Tip: The fewer colors you combine and the more simple and pared back a design is, the more calming it will feel.

Set up Your Painting Area

painting supplies

First things first. You don’t want paint all over your furniture or floor. Use Crayola Washable Kids’ Paint.

This paint is rich, bright, and truly does wash out of anything— hands, clothing, hair, furniture, area rug… even the dog.

You’ll still want to protect a large area of your table with craft paper taped to the edges (or cut up paper grocery bags).

Use Thick High Quality Paper

When you use Crayola Washable Kids’ Paint you’ll want to use a thick paper that will withstand paint and any water you’ll be mixing in.

Any good quality watercolor paper will do. Actually, any thick paper that will absorb the paint. We’ve painted on cut up paper grocery bags and cardboard in a pinch!

Mask Off Parts of the Paper to Create a Design

block painting ideas

When color blocking, you want to mask off parts of the paper so your child can freely paint in the open areas. This will result in clean areas of white once you peel the tape off.

You want to use artist’s tape if possible, because it has a low tack adhesive and won’t damage the paper when you peel it off.

You can also use painter’s tape but it has a higher tack adhesive and will likely damage paper as you peel it off.

Use tape to mask off either a grid (creates squares or rectangles of open space) or diagonals that create triangles.

Tip: If your child is new to painting, practice on blank sheets with the foam brush, and brayer to practice. Think of it as creating an abstract painting!

Group Paint-Pots and Bottles by Color Scheme

As I mentioned, it saves time to set up your color groupings ahead of time. If your child is older [than toddler age] you can have them participate in this step.

Browse a site like coolors to find ideas. Determine what you want to accomplish ahead of time.

Set up the Palette

Use a palette (or paper plate). Drop paint dollops in harmonious groupings for your child. Encourage your child to paint boldly with thick, rich color.

Don’t Rely on Paint Brushes Only

I’ve found that my toddler prefers to paint with a brayer or foam brush. Your child will be able to explore applications of paint that result in exciting textures that could never be achieved with a brush.

Of course paint brushes are great too, and can be useful for fine motor skill practice; so provide a few different sizes if you can.

Flat Paint, Glitter Paint, Metallic Paint

As mentioned Crayola Washable Kids’ Paint is the way to go. Purchase the 2 oz. bottles of paint in colors you think you’ll be using a lot.

The 42-color Crayola Washable Kids’ Paint Set gives you access to so many more colors, including glitter and metallic, in small paint-pots. This set is a great value. You’d be surprised how much depth and interest a glitter paint can add to the flat colors. Even better, dilute paint strokes with water and you’ll get beautiful effects!

Prep the Painting for Framing

Once your child has completed a few color block paintings, let them dry thoroughly before choosing one or more to frame. Peel off the tape carefully. Don’t be afraid to crop out a section if it is damaged. (simply cut away that part.)

Not all the paintings will be frame-worthy, so choose the best ones. You’ll be surprised how gorgeous the art looks once framed. I like white square frames with a lot of white matte board.

Enjoy the Process!… or Try!

I have to remember that painting and setting up a project for my child comes natural to me, since I’ve been in this profession [design] for years. It’s a lot of work even for me— and doesn’t always go smoothly.

Sometimes my toddler refuses to paint, so we do something else. Sometimes he loves it, so I go for it, and try to get in as many paintings as we can.

I find that most Moms don’t want to attempt painting because of the mess, and may feel overwhelmed with choosing colors or a technique.

I hope this post gives you a roadmap to set up a painting project with your child that can be framed and given as a gift— or displayed on your wall— when complete.

If you plan ahead, look at a few informative links I have included, check out my photos, and choose a technique that your child can do— color blocking— you will have success.

You can teach simple principles of color harmony and see your child explore color.

You can do this!

Maureen Lowe
Maureen Lowe

Maureen Lowe is a Bay Area native that relocated to the high desert mountains of Southwest Reno with her family in 2017. Mama to her active pup and toddler boy, Maureen is a textile designer and graduate of CCA San Francisco. With a lifelong love of nature and the arts, Maureen has made it a mission to explore Reno’s scenic trails and cultural offerings to find kid and dog-friendly outings that work in all seasons.