Skip to Content

The museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

Picture of a hand rolling a paint-covered roller over a sheet of paper.

Art-Making Activities

Share

Looking to get creative? Our collection is a perfect place to find inspiration. The artworks and activities below are just the beginning.

These activities are great for children ages 7 and up, but can be enjoyed by learners of all ages. Younger children may benefit from the help of an adult. Feel free to use any materials you have on hand for these quick creative projects.

For related educational resource packets, visit our educator resource finder.


Hughie Lee-Smith

Shadow Stories

This painting by Hughie Lee-Smith reads like a scene in a mystery novel. The sky is darkening over a desert. Two figures are wandering the empty landscape. They seem too focused on their own paths to notice one another. A source of light creates long shadows on the sand. Who are these people? What is this place? What will happen next?

Play with light and shadow as you make your own drawing inspired by this mysterious artwork. This can be done indoors using artificial light or outdoors in the sunlight. Find a large piece of paper to draw on— an unfolded paper grocery bag will work. Place small figures, blocks, toys, or other objects with interesting shapes on the paper. Shine a flashlight on the objects (or place in the sunlight) and look together at the shadows they cast. Experiment with the placement of the objects and angle of the light source to create long and short shadows. Use your favorite mark-making tools to trace and color the shadow-shapes. Create a story about your drawing. Begin with the phrase, “Last night I had the strangest dream …” As you share your dream, describe what you saw, heard, touched, smelled, and experienced.

Materials:

• Large sheet of paper or an unfolded grocery bag
• Markers, crayons, or pencils
• Assorted objects (toys, blocks, etc.)

Rectangular form made of legos with a round window made of paper attached to the top.

Here’s an example of this project!


Jacob Lawrence

Fanciful Flowers

Communities come together to celebrate important family milestones like weddings, birthdays, and graduations. For The Wedding, Jacob Lawrence was inspired by his roots, growing up in the Harlem community of New York City. “I paint the things I have experienced,” Jacob Lawrence stated. In this work, a couple and their attendants stand in front of the celebrant at a solemn moment and the colorful church expresses the joy of the occasion. Brightly colored shapes form the stained-glass windows that frame the ceremony, while the altar is covered with flowers of every shape and size.

Create a display of fanciful flowers to celebrate a special occasion. Gather colorful and decorative materials you find around the house. Spell out a message on shapes you cut out. Accordion-fold thin tissue paper or facial tissues, twist a pipe cleaner or wire around the middle to secure the folds, and then gently fluff the paper to make a flower. Experiment with a variety of paper colors and textures. String flowers together with the written messages and add curled ribbon and bows. Drape the decoration on a window or doorway, or at the entry to your home. Fill containers with paper flowers and have a party!

Celebrate Community Lawrence


Here’s an example of this project!


Mikki Ferrill

Dance Party

“The event was a word-of-mouth happening. The people, the music, and just the atmosphere became my spiritual inspiration.”
—Mikki Ferrill

Mikki Ferrill was a black female photojournalist who captured intimate, everyday images of Southside Chicago communities in the 1960s and 1970s. She spent nearly a decade photographing the Garage, a weekly experimental pop-up music venue, where she was known as “The Picture-Taking Lady.” Her photographs capture the uninhibited joy and style of this underground happening.

Have your own pop-up dance party at home inspired by the Garage. Clear a space, put together a playlist, put on outfits that make you feel good, and lose yourself in music and expressive movement. With the energy in full vibe, take turns capturing the experience using a camera or phone. Experiment with perspective, framing, and focus.

When the party ends, look at your photos together. Play with contrast and filters to change how your images look. If you can, print and display them on your walls or share them digitally with friends or family.


Sam Gilliam

Bunch, Fold, Drape

Is this a painting or a sculpture? In the 1960s, Sam Gilliam pushed the boundaries of traditional painting. Instead of applying paint with a brush to stretched canvas, he chose to playfully drip paint on and stain loose fabric. Embracing expression and chance, he would then bunch, fold, and drape the fabric into shapes. His imaginative approach inspired decades of experimentation, inviting other artists to radically reimagine what a painting could be.

Try making your own drape “painting” at home inspired by Gilliam’s process. Gather fabrics, sheets, dishcloths, and clothes. Pile the materials high, lay them across furniture, bunch tightly, fold intuitively, and collaborate with gravity by hanging the fabric. Pay attention to color and shape, but don’t worry or overthink it. Just play. As Gilliam says, “you have to hang loose.”

Present your artwork to family and friends. If they aren’t already familiar, show them Sam Gilliam’s paintings online and have a conversation about this influential African American artist.


Japan

Show of Strength

This clay sculpture of a Japanese wrestler, or rikishi, dates from the fifth or sixth century CE. The role of wrestling in this ancient period is not known—whether for entertainment or for important rituals—but wrestler figures along with other human and animal figures were placed atop monumental burial mounds, perhaps to protect the deceased.

This wrestler stands solidly on two feet, wearing a headband and a harness around his waist, and raises his arm in show of strength. See if you can stand like this wrestler and mimic his facial expression. How do you feel when you stand in this powerful pose?

Sculpt your own wrestling match using whatever materials you have handy. Play-doh, clay, tinfoil, paper, or pipe cleaners are all great options. Create two wrestlers in their strongest, most confident poses. Face the sculptures towards one another. Who will win this show of strength?


Frank Lloyd Wright

A Window of Your Own

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed unique windows for each building that he created. Wright referred to these windows as “light screens” because the clear glass let in natural light while the vibrant colors and geometric designs provided a decorative element. Imagine looking through this window and seeing your neighborhood through the floating shapes.

Create your own window designs with wax paper, tissue paper, liquid glue, water, and a black marker. Water down the glue and use a paintbrush to apply it to the wax paper. Cut the tissue paper in geometric shapes and place it on the wax paper. Connect your shapes by drawing lines with the black marker. Once the arrangement is dry, hang it in your window and let the sun shine through.

A photo of a homemade stained glass window project made out of colorful tissue paper and wax paper. The paper hangs on a window and light shines through.


Here’s an example of this project!


Richard Hunt

Standing Tall

Hero Construction is a large sculpture made entirely out of pieces of metal, including old pipes and car parts, that Chicago artist Richard Hunt found on the street and in junkyards. Hunt transformed these metal scraps into a human figure by welding, or melting, them together at a very high temperature. Standing over five feet tall, this figure strikes a powerful pose. Stand tall like this hero and see how it feels!

Try creating your own heroic sculpture using tinfoil, paper, or pipe cleaners. What powerful pose will your figure take?


Red Grooms

Game City

Take inspiration from Red Grooms’s colorful sculpture depicting downtown Chicago and create a three-dimensional table top game featuring your neighborhood. You’ll use an empty cereal box, construction paper, glue, markers, dice, and found game pieces.

Cut open a cereal box and lay it flat for your board game base. Draw a winding path from one side to the other, with a start and finish square at each end. Divide your path into colorful squares, or steps. Include game-play directions, like “lose a turn” or “jump back three spaces” along the route. The more set-backs and surprises, the more fun the game will be.

Then, create pop-up landmarks to move through on the game board. Draw things from your neighborhood like buildings, parks, or playgrounds on construction paper. Leave a one-inch border at the bottom of the drawing before cutting it out. Fold the one-inch border to make a foot for your landmark and glue the foot to your game board.

Grab some small items from around your house to use as game pieces and get playing! Roll the die to start—youngest person goes first.


Vera Berdich

A Homey Nest

Springtime is the season birds build nests, lay eggs, and care for their young. In Nestlings, artist Vera Berdich depicts chicks eagerly awaiting the arrival of a parent and some food. They look cozy, wrapped tightly in their nest and settled in the branches of a tree.

Birds carefully select their materials and spend days creating their nests; you can make one using simple materials in a shorter amount of time. Find something small in your house that could use a cozy home: a stuffed animal, a toy, or something given to you by a loved one. Collect materials from around your living space—a brown paper grocery bag ripped into strips or folded to make a pocket, scraps of fabric and bits of fluff, leaves or very thin twigs from outside, or pipe cleaners if you have them. Try different ways of weaving and layering these materials until they stick together in a nest form. Place your object inside, find a good perch in your home, and snap a picture to share your nest with a friend!

A photo of a "nest" made out of household objects. A teddy bear sits in the middle.


Here’s an example of this project!


Senufo

Power Up

This wooden door was carved by Nyaamadyo Koné, an artist in Côte d’Ivoire, Africa, who was commissioned to make it for a building where rituals were held.

Images that symbolize power cover the door. On the top section, discover a dancing figure wearing a large mask. In the middle section, find ibis birds that can reach into the water with their long beaks as they wade in streams, and skillfully pluck out tasty fish to eat. On the bottom, look for a powerful crocodile that has just captured a snake in its powerful jaws.

Are you strong as an elephant, nimble as a tiny mouse, curious as a cat, loyal as a dog, or maybe all of these? Choose an animal to represent your special power and design a door for your room. Repurpose cardboard from an empty cereal box. Cut it into an interesting shape, use markers to draw the shapes of animals, and decorate them with patterns formed by repeated lines and shapes. Punch a hole on each side of the top edge of your artwork and attach a ribbon or shoelace to hang it up.

A drawing of a decorative door. On the door are decorative patterns, a bird with a long beak, and a mouse.


Here’s an example of this project!


Georgia O’Keeffe

Eyes to the Sky

Imagine standing next to Georgia O’Keeffe as she painted the Shelton Hotel in New York City, where she lived in the 1920s. As you look up and squint at the tall building, the sun shines brightly in your eyes and causes you to see sunspots. O’Keeffe captured this sensation by painting orange and yellow spots dancing across the scene.

Step outside your home and look at your neighborhood. Turn around and look up at the top of your house or building. Use a pencil or crayons to draw the shape your building makes against the sky. Add shading and color to show sunlight and shadows.

A drawing of a blue house on a white sheet of paper. Yellow sunlight reflects off of the windows of the house.


Here’s an example of this project!


Alma Thomas

Make a Starry Mosaic

In this work, Alma Thomas applied paint in a mosaic-like style to depict the sunlit sky and the Apollo 10 spacecraft as seen from the ground. Look at how Thomas used color and pattern to depict the vastness of space and the intense, fiery power of a rocket launch. Create your own scene using colored tissue or construction paper, or even pages from a magazine, torn into irregular shapes and sizes to mimic the artist’s brushstrokes.


Milan

Design Your Suit of Armor

Armor was elaborately decorated to indicate wealth and status. Often, symbols of virtues such as faith, prudence, and justice were etched in the metal to signify the virtues of the knight wearing the armor. Consider which virtues would represent you and how would you symbolize them, and design a suit of armor for yourself.


Félix Edouard Vallotton

Home Sweet Home

This painting by Félix Edouard Vallotton depicts a quiet scene of a woman and a child in a red room. Drawing inspiration from your own living room, bedroom, or kitchen, create a drawing of an interior scene that shows off how the room is decorated. Consider including a member of your family, a pet, or a friend.

For more inspiration, view works from the exhibition Intimate Modernity, which features works by artists who focused on interior scenes as a way to experiment with color, form, pattern, and atmosphere.


Central Java

Animal Mix-Up

Ganesha is a Hindu god who has the head of an elephant and the body of a human. Think about an animal you like and the qualities you admire in this animal. Paint, draw, or sculpt an imaginary figure that combines features of this animal (or many animals you like) and a human. You can use whatever materials you have on hand—aluminum foil is a great option for making easy sculptures. Finally, give your creation a name.


Joseph Cornell

Make a Shadow Box

This shadow box, one of the many that Joseph Cornell created in his lifetime, combines whimsical found objects to evoke an adventurous trip or journey. Create your own memory box using objects from around the house. First, think of a past event that was important to you, like a birthday party, a holiday, or just a significant moment. Then, find objects around the house that remind you of the event and an empty shoe box or tissue box. Create a collage with the found objects inside the box, and decorate the outside of the box with scenes or images from your memory.


Archibald John Motley Jr.

The Person in the Mirror

Chicago native Archibald John Motley painted this self-portrait while looking at himself in a mirror. Look for the clues that demonstrate his portrait is a mirror image. For example, on what side does the button appear on his suit coat? Pose in front of a mirror and sketch yourself. What happens to your image when you draw from a reflection? Motley included a painter’s palette to indicate his identity as an artist. What items would you include in your self-portrait to communicate who you are or who you want to be?

Share

Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions

Share