A drop of paint

It takes a long time to become young – Picasso

A drop of paint falls from a child’s brush, giving rise to a conversation in an early years classroom, causing Holly Warren to reflect on the nature of imagination and its connection with reality.

Where does a work of art start ?

A work of art can be created with words, notes, movement, sound, light, food, photography, clay, stone, natural materials, and paint.  But where does a work of art start? How does it unfold? Does it unfold or does it appear, surface, materialize, unravel, pop up, spill, or even drip . . . . from our minds? Picasso also said that it took him four years to paint like Rafael and a lifetime to paint like a child. What did he mean?

Absorbing, connecting, expressing

Our senses absorb the environment in which we live, sending signals to the brain that then translates and interprets them. We create a bank of notions that become what we call knowledge. In doing so, we constantly make connections. Can a work of art be a creation made from connections? Silent, unconscious pathways that meander in our minds and enter the visible world, expressed in different ways? When we first experience our environment, the world is an exciting place where the boundaries of the possible are still being tested. Everything is an adventure that goes somewhere interesting.

An accident or a work of art?

Recently a drop of paint that fell accidently from a child’s brush and started a discussion. An adult might see the drop as a stain to be removed or a mistake but in the Artelier – an art studio workshop for young children that combines imagination, creativity and modern art – it was an announcement of a great work of art created in a child’s imagination and gave rise to a conversation.

The conversation

A drop of paint“Look, this drop is a circle that fell from my brush.”

“Circles don’t fall from brushes it’s your imagination.”

“What is imagin . . . tion?”

“ Mmmm… it is what you think when you see things that are not real yet but they become real…soon.”

“What is it for?”

“It is for making art with a brush and paper and sometimes you make a mess but its ok.”

“Are we making art or a…mess?” Followed by lots of laughter.

“I don’t want to make a mess, I want to do art.”

“Well do I need imagin…tion?”

“It is in your head, silly!”

“Mum says I do great art.”

What I had heard

Then there was a couple of minutes of silence while some children were painting, and others were wrapped in thought. Work resumed and the children changed the subject. While I watched, my thoughts stood still, and I was captured in the moment. I reread the conversation I had just written and realised I had been listening to the sound of 4 year old minds discussing how a great piece of art is made.

According to Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist,

“Most of us know the feeling of being moved by a work of art, whether it is a song, a play, a poem, a novel, a painting, or a spatio-temporal experiment. When we are touched, we are moved; we are transported to a new place that is, nevertheless, strongly rooted in a physical experience, in our bodies.” (Eliasson, 2016)

He goes on:

“The important thing is not that we agree about the experience that we share, but that we consider it worthwhile sharing an experience at all.” (Eliasson, 2016)

These children were sharing their experience, and therefore discussing art, their expectations and deep feelings of being who they think they are.

Limiting imagination

Children use metaphors in a way that adults consider whimsical. They can create a world in which circles fall from brushes, a world we are all too ready to ‘correct’. We confine their imagination, just like the child that responded that ‘circles don’t fall from brushes’. Children imitate adults and follow their ‘sensible’ thinking patterns which create boundaries to imagination.

Imagination and reality

Could a work of art start when we decide to share the inner life of our thinking? Or does it start when we look at what we have just made and consciously connect it with what we know to then lead it where we would like to take it, which Paul Klee (Klee,1929) encouraged us do by taking ‘a line for a walk’?

As children we juggle imagination and reality. They are the two sides of a coin that illustrate our human nature. We flip them to see where to start; head or tail? Tail or head? Backward or frontwards? We are able to invent, formulate and conceive works of art by giving form to a thought that surfaces, emerges and reveals itself.

Where does a great work of art start? Can it be when a splash of colour falls from our imagination? Could this be why it is a great work of art?


Holly Warren Self Portrait


Holly Warren is an atelierista, or art studio teacher, working in an international school in Italy. She is the creator of Think Tank – a new project environment that links the creative process of art with Montessori, Steiner and Reggio Emilia educational methodologies.


To learn more about her ideas see:





Feature Image: by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

Support Images: by ptra and emoser from Pixabay


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