Looking at Paintings:

Developing a story from a painting

back to main page
programs Fun stuff for families schools reviews bio store

Growing Out of a Painting

Art isn’t just about what’s on the canvas. It can be fertile ground for growing stories. With the right questions, you and your child can use a painting as a starting place for the imagination. Taking a painting my then five-year-old daughter and I found in a book, I’ll show you how we developed it into a story. My questions are in bold.

“Where are these men going?” “Maybe heading for an escalator to go all the way up there in the building to look at paintings.”

“Will somebody try to stop them?” “I don’t know.” (I rephrased the question…)

“Who might live there?” “A bad, bad troll with sparkly gold that he is guarding.” Then she added, “Maybe the painting is a magic painting… no, it’s not actually a nice painting, but the troll painted it with scribbles of black paint.”

(I directed it a bit here.) “Maybe they’ll take the painting. Why would they want it?” “They never had anything to sell, so they want to sell the painting. When there were very, very young, guess what they used for money?” “What.” “Cookies! They used cookies for coins and graham crackers for dollars!”

(I restated where we’ve come so far.) “So they’re going to take the painting and sell it?” “Yeah. And you know who the troll is? Him!” She pointed to the painting on the other page showing a rotund man eating and drinking. I laughed. He did look a little troll-like.

“What happened after that?” Grace took the story off into somewhat unrelated ideas. Tangents often happens when imagining with kids. Also, young kids have a limited understanding of how to resolve conflicts.

So I shifted into my story-telling mode. “Do you want to know what I think happens?” Grace nodded. I then wove together an ending involving the two thieves trying to sell the painting in the market, with a surprise ending. (If you’re interested, you can read the story.)

To create a story from a painting, start with a painting that holds some interest for your child – it helps if it has a person or animal in it. Then ask questions to develop a main character, something the character wants, and finally a problem for her to resolve.

Try it. A picture can birth a thousand words.

Text © 2005 Bruce Van Patter
back to main page
programs Fun stuff for families schools reviews bio store