BIRTHDAY pARTy: Mini Action Paintings


BIRTHDAY pARTy: Activity I

Mini Action Paintings – Inspired by Jackson Pollock

Theory & Practice : Supplies : Preparation : Action : Results : Printable Card


Theory & Practice

Looking over Jackson Pollock’s life and work in books and online, I thought I’d try to have the pARTy guests imitate his “action” style by placing a large canvas on a well-protected floor and having them drop paint onto it from all sorts of crazy instruments: toothbrushes, forks, old shoes, etc.  However, this idea soon seemed impractical. I didn’t want to have to scrub my floors or have the furniture professionally cleaned after the party. I didn’t want the girls to be a total mess. And, I wanted to send them home with their own individual pieces of artwork.  So, I decided to limit our crafting to the dining room table, which I would cover with layers of newspaper and plastic to be removed after we finished each individual craft.  I chose small, individual canvases. And. I decided to just make use of the squirt bottles the paints came in as our way of getting paint on canvas.

I had purchased an extra canvas at the dollar store so that I could try it out myself.  Good thing! After I squeezed large drops of paint onto the canvas, I realized that there was no way the pictures would dry over the two hours of the party. Spotting a pizza box nearby, I cut out a long strip of cardboard and slid it carefully down the front of the canvas – et voila! I had a lovely abstract image.  I noticed two things, however. First, there were large white spots at the top of the canvas where no paint had spattered. Second, the painting didn’t look quite “finished.”  So, I tried a second round of dripping and dropping, and a second round of dragging, too.  I should have stopped after my second drizzle, I learned, because a second drag over the canvas produced a gray and purple mess.   Still, with my own experience in mind, I’d formulated a plan…. _____________________________________

Supplies (1 per guest unless otherwise noted)

8×10 Canvas
Ruler or 12x1in Strip of Cardboard
Squeeze Bottle of Acrylic Paint
Avery Label Printed with Guest’s Name or Permanent Marker
Large Clear Plastic “Loot Bag” and Twist Tie (in 6-packs at $store)
Sheets of Newspaper
1 roll of Masking Tape
2 Plastic Tablecloths
Handsoap & Towels

Optional Loot Basket for all Activities 
9x12in Plastic Basket for each guest
Avery Label printed with each guest’s name



Table:  I placed a plastic tablecloth on each of the two long tables I had set up in the dining room. (Actually, I layered four cloths on each table – 1 for every craft I had planned.).  On top, I placed a sheet of newspaper at each place, and several sheets of paper in the middle of each table.  I placeds half of the bottles of paint in the center of one table, and half on the other.  My daughter helped me place the canvases front-side-down at each seat. And I asked her to place Avery labels on the backsides of these canvases so as to sit the girls in her prefeered order when they arrived.  I kept a picture of Jackson Pollock, a copy of Olivia, and my instructions in one basket on the sideboard, along with the 12 plastic rulers.

Drying Area:  On one side of our steps from the first to the second floor, my husband layered and taped sheets of newspaper to service as our “Drying Area” during the party. This also made it impossible for the girls to travel upstairs into the bedrooms and to the main bath – which was exactly what we wanted.

Optional Loot Basket:  The week before the party, I picked up a 9x12in basket for each guest at the dollar store and placed an avery label with their name on one of the handles.  I had these stacked in a pile at the outset of the party. These came in handy as a place for the guests to deposit their finished crafts after we’d finished each one.  Towards the end of the party, I snuck in the pre-wrapped Take Home Craft, and I placed their plastic-wrapped Mini Action Painting in this bucket, too.  This way, each girl went home with a basket full of goodies.



After the girls came in and had their “fashion photo” taken by the door (see our Photo Ornament Craft when it is published), everyone took their place at one of the tables in the dining room.

First, I showed them a picture of Jackson Pollock painting the picture and a copy of Ian Falconer’s book, Olivia – reminding them that Oliva claimed she coudl do what Pollock had done in only a  “few minutes.”

Then I gave them isntructions for “PHASE ONE.” They were to drip and drop paint all over the canvas, making sure there were several dots of paint at the very top of the canvas. Every few seconds I would call “switch” and they were to pass a tube of acrylic paint to the person on their right.

After everyone seemed to have filled or overfilled their canvas, I called “Stop! Hands Up” and had the girls watch me demonstrate “PHASE TWO” (on my finished canvas). I dragged a ruler in a single stroke from the top to the bottom of the canvas. “This and nothing more!” I advised them. “If you use the ruler more than once, your masterpiece will be RUINED!” I warned. “When you have done your one and only scrape,” I said, “call me over  to collect it in my plastic cup.”

Then, I passed out rulers and the girls got to work on their single scrape across the canvas.  When each girl was finished, she gave me her ruler back. I put it them in a cup and then wrapped them in newspaper to be dealt with later – throwing them back in the Pollock bucket on the sideboard.

At this point, there were large puddles of paint dangerously close to the girls. I had them stand up, push their canvases slightly forward and away from the pools, and complete “PHASE THREE.”‘ I had them gently “drizzle” a few drops and swirls of one or two colours of paint on their canvases. Most of the girls were not so “gentle” as it turned out, but their pictures looked great!

As each girl finished her project, I had her hand me her canvas (which I took to the drying area) and go wash her hands in the kitchen sink.

Later, near the end of the party, as the girls were snacking, I packaged the paintings in a large, clear plastic loot bag. There was definitely spilling and blurring…but at least they could take the pieces home without ruining their clothes or their transportation. I let the parents know that they might want to take them out to dry when they get home. I placed these in their Loot Baskets with the rest of their finished activities and their take home craft.  _____________________________________


The girls did a fabulous job. Here’s a look at their paintings on the stairs:



Printable Card

Here’s the text of the Index Card I provided to the guests.

Mini “Action Paintings” –  Inspired by Jackson Pollock

Supplies: 8x10in Canvas, Ruler (or 12×2 in Strip of Cardboard), Acrylic Paints

Instructions: Using squeeze bottles of acrylic paint (or random tools dipped into cups of paint), drip, drop, and drizzle different colours of paint all over your canvas.  Be sure to put several dots or lines of paint towards the top edge of your canvas. Take your time!  Think about the pictures you make “accidentally” by dropping paint in different places on the canvas. WAIT FOR EVERYONE TO FINISH!

AFTER YOU WATCH THE DEMONSTRATION, carefully, and all in one stroke, drag the edge of your ruler all the way down the canvas without picking it up.

Using a light touch, add a few more drips, drops and drizzles to your mini masterpiece.

Set your painting aside to dry. Then, WASH YOUR HANDS!


By now, you’ve probably read Olivia.   Do you remember when Olivia sees a painting in an art gallery and says, “I could do that in just about five minutes” – then, she gets in trouble for spattering paint on the walls at home? That painting is called Autumn Rhythm #30, by Jackson Pollock.  The picture you see in the background here is Pollock creating AUTUMN RHYTHM!

Who was Jackson Pollock? He was a famous American painter. Why was he famous? Well, most artists before him used paint brushes to spread expensive oil paints onto canvases placed on easels in front of them.  They stood still at their work, using small brush strokes to capture realistic images of the world around them (like people’s faces and hands).  But Pollock was different! He liked to lay his canvases on the floor!  Then, he used all kinds of tools (cans, cups, wiry brushes, spoons, wooden sticks, and even turkey basters!) to drip paint all over those canvases!  And, instead of using the fancy oil paints made specifically for artists, he used the kind of everyday house-paints that people use to brighten up their front porches!  He didn’t care about painting realistic scenes, either. He painted feelings and ideas. And, because he moved around his work so much, his whole body was involved – that’s why people called his work “action painting!”

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