Art at the Start on BBC Scotland

The Art at the Start team had a visit from BBC Scotland’s The Nine team.

Reporter Louise Cowie joined us for a messy creative session at DCA last week and then visited the Minime lab with her own mini me. The program aired on BBC Scotland last night. Catch it on I-Player here


All the little ones had fun with sensory play trying rainbow rice, a dinosaur swamp of jelly and peas and some cornflake farm land. Then we tried some messy painting with shaving foam marbling and bubble printing.


We had a great time and the little ones have all enjoyed seeing themselves on the TV today!

Bubble wrap printing

We have been printing with bubble wrap at a few of our sessions at the DCA these last few weeks so we thought we’d post some instructions. This is a really easy and fun art activity that any age will manage with a little help.

You need:

Bubble wrap

Non-toxic paints

Absorbent paper

Brushes, sponges or rollers

Start by sticking the bubble wrap to the table, to the floor or to a high chair tray with tape. This will stop it sliding about as little ones paint it. Then you can help them to drip on the paint and spread it about. Brushes are fine but it’s easier with sponges or rollers, or even just hands.





Once it’s all covered, place a sheet of paper on top and help little ones to rub all over the back of it and peel off.






We thought it looked a bit like dinosaur scales and so I cut out some very basic dinosaur shapes to press the pattern on to.


This would work with pretty much anything you can think of and cut out though. At DCA we were printing onto big cardboard spheres to make hanging decorations inspired by David Austen’s Underworld exhibition.






Shaving foam marbling

Last week we were marbling with shaving foam at the Dundee International Women’s Centre so we thought we’d post some instructions so you can try it at home. This one is very easy and lots of fun – and surprisingly easy to clean up as the foam just washes away. There are lots of steps where little ones can help depending on how old they are. If they are too little to be allowed to squirt the foam then they can still help drip the paint and definitely help to stir it about and rub over the paper. It’s a nice surprise at the end when the final marbling is revealed and this is a nice thing to share together.

You need:

a baking tray

an old plastic credit card/store card

shaving foam (not gel)

water based paints

Thick, absorbent paper (thin paper will rip when you scrape off the foam)

chop stick


First squeeze the shaving foam into a shallow tray like a baking tray or the lid of a biscuit tin. Then use the credit card to spread it out nice and smooth (big people probably need to do that bit)

Now help them to drip some water based paint all over the top of the foam. You can also do this using food colouring but it’s quite stainy so I prefer to stick to washable paint. That way little ones can do it too.


Then the best bit. Give little ones a chop stick or old pencil and let them swirl around in the paint until it makes a nice pattern but before the colours all blend together (don’t do too much or it all goes a bit brown!). They can experiment with the effects of making circles or going up and down in lines.


Now press a sheet of paper on top of the foam and they can help you rub all over the top to make sure it absorbs. Then peel back to reveal…..

…a foamy mess!!! But don’t worry. Scrape off the foam using the credit card and underneath will be a beautiful swirling marble pattern – just like you’d find in the front on a fancy old book. You can let this dry and then use it to cut up and make cards, cover jotters, line drawers etc etc. Or just stick it on the wall and marvel at how cool it is! And the left over foam needn’t go to waste. Slap it all back into the tray, spread it out and start again. You can get at least 3 or 4 prints from each lot of foam before it gets too murky.

This activity is nice because it combines some sensory play using the foam with some creative play with the paint. It’s also nice that it needs some help from a big person so there are lots of opportunities for turn taking and working together. If you have left over foam you can also do as my little one does and turn your trucks into snow ploughs!



Circle Paintings

This is another idea from our session with parents and little ones at DCA this week. We were responding to a circle painting by David Austen that was in his Underworld exhibition at DCA.

You need:

Paint – non-toxic water based

Trays to spread paint out in

A mixture of circle shaped objects – kitchen roll tubes, bowls, cups, bottle tops, corks, plant pots, old rolls of sticky tape etc. We raided the kitchen and the recycling for ours.

Paper – nice and thick is better so it doesn’t go soggy if overzealous

This one is very simple. Just spread out paint onto trays or plates and let little ones experiment with dipping the different objects into the paint and printing them on to the paper. You can develop this activity by using it to think about sizes – what circles will fit inside each other – and to think about colours as you layer them and make patterns.


Bubble Painting

We were bubbling at DCA this week with a group of babies and toddlers and their grown ups so we thought we should post the recipe in case you want to try it at home.

You need:

Paint – non-toxic water based

Baby bubble bath (if it’s safe for babies in the bath it should be safe for this craft)


Cups and bowls

Paper (nice thick paper which is good and absorbent is best. Printer type paper will rip and not take in the colour)

Cover the bottom of each cup with paint and add a squirt of baby bubble bath. Top up with about twice the amount of water as paint and then mix thoroughly. You want the paint to be about a third of the way up the cup.

Then using a straw let children blow into the mixture until you get bubbles making a mound that comes out the top of the cup (if you think little ones are too small to blow and might suck instead then have a grown up do this bit). Then place a piece of paper on top of the cup and it will burst all the bubbles leaving a print. You can keep layering up different colours of bubbles in this way until you’re happy with your art work.

Happy bubbling!



Creative, messy session at DCA

We ran our first session of creative and messy play for parents and preschoolers at the DCA this week. We are looking to see if there is an interest in these kinds of sessions for parents and toddlers so we will be doing monthly sessions and see what the feedback is. We would love these to be something that was always available. All our little ones at this weeks sessions were amazingly creative (and their grown ups very good about how messy we got them!).
 This week we responded to a beautiful painting of colourful circles in David Austen’s Underworld exhibition. We made paintings by printing circle shapes using lots of different objects pinched from the kitchen or the recycling – tubes, bowls, corks etc.
  Some little ones also experimented with their own ides for how to make marks using cars and tigers!

We then tried making bubble paintings by blowing into cups and bowls of painty, bubbly water and printing it onto paper and by blowing coloured bubbles to try and catch and pop on paper.
We will post the recipe for bubble paintings in our next post so you can try it at home.

Farm themed sensory trays

We were at the Dundee International Women’s Centre today doing sensory trays with the mums and little ones in their flourish group. Sensory trays are a nice way to let children explore different textures and use their imagination to create small worlds. It can also extend the possibilities of their existing toys, as you can see here.

We made a farm tray really easily using cornflakes as a base and wheat biscuits to make hay bails. It gave new ways to use toy tractors and diggers for moving the bails about and we added some farm animals for fun. And it didn’t matter if some of the wee ones had a taste!

This is another version of a farm based sensory tray using chocolate cheerios for a building site and some cornflour and shredded wheat on the farm.

Our other trays today were a sea themed tray using blue rice (find the recipe here) with shells and fish finger puppets

and a swampy dinosaur tray using a squishy jelly mixture made from basil seeds. You can order these seeds easily online. They start tiny and black but if you leave them in water overnight they soak it up and get a cool, squishy, frog spawn texture. If you add food colour to the water they absorb the colour too so you can colour them to your theme. They feel a bit like the water beads which you can buy but these are safe to eat and they are a bit smaller than other similar foods like tapioca pearls so there is less of a worry about choking.

These three trays gave lots of different textures to be explored from slimy to dry and crunchy. It’s always nice to have some cups on hand when you do sensory trays so that children can start filling and pouring to extend the play when they run out of interest in the toys. These work well for a wide age range (0-9 all enjoy these in my house so far). I just use the big trays that they sell for under bed storage and then you also get a lid if you want to keep some for another day.

Salt Dough Clay

We were playing with salt dough clay today with the lovely mums and babies at the Dundee International Women’s Centre. Here is the recipe if you’d like to try making your own at home. Try letting the little ones join in with the measuring and mixing.

  • 1 cup of plain flour

  • mixed with 1/2 cup of salt

  • then 1/2 cup of warm water added gradually.

Mix then kneed to get a nice smooth consistency. Super simple!  If I’m not using it right away I rub some oil on the outside to keep it nice and smooth and wrap it up with cling film. You can also double up the recipe if you need more (or x10 if you are doing a whole group like me!)

The dough will be nice for making models, doing handprints or cutting out with biscuit cutters or play dough tools. Once you have your shapes pop them on a baking tray in a warm oven (about 80c) to dry out for several hours, depending on how thick they are, until cooked through (check the back isn’t still squishy). You can then paint them and decorate as you chose. If you want to keep them nice you can also varnish them once the paint is dry.

This is a nice activity as it gives a different texture for children to feel as a change from all the paint. If you kneed it for a while in your hands first it will feel nice and warm and smooth so most little ones like it. There is the fun of mixing it as well as the fun making and you can do some nice handprints to keep before letting them go free on the rest of the dough. Although this is made from food stuff obviously don’t let them eat it as it is so salty.

We are going to paint ours at our next session. We also made some lovely hand and footprints, which make a great keepsake.

Art therapy groups this term

We are running art therapy groups for parents and their infants at DCA and at the Dundee International Women’s Centre this term. All the parents and their little ones got stuck in with painting on their first week. Here are some of their beautiful painty creations. They all definitely needed the bath afterwards, with as much paint on little people as on the paper!

If you are interested in art therapy groups yourself and have a child under 3 then please do get in touch with the art therapist for more information.

Talking About Art: Call for Participants


We are looking for volunteer families* to explore, draw, and discuss art.

At a loss for words when you look at art?
Or do you always know what to say?
How can galleries help us find our voice?

As part of the long term project Art at the Start, University of Dundee is partnering with Dundee Contemporary Arts Learning Programme to explore what happens when families view and make art together. The Talking About Art project will research how families use the self-led activities at DCA. The researcher, Holly Rumble, aims to determine how these activities impact on family engagement with the visual art exhibitions.

Holly will lead the sessions, which last for 45 minutes, and take place in early 2019.
Sessions in January and February will look at the work of Lorna Macintyre
Sessions in late March and April will look at the work of David Austen

We will provide refreshments and a small gift to thank you for your time.

For an information sheet please click here: Adult information sheet

If you have any questions please email:

*(with at least one child under 16)

Thanks for reading!