Islands and Hurricaines

At our messy play session in DCA on Friday we were exploring Alberta Whittle’s exhibition with the parents and little ones. We made stormy seas for some sensory play and then created some buildings and trees from recycled materials to create our own Island. Here it is after the hurricaine (otherwise known as the babies!) had hit. You can find instructions on how to make these carton houses here


Publications and conferences!

Holly has been working with Dundee Contemporary Arts on a couple of projects, and it seems Autumn is the time to share them!

Engage Journal

Firstly, she interviewed Sarah Derrick, Head of Learning, about the development of the learning programme at DCA over the course of 20 years. This article has been published by Engage, the National Association for Gallery Education:

43: Profession and Practice


Talking About Art

Secondly, Holly ran a project at DCA earlier this year exploring the impact of the Create Space on family learning. The full report is now available here: Talking About Art Full Report

Thanks to all participating families!

Engage Conference

And finally, Holly will give a short presentation on Talking About Art at this year’s Engage Conference in Newcastle, as part of the Soapbox session on 5th November, sharing her findings with gallery and museum staff from the UK and beyond.

Unlocking Culture: an entitlement for children and young people

Halloween themed sensory play and Sensory bag craft

We went a bit Halloween crazy in our parent-infant art therapy group today. As well as making footprints into ghosts and handprints into spiders we were trying out some new textures in our sensory play. These were all very easy and would still be fun when it wasn’t Halloween just by putting them into a shallow tray for babies to feel and experiment with. With sensory play it is best to let little ones take their time and explore the textures. Some things that are new or feel cold they might not like at first so don’t force them. Usually they will take a while cautiously testing before getting interested and stuck in. Here are the 4 recipes for our sensory mixtures:


Easy peasy – just make up sugar free jelly to the instructions and set it inside your scooped out pumpkin.

Green spaghetti:

Good spaghetti till soft in boiling water and while it is still hot add a blob of food colouring (gel or paste works best) and a slug of oil then mix it all through. Leave it to cool and then you can play without the colour coming off on babies hands.


Mix a packet of cornflour with water a little at a time. It’s quite tricky to mix but try not to add too much. The texture of this is amazing. If you try to press into it quickly it feels like a solid whereas if you slowly lower your hand in it feels like a runny liquid. Bigger kids will like this too and can play at trying to keep a ball of it solid by passing it between their hands before slowing down and letting it trickley through their fingers.

Pumpkin insides:

For our last texture we decided to use the pumpkin leftovers that we’d scooped out. Put any big lumps into a blender or nutribullet to get a nice mush and then keep some of the stringly bits to add back in for texture. We took out all the seeds in case any babies tried to eat them but if you were doing this with toddlers you could leave them in for something extra to explore.

If you feel like this is just a bit too messy or you, or your little one isn’t sure, or you just want to keep the play going in a different way, try one of our sensory bags. Take any of the textures that you like and put them into a ziplock freezer bag. Squeeze all the air out and seal the bag up. We added extra tape round the edges for leak protection. Babies can then press and squeeze to feel the textures without getting covered. They can also lay it flat on the floor or a highchair tray and enjoy seeing what happens if they ‘draw’ into it with a finger.

Happy Messy Halloween!


Rainy Paintings

At our messy session in DCA today we were thinking about Alberta Whittle’s exhibition and were inspired by all the waves and weather to make some rainy paintings.

All the little ones got creative with blue paint, water squirters and cotton wool.

If you’d like to try it at home you need:

Blue paint – non toxic, water based

Thick absorbant paper

Plastic sheet or table cloth

Masking tape

Cotton wool

Set up by sticking some plastic sheet to the wall or door so that it is half up the wall and half on the floor. This will catch any drips and stop it making too much mess. Then stick your paper onto the plastic so your wee one can reach it easily. If you don’t have plastic it would also work to try this stuck to the side of a bath tub or shower so all the paint dripped in. And then you’d be in the right place to get clean afterwards too!

Help your wee one put some blobs of blue paint onto the paper. Near the top is good to give lots of space for drips but it doesn’t really matter. You can use a few shades of blue if you’re feeling fancy. Then the fun bit….Let wee ones lose with a water squirter, something like a plant mister or old spray from cosmetics works really well. They spray onto the paint and it will start to run down the page making great raindrops. They can keep adding paint and squirting till they’re happy and add cotton wool on top of the thicker paint at the top to make clouds.

This is definitely ‘process art’ so let them experiment and see what happens. When they want to try something new you could add a little blob of paint into the squirter and shake it up and see if that gives a different effect.

It’s a good idea to leave the paintings tapes up vertically to dry so the drips stay extra drippy.

A juice carton village

At our last DCA messy session we were creating mini towns. Just adding a coat of white paint can turn leftover juice cartons into a great canvas for little ones to express themselves and create interesting houses and villages. And they even already have a little roof and a chimney! You could use gouache or a primer but you don’t need anything fancy, we just used left over house paint and it worked a treat. You can do this the day before and have them dried and ready for a fun art session.



The surface will take child safe paints easily or you could have a go with pens. Next time I think we might need to try sticking on some collage. Have a big person cut out a little door and your all done and ready to set up your town, add in figures and have a play.

Here is one of our wee ones’ amazing village creation.


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!