Little Picassos: What Kids Can Teach Us About Creativity

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."PABLO PICASSO

As adults, we often talk about unleashing our inner Picassos. But with kids, their Picasso hasn’t been buried yet. And in their enthusiasm they can teach us about creative problem solving.


I had the pleasure and delight of teaching an art lesson to my daughter’s second grade art class as part of a volunteer group that brings art into the classroom. At this age, the kids aren’t self-conscious yet and just let the creativity flow out of them. This lesson dealt with the graphic importance of line and shape and the contrast between geometric and organic lines.


For this project, we were drawing monsters in black and white. Now if I had asked the kids to just begin drawing a monster, I would have ended up with a class of kids staring at a blank piece of paper. (And as we’ve all experienced at one time or another during the creative process, that blank piece of paper, screen or canvas can be the scariest monster we ever have to face.)


To jumpstart the process, the kids dropped a string on the paper, traced it and “found” their monsters. The organic shape of string on paper provided a great springboard for the kids. They needed very little encouragement as they located the mouth, teeth or various body parts of their monsters. The kids added tails, feet, antennae, feelers, scales, a multitude of eyeballs and other body parts that defied description. As you can see, one kid drew a monster truck instead of a monster. (Kudos to that maverick for making the assignment his own.)


As creative professionals, we make a living being creative on command. While creativity can’t exactly be learned, there are ways to foster it. And often, the hardest step is taking the first step. So the trick is developing an arsenal of “strings.” What can you use as inspiration or a starting point? One of my favorite ways to begin a project is walk away from the computer, take a stroll to a bookstore and enjoy an hour of browsing. One art director I’ve worked often looks a problem from a reverse point of view, which is an excellent way to get a fresh perspective once you’ve had time to sink your teeth into a project.

A key is to keep your mind open to additional stimulus and to make connections to problems you are working on. Recently, overhearing a conversation between two programmers during a Jelly co-working session gave me an extra insight when I working on naming a retail project in Texas.

It was enlightening to see how the children’s creativity fed off of one another once they started. One table became very carnivorous as one girl drew the fish that her shark was going to eat. Suddenly, dinner appeared outside the mouths of many dragons, fish and serpents and one child made his monster have an external digestive track. At another table, one boy realized his camel also looked like a map of the United States and drew stars and stripes for his American Camel.

The biggest lesson learned? Have a sense of humor and have fun.

I’ll be teaching more art classes this year, so there’s more to come!