Paint and Brushes

Young children need a generous quantity of easily manageable paint – water colour cakes, tubes of oil colour, small pots of poster colour are neither necessary nor suitable. A good quality powder paint well mixed to a thick cream and presented in a non-spill pot is ideal. There tends to be a difference of opinion as to whether or not to add a thickening agent. If thickening is taken to mean mixing flour, powder paint and water to give a pasty, wishy-washy medium with the tensile strength of elastic this is obviously undesirable. However, after experimenting with kitchen equipment type control rather than laboratory techniques, it is possible to state that some thickening agents used with care and discretion do not alter the colour of the paint, improve its application properties, and prevent most of the dripping that unthickened paint produces. Polycell produced the best results when shaken to a thin paste which is then mixed into dry powder paint. Obviously the type which does contain fungicide should be used. Cold-water paste tends to give a lumpy, floury mixture. PVA glues can be used but they do alter the colours so are only suitable when a special non-flake finish is required.

Since it is much cheaper to buy paint in large quantities many homes and some nurseries restrict their buying to large containers of fewer powder colours rather than trying to buy the whole range of colours. This then leads to mixing of non-primary colours. Further experimenting has shown that a basic collection of red, yellow, blue, green (preferably in’ Ostwald’ or ‘Brilliant’ shades) plus black and white will produce a very satisfactory range of colours. The only difficult colour to produce from these is a really good purple. Inevitably one will need to buy more of the light colours such as white and yellow because it takes more of these powders to produce a suitably intense colour than for the darker ones.

The new ready-mixed paints are very tempting both for home and nursery use as the colours are good and the texture excellent – apart from the time saved in not having to mix them. They are more expensive to buy and extravagant to use but for the lighter colours which take a lot of powder it is very nearly as cheap to buy ready-mixed paint as to make it up.

Many mothers and some nurseries mix paint daily or as it is needed. It is possible to save a lot of time and mess by mixing up enough of the basic colours to last one week and then mixing daily to produce other colours and shades from this central store.

Nurseries vary in their consumption of paint but the largest-size coffee jars full of well-mixed paint would be a good start. For mothers at home a four-ounce coffee jar of the basic colours would last a reasonable length of time. It has to be admitted that some powder paints smell quite unpleasant and this does not improve with keeping. They are best avoided for this kind of preparation. It is possible, of course, to mix enough paint ready in the paint pots to last several days. The lids can be cleaned daily and the pots wiped but with successive use the paints inevitably become discoloured however careful the children are to return brushes to the right pot. In some groups paint mixing is presented as another activity and the children help. It is older children who enjoy this most. Young children like to find paint pots ready and available the minute they decide to paint, so if this system is used at least some paint should be ready for the child who picks up a brush before he takes his coat off. Glass pots, although breakable, allow children to see the colour they are choosing and are in this way better than opaque unbreakable plastic; the problem could easily be resolved if only some manufacturer would produce a really unbreakable transparent plastic pot.

The most usual brushes to be given to children are long-handled hog fitch artists’ brushes in the larger sizes (12 to 18). They are obviously more suitable for young children than the finer, smaller brushes most adults used at school, but perhaps we have not looked closely enough to see if anything better is possible. The long handle is more suited to someone with a much longer arm than a three-year-old. The all-important ‘balance’ quoted by manufacturers is nonsense when the length and weight encourage small children to hold a brush in the wrong place, or to hold it at the very end in order to reach the top of a piece of paper placed too high for them to reach otherwise. There is certainly a place for the shorter brush recently developed and advertised as ‘ designed with pre-school children in mind’. Equally there is a place for many different types of brush, small domestic paint brushes, even large ones for a change during the experimental stages. Older children who wish to do a ‘real’ painting may appreciate being able to use some of the finer brushes which would be so inappropriate if they were used to the exclusion of all other sizes.

Where possible, it is a good idea to provide a separate brush for each colour and children soon learn the’ put it back into the same pot’ rule. Even better is to have two sets of brushes so that one can be thoroughly cleaned and dried off while the other set is being used. There seems to be no efficient way of sealing the wooden handles of the cheaper brushes to prevent them be-coming stained with paint. None of the various varnishes, paints, sealers or oil finishes withstand the cleaning process very long. Equally, more expensive brushes which do have varnished handles soon lose their surface. Nevertheless this is not a wholly bad thing. If the handle of a brush is looking grubby and worn perhaps it is time to look at the business end to see if it needs replacing.