Outdoor Art Activity with Drips and Sprays

Bring kids outdoors for this art project, which uses food coloring and stencils to make wildly colorful and creative paintings.
By Diana MacKenzie
Apr 20, 2016



Apr 20, 2016

Spring and summer are perfect times of year for outdoor art making! For this one, we'll be stepping outside to experiment making drip and spray paintings with supplies you may already have around your house.


For this tutorial, we used Kool-Aid and food coloring mixed with water to make our colors, but you can use any watercolors or watered-down water-based paints you already have. Unsweetened drink mixes such as Kool-Aid are fun to use because when they dry the fruity smells stay behind, resulting in scratch and sniff artwork.

Collect some clean, empty spray bottles and droppers from around the house, or find some new travel-sized bottles at your grocery or big box stores. We found that using several drip-makers made the best variety of marks on the paper.

Worried about too much spilling? We made our own "no-spill" paint cups for the pipettes from plastic deli containers. Cut a hole slightly larger than your pipette or eyedropper and snap the lid securely to the container. Fill it up halfway with water (or paint). The container will stay spill-free if it's knocked over.

Mix the Kool-Aid and food coloring into your various containers. For this tutorial, we used lemon and grape Kool-Aid and yellow and blue food coloring to keep our palette from getting too muddy.

Next, we cut out a variety of simple teardrop shapes from a leftover sheet of plastic we had. You can use any paper or plastic to make your stencils. Cut them into any shape you like with scissors or an X-acto knife. Tip: With thicker plastic, the colored water won't seep through (but letting water seep through can also lead to an interesting look). You don't need to use stencils at all for this project! Only add them if you want to experiment with drips and sprays further.

Making the Art

Position your stencils on your paper. Here, our teardrops are on a large piece of watercolor paper. This project is more fun when you work large. Also, thicker paper like watercolor paper will absorb more water than thin paper (like printer paper), and is less likely to tear when wet. If you only have thin paper, put some layers of newspaper underneath to help absorb the extra water. It will still be very wet, but this will help a little.

Begin experimenting with your different bottles and droppers. We started with a spray bottle filled with yellow Kool-Aid, and then added a pipette filled with blue food coloring.

Experiment with the height and angle you spray or drip the paint. What happens when you spray from high above the paper?

How does it look if you squeeze the pipette right against the paper? What marks can you make when you wave the pipette as you drip the paint? What happens when you use gravity to move your drips?

You can see the paint starts to gather and bead around the plastic stencil shapes. The small travel-sized spray bottle pictured below makes a fine mist, while our larger sprayers made bigger droplets.

Consider leaving your work to dry before adding more layers. You could speed up this process by anchoring them with rocks and leaving them to dry in the sun.

Move your stencils around before you work on your next layers to get interesting layers and overlapping marks. Even squeezing out air from an empty plastic bottle, which pushes puddles of water around the paper, can influence the appearance of the art.

Or try blotting off excess water with a paper towel in certain areas. Don't blot everywhere or your detailed sprays and drips will disappear. We recommend starting with more muted colors and building up the intensity of the colors as you add more layers. When the Kool-Aid and food coloring water mix dries it loses some of its color intensity, so for a vibrant painting increase how much color you add to the water, and to make your colors soft and muted dilute them in more water. For the final layers of our painting we used very intense colors to drip across the paper. Test out mixing your colors and see what you prefer!

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