Exploring Art – Process Over Product

Exploring the Concept of Art as a Process Over Product

Eight years ago my daughter’s preschool teacher said, “Art should be about the process, not the product.”  Her statement has forever changed the way I view art, for both myself and my children.  I tend to be a perfectionist and art had always been intimidating to me. Yet, I gave my young children ample opportunity for open-ended exploration:

  • to squish their fingers into paints and wipe them on paper with no intended outcome
  • to knead, shape, and smash a fresh batch of salt dough for hours
  • to randomly glue odds and ends onto paper, creating their own unique masterpieces.

However, I was reluctant to join in, as I found myself confused when there wasn’t a scripted project to create.

Open-Ended Vs. Copycat Art

As children age beyond a toddler, art begins to move from the process to a more judgmental form where it is scripted, and then evaluated based on how carefully the script was replicated. Think of the cut and paste activity where everyone is supposed to make the same animal, character, etc.  While there is a time and place for this activity, too much of it can stifle a person’s enjoyment and exploration of their art, and can even lead to anxiety about meeting expectations. However, kneading dough, wielding scissors, painting, drawing, sculpting, taking beautiful photos, or manipulating a colorful strand of yarn into an object can be liberating for old and young alike when approached with an open-ended mindset.

While most forms of art can be very engaging, here are a few of my favorites that lend themselves to adult and child side-by-side creation, and are more forgiving for those who struggle with the notion that every project ought to be museum worthy.  These are my favorite “process” art mediums along with some exploration ideas for those looking for inspiration!


This can be as simple as tearing colorful tissue paper or grabbing a magazine and cutting out pictures that represent things that intrigue you or are colors or patterns you are drawn to. Then, once you have a large pile of paper, you can begin gluing them onto paper either layered or randomly placed. You can simply create a collection of your favorite things or something that makes you happy. If you want to be more intentional, you can create an image using the colors and textures in the magazine clippings you have gathered. Learn more about the process of paper tearing and collage from the Eric Carle Museum.

Play Dough or Air-Dry Clay

The manipulation of play dough or air-dry clay is another fun textural option to explore with the children in your life.  If you are not sure where to start, simply rolling small balls of dough or creating snakes can be calming and get the juices flowing. If you are looking to engage in creative, cooperative exploration with the children in your life, you may want to create:

  • a new land to explore by channeling your inner Dr. Seuss or Willy Wonka
  • the bugs you might find exploring a far away planet
  • food items worthy of a cafe in the Harry Potter series
  • afternoon tea for your child’s stuffed animals
  • a kingdom ready for your child’s dinosaurs to conquer

The point again is to just allow your hands to manipulate the dough and allow whatever comes out to happen.  If you are considering a more purposeful “product” focused crafting with air-dry clay that you want to be able to keep afterwards, here is a great video to learn more before you go shopping.

Marker Watercolors

This is one of my favorite “process” art activities. You need coffee filters, non-toxic markers, and a squirt bottle of water. Simply use the markers to color all over a white coffee filter in any crazy lines or pattern you want.  The more vivid colors you choose, the better. Once you have the filters colored, take them outside to the grass or sidewalk or if making them indoors, put them on a cookie sheet and squirt with water.  The colors will start to run or bleed into each other.  Once the lines you drew are gone and a stained glass effect is present, you can leave it on a counter overnight or in the sun to dry.  The end results are often quite beautiful. Check out this blog for pictures and further instructions.


There is something very therapeutic about snipping paper to reveal a unique snowflake each time, not to mention that using scissors is good for building hand-eye coordination and strengthening hands for handwriting.  Coffee filters are my medium of choice for making snowflakes with kids, as they are inexpensive and are also thin and easy to cut. Some scissors and a sleeve of coffee filters will provide you with hours of fun.  We love filling our widows with snowflakes in January and February, adding back in some whimsy after the holiday decorations have been stowed away. Check out these excellent step-by-step instructions.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a perfectionist and prefer things in neat lines, or are a free spirit who loves to explore the idea of fluidity and motion, the children in your life just want to spend time with you. Open-ended art exploration allows you to connect with your children in a judgement free way, while also building the hand strength and brain health for you both. I encourage you to consider trying some of the methods I discussed or simply grab a piece of paper and a pencil and start doodling.  Remember the wisdom of my daughter’s preschool teacher as you get started… it is about the process and not the product.

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