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The Family That Paints Together

Start a family tradition that fosters creativity and bonding.

paint and paintbrush

Family rituals are an important ingredient in the glue that holds family members together. "They make everyone feel attached and connected," says Susan Smith Kuczmarski, EdD, educator and author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. In Dr. Kuczmarski's own family, when her three now-grown sons were young, one favorite annual ritual was something she calls the Blank Canvas Project.

The Blank Canvas Project
This family art project is simple, yet powerful. It may start with a blank canvas, but it ends with creative expression, closer bonds, shared memories - and a colorful memento to hang on the wall. Here's what to do:

  1. Gather your supplies: paint, brushes, and a large blank canvas.
  2. Divide the canvas into sections with a light pencil mark, with one section for each member of the family.
  3. Take turns letting each person paint his or her individual space. Keep things low-key and nonjudgmental. The goal is to have fun, not strive for perfection.
  4. Be sure to date your family's masterpiece. On the back, you might also want to note who painted which section.

"Each of us painted whatever we wanted," Dr. Kuczmarski says. "But in the end, we would wind up with an amazingly integrated painting." Four of the family's no-longer-blank canvases still hang in the Kuczmarski home.

Kuczmarski family painting

Photo copyright 2011 Susan Smith Kuczmarski

What's So Great About It
Like other family rituals, this one promotes a general sense of closeness and belonging. There may be benefits for mental and physical health as well. For example, in families who have rituals that are meaningful for them, studies have shown that teens are less likely to abuse alcohol and parents are happier with their marriages.

By building fond memories, rituals also help you honor the past. And by giving you something to look forward to, they set up positive expectations for the future. In addition, the Blank Canvas Project has some specific characteristics that may make it particularly beneficial:

  • Creativity. Making art encourages people to think originally, imaginatively, and intuitively - cognitive skills that are often underutilized in day-to-day life.
  • Emotional expression. Many people who have trouble communicating their feelings in words are able to express themselves through art.
  • Identity. Any shared tradition can foster a sense of group identity. However, this one also promotes personal identity by recognizing each individual's part of the whole.
  • Inclusivity. Painting is a great intergenerational activity that gives family members of all ages and abilities an equal chance to participate. And unlike some family activities, this is one that many teens enthusiastically embrace.

At the end, you have a keepsake that captures an emotional moment from your family's history in a way that no photo ever could. "When you're in the process of creating the painting, everyone feels closer, bonded, and like part of the family," Dr. Kuczmarski says. Later, every time you look at the painting, you replay the memory of those feelings. Says Dr. Kuczmarski, "You're reminded that family-making can be fun."

Linda Wasmer Andrews writes frequently about families and parenting, including a recent article here about family meals. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.

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