ARTISTIC EXPRESSION – An Interview with Sarah Baldwin

ARTISTIC EXPRESSION – An Interview with Sarah Baldwin





When a child’s basic needs are met, i.e., food, clothing, shelter and love, they are free to explore the world around them with confidence. Artistic expression is a natural outpouring of this assurance. Today we are talking again with the ever charming and wise Sarah Baldwin; Waldorf educator, and owner of Bella Luna Toys. Tomorrow we will announce a fitting and exciting give away. So… read, learn, enjoy, and come back tomorrow to take part in a fabulous give away!









Kimara: There is often confusion as to the meaning of “artistic expression.” Will you explain the difference between “process” and “product”?

Sarah: One of the first things that drew me to Waldorf education was hearing that artistic activity is incorporated at every age and into every subject studied. Throughout the years, children in a Waldorf school regularly practice drawing, painting, handwork, modeling, woodworking and more.

In Waldorf education, the emphasis of artistic activity is on process and not the finished product. To give you an example, when we practice wet-on-wet watercolor painting in Waldorf kindergarten, the goal is to give children an experience of pure color — experiencing the qualities of each of the primary colors, discovering what new color appears when two colors “play with each other” on the page, and watching the fluid colors flow and blend on the wet paper. Our goal is not to paint a picture “of” something, but rather to discover what the colors have to say.

In the early years children are allowed total freedom of expression in their drawings and paintings, though the teacher will model how to hold and use the paintbrush, or model drawing with beeswax block crayons.

In the later years, form and artistic technique are introduced, giving children the tools to express their ideas artistically. While the advanced drawings of older students can be quite sophisticated and may appear to be about “product,” yet throughout the years teachers recognize that it is the “process” that is important – what is happening inwardly for the child as she creates a drawing, painting or sculpture? What thoughts and feelings arise for her? How do her hands connect with her head and heart as she creates?

Kimara: Share your thoughts on the importance of parents modeling and embracing their own artistic pursuits with their children.

Sarah: Making art and sharing creative activities together with one’s children is an incredible gift for both parent and child! Parents have the opportunity to model for their children that art and creative endeavors are part of what it means to be human, and that creating art and working artistically with our hands is a lifelong activity that brings joy and satisfaction no matter our age. Children shouldn’t grow up with the idea that art is only practiced at school!

But perhaps more importantly, when we stop and take time from our busy lives to make art with our children, we not only give children the priceless gift of our presence and attention, but we also give a gift to ourselves by taking time to slow down and engage in artistic expression. Artistic practices such as drawing, painting and modeling can aid in our own process of self-discovery.

Again, it’s not about the product, and one needn’t consider oneself an artist in order to take time to make art. Rather, we become much more important examples to children when we model our own striving.

Kimara: Ideally, what supplies would an artistically supportive household have available for children?

Sarah: I imagine that most people’s homes are already full of supplies to make art! Glue, paper, scissors, buttons, yarn, thread, ribbon, fabric scraps and so on. Or parents and children can go out for a walk to collect items from nature with which to make a collage. Art supplies can be found all around us!

While one needn’t spend a lot of money on the “proper” supplies, I think it is nice to have a few well-chosen, good quality art supplies on hand.

In a Waldorf school, even in the earliest years, we provide the children with high quality materials – paints, paper, crayons, 100% wool felt and yarn, and so forth. Why is this? It’s because of the satisfaction that comes by creating something truly beautiful, made with beautiful materials.

I liken it to learning to play music. My two children and I are musicians and have spent years taking lessons. I’ve learned through experience that the better quality instrument one has, the more one will want to play and take pleasure in practicing. People too often think, “Oh, he’s just a child, we’ll just start with a cheap instrument. If he sticks with it and improves, then we’ll get him a better quality instrument.”

Well, what happens is that the child is likely to get frustrated when, no matter how hard he tries and no matter how good his technique, his instrument fails to sound the way he wants. It’s impossible to get a poorly made instrument to produce a beautiful tone. If, however, we provide the child with a good quality instrument at the outset, he will be more pleased with the results and will want to progress and keep playing!

It’s the same with art supplies. Anyone who was to compare a typical preschool painting made on cheap newsprint with tempera paints, alongside a wet-on-wet Waldorf watercolor painting painted with highly pigmented, quality watercolor paint on heavy-weight, artist-grade watercolor paper, would be struck by the difference.

A parent might feel obliged to keep the tempera paintings out of a sense of sentiment or obligation, but in truth, they have a disposable quality.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a parent who would dream of throwing away a child’s wet-on-wet watercolor painting painted with quality paints and paper. The colors appear alive and luminous, and the brightness of the paper shines through. I still have many of my children’s wet-on-wet paintings from their early years. Over the years we used many of them to make beautiful cards and gift tags.

So with that introduction, here is a list of items that I suggest having at home for children of all ages. Some are free or inexpensive; others are more of investment, but with care will last for years.

Ages 3 and Up

Beeswax Crayons – sticks and blocks (unlike paraffin crayons which are petroleum-based,  beeswax is all natural and non-toxic)
Drawing Paper
Watercolor Paper (I recommend 40 lb. weight)
Watercolor Paints (in jars or tubes – not the dry sets sold for kids)
Watercolor Paintbrushes (1-inch wide)
Natural or Organic Play Dough (great ones for sale, but so easy to make your own!)
Modeling Beeswax (warm it up in your hands before modeling)
• Assortment of Pretty Papers – For collages: tissue paper, origami, etc. (Great variety available here.)
• Jar of Wooden Beads for Stringing
• Child-Safe Glue
Child-Sized Scissors (Fiskars children’s scissors are especially recommended for developing a child’s fine motor skills)

Additional Items for Children 5 and Older

• Wool Yarn for knitting or fingerknitting
Wooden Knitting Needles
• Sewing Box equipped with needles (embroidery needles have large eyes which are easier to thread), thread and small embroidery scissors
• Wooden Embroidery Hoop
• Fabric Scraps

Equipped with these items in your home, you and your children will be able to create all manner of beautiful things, and never be at a loss for things to do on a rainy day!








  1. Well said. I feel like I have 2 families. My older boys are 15 and 16, and my younger boys are 4 and 6. My older boys went through our public school system whereas my 2 younger children have been homeschooled. Although I don’t solely embrace one philosophy, I love the Waldorf approach to the process in art and authentic artistic experiences. When I compare my older boys’ tacky, macaroni “art” experiences, with the rich, tactile experience my younger boys are having, I want to cry! I’ve learned much over the years, including the importance of embracing my own artist pursuits and the impact this makes on the life of your children. Thanks for sharing this article.

    1. Ah yes, macaroni art! Brings back memories of my own kindergarten experience.

      There is also a school of thought about the appropriateness of using food as art material when we are trying to instill in children a sense of gratitude and reverence for food — cultivating an appreciation for the effort and time taken to grow and produce it, and for the nutrition in provides us with.

      So happy to hear that you are taking time for your own artistic pursuits, Mable.

  2. I have found since I’ve had my children [3 and 6] that I am more drawn to creative expression myself. I never considered myself crafty or artistic, but I’m finding in my efforts to expose my children to their artistic selves, I’ve become more so myself.

    I’ve got a question, and I’ve read a few different points of view and I’m wondering what you think, Sarah. Do you feel that praising a child’s work is “judgemental” and should be avoided or do you see it as encouraging. I’ve read that praising work as in “My, that’s beautiful” tells a child that THIS effort is worthy, but they are capable of producing something that is unworthy, thus creating an under lying tension in the creative process. It has been suggested instead to comment of the process, “My, you seem to really love working with water colors.”

    Everything in me wants to praise. Maybe this question seems lame but I want to be encouraging without being judgemental. Thoughts?

    1. Not lame at all, Candi. That is a great question!

      I am of the opinion that praise is way overused by parents and teachers, to the point where it becomes empty and meaningless. I think this trend developed in the 1970’s in an effort to build children’s self-esteem, when that was deemed important.

      Before I became a Waldorf teacher, I taught in mainstream preschool settings where anything a child did, no matter how little effort was applied, was met with an enthusiastic, “Good job!” I had the habit of overusing this phrase. It was hard to break, since it had become so ingrained in me.

      Over the years I learned to make comments that were more observant, just as your intuition seems to be telling you. “What beautiful colors are playing on your page,” or “You worked really hard on that drawing!” or “What a tall mast your ship has!”

      Another thing I learned was never to make assumptions about a child’s drawing or painting, and not to say, for instance, “Is that a giraffe?” or worse “What is that?” In the first case, the child may be insulted or frustrated that you thought his dinosaur was a giraffe, and in the second case, upset or angry that you didn’t recognize the obvious dinosaur in his picture.

      Much better is to say with real interest, “Tell me about your picture!” to which a young child will usually enthusiastically tell you all about it. You might then say, “Look at the long neck on that dinosaur!”

      When children aren’t constantly bombarded with empty praise, it becomes much more meaningful when they do receive acknowledgement for real effort and achievement.

      1. Thank you Sarah for such a lovely interview! I’m so glad the subject of praise has come up. I have a background in E.C.E.and Waldorf training, and so praise is something I have learned how use in a nonjudgmental and encouraging way. However I distinctly remember a day when my sons friend was over with his mom for a play date and my son (3) was coloring with beeswax crayons. The other boys mother went on and on about how great the picture my son was drawing was. “What a good job coloring!What an exquisite whale!” she said. My son looked at her with this sad and confused expression, then threw down his crayons and ran away from the art table! While the other mom surely meant well her fairly empty praise disturbed my sons creative process. I don’t think he was drawing anything in particular ( he hadn’t said anything about drawing a whale), he was just drawing because he loves to draw and manipulate colors. As adults we need to take time and think about how we respond to children. Their self esteem is much more nourished by unconditional love, our time, and presence and involvement in their lives than empty offhand praise.

        1. In my experience as a Waldorf nursery teacher, I have seen so many children set out to paint “something” with wet-on-wet and relax into the sensory experience of painting. I love being with them as they explore what happens when they do different things with color, water and movement. I am now home with my young twins and I so look forward to bringing them the experience of color on paper.
          I agree that we do best when we reflect on their paintings in an honest and real way. Children feel the emptiness of empty praise. They know when we are being sincere, and they know when we are present with them. They are not fools! And we needn’t fill the air with empty speech of any kind, we can just be silent and reverent with them too! It has taken me a long time to know this and longer to practice. Silent reverence is not what I learned as a child, and it is not what the world feeds us.
          Thanks for the discussion.

  3. I came from a very non crafting/art family. It has been a wonderful experience bringing it into the life of my children. I have excited to learn right along with them. The first time I did wet on wet watercolor painting I was a little child once again. It was like I was experiencing color for the first time. BTW I LOVE Bella Luna Toys 🙂

  4. Looking at the incredible beauty of my 17 year old Waldorf high school son’s geometry book is truly amazing! he is more of a “math geek” than artist for sure, but one thing I love about Waldorf education is that in incorporating “art” into every lesson creativity becomes second nature to these young people. Sometimes I think the more academically oriented kids need it even more than the ones who tend toward the artistic, it helps balance them out.
    Thanks Sarah!

  5. Looking at the incredible beauty of my 17 year old Waldorf high school son’s geometry book is truly amazing! he is more of a “math geek” than artist for sure, but one thing I love about Waldorf education is that in incorporating “art” into every lesson creativity becomes second nature to these young people. Sometimes I think the more academically oriented kids need it even more than the ones who tend toward the artistic, it helps balance them out.
    Thanks Sarah!

  6. Any interview with Sarah is one I’m excited to read! As always, very informative, clear, and gentle in its direction. Thank you!

  7. …and I seriously cannot WAIT to sit down with my kids and paint. I had the good paper (hidden in my closet – grrr)… but cruddy dried paints. Don’t know why I never sprung for the paint. I too am finding my inner “maker” (hard to call myself an artist)… and loving it! I read the wet-on-wet instructions that Sarah wrote… and I am so excited! Thanks for doing this interview Kimara!

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