Make: An Art Grid for Color and Shape Exploration with Kids

We’re investigating processes and palettes today with an exercise inspired by one of my favorite artists, Stanley Whitney! This bold and blocky process art grid is a fun and simple way to explore color and shape with paper scraps.

Mr. Whitney describes his paintings as dances and the colors as the rhythm. Although Whitney has been working on his super-cool style throughout his lifetime, he gained critical notoriety in the ’90s (visit all of our ’90s week featured arts & crafts here!) and has been celebrating recognition & creating jaw-dropping colorful squares ever since.

A fun and simple artist-inspired color exercise for kids using scrap paper squares and a grid! | via barley & birch

Inspired by the bright, bold colors and repetition of shape in Whitney’s work, I broke some of the concepts he employs down to basics and came up with this simple exercise that invites kids to create color combinations and patterns with blocks of repeated squares.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often found that limiting the decisions I have to make throughout a process allows me to work with greater concentration and enjoy the finer details and discoveries of a project. In essence, that’s exactly what we’re doing with this grid of pre-cut squares. By using a little restraint with supplies and beginning with some suggested boundaries (literally, a square) we’re giving kids an opportunity to get totally comfortable playing with color, pattern, and shape.

The more time kids spend digging in and exploring this exercise, the more they will enjoy pushing back on the boundaries. Add in other shapes, try mixing mediums, lose the grid – I have lots of ideas for variations you can try as focus gives way to free art play.

For more of my favorite spontaneous art exercises to try with kids, visit our incredibly fun process art play tiles, get loose with some scribble art, build a mini wood sculpture, or make a gallery of 1-minute quick collages.

To make your own process art grid, you’ll need:


  • Scrap construction paper or card stock in a variety of colors
  • Scissors


Simple Process Art Grid Instructions:

  1. Make a simple 3×3 square grid on paper

    You can download our free grid template, or make your own by creating a simple 3×3 square grid with a ruler and construction or copy paper. Of course, you can use any number of squares you’d like! I find a grid with fewer but larger-sized squares works well with younger kids.
    A fun and simple artist-inspired color exercise for kids using scrap paper squares and a grid! | via barley & birch
    Note: Some kids may find the grid limiting or feel distracted by trying to perfectly line the squares up in the grid. You can skip this step or just put the grid aside if it seems like it will cause more frustration than fun.

  2. Cut colorful squares and strips from scrap paper

    Using colorful pieces of scrap paper, cut out multiple squares to fit your grid pieces. Once cut, put them in a basket or stack them off to the side.
    A fun and simple artist-inspired color exercise for kids using scrap paper squares and a grid! | via barley & birch
    Note: we kept the leftover long rectangular paper scraps from our cut square pieces and saved them to use later for variations.

  3. Create layered compositions!

    Invite kids to fill the grid with squares of their choosing (I have some prompt ideas below). The simple, multi-colored grid squares can be arranged and rearranged over and over again – helping kids fully explore color, composition, and most importantly, their own personal style and preferences.
    A fun and simple artist-inspired color exercise for kids using scrap paper squares and a grid! | via barley & birch

This is a wonderful (quiet!) activity for a station or table and also the perfect self-led exercise for art class early finishers. You can laminate the grid and colorful pieces and put the set in a basket to reuse the same grid/s over and over.

A fun and simple artist-inspired color exercise for kids using scrap paper squares and a grid! | via barley & birch

Ways to Create Variations on Your Art Grids

There are so many ways you can use this basic grid as inspiration for process art projects or color and shape teaching tools. Here are a few prompts and ideas to get you started…

  • EXPLORE COLOR SETS. Ask kids to come up with compostions using specific color groups (for example, use a monochromatic palette or only cool colors).
  • DISCUSS COLOR AND EMOTION. How do the colors you chose for your grid make you feel? Fill your grid with happy/angry/sad colors. How does it make you feel to look at your finished compositon?
  • SWAP SUPPLIES. Change out the colorful paper squares in our project for oil pastels – a whole new art medium experience. Or use square stamps with ink or paint to fill your grid.
  • COLLABORATE. Using this in a classroom or with a few kiddos at onece? Combine each child’s indiviual grid to create one BIG patchwork quilt of of colorful collaborative artwork.
  • MAKE IT AN ART GAME. Practice color recognition by turning this into a mini game of bright, colorful BINGO. Print out multiple grids and fill with colored scrap paper squares. Call out color names, inviting kids to place a penny (or similar placeholder) on the corresponding color. First one to create a full ine wins!
  • GO OFF-GRID. Start with filling a square grid, then make a copy of your composition without the grid (maybe even on a different colored background). Start moving the squares out of their grid position. Tilt and turn a few squares. Pull some out of line. Exchange some squares for circles, or different sizes of squares. Compare your first composition to your second. Which one do you like better?

For more color grid inspiration, see the work of Ellsworth Kelly or Ad Reinhardt.

If this simple combination of scrap paper and simple shapes has your heart a-flutter, be sure to check out our scrap stamp shape collages, modern geometric cardboard necklaces, or torn paper landscape art.

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.


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