Zenia Paints From 24 to 28 Months

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As a younger child, Zenia enjoyed exploring what actions she could carry out with a marker or paintbrush, showed an emerging sense of composition by attending to the placement of her marks, and paused to examine the resulting marks as if thoughtfully reflecting on her work. From 24 to 28 months, Zenia is increasingly able to control the paint, paintbrush, or marker in order to create the marks she intends. She shows greater concern for the placement, number, and shape of the marks that she adds to her compositions. In addition, Zenia now approaches the paper with a representation in mind. In her work, we observe the emergence of a universally recognizable form – the human face, and later, the human form. In the months that have passed, Zenia has shifted from experimenting with the medium, to gaining control, to reflecting on and revising her work by enhancing or extending the symbols she uses in her representations.

At 24 months of age, Zenia now works to represent a highly recognizable form – the human face. She begins her composition by drawing a circle to outline the face (00:11). This circle serves to anchor the other elements as she continues by painting the right eye (00:18), and then the left (00:20). What she does next suggests that Zenia may be reflecting upon the effectiveness of the symbols. She paints an upward curving line as though she intends to add a smiling mouth to the lower portion of the face (00:22), but after curling one side of the line up farther than the other, Zenia decides instead to make a closed circular form filled with paint – perhaps to depict an open mouth or a nose (00:24). Next, Zenia delicately touches the tip of the paintbrush to the page as if marking the beginning point of another facial feature (00:26), but then pauses and makes a dot instead. Young children often assume that each feature in a composition requires its own space; the boundaries cannot overlap. Zenia may decide there is not enough room to place another facial feature between the closed circular form and the outline of the face. Zenia observes that she is able to control the brush in order to form a tiny dot on the page (00:27). Notice that she works carefully to re-touch the exact same spot (00:29). Her focus then shifts to making a series of tiny marks on the page below the face (00:31-00:59). Here, Zenia resumes making a pattern of dots, a motif observed in her earlier drawings and paintings from 19 months to 22 months. Note that while the different features of the face relate to one another to form a whole, the series of identical dots form a pattern but no identifiable whole. Nevertheless Zenia treats the pattern as a whole by naming it “a present” (01:00). This confuses the adult who says, "Oh, lots of presents."

At 26 months of age, Zenia approaches tempera paint somewhat differently than the watercolors. She invents strategies to control the pudding-like texture of the paint on her paintbrush. Zenia dips her brush into the paint and then pauses to tap the brush against the lip of the mug, before moving over the paper to paint (01:45). In the next round, she forgoes this step, observes the paint dripping onto the page, and quickly moves the brush back over the mug (01:58-02:01). Again, Zenia gently taps the brush as a means to remove the excess paint (02:01-02:04). Despite her efforts, paint drips onto the page (02:05). Undeterred, Zenia decides to “study” this accident by intentionally holding the brush above her paper to watch the paint drip (02:07-02:08). She gently touches the tip of the brush to the paper as if to replicate the small dot created by the drip (02:09), but then presses down firmly causing the bristles to fan out as she paints a solid form with a single circular motion (02:10–02:14). The solid form encompasses one of the small dots. She then adds a thick line that encompasses the other dot. Her ideas for what to do seem to be determined by accidents upon which she reflects and then extends.

Her disposition has changed as she brings the materials under her control and wills the paint and brush to form the elements of her choosing. Signaling a departure from her earlier compositions, Zenia enjoys painting heavy, solid forms rather than a series of delicate marks. She may intend the horizontal line across the bottom of the page to have a grounding effect for the shapes she adds above. Notice that Zenia adjusts her painting technique to create several dots in a row (six), parallel to the solid horizontal line below (02:33-02:44). At 24 months, Zenia demonstrated that she related each new mark only to the previous mark on the page by painting one dot after another. Here, Zenia fills in the dots between two endpoints. She paints one dot, moves her brush over, paints a second dot, and then goes back to fill the remaining space between. This strategy indicates that she is thinking about the relationship among all the dots, and is likely developing an understanding of how a series of dots represent points along a continuous line.

At 28 months of age, Zenia’s representational abilities continue to develop as she works to extend her composition. She now works to include features of the human form as well as the face. As the video segment begins, Zenia has already drawn several features. She chooses an elongated oval form rather than the circle observed in her earlier representations. Zenia places familiar features in a new location. For example, two solid circular forms, perhaps eyes, are positioned at the top of the oval, abutting the outline. She adds lines to represent features such as arms and legs. Note that Zenia varies her use of line to differentiate the features she intends to represent: a straight horizontal line forms an arm; a straight vertical line forms a leg; a jagged, zigzag line, anchored at each end to the top of the oval, symbolizes hair. Zenia now allows the features in her composition to overlap, suggesting that she has begun to think about each shape, line or form as part of a whole; she is thinking about the relationship among all of the parts, rather than working from one to the next as she can be observed doing as a younger child.

Observe as Zenia pauses to gaze at her drawing (03:13), momentarily moving the marker and her arm away (03:04), as if comparing the details she has depicted on the page to the representation she holds in her mind. A younger child likely would turn the page and start fresh, but remarkably, Zenia begins making revisions. Zenia scribbles back and forth inside the form as if to fill in the body and “erase” the mouth line (03:16-03:24). She may use this strategy to better differentiate the face from the body. We learn that she is thinking about adding more features to her figure when she moves her marker down and adds “slippers” to each of the two lines she previously drew to represent legs (03:26). She returns to the top of the oval form to add two similar shapes she labels “ears” (03:33-03:42). Could adding a pair of ears come from the underlying structure of adding two slippers to the legs? Zenia then pauses and again studies her drawing just before the video clip ends.

A close examination of these video segments allows us to see how this child, at 24 months of age, used watercolors to explore representation (face) and composition (relationship between marks on a page); at 26 months of age, used tempera paint to reflect upon her technique (strategies) and increase her understanding of spatial relations (series of dots represent different points along a line); and at 28 months of age, used markers to expand her representational work (face and figure), and to include greater detail (additional features such as arms, legs, ears, hair and slippers). Can you identify any additional themes in this child’s development across four months? You may also want to compare this clip with Zenia's work from 15 to 22 months.

Keywords: Twos, Child-Object, Painting, Representation
Length of video: 3 minutes 57 seconds