The Sky’s The Limit


Artwork by Jennifer Mercede, artist-in-residence at the Portland Children’s Museum.

Play with media, patterns and scale in this collaborative family art project.

Anything goes — even painting on the walls!

Anything goes — even painting on the walls!

Think big! When children have the opportunity to explore painting on large pieces of paper or wood, they have a chance to explore large movements and develop essential motor and cognitive skills. Children can also continue to add layers and to work on their projects for much longer than when they are given smaller pieces of paper. Practice focusing and sticking with projects can help them later on in school and as they continue to explore their interests. This project is inspired by artist Jennifer Mercede’s residency with Portland Children’s Museum.


  • Scrap wood, any size or shape (smooth plywood works wonderfully)
  • Rives BFK paper (This printing paper holds up to vigorous coloring, painting and mark making)
  • Dry media — oil pastels, wax blocks or crayons, markers, pens — whatever you have on hand is great
  • Wet media — acrylic paint (much richer colors and better quality than tempera paints but does not wash out as easily)
  • Painting clothes or smocks
  • Paint brushes of any size
  • Drop cloths or large plastic garbage bags
  • Several rags or old towels

Find a space in your home that can be set up as a painting studio. We recommend yards and garages as they tend to be easier to wipe down after painting experiments. It’s also helpful if you set up in a space where the project can be revisited over multiple days.

Cover the ground and wall surface with drop cloths or plastic as desired.

Tape large sheets of paper to the wall or floor, arrange wood scraps on the floor or on a table; having multiple painting stations allows children to move between areas at their own pace. Let children know that the project will be collaborative — that you will be adding to it together, it will change, and it’s okay if parts get covered up. This is a great project to do with neighbors and friends.

Working together to create a large-scale canvas at PCM.

Working together to create a large-scale canvas at PCM.

Set out dry media first and let children explore with those materials. Encourage bold lines and repeating patterns. Give yourself permission to play and make messes, too!

After most of the surfaces have been drawn on, introduce paints. Use only a couple of colors at a time to avoid painting becoming too muddy. Try warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) once and cool colors (blues, greens, purples) another time. We use minimal water when we paint in this way.

Let the work dry and come back to it another time. You can keep using the same boards or paper repeatedly and switch back and forth between dry and wet media. We often cut out and frame favorite sections of collaborative paintings when they are complete. You can also make cards or other crafts with the leftover paper.

Jess Graff

Jess Graff

Artist in Residence Manager at Portland Children's Museum
Jess Graff is a Portland-based artist and educator, and the Artist in Residence manager at the Portland Children’s Museum. She has been teaching and working in the arts for 13 years. The Artist in Residence program brings regional professional artists to the museum to work with children and their families through drop-in programming. The residency program at the Museum is made possible by generous funding from Arlene Schnitzer and the Collins Foundation. For more information about Jess’s work please visit
Jess Graff

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