Mess-Free Painting to Music: Itsy Bitsy Nimbus Book Club

Mess-Free Painting to Music: Itsy Bitsy Nimbus Book Club


I was inspired by the fun, lyrical text by Jill Barber and gorgeous illustrations by Sydney Smith in Music is For Everyone to create an activity this month that also combined art and music for our Itsy Bitsy Nimbus Book Club. This activity encourages the children to explore the musical genres in the book further and they end up with a unique piece of art! Bonus, it's a mess-free activity so kids of all ages (and, yes, you parents will probably want a turn too!) can enjoy it.

Maud Lewis Inspired Greeting Cards and Cookies

Maud Lewis Inspired Greeting Cards and Cookies

If you're a Maritimer, well, actually, even if you're NOT a Maritimer, you've likely heard of Maud Lewis, especially after that blockbuster movie last year profiling her life. Her distinctive folk art and fascinating life story makes her a memorable artist, and she is particularly appealing to children.

This month's pick for the Itsy Bitsy Nimbus Book Club is Maud Lewis 1 2 3. It's a board book filled with images of her colourful iconic paintings that encourages children to count items found in each piece of art (ex. 10 roofs, 4 blue tulips). One of the things we loved about this book was it's a bit of an I Spy style book so my children were both immediately drawn to it. We've talked about who Maud Lewis was and her impact on the Nova Scotia art scene and we were inspired to create two reading extension activities from this book to explore their natural interest in her style of painting and her life story - one Christmas card one, and one Christmas cookie one!

Dresser Upcycling, Take Two

It's a classic case of second child syndrome. Miss M had a darling nursery and, when we moved house when she was almost two, I spent ages designing the perfect little girl room for her to grow up in. Mr M got a sweet frog pond themed nursery for himself, but around age one I started adjusting it to suit his interests (cars, cars, and CARS) but it just never felt like it was coming together right.

I had a mishmash of furniture and decor that I kept trying to put together to make work but I couldn't settle on a colour scheme or a way to make his room cute and car-themed without it looking like a garage. I made him some sweet (and easy!) curtain tie-backs (tutorial here) with a car and bus, and a name art sign with cars (tutorial here) but otherwise it just felt thrown together; I think mainly because there was pretty much every colour in the rainbow in there and it came off as very haphazard.

Then, for Miss M's birthday, we surprised her with a (new-to-us) big girl matching bedroom set. She upgraded from her toddler bed, random night stand, and the purple dresser that used to be her Dad's that I updated last summer (check out that tutorial here).

The original 1970s style dresser

The original 1970s style dresser


As a result Mr M was now the proud owner of a purple dresser to add to his multiple personality room theme.

Miss M's gradient purple updat

Miss M's gradient purple updat

I finally took pity on our poor second child and decided to refresh the dresser again and, in turn, commit to a colour scheme for his room. After much waffling I decided to go with a bright green (Behr's Springview Green) to act as an accent to the navy blue rug with tiny multi-coloured polka dots that we nabbed at Target's going-out-of-business sale ("Target! Come back to Canada! I miss yoooouuuu!").

I pulled all the drawers out and took them to the garage, along with a little red table I'd scored at Value Village. They were all getting the green treatment. First thing was to unscrew the new handles we'd put on the drawers and then each surface got a good scrub down with the sandpaper. The little Ms were very (un)helpful with this part. I may have spent most of the sanding time diving after various pieces of sandpaper that kept heading for Daddy's car in the garage. Last thing was a quick wipe-down with a damp paper towel to remove any sanding dust and they were all prepped.

When I got the kids down for nap/quiet time, it was time to paint (squee!). The helpful folks at the home improvement store suggested I get paint with primer already in it (best invention ever - that coat of white primer is the boring-est coat to do).

Lookit that green! So invigorating

Lookit that green! So invigorating

I slapped a coat on each drawer and the table, then a second one the next day and they were done. Easy peasy. Hubby helped screw all the handles back in and I set them up in Mr M's room.

The finished dresser

The finished dresser

I am really digging the green against the white. The photo makes it look a little darker than it is but you get the idea. 

The painted table

The painted table

I'm so pleased with how the colours all look together - bright and fun - and now his room is starting to feel like it's actually intentional and not just the random leftovers from his big sister. Plus it only cost me the price of a small can of paint to give him a quality, custom piece of furniture - double bonus in my books!

How to customize a child's table and chair set

How to customize a child's table and chair set

Last summer I came across a scuffed up wooden table at a secondhand shop for just a few dollars so I grabbed it, not really having a plan but hoping something would come to me. 

I decided to make a table and chair set for Miss M's room for her tea parties, using a Dollar Store chair I'd bought the previous summer. We had recently got a cheerful striped rug for her room and I used that for my inspiration.

Easy Preschool Art Activity Inspired by Mix it Up!

Doesn’t it seem like every time you carefully choose gifts for your children, something that seems completely random ends up being the big winner (like the bubble wrap in a box for Mr. M). My parents got the children a book called “Mix it Up!” by Hervé Tullet. We were all completely charmed by the simplicity of the book and the interactive elements. It encourages the children to “mix” the colours together and when you turn the page it shows them what happened. They shake the book, tip it sideways, and Miss M’s favourite part, squish their hand onto a big mess of paint and then turn the page to see “her” handprint there.

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We’ve read it several times and she always delights in the imaginative elements of moving the book around and using her fingers to mix the colours. She’s never been a kid who liked to get messy so I didn’t really consider moving the experience into the real world. Then today happened. Today we were stuck inside as both the children had the sniffles and, frankly, we were all going a little stir crazy. It was a hit - and, best of all, super easy! 

Here’s all you need to do a Mix it Up painting with your children - you likely have just about everything already in your house!

I recommend that you read the book together a few times so they understand the concept of colour mixing, and some ways to do it. It took a few reads before she started remembering what colours made what.


  • Pure white heavy paper or a smallish canvas. We used an old piece of Bristol board I had from another project and quickly chopped it into four rectangles. Commercial finger painting paper would be good too. You just don’t want to use printer paper or newsprint as when they rub paint on it the dampness may tear a hole in it.

  • Five small paintbrushes – large ones grab too much paint and will make it hard to see the results of the mixing.

  • Bottles of red, yellow, blue, white and black paint. We used Elmer’s Washable Tempera Paint. Even though Miss M is a pretty responsible three year old and not a fan of messes, the washable is still a must (especially with Mr. M around).

  • Five empty baby food jars. I used these for pouring a bit of the paint into. They fit perfectly in the lip of our Step 2 easel; they're high enough so that the paintbrushes don’t fall out; and when you’re done you either wash them out for another time, or pop the cap on and save the rest for another day.

  • It’s ideal if you can use an easel so they can get a good big picture of their work as they go but a table would work well too. Just make sure you use a drop cloth and smocks to prevent a big mess (hmmm…wonder where Miss M gets her disdain of messes from…)

  • This kind of artwork is perfect for the type of parent who doesn’t consider themselves much of an arts n’ crafts type of person as it’s very self-directed. I spent my time running back and forth between her and Mr M rescuing him from his own artistic "efforts" (i.e. chewing crayons).

Simply give them the supplies and let them go. If they seem hesitant you can encourage them by talking about what they did in the book and even showing them pages of it and asking them to imitate it. You can suggest they try choosing a colour and making a dot, and then adding another colour to that dot. Once they see the“magic” they will be keen to start exploring on their own. You can always grab a piece of paper for yourself and let them follow along with you until they’re more comfortable.

I was amazed to watch Miss M (with absolutely no prompting from me) start making circles and combining colours just like in the book. I was surprised that she didn’t just mash them all together as she usually does – she was doing her colour mixing very intentionally and imitating what she had seen in the book.

Mixing it Up!

Mixing it Up!

After she had done several shapes of colours I added black and white to the options. In the story they’re used to show how to make lighter and darker colours and how to mix them to create grey, and she did all of those activities.

I was momentarily distracted by Mr M swinging from the rafters, and when I returned to check on Miss M she was counting slowly to five with her hand pressed against the paint just like she does in the book. Let me repeat that for you – HER HAND WAS PRESSED AGAINST THE PAINT!!

This is the child that hates getting maple syrup on her fingers while eating waffles, or insists on washing her hands five times in the course of gluing something on a picture because she hates getting dirty. But she got all up in that picture and tried several handprints and then she actually started finger painting and had a grand time.

The final masterpiece

The final masterpiece

She did a second piece of art and when they were done we added them both to our Art Gallery in our Family Room. Click here to see how to create an Art Gallery of your own.

Family Art Gallery

Family Art Gallery

I have to admit, it looked so fun and created such a cool piece of art that I may do one of my own tonight – and I might even get up the nerve to put my own hand on it too…

Have you read any art books with your children? Have you been inspired to try to recreate the art in it with them?

How to Update a Dresser from 1975 to 2015

I’ve always been a sucker for makeovers. I love the before and after and the potential for a huge change with just a bit of work! This is probably what keeps me trying out new DIY projects – always looking for that big reveal. Unfortunately my arts and crafts skills peaked around age five. This means that to my three year old I’m an arts and crafts genius. To the rest of the grown-ups in my life, I make a “really good effort”. Usually what happens is I get inspired by something I saw online or just get an idea in my head of how to repurpose something we already have. Most of the time the image in my head doesn’t quite match up with what my results are. Every so often though all the stars align and it’s even better than I imagined. This was one of those times.

For the last year I’ve been slowly updating our daughter’s room from a nursery to a big girl’s room. As her interests and preferences became more apparent I wanted to shape her room into a place she loved. By this past summer most of it was done and I was feeling really happy with it. There was just one glaring piece that was driving me crazy. Her dresser.

Her dresser is part of a set that my husband had as a kid – it also has a desk (which I use as a work desk now) and a set of shelves (that the toys in their playroom sit on). They are a glossy stained solid wood and very nice and sturdy, and an excellent choice for a kid in the '70s - but looked very out of date in her sweet purple and pink room. I considered buying a new set but it seemed a waste as these ones are the right height for her to be able to reach all the drawers and deep enough to fit all her clothes. I mused and muttered about them for several weeks until I remembered seeing some dressers on Pinterest done in a ombre or gradient effect that I just loved. I googled some of those projects for ideas and then convinced myself I could do it.

Because I don’t like to wait unnecessarily (my husband calls it impatience, I call it using my time wisely) a couple days later I dumped all the clothes out and pulled the drawers out. I labeled each drawer with a sticky note, i.e. top left, middle right, so I knew where it went back – some of them don’t slide as smoothly if they go in a different spot. Even if your drawers all fit well in each spot it’s still a good idea to label them so when you get to the painting part you know which one is supposed to be which colour as with this type of effect the colours can look very similar until it's done. I then had my husband help me drag all the pieces down to the garage. 

I popped by a home improvement store next and agonized over shades of purple. The idea is to choose one colour card and pick three in a row so that you get the subtle changes in colour. I find it so hard to choose a colour in there with the fluorescent lights - I hold them against white buckets and go down dark aisles but it's still really hard to judge what they will actually look like in a house. I finally erred on the side of caution and went with CIL's Artistic Orchid, Vesper Bell, and Vintage Violet (side note: what on earth do the first two even mean?! According to Google a Vesper Bell is a church bell rung in the evening - no idea what that has to do with purple). I had some leftover interior white paint at home from another project for the rest of the dresser.

I also picked up eight drawer pulls while I was there. I wanted really simple white ones that wouldn't distract from the overall design and would be easy for little hands to grab and pull. The ones I chose were very clean looking and low cost (just under $4 each).

Things needed and cost:

  • Sample pots of purple paint ($5 each for a total of $15 and still tonnes left)

  • White paint ($0 - already had leftover from previous projects)

  • Paint brushes ($0 - already had)

  • Sand paper ($0 - already had)

  • Cleaner ($0 - already had)

  • Putty and putty knife ($0 - already had)

  • Screwdriver ($0 - already had)

  • Drawer pulls ($4 each for a total of $32)

  • Drill and a handy partner (free with the exchange of one set of wedding rings)

  • Total cost = $49 plus tax

As soon as the kids went to bed that night I unscrewed the hideous 1970’s drawer pulls and put them aside for another project some day. Then I plugged the holes with some putty as the new drawer pulls would need to have new holes put in.


Then I used the cleaner to scrub down the whole dresser and clean it out really well. Next up was the sanding which went surprisingly quickly. It had a glossy finish on it so I figured I’d scratch it up first and see how well the paint stuck and then do more if needed (and this is why most projects end up going wrong – short cuts).

Once I sanded it all I wiped the dust off with a wet sponge and then did another round of sanding and wiping (since it was so easy and satisfying the first time). Then, the best part, the painting! I love what a dramatic difference a coat of paint makes on anything. Unfortunately before painting comes the worst part for me – taping. I taped all around the edges so that it didn’t bleed onto any parts that shouldn’t be painted (I kept the bottom of the drawers and the back of the dresser natural as it was just PDF). My plan was to use white paint for the top, sides and bottom of the dresser, as well as along with the sides of the drawers; and use the purples (from lightest to darkest) from top to bottom on the front of the drawers only.

I did all the white paint first and then left it to dry overnight. The next morning I popped out to the garage before my husband left for work and slapped a second coat of white on it to make sure it was nice and smooth. It was looking great – like a whole new piece of furniture!

As soon as the kids went down for nap I eagerly opened the purple paint. My first disappointment was that they were lighter than I had hoped. I’d played it too safe with the paint chips. Too late now though so I carefully laid out the drawers according to my sticky note label system and did the top, then the middle, then the bottom colours. I laid out the paint pots in order as well (top, middle, bottom), as you could barely tell them apart when they were all opened, and used different brushes for each to ensure nothing got mixed up.

That evening I did touch-ups on the white and a second coat on the purple drawers. It was really coming together now. The next morning when they were all dry I put the drawers in to check out the gradient effect. It was better than I’d thought once it was against the white! I think the next level of purple in the colour family would have been a little bolder but this works well with the pink and purple theme in her room.

The last step was the drawer pulls. I had my husband use the drill to make new holes for them as we needed to use longer screws than the ones the drawer pulls came with (due to the wood being so thick). Luckily we have a massive collection of screws and nails and were able to find some that fit.

And, voila, a new-to-her dresser that perfectly matches her big girl bedroom! In the end, once they were all together, I really liked the colours and I just adore the gradient effect.

Time (built around sleeping children): two and a half days

Cost: under $50

Difficulty level: Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. The only part that I had trouble with was the drilling. As much as I'd like to be, I’m just not a power tool kind of girl.

Note: This dresser got yet another life a few years later. See how we updated it for Mr M's room here!