Childhood play & adult creativity

Fantasy blog image
Marble step 1
Marble step 2
Marble step 4
Marble step 6
Scraping complete
Marble step 3
Marble step 5
The moment of magic

Put shaving foam in a baking tray, add acrylic ink blobs, move them around, place a piece of paper on top and LIFT OFF!

I have been reading Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin’s book ‘Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation and was struck by their chapter, Childhood play and creativity where they pose the question, ‘does play in childhood enhance creativity in later life?’ They demise that obtaining good evidence about the effects of childhood play on creativity is hard, but believe that playful play in particular can help generate creativity. However they conclude that long-term effects of childhood experience is uncertain.

It made me consider my own childhood and the opportunities for play. I recall playing with water, playdough, building blocks, paint, and specifically blowing bubbles through my straw in my milk bottle at playgroup, creating a wrestling ring with my sister and play fighting (I was Tiny Tot Tim, she was Big Boy Bim) pretending to be wrestlers, building dens on the landing using the clothes horse and playing marbles on drain lids with friends in the street.

But one of the first pictures I recall is making a butterfly at playgroup, which my Dad framed. It simply involved putting paint on one half of an A4 sheet of paper then folding it in half, so the end result was a mirroring image which created a butterfly once the paper was unfolded. Why this sticks in my memory I don’t know – may be because it had been kept and I saw it years later. But it was my first acknowledged creative act. 

I did this at the age of 2. Now it my 52nd year, I thought it would be fun to revisit a similar act of serendipity, allowing the paper and paint to work their magic  and see what would emerge. 

Ingredients needed:

Men’s shaving foam

Acrylic ink 

Absorbent heavy-weight A4 paper

Baking tray



Squirt foam to over the baking tray

Using a pipette sprinkle drops of ink over the foam

Place an A4 sheet of paper over the coloured foam

Press down gently but firmly with hand

Lift carefully and set aside to dry for a few minutes

Using a scraper, scrape off the foam to reveal the marbel effect on paper

The joy of placing the dots of paint and then the element of surprise when finally scraping off the foam to reveal the marks was such a positive playful experience. For me the best part was looking at the created picture and seeing the serendipity – the unexpected, unintentional shapes within the marks. It led to further play, by manipulating the image and seeing what other creations could be made from what was a spontaneous mark-making exercise. 

The childhood memory of folding paint with paper, stimulated the exercise and led to a creative outcome – something I would not have achieved if I had not had taken up the invitation to play with paint and paper in the first place. Personally I am convinced that the opportunity as a child, to play with a variety of materials and things, has fuelled my creativity in adult life. 

Marble image before manipulation
Before Manipulation
After Manipulation – Fantasy World

The image on the left is what emerged after scraping off the foam, the right image is after manipulating it by drawing on top. I was drawn into the arch in the centre, the eye was pulled in, so I concentrated on this. The orange looked like an exotic bird and the shapes dictated wings so i added some fantasy birds to the image.

blue marbeling before manipulation
Before Manipulation
snow boy scene
After Manipulation – The Snow Boy
Before manipulation house
Before Manipulation
The little pink house

It was a playful activity prompted by a childhood play memory, whereby I allowed the paint and paper interaction to determine the outcome. Using the results, I then pursued with my ‘adult’ self to manipulate the image and see what else could develop. A childhood memory in this instance led to a new method I can add to my playfulness tool kit!

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