Happy Accidents

‘By looking attentively at old and smeared walls, or stones and veined marble of various colours, you may fancy that you see in them several compositions, landscapes, battles, figures in quick motion, strange countenances, and dresses, with an infinity of other objects.  By these confused lines, the inventive genius is excited to new exertions’.

These are the words of Leonardo da Vinci – from his ‘Treatise on Painting’. As this quote proves, the use of the accidental or incidental to spark imagination is nothing new and has been used by artists for centuries. If it was good enough to help Leonardo spark his creativity, then it’s good enough for me.

Children of course are especially good at seeing shapes and pictures in all kinds of things, be it clouds, marks on the wall, or even their dinner. Our brains are apparently hard-wired to seek meaning in what we see, and particularly to ‘see’ faces. Only today my 4 year old was identifying the ‘faces’ of the cars that we passed.  In fact I came across a whole photography book devoted to the idea of Found Faces in the environment, an idea which I thought would make an entertaining photographic activity for kids in it’s own right.

I also think it’s important for children to learn early in their art education, that artistic accidents are challenging rather than disastrous, are an entirely valid way of creating art, and can often lead you off in new directions which are equally good or better than what you had originally planned.

We have been exploring the accidental lately with our Splat Monsters, and as a result I was recently recommended to take a look at a new book by Margaret Peot called Inkblot – Drip, Splat and Squish your way to Creativity. I’m very glad she did as it is such an inspirational book. I think most people are aware of the classic psychological  ‘ink-blot’ test developed by Hermann Rorschach (this kind of symmetrical ink-blot art forms the core of the book) but I had no idea that ink-blot art in general had such a respectable use amongst artists in the past for inspiring creativity. There are lots of ideas in the book for developing artwork of this kind, and also for variations on a theme, such as blown-ink pictures.  Again, this technique is an ‘old favourite’ which we’re all familiar with, but using it as a basis for further artwork can exercise a child’s creativity even more.




Various projects are illustrated in the book – my personal favourites are the totem poles created from inkblots, the signature blots, and the ‘specimen’ ink-blot moths, cut out and mounted in a frame.




If you’re out and about or don’t have the time/facilities to hand to create your own ink-blots, then I can also recommend another book I discovered – appropriately named Splat! What’s That? – which has ready made splats/splodges and scanned items for you to alter. I couldn’t resist it, and will probably end up fighting the kids to see who gets to it first.

So, next time your child spills their juice all over some paper, don’t get upset, just see it as an opportunity for some artwork ;)


NB: This is not a sponsored post, but does have some affiliate links in.