Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Infants and Toddlers Nature Painting

Painting with Droppers

Meghan Burch

I’m excited to share with you an exploration I tried with a group of toddlers. It’s inspired by Uri Schulevitz’s Rain Rain Rivers, other pipette explorations I’ve seen on Pinterest and celebrates The Carle’s exhibition Tall Tales and Short Tales: The Art of Uri Shulevitz open March 14 -  June 14, 2015.

Rain Rain Rivers

Painting with plastic pipettes or small droppers at an easel offers opportunities to learn about gravity and color theory through serendipitous mixing while also developing the finger muscles needed for an efficient pencil grasp.

Additionally, working on a vertical surface helps develop fine motor skills by exercising the muscles of the wrist. So, all of this, and it is lot fun, too!

Painting with Droppers

Before my toddler group arrived, I set up multiple vertical painting stations. Each station consisted of a DIY easel: either a clipboard on a wire book stand or a slanted acrylic sign holder with a clip, rested on top of a paper towel inside a shallow tray. We used watercolor paper, but a heavyweight drawing paper could work too.

Dropper Painting Setup

In between the easels, I set up small trays containing a few no-spill paint cups about one third full with diluted liquid watercolor paint. Watered-down tempera paint would work too. Food dye mixed with water is another option but it’s not washable so it’s my last choice. In each paint cup I placed one transparent plastic dropper. 

parent and child in studio

A few parents showed their children how to pinch and squeeze and then release the pipette in the paint to fill it with paint. For the most part, this group either already knew how to use them, or figured it out on their own or by watching their peers.

neon dropper painting

There was a quiet meditative feeling amongst the young friends in this session. They were too engrossed in watching their paint drip down the paper to try squirting their paint in other places. I had plenty of towels around just in case, and the trays prevented the paint from flooding the table. 

completed dropper painting

I’m not one to quickly label art making as a stress relieving pursuit, but honestly, try this yourself and you’ll be hooked. As I tried my own drip paintings, I became totally immersed in watching the colors mix and slide down my paper in unexpected ways.  I also did this exploration with a group of early childhood educators and they were deeply satisfied; conversing, wondering aloud, laughing, and quietly pondering as they worked. It was a privilege to witness!

I’m sure there are many other picture books besides Rain Rain Rivers that could inspire a similar dropper painting exploration. What books would you add to that list?

Making Art with Children is generously sponsored by the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority.


Meghan, smiling and wearing a grey shirt with a blue background.

Meghan Burch

Art Educator from 2003-2016, Meghan has a BFA in Illustration from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She tries to think with materials and work with her hands every day.