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Winter Art

photo credit: Phoebe Olcott

When winter seems to be only shades of black and white, who doesn’t crave color? I often find I’m drawn to doing colorful art projects with my girls — like collages and painting. When one of my daughters recently suggested painting with snow, I was excited to see just what she had in mind.

It had conveniently started snowing that morning, and we had set up little collecting bowls to measure how quickly the snow was falling. We brought them in every hour and looked at the flakes and how much had fallen (a few times the bowls were completely buried). Eventually, we brought the bowls to the table, and I got out the watercolors. Rather than using the melting snow as their water supply, my girls decided to paint the snow itself. They dabbed paint into the bowls and watched as it melted and created interesting patterns and combinations of color. That inspired them to paint rainbows around the trees in our yard. When we were done, we sprinkled the colored snow around the trees.

photo credit: Phoebe Olcott

On a tear of creativity, I remembered a project we did with friends a few years ago: making ice ornaments. We happen to have an insect-shape muffin tin, which is perfect for this, but you can use anything — even paper cups. Fill with water, add a bit of food coloring, and place a piece of string or yarn into each cup/shape. Finally, put them outside to freeze (you can record how long they take to freeze). When the water has frozen, pop the ice out and hang from a tree. The ice ornaments are so lovely when the sun shines through and fun to watch on a warm day when they melt, making little colored patches of snow on the ground.

Back inside, it was time to learn more about snowflakes, which really are one of nature’s most amazing creations. Something that looks so plain from a distance is so intricate and delicate up close. A terrific snowflake book is The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder written and with photos by Mark Cassino. It is science-y but beautiful and not too overly complicated. The photographs are stunning, and the explanations of how different types of snowflakes form are fascinating. The snow catching tips at the end are great, too. For more of a story, I like Over and Under the Snow, one of the books in Kate Messner’s series that includes Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt and Over and Under the Pond. Over and Under the Snow is a great book for imagining all that is happening under the snow. There is so much taking place, and we only see a little snippet of it when hidden critters peek up above the snow or leave tracks behind. This sparked another idea to create “snow stories” based on what prints we saw in the snow. We imagined what had happened there and what animals were involved. Were there tail marks? Any bones or feathers? Markings? We had fun trying to solve the mystery with these clues.

Now, I look out in our yard and see so much — our ice ornaments have melted, but the yarn dangles from our tree and there are still a few dots of color on the ground. I wonder if a bird or squirrel will commandeer the yarn for a nest in the spring if we leave them there long enough. For now, we will keep watching what nature creates and keep creating things from it ourselves.

Books mentioned

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson (Chronicle, 2009)

Over and Under the Snow (2011); Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (2015); Over and Under the Pond (2017), all written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle)


Visit Susan’s blog for more of her thoughts about these and other nature-themed picture books.

Susan Olcott About Susan Olcott

Susan Olcott lives in Maine with her husband and six-year old twin girls. She's played on lobster boats while getting her M.S. in Marine Science, designed and led snorkeling and kayaking tours in San Diego for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium, taken kids on bike tours in Europe and the U.S., and taught biology to military personnel in Sardinia, Italy.

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