A few years ago, back in what now seems like the dark ages of the internet – I know 2009 isn’t that long ago but in web development it’s light years away – I came across a great kids’ art website from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, NGAKids. Even then it was impressive; interactive and highly entertaining with a colourful suite of engaging art based activities for children of all ages, all with the intent of supercharging creativity. It was one website I went back to again and again with my own children and dare I say it I spent many blissful moments having an “art attack” myself. It had all the hallmarks of a great educational website, easy to navigate, loads to do and see and it made learning about art, artists and their techniques so much fun. Digital finger-painting at its best – a pure delight.
I’m glad to say that NGAKIds –Artzone has continued to delight over the years and is now even bigger and better with an extended range of online interactive art making tools including a nicely designed iPad app; and all for free. It still has some of the old favourites such as The Dutch House, an interactive dollhouse inspired by the works of 17th century Dutch masters like Vermeer and de Hooch. Here users can play with a cast of characters, explore and decorate rooms, play with colour, light and perspective while creating their very own Dutch masters inspired masterpiece.
Another personal favourite is the Faces and Places tool that encourages children to create portraits or landscape paintings in the style of American naive folk art from the 18th and 19th centuries. Users can combine and modify a variety of visual elements, all taken from the National Gallery collections, to make personalised portraits and epic landscapes which can very quickly turn into very weird and wonderful images. The ability to add little animations and music is another great fun feature.
If you’re looking for something more up to date, the Photo Op tool is a useful two part introduction to digital photography and image editing. Children can use the virtual camera to compose and take pictures. By playing with the aperture, zoom, focus and speed settings they very quickly learn the purpose of each tool and how they can affect the resulting picture. Once taken they can then use the simple image editing software to create weird and wonderful digital art which can then be printed. The special effects palette with it’s colourising, collage, warp and mirror effects can transform a boring picture into a riot of colour and shapes.
Other Artzone Tools Available for Online Play, Download or iPad:
- Sea-Saws – Create an animated seascape or an abstract composition.
- Brushster – Create an interactive abstract painting with 40 brushes, a full-colour palette, and special effects.
- Jungle – Create a tropical landscape filled with tigers, monkeys, and other exotic creatures.
- Still Life – Create an interactive still life that mirrors the paintings of the old masters.
- Collage Machine – Create a collage by dragging and dropping photo snippets, words, numbers, background colours, and textured shapes.
- Flow – Create and combine pictures on overlapping layers.
- Paintbox – Choose a background image or start with a blank slate, then draw something in Paintbox. Add warps and other special effects to make silly pictures.
- Swatchbox – Experiment with colour to create your own colour palette.
- Wallovers – Create interlaced patterns.
- 3-D Twirler – Design and texturize three-dimensional geometric shapes and set them in motion.
- Mobile – Design a moving sculpture and take it for a spin. Try to balance the shapes and colours.
- Pixelface – This interactive portrait maker has 49 colours and 24 brushes. Draw freehand or use the AUTO mode for surprising effects.
Learning Resources & Lesson Plans
Apart from these wonderful art making tools, the website has a large repository of learning content and lesson plans for teachers which can be easily downloaded and used in the classroom. Here for example is a nice lesson plan focusing on Van Gogh’s self portraits. There is also a wealth of hi-resolution open access images which can be downloaded and used for art projects. All for free, what’s not to love!