02 April 2013

Red Seashell Heart - Project with my daughter

The idea of the love heart was borne out of a day my pockets were full of seashells I collected whilst waiting for my daughter to finish her art class.  When I showed her the seashells she oohed and ahhed just like any other 4 years old little girl.

Once at home we cleaned and dried the shells and then admired the pretty colours, different shapes and unique markings on each one of them.  The ones Trini liked the most she put away in a bucket as a private collection whilst the rest was to be used for our project.

Grabbing a 25cm x 25cm square canvas, I showed Trini how it might look if we placed the shells in the shape of a heart.  She loved the idea and from there we just experimented and built on it one step at a time, given that we didn't actually know how to pull it all together.

Not a project I would usually recommend for a 4 years old who lives in the now, with short-term concentration and limited focus but this project was far too tempting and Trini wasn't left on her own.

The one thing that I discovered with her is that by working on the project in stages over a period of days, she didn't seem impatient or unfocused.  She seemed to genuinely enjoy the process of painting one day, gluing another day, painting again, and so on.  It took us about a week to complete but we were both pleasantly surprised with the outcome, so much so that we have already worked out the next project with seashells: a rainbow with white clouds and yellow sun.  Quite ambitious as it'll require more colours to paint with, more organising and work on a larger canvas in order to fit a rainbow on it properly.

Anyway here is our experiment, one step at a time:


Seashells of mixed sizes and shapes (lots and lots of them)
25 x 25 cm square canvas 
White acrylic paint (optional - see instructions below)
Red acrylic paint
2 paintbrushes
Crayola Washable School Glue (it's easy to clean off little hands)
Pink glitter paint (optional)


If you don't live near the beach then make sure you have a substantial collection of seashells.  Rinse them to dispose of any leftover sand and leave them to dry.

Lay out some newspaper and paint the canvas with white acrylic and set aside to dry.  I know it's already white, so you don't have to if you see no sense in it.  I just preferred to do that. 

Grab the seashells and with the red acrylic, paint each one of them.  Place them on the  newspaper and let them dry.  It's a messy process as you can see from Trini's hands below but a fun one for any child. 

Painting small seashells develops a child's dexterity, attention to detail, patience and gentle painting rather than enveloping the shells with gobs of paint.

Our shells in drying process.

Guide your child in placing the shells on the canvas in a heart shape and organise them until satisfied with the outline.  Once done, grab the glue and squeeze some on a disposable plate.  Take a toothpick, roll one end in the glue, grab a shell used to outline the heart and gently dab the glue on the edge of the unpainted end, then put it back down on the canvas where you got the shell from.  Continue this step all the way around the outline.

Trini adding the glue on the unpainted side
with toothpick dabbed in glue.

The glued shells on the canvas nearing completion.

This next stage is a bit easier.  Have your child hold the glue bottle and squeeze it inside the heart outline making sure the glue covers the whole area.  Guide your child's hand if needed and ensure that the glue is reasonably even rather than gobs in places and thin in other.

Glue adhered to the inside of the heart outline.

This part is quite fun for the child as he/she applies the shells to the glue.  The key here is to have the shells touching each other and filling in the gaps.  Kind of like completing a jigsaw puzzle.  Adjust discreetly as needed whilst allowing your child as much freedom as possible to complete this part of the project.  Once done set aside for a day to dry. 

Jigsaw time.  Filling in the gaps.

We ran out of shells so we spent a wonderful afternoon on the beach collecting more.  This time Trini was participating which made it more fun for her as she felt that she contributed to the collection process.  We are fortunate to be living in a condo across from the beach making it easy for us to collect whenever we need to.

Collecting more shells.

With a topped up collection and more painting, we placed another layer of shells squeezing a lot more glue.  This gets a bit tricky for a child as it needs an eye for detail, so help by directing where the shells should be placed on the heart.

When completed have the adult generously squeeze glue between the shells as shown below to ensure that the top shells will adhere to the bottom layer.  Set aside for a couple of days for the glue to dry and cure. 

Generous amount of glue are added to ensure the
shells adhere to one another.

Crayola glue usually dries clear when applied in small quantities.  Due to the generous application for this project the glue dries cloudy so it is necessary to paint the glue and apply another coat on the shells.  Have your child paint the interior shells whilst you paint the outline shells to ensure no red paint ends up on the canvas.

Applying red paint to the glue and another coat on the shells.

At this point you can stop, let the paint dry and put it on display.  We went a step further as we had glitter paint in the cupboard in pink, red and gold.  We applied each colour to sample shells to see which effect we liked the best.  According to Trini, the pink was the best option so that was our chosen colour.  We applied the pink glitter glue with Trini painting the interior and me painting the outline.

Glitter glue being applied.

Once applied let it dry for a couple of hours and then apply a second coat.

I'd like to have used a glossy varnish but we didn't have any so for now it's on display as is.  Maybe the next time we go to an art shop we'll get the varnish and give the artwork a couple of coats.

The pink glitter paint has softened the brightness of the red.

This project may seem complicated but when broken down into stages it makes for an easy and fun project that is worth the effort.  Besides the abovementioned skill developments, your child may also realise how an artwork can be created out of simple items such as shells, a little paint, glue, canvas and some patience.