Hot Air Balloon Art Project

In art, sometimes we get new ideas from looking at something old. At our art school  here in Seattle we recently taught this lesson, inspired by historical illustrations of the first passenger-carrying hot air balloons. Students of all ages, from 4-year-olds to adults, had such a great time I decided to share the project here as well. This is a project that can provide useful challenges to little ones as well as teenagers and adults, depending on how you approach it – which makes it a wonderful chance to do art together and play around with all the different ways it can turn out! Use the step-by-step guide for the basic shapes; if you’ve got older artists in the family, add extra ornate details from our examples, or from your imagination.

balloon example 2


sturdy, smooth paper

permanent black pen (for older artists, try one with an extra-fine tip)

markers or colored pencils (or both!)

1. Share a little about the history of what you’re drawing: Hot air balloons were the first way humans experienced sustained flight, before planes or parachutes. Initially they were developed in China, as floating paper lanterns that could signal to people far away. The first passenger-carrying hot air balloons, though, were made in France, in 1783. Before they tried lifting people, they sent one up that successfully carried a sheep, a duck, and a rooster! The art examples shown here are all inspired by actual illustrations of those first balloon flights.

balloon blackline

2. Sometimes balloon shapes can feel tricky to draw. Don’t worry! Start with the bottom of the balloon, which is shaped a little like the outline of an eye. Trace up from the middle of it with your finger, and make a dot where you want the top of your balloon to be.

balloon steps

3. Take it slowly with the sides of your balloon. Start at your top dot, then curve out to one side before joining up with the bottom shape. On the other side, try to curve out the same amount. It’s ok if your balloon ends up a little pointy on top – some of the first hot air balloons actually were pointy too!


4. Draw two straight lines from the bottom edges, going down to where your basket will be. Add your basket connected below, using curved lines for the bottom and top to show that it is round, not flat.


5. Start your decorations by dividing your balloon into sections, using lines that curve up gently. This trick helps the balloon look full and round, instead of flat. Then fill in different designs and details throughout your balloon. You can look at the examples for ideas, and add others from your imagination.

balloon extra details

6. Fill in your colors using the markers or colored pencils. If you want to use both, fill everything in with markers first, then draw extra designs or shading on top with the colored pencils. If using just colored pencil, try filling everything in solidly with very firm pressure – this will help your balloon really “pop” out from the page!


Extra Tip: If your kid gets frustrated about her/his balloon shape at the beginning, there are lots of ways to solve it! You can add extra lines around the original ones, to make the shape you want, and then turn the first lines into part of the design. Or, suggest that this balloon is blowing in the wind, or about to land or take off, and isn’t fully inflated – encourage your kid to turn it into a fun scene to draw. When we’re making art, something that seems like a mistake is actually just a surprising new challenge. When we see it through, we can come up with new ideas for our art we might never have thought of before!

balloon example youngest

balloon example 1




Fall Harvest Drawing Project

Fall is definitely here – the leaves are turning red and orange, and we’ve all been seeing a lot of pumpkins around the neighborhood. Now’s the perfect time to try out some of those details in an art project! This fall harvest scene combines trees and pumpkins with learning a step-by-step technique for drawing a cow. There’s also lots of space for kids to add their own designs and ideas along the way. For art time with the whole family, parents can make their own project alongside the kids – see how many fun, different ways it can turn out!


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Learn Oil Pastel & Watercolor Techniques- Intermediate Program Now Available!

The Intermediate Program is now live and available here!

To celebrate, we are offering $20 off both of the Intermediate and Beginner Programs!

Click here to watch the preview video to see highlights of the program.

This next round of lessons features super fun topics such as Ocean Octopuses, Sailing Ships, Lions, Turtles and more- plus, kids will learn new art techniques using oil pastel and watercolor.

When your child has a basic understanding of how lines can be put together to draw objects, they are ready to branch out with new techniques- oil pastels are fantastic for learning how to make objects look more realistic with shading, layering and texture and watercolor is perfect for learning color mixing and brush technique.


Mile's Octopus Cropped


Miles- age 7

As a Kickstarter supporter, Mile’s family received early access to the Intermediate lessons and he dug right in! Thanks for sharing your art, Miles!

I can’t wait to see what your kids come up with! Head on over to the Intermediate Program to see what’s in store!

How to have a Thrive Art Play Date this Summer


There are lots of ways to use Thrive online art classes with your kids this summer and one of my favorite ideas is to have an artful play date with friends. Invite a few pals over and watch as they enjoy a creative learning experience that requires very little coordination by you. Since Thrive lessons are designed for kids to be able to take independently, you can have an hour to yourself or catch up with your grownup friends while the kids are happily creating their masterpieces.

kids2 (1)

Here are three things you need to have an artful play date with Thrive online art classes:

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What to Do When Your Child Feels Frustrated

As a teacher and parent, I know that some frustration is good for kids- it means they feel challenged and stretched and if they work through it, it’s an opportunity for them to gain confidence and autonomy. But actually seeing my own kids feel frustrated, is one of the hardest things for me. I tend to panic a bit and have to resist a strong urge to fix or remove whatever is triggering them, instead of giving them space to experience it.

Large Image Frustration Quote

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How much should we challenge our kids?

Our kids are learning all the time and when they feel mildly frustrated, it can be a good sign that they are on the brink of learning something new. But how do we know when the challenge is just too much for what they are currently capable of figuring out?  How much frustration is a productive part of the learning process and when is it a sign that the challenge needs to be dialed back a bit?

Connor, age 8

Connor, Age 8

Not enough challenge leaves kids bored and if you’re like me, the thought of too much challenge brings up memories of ‘sink or swim’ kinds of experiences- not a very productive or nurturing way to learn.

The ideal sweet spot, then, is when kids are challenged, but not overly so. This area between what they can currently do and the point too far for them to reach is called the Zone of Proximal Development coined by the Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky.

Just like for us adults, it’s really energizing and motivating for kids to be totally focused on something just beyond their reach but in the realm of possibility.

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Change I Can’t to I Am- through Art


An 8 yr old girl comes into the classroom and she’s excited to learn to draw horses. She’s also afraid because she thinks they’re hard to draw.

She sits down with her paper and pen. She starts to draw an oval- it’s gonna be an eye. And then she works on the ear, and, when the line is not how she wants it, she starts to panic. Self doubt creeps in and that little gremlin voice starts saying- I can’t do it. Everything in her core is telling her to scribble it out and start over.

This is a critical point for her and for her teacher….

Horse camp

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How to talk to your kids about what they create


Wouldn’t it be cool if you could better understand what your child’s experience and process was when making their art? What was going through their creative mind when they drew that picture or painted that landscape?  Does their art say anything about their hopes, their dreams, or their fears?

For the final post in my series on How we Create, I want to share a tool we use in our online program called Art Talk. Art Talk helps kids think about and share their creative learning. Reflecting on the experience is often overlooked but it can be the most valuable part of creating.

Here are five great conversation starters you can use to help your child get the most out of their creative process.


Why Draw?

Do you remember being asked in elementary school to write and illustrate stories? For me, the drawing part was always discouraging. I loved to write tales about living on our farm and especially about my horse but I couldn’t draw one for the life of me. In fact, I stopped drawing all together after multiple attempts that felt like failures.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that everyone can learn to draw, we just need to learn how!

Watch this video to learn some of the awesome benefits of drawing.

How has drawing made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear your stories!


Tip-Why-Draw from Thrive Art School on Vimeo.

5-4-3-2-1 Launch!

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by. This blog is all about raising creative kids! You’ll find quick projects that make creating easy and loads of tips for supporting your child in creating what they want in the world.

I also love brain stuff too. Brain science that is. Two brains are better than one and I am fascinated by helping our kids make use of both sides of their noggin. Creativity is not solely about sparks of inspiration- that’s just the beginning. What lights me up is seeing kids who are problem solvers and innovators because they have the confidence and skills to turn inspiration into reality.

What ever I write about-  drawing, painting, problem solving and every glorious mess in-between, I make sure to do it in bite-size chunks ‘cause I know you are busy busy!

Feel free to let me know if there is anything you’d like to see- I’m here and it’s what I love to do!

Here’s to raising creative and confident kids!