Art and Emotion with Young People, Kanvas Art Club

As part of Rough Draft, I co-run a young people’s art club at a coffee shop in Kirkcaldy. The session before we had focused on still life drawing, and observing what was in front of us. So for this session I wanted to focus on communicating things that we couldn’t see.

For the starter activity, we prepped about 60 images of artworks from a broad time range. We chose 20 that we explicitly conveying an emotion (for example, the scream), and then 40 that were more complicated – including about 10 very abstract pieces. We also included 3 emojis (happy, sad and angry). Before the young people arrived, we hung string around the room and attached pegs. We put different feelings words around the room (Sad, Angry, Happy, Scared, Calm, Nervous) and ‘Not Sure’ on the table in front of us. We explained that we were all going to be putting the artworks in front of us next to the feeling word that we think best describes them. We used the emoji’s as a clear example, and then invited all the young people to start arranging the images. We told them to do this as quickly as possible, and try not to second guess their initial reaction.


Once all the images had been distributed, we all went to stand around the ‘Not Sure’ table, where 4 of the more complicated images had been placed. We talked through them one by one, talking about how we can use clues such as colour, the marks that are made, facial expressions or what the artwork is depicting to read the emotion.

We then asked if anyone thought that one of the artworks belonged next to another word, or two words. This prompted some very insightful and thoughtful discussion, as they each brought an artwork to the table and discussed why it went where they found it, and where they thought it should go.

We set everyone up with several A3 sheets of paper, and a palette with a variety of colored paints. We explained that we were going to be painting along to music. We can only start painting when the music starts, and we have to put our paintbrushes down when the music stops. We don’t have to paint anything particularly, we just have to think about how we can use color and our brushstrokes to describe the music we are hearing and how it makes us feel.


Emotions Playlist:

Happy – Pharrell Williams

Blue – Joni Mitchell

The X Files theme

God Save the Queen – The Sex Pistols

The Scientist – Coldplay

Shake it Off – Taylor Swift

We tried to choose songs that had a clear emotion behind them, but weren’t so familiar (with the exception of Happy and Shake it Off) that they had the visuals of the music video dominating. What we hadn’t counted on was the X Files theme being used for a particularly meme (I still don’t know which one) which meant that as soon as it started, in unison, all the young people starting painting Illuminati symbols….

For the final song we all stood around a long sheet of brown paper and painted together.


To warm down, I asked everyone to take a piece of artwork from the wall that they particularly liked or thought was interesting and stick it in their sketchbooks, and write the name of the artist and piece of art (found on the back of the artwork) underneath. I then asked them to write what Feeling word they would use for the artwork, and explain why.


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