Mess Free Baby Painting (Sensory Activity)

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Last weekend I got an overwhelming response on Instagram and Facebook when I posted photos of Estella's first painting. I'd love to share this activity with everyone because it's so easy and so fun.


I found this idea (like all great ideas) on Pinterest when I was searching for sensory activities for babies during tummy time. My daughter is 5 months old and has pretty well mastered tummy time at this point. Sensory activities are so important for babies because it helps them to discover and learn. Doing a sensory activity during tummy time might help hold their interest (because most babies do not enjoy being on their tummy).


According to Goodstart Early Learning, "Sensory activities, in addition to being fun and interesting for babies and young children, encourage children to explore and investigate. Furthermore, these activities support children to use the ‘scientific method’ of observing, forming a hypothesis, experimenting and making conclusions. Sensory activities also allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information, helping their brain to create stronger connections to sensory information and learn which are useful and which can be filtered out."




Let's start with the materials you will need.

While I've linked the actual items I used or something similar, this post is not sponsored in any way and I will not make a profit from you purchasing any of the items linked.


For creating the painting:

1. 8" x 10" Canvas Panel (I liked that these came in a 3 pack so we could try again if it didn't turn out. You could maybe use a thicker cardstock type paper as well.)

2. Gallon Size Ziplock Bags

3. Paint (I used acrylics that I already owned. I think acrylics or craft paint would be best for this project.)

4. Painter's Tape

5. A Baby or Child

6. optional Gloss Varnish


For clean up:

1. Scissors

2. Rubber Gloves (optional)

3. Wax Paper

4. Paper towels or newspaper


For framing and matting (optional):

1. 16" x 20" Frame

2. 16" x 20" Mat with an 8" x 10" opening (I got mine at Walmart but can't find it on their website. The mat linked is one similar.)

3. Baby Handprint Kit (The "clean-touch" kind so you don't have to clean little fingers.)


Let's get painting!


First, I made sure that my canvas panel would fit inside my gallon ziplock bag. I had some Hefty brand slide top bags that were a little too short to fit the panels so I ended up buying the Ziplock brand and they fit perfect. You want to have a little space around the edges of the panel so that the paint can reach the whole surface.


Second, I chose my paint colors. I chose to use colors that complimented the area rug in our living room because I intended to frame the painting and hang it as artwork. I would recommend choosing 2-4 different colors for your painting (you can use variations of the same color like aqua and navy, if you want more variety). When picking colors, I would be mindful of color mixing. You don't want to choose colors that will turn muddy or brown when they're mixed together. Sticking with all warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows), all cool colors (greens, blues, purples), or neutrals (whites, grays, tans) might work the best. I would advise avoiding putting complimentary colors (blue & orange, purple & yellow, green & red) beside each other as these colors will turn brown when mixed together.


Third, you want to prepare your canvas, and your baby. I decided to do this activity after my daughter woke up from her nap. She is always really happy and playful after her naps so I thought she would engage the most during this time. I got everything all set up for her so she could get right to it when she woke up. I believe the canvas panels are already primed so you don't need to do any prep work with them. You want to take your paint and make little blobs or swirls all over the canvas (I used too much paint). Pay attention to the surface area and the edges. I was aiming for full coverage and didn't want to see any of the white canvas remaining. I also kind of mapped out where I wanted to place the colors in a visually interesting way but the end result will be completely unique and unpredictable. I used a lot of paint, you can definitely use less for less clean up mess. The amount of paint I used ended up looking pretty cool but it definitely didn't turn out like the examples I had seen online.


Fourth, now that you have your canvas and baby prepared, you want to carefully slide your paint covered canvas inside the ziplock bag. I tried to be mindful not to slide the paint across the top of the bag or at the closure. When your panel is inside, carefully press as much air out of the bag as you can without smashing the paint blobs. You can now tape the bag to your floor or a hard surface. I did this so that it would stay put while my daughter pushed the paint around. I also put down a blanket for her to lay on because our floors are cement under the planks and it's not super comfortable to lay on. Then we waited for her to wake up (see photo of our dog).



You are now ready to let your child go to town. My daughter wasn't super into it at first, probably because she was still trying to wake up. She pressed a couple blobs and then laid her head down on it. We ended up just moving her around the edges so she could reach all the paint. Your child will enjoy the feeling of the paint squishing under their fingers and you will enjoy not having to wash their little fingernails!


Like a lot of good artists, it's more about the process than the end product for this painting.


When your child is finished playing, you can remove the tape and move the bag and panel to a higher area. Because the paint is contained within the bag, you have some time to get it out before the paint dries. I waited until she went down for her next nap to take the canvas out and let it dry (about 2 hours).




Time to clean up.


Because I used a bit too much paint, I wore rubber gloves to remove our panel and protect my own hands. I hadn't seen any suggestions on how to remove the canvas from the bag, so I improvised. I laid out a layer of paper towels (you could use newspaper as well) to protect our surface and then I took a pair of craft (read junky) scissors and cut down the two sides of the ziplock bag. Barely any paint got on the paper towels so I just split them up and put them in our cleaning caddy for windows. I opened the closure of the bag and pulled back the top layer to reveal the panel inside. By peeling the top of the bag back from the panel, it did create a bit of texture on the canvas. I think if you used an appropriate amount of paint, you could simply open the closure and pull the panel out but I'm an artist and I can't create anything without making a mess.


I then picked up the canvas panel (from the bottom as not to get finger prints in the paint) and moved it on top of a piece of wax paper to dry. The reason you want to use wax paper and not paper towel is that when the paint dries, you can simply peel the dried paint off the wax paper, paper towels would dry and get stuck to the back.



I allowed the painting to dry in our living room for about 20 hours, it was dry to the touch at about 4 hours but I had some thicker areas that I wanted to dry completely through. Better safe than sorry. Again, if you used an appropriate amount of paint, your panel will probably dry a lot quicker than ours.


You can now do the optional gloss varnish on top. Acrylic paints tend to dry a bit darker and duller than when they are wet. Everything was looking a little flat to me after it dried so I did a thin layer of gloss varnish over the whole canvas panel to revive the colors a little. If you're using Mod Podge, like me, don't be alarmed when it goes on white, it will dry clear. Also, the key when using a gloss varnish is to have all your brush strokes going in the same direction.


At this time (when everything is dry), I would encourage you to mark the back of the panel with your child's name, age, and the date created. If your child is old enough to write their own name, that might be a sweet reminder when you look back at it years from now.




Finishing the art.


I had always intended to frame and hang the artwork when it was completed. I decided that since my daughter is too young to write her name, I would use her handprint as a signature. I measured her hand (approx. 3" x 3") and figured out what size mat I would need to accommodate the handprint. A 16" x 20" mat with an 8" x 10" opening would allow me to have 4" on each side of the art window, the perfect amount of space to fit her "signature".


I used a "clean-touch" handprint kit to create her print on the mat. We practiced on paper twice before going to the mat; I would recommend doing this if you've never used the clean touch kit before. This way I could keep the project entirely mess free, for her. I don't have any photos of this process but it's pretty self explanatory.



All that is left to do now is to assemble the pieces inside the frame and hang it on the wall!





What do you think of the finished art piece? Doesn't it look so important? And doesn't she look so proud? I can't wait to look at this for years to come. Our daughter's very first painting! Well, second, because we had to take process photos for the tutorial.


I would love to see your finished paintings as well! Share a photo with us in the comments!


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