Automatic String Painting

Pull off an original painting every time with string! Stretching yarn and color will get your preschooler’s hand-eye coordination and creativity moving.


This is drippy and messy. Please prepare yourself, your child, and your work space. Check out our Materials page for cover-up recommendations.

MATERIALS - click to buy
  1. A few pieces of yarn or string at least 12 inches long. Cotton string like this example or nylon yarn found here on Amazon work equally well.
  2. Liquid tempera paint, from a jar or a tube like this - Use at least 2 colors of your child’s choice.
  3. Shallow container(s) big enough to to hold your paint and drag the yarn in. One pan per color. We find disposable, 9-inch aluminum pie pans like the kind found here or 9-inch paper dinner plates like these provide enough room to cover our "brushes."
  4. 2 pieces of light color paper of your preschooler’s choice - White printer paper and construction paper found here both work fine, your choice!
  5. Sharp scissors - for cutting string, adults only!
  1. Skilly-spark #1: Take a moment to talk about the kind of things you paint with. Do you use brushes and sometimes even your fingers? Today, let’s try a new kind of painting ... with strings! What kind of marks do you think they can make?
  2. Adults, squeeze the paint directly from your jar or tube, into your paint container in a straight line. This will allow the string to more easily be dragged through and covered.
  3. Show your child how to dip and drag the string in the paint. Use your two hands to move it up and down and back and forth, covering all sides of your string with paint. Do not squeeze the paint out. Yes sir, it will be drippy.
  4. Ask your child to lay the string on the paper in any design, leaving the tail end of the string off the edge of the paper. Young 3-year-olds may not make a design and can just place the string on the paper, which is perfectly fine.
  5. Adults, lay your second piece of paper on top, so that its edges matches up with the bottom paper. 4-year-old can usually do this for themselves.
  6. Gently run a hand over the top paper, pressing the string and paint into both sides.
  7. Now, keeping one hand pressing gently on the top paper, ask your child to pull the string from the underneath paper. You may need to help 3-year-olds do this. 4-year-olds will be able to do this themselves. You can wiggle the string, move it up and down, anything goes!
  8. Skilly-spark #2: Remove the top paper to see your string painting.  Look at the bottom paper, too. How do the two paintings look different? How do they look the same? How did pulling the string change the shape you made? Show me how the string moved!
  9. Repeat the process on the same piece of paper. Dip another piece of string in a new color, press, and pull. Adding another color after the next is done. Keep pullin' until you're through.


Keep the fun going
  • What do you see? Take a second look. Turn it this way and that. Like cloud-gazing, what pictures emerge from the shapes you’ve created? Use markers or crayons to draw on the paintings and complete your child’s vision. FYI, this drawing technique is called automatism. Learn more about how the Surrealist artists used automatism to create art from London’s Tate Museum here.
  • Use two pieces of string at one time - For example, try one dipped in red and one in yellow. Lay them down next to each other so you can pull them simultaneously. Check out how this changes your painting and your colors! 
  • Need funky placemats? After your child’s painting has dried, cover it with clear Con-tact paper, found here on Amazon or your local dollar and big box stores.
  • Mirror, mirror ... Try using a single, folded sheet of paper. Place a paint-filled string inside, pull and see what happens ...