Make A Masterpiece Party

For your child's next birthday, exercise his creativity with a picture-perfect art party.

Experimenting with Art


A cheerful clothesline art gallery displays portraits of your child and his friends. The artists? The kids themselves, who put their creative skills to good use as they make paintings, place their handprints on a T-shirt, decorate pizzas, and turn a birthday cake into a canvas at a delightful art party.

"Children love experimenting with art activities -- the messier the better!" says Rima Rosenthal, an artist and preschool art teacher at the Chelsea Day School in New York City. "Just put out plenty of materials and they'll surprise you with what they can do." Our party guests were 5 years old, but these activities can be simplified for preschoolers or made more elaborate for older kids; if you follow your child's interests, your art extravaganza is sure to be a big success.

Friendly Faces

Establish the theme by sending out cardboard invitations shaped like paint palettes -- or use small versions of the real thing in wood or plastic, mailed in a padded envelope. Specify that children come dressed in old clothes, and provide extra protection in the form of oversize T-shirts, smocks, or the aprons our guests donned on arrival.

Before the party begins, set up a workspace for each child on a low table, an easel, or an open area of the floor. (If necessary, place plastic dropcloths around the room so spills aren't an issue.) Each young artist should have access to a pad of art paper, brushes, and tempera paint in a rainbow of colors. Hang a rope with clothespins from one end of the room to the other to display the finished paintings.

    Creating Together


    As guests arrive, help them find a place in the work area; as a warm-up activity, have markers and construction paper on hand in case they want to draw a picture for the birthday boy or girl. Next comes the big project: pairing up so that each guest can paint a portrait of another child. Sounds ambitious, but according to Rosenthal, "I've asked 4- and 5-year-olds to do portraits of each other and it's quite successful; kids are very interested in faces. The key is to give them guidelines -- tell them to draw a large face and then look at the color of their friend's hair and eyes. They enjoy it tremendously, and you'll be amazed at what they can do."

    Hang the paintings on the clothesline to dry, then ask each child to dip a palm into fabric paint and make a handprint on a T-shirt as a keepsake for the birthday child. Have kids wash their hands thoroughly before going to the food prep area.

    Handmade Goodies

    At this party, playing with food is not only acceptable, it's a requirement! Guests will delight in creating personal pizzas topped with an artistic array of vegetables and cheeses. For ease of handling, we used packaged eight-inch rounds of dough and encouraged the kids to add facial features or abstract designs with their favorite ingredients.

    While the pizzas are baking, young artists can collaborate on a collage birthday cake. Set out a frosted sheet cake and bowls of sprinkles, jars of colored sugar, tubes of icing, and ready-made fondant (available at cut into shapes with small cookie cutters. Let children take turns adding decorative elements to the cake, and snap photos of both the process and the colorful result. Serve squares of cake with seasonal berries and sparkling lemonade made with mineral water.

    As party favors, fill small buckets with brushes, paints, pads, and other inexpensive art supplies. If there's time, the guests can personalize their buckets with stickers as the party is winding down. And don't forget to send home their portraits -- a wonderful souvenir of this imagination-fueled party.

      Masterpiece Pizzas


      Serves: 6Prep Time: 15 minutesCooking Time: 10 minutes


      • 6 8" (individual size) pizza crusts, such as Boboli
      • 2 cups tomato sauce
      • 8 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
      • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
      • 1 cup crumbled goat cheese
      • 1 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
      • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
      • 2 cups thinly sliced yellow and green squash
      • 3 peppers, assorted colors, cut in thin strips or rings
      • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
      • 1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese


        Preheat oven to 450°F.

        Step 1: Give each child a pizza crust. Fill small bowls with sauce and toppings. Allow children to make their own pizza, using the crust as a canvas for their toppings.

        Step 2: Bake pizzas until cheese is melted, about 8 to 10 minutes.

          Nutritional Facts:

          Each pizza (with sauce, mozzarella cheese, and peppers): 471 calories, 20 g protein, 69 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (4 g saturated), 3 g fiber, 12 mg cholesterol, 344 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 1177 mg sodium.

            Chocolate Collage Cake


            Serves: 16Prep Time: 20 minutesCooking Time:
            40 minutes


            • Canola oil baking spray
            • 1 18.25-oz. pkg. devil's food chocolate cake mix
            • 4 Tbs. cocoa powder
            • 1 1/3 cups light buttermilk
            • 1/2 cup canola oil
            • 3 large eggs
            • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
            • Blue food coloring
            • 1 lb. can vanilla frosting
            • Squeeze bottles filled with colored frostings, thinned to drizzle
            • Wilton's Ready-to-Use Rolled Fondant, rolled and cut into shapes using cookie cutters (to prevent sticking, dust work surface with cornstarch)
            • Assorted sprinkles, edible flowers, sugars, and candies


              Preheat oven to 350°F.

              Step 1: Spray a 9" by 13" cake pan with canola oil; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine mix, cocoa powder, buttermilk, oil, and eggs. Blend for 1 minute, scraping the sides of the bowl. Beat an additional 2 minutes; stir in chocolate chips.

              Step 2: Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until firm to the touch and cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before unmolding. Frost when thoroughly cool.

              Step 3: Add several drops of blue food coloring to vanilla frosting. Mix well and spread over the entire cake, smoothing as evenly as possible. Set aside.

              Step 4: Place remaining decorating supplies on the table. Allow each child to decorate a section of the cake.

                Nutritional Facts:

                Each piece: 370 calories, 4 g protein, 49 g carbohydrate, 19 g fat (4 g saturated), 2 g fiber, 41 mg cholesterol, 83 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 363 mg sodium.

                  Awesome Projects

                  Sparkling Lemonade

                  Serves: 8


                  Step 1: Prepare a 12-oz. carton of frozen lemonade concentrate as directed, but use sparkling mineral water or club soda rather than tap water. (We like Cascadian Farm Organic Lemonade Concentrate, which is sweetened with white grape juice concentrate rather than high-fructose corn syrup.)

                    Nutritional Facts:

                    Each serving: 110 calories, 0 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 0 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg calcium, 0 mg iron, 9 mg sodium.

                      Awesome Art Projects

                      In addition to painting portraits and making handprints, your child and his friends might enjoy these creative party activities:

                        • Press rubber stamps in a variety of motifs into fabric paint, and use them to decorate a small pillow.
                        • Make a collage or mosaic pattern by gluing small squares of tissue paper onto individual sheets of posterboard.
                        • Use small foam food trays from the supermarket to make prints, recommends New York City art teacher Rima Rosenthal: "Trim off the tray's curved edges and have children draw a pattern with a pencil, pressing hard to make an indentation in the foam. Use a small roller to cover the tray with tempera paint, then press a piece of paper on top. Rub the back of the paper to make sure it picks up the paint." When the paper is lifted, you'll see the pattern.
                        • Paint a mural for the birthday child. Place a giant sheet of art paper on the floor or mount it on a wall, and invite the guests to draw pictures and write messages.
                        • For older kids: Draw a still life. Set up an arrangement of fruit in a bowl or flowers in a vase, and ask guests to produce their own version with pastel crayons or watercolors.

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                          Copyright @ 2005. Reprinted with permission from the February 2005 issue of Child Magazine.