Turn Your Kid’s Handprint Into Basically Any Bird

With a whimsical idea and a dollop of paint, your child can create handprint owls, flamingos, or any other feathered favorite.

For generations, children and teachers have embraced the beautiful versatility of handprint art. Handprints can take on the appearance of pretty much anything, but they lend themselves especially well to birds. The palm makes a perfect round body, and depending on the orientation fingers can look like a tail, feathers, wings, or neck. Add some eyes and feet and a birdy background, and your child's handprint will soon take flight. 

The first step is to decide what kind of bird you want to create. Do you want to picture a hooting Great Horned Owl? A friendly neighborhood American Robin? A trunk-scaling Pileated Woodpecker? A clever American Crow? For inspiration, look at pictures on the Audubon Bird Guide or in a printed field guide if you have one. Let your child's imagination run wild. They might have an idea for a bird you've never heard of, and that's okay, too!

Now it's time to create the bird's body with a handprint. If you use construction paper you can choose a colored background, but any paper will do. Use a foam brush or paper towel to cover your child's hand with non-toxic paint the color of the bird's body. Make sure the hand is completely covered and that the paint is even. Stamp the hand firmly on the paper. Lift straight up when removing the hand. Use baby wipes or warm soapy water to clean the child's hand. Let the handprint dry.

While the paint dries, talk with your child about where to place the bird's eyes, beak, wings, feet, and tail. Typically the spread fingers will be the bird's tail. If it's a perching bird that sits in a tree, like an owl, point the fingertips downward. If the bird has a big tail, like a sage-grouse or turkey, the tail can spread off to the side. For slimmer ground birds like a robin, or even a wading bird like a flamingo or heron, the tail will be oversized. Let's call it artistic license.

When the handprint is dry enough, start adding in scenery. If you want your owl (or other perching bird) to sit in a tree, paint a tree branch horizontally across the canvas so that the palm of the hand is above it and the fingers extend below. Add the trunk of the tree off to one side. Where does your child's bird live? Color in some plants and other animals to show its habitat.

Finally, it's time to finish the handprint bird by adding in more features. How long are its legs? How big are its eyes? Does it have ear tufts or other defining features? What color is its belly or wings? What shape is its beak? 

Send a photo of your finished handprint bird to audubonmagazine@audubon.org, and post it on Twitter using the hashtag #kidsart and tagging @audubonsociety!

Big thanks to Cindy deRosier for this fantastic idea! Her handprint owl, pictured here, is a true inspiration.