A finish painted craft. Milk carton with paint, circular hole, and a skewer.

Transform an empty milk carton into a bird feeder that doubles as a work of art inspired by Joan Mitchell’s paintings.

[time] 60 minutes, plus drying time

[skill level] Intermediate

[topic] Nature in art

Colorful abstract painting. Red, green, and varied color paint on white canvas.

Joan Mitchell, Giboulée (Sudden Shower), 1962.
Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

LOOK CLOSELY

Look closely at Giboulée by Joan Mitchell. Let your eyes wander across the canvas. What do you see? Describe the colors, lines, and textures.

What do you think about this painting? Does it remind you of anything? The artist titled it Giboulée, which means “sudden shower” in French.

“My paintings repeat a feeling about Lake Michigan, or water, or fields … It’s more like a poem … and that’s what I want to paint.”- Joan Mitchell

A young Joan Mitchell sits infront of a large abstract painting.

Joan Mitchell with her painting Untitled (1951) in her parents’ apartment in Chicago, circa 1952. Michael Goldberg papers, 1942-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) was an American painter who painted in a style called Abstract Expressionism. Instead of painting in a way that looked like a real place or person, she painted colorful gestures on large canvases to express her feelings. Joan Mitchell’s paintings were often inspired by her memories of places in nature.

MAKE IT

Take inspiration from Joan Mitchell and paint the “feeling” of a place, and try to make your brush strokes “like a poem.” Then, share your creation with the birds!

Craft materials. Empty milk carton, paint, a bird perch, and glue Craft materials. At top is a multi colored paint palette with brush, bottom a milk carton with brush strokes.Hand holding a painted craft. Milk carton with paint, circular hole, and a skewer.
  1. Gather your materials. You’ll need an empty milk carton, paint, a bird perch (such as kabob skewers, popsicle sticks, or a straw), a cutting tool (X-acto knife, scissors), and strong glue (optional)
  2. Prime your canvas. Paint the milk carton white.
  3. Choose your color palette. Stroll around the house or yard for inspiration. Joan Mitchell used what she saw in nature to inspire her paintings. For this example, we picked flowers and used their colors as our palette.
  4. Paint it. Use big expressive brush strokes. Don’t worry about making it look like the place. Instead, try to get the feeling of the place using colors and lines.
  5. Add a hole (or two) for the bird’s food. Use a pencil to sketch where you’d like the perch and hole(s) to be. Have an adult help cut the holes using a cutting tool.
  6. Attach the perch. The most sturdy option is to spear your perch all the way through the milk carton, directly under each feeding hole. If you have a strong, waterproof glue, you can glue the perch on instead.
  7. Add bird seed and hang outdoors. Enjoy artful birdwatching!