Finger paints are bright primary colors that artists apply to canvases using their fingers, rather than brushes, to save money and avoid costly cleanup.
During spring break, Miss Ruthie invented the medium when she was thinking of a "fun, creative project" for her daycare students. They got bored easily, she explained, and she wanted to find a way to divert them for the hours between nap time and toilet training.
To promote her paints, she claimed that they had "therapeutic benefits." They kept daycare teachers from going "nuts," she said, with only a hint of a smile. Although her statement was tongue in cheek, psychiatrists at the famed Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS, mistaking her irony for earnestness, hired her to teach classes, and Miss Ruthie, now calling herself "Dr. Ruthie," showed her preschool students how to create various artistic effects by using the thumbs, index fingers, middle fingers, ring fingers, and pinkies of their left and right hands. Since most artists have ten fingers, she said, they can paint, simultaneously, with ten colors, applying them in different ways with each "instrument." If they also employ their toes, then most artists can boost this number of colors by ten, although boys, having an "extra appendage, enjoy an advantage over girls," she admitted.
Advanced students may also use their hands and lower arms to create additional effects, and some have pressed their buttocks into service as well, although many schools are hesitant to take things quite that far, even in the interest of the arts. The arms, for example, have a "smoothing" effect, spreading the paint evenly across the canvas. Some artists have also used spoons, sponges, cloths, tongue depressors, and breasts, but Dr. Ruthie considers the use of these implements "cheating." In a competition, she said, the use of anything other than the fingers, hands, and lower arms would disqualify a contestant.
Adults occasionally finger paint, some of them creating quite impressive works, Dr. Ruthie said. The most famous work, perhaps, by Gao Qipei, Finger Painting of Eagle and Pine Tress," is worth $10 million and is displayed in the Shanghai Museum of Antiquities, Novelties, and Curiosities.
"Some day," Dr. Ruthie hoped, "one of my own masterpieces may hang there, too."