As a kid, I kept my most special art supplies in an old wine box, with a hinged top and a latch that always went askew. Watercolors and modeling wax and chalky pastels all fit more or less neatly into the box and when I was hankering for creative expression, I opened the lid and found what I needed. But there was also a kitchen pantry with a whole wall of shelves more or less devoted to art supplies: yarns and looms, stencils, stickers, tins of markers and crayons, kits for paper making, rows of coloring books, boxes full of beads, glue guns and glue sticks, and stacks of construction paper. Thirty years later, many of those supplies are still at my mom and dad’s.
I’ve tried to replicate a similar ease of access and artistic encouragement for my kids, repackaged a bit for fitting neatly into a far smaller space, with nary a pantry in sight.
Earlier this summer we rescued an old school desk from the sidewalk in our neighborhood. We were excited about the slim profile and side-by-side seating arrangement, and most especially for the storage. We peeled off layers of contact paper and remains of stickers, scrubbed it down with wire brush, gave it a coat of direct-to-metal primer, and painted the desk and two chairs in a few coats of Farrow & Ball Calamine paint in their Modern Eggshell finish. The desk transformed from something old and rusty into something shiny and fresh. I painted the insides of the desk with leftover F&B Plummet paint from the kids’ dresser project.
The desk gives us the space to store paper, coloring books, and notebooks alongside all of their supplies. We keep only a small selection of basic art supplies that both kids can manage without too much adult supervision or hovering. For us, that’s watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and most recently a set of gel pens given to an utterly jubilant Faye. We have an assortment of rubber stamps and a collection of beads. We always have a tub of play dough, which we keep along with an assortment of child-sized tools in the kitchen.
We took a cue from one of Faye’s teachers and use two small sheet trays to help the kids wrangle supplies and keep their work stations neat (and separate).
To save on space, we store pens, pencils, crayons, and markers in assorted pouches, but we also keep an empty jam jar at the ready for kids to plop their supplies into while they’re working on a project.
A few specific supplies:
Notebooks: We’ve experimented with a lot of different canvases for our kids, but the system that works best for us so far (and right this minute) is spiral notebooks. I like to buy Muji recycled paper notebooks because they’re inexpensive but the paper quality is nice. Something about the fact that they’re bound means that my kids are (slightly) less likely to wantonly strike a colorful dash on each available sheet and declare them used.
Watercolor paper: We try always to have a pad of watercolor paper. It’s not inexpensive to buy in local art supply shops, but nothing compares to it when you’re painting with watercolors and the kids generally honor the specialness of the thick sheets. We’ve had a few different watercolor sets, but our favorite has been this Fredericks and Mae set shown above.
Colored Pencils: We’ve found that all colored pencils are not created equal and many kid-specific brands bend under pressure and break easily. We really love this set of vibrant and sturdy recycled colored pencils.
Crayons: As have most families with young children, we’ve experienced lots of different crayons. 100-percent beeswax crayons sound and smell lovely but they can be tricky (and sticky) to use. Classic Crayola Crayons have been given to us on a number of occasions and while they snap fairly easily in little hands, they’re admittedly nice to color with and affordable to buy new. (I took a tip from my instagram pal, @myndid, and soaked ours briefly in a bowl of warm water to easily remove the paper labels.) Stockmar Crayons are by far the sturdiest crayons we’ve owned—and the most expensive—and they don’t have quite the same easy glide over the paper that Crayolas do, but they’re very long-lasting. Most special of all, is the not-quite-a-crayon, not-quite-a-pastel, Caran D’Ache Wax Pastels. I found them in a local art store after writing this piece and I couldn’t resist. They’re good. Not cheap, but very good. (The very cheapest freebie crayons given to kids in places like airplanes and restaurants are just truly terrible and should probably never be made.)
Pens and markers: I have a fraught relationship with pens and markers because they generally not recyclable and they’re often not washable, so you get two different kinds of environmental hazard. They’re also often a bit too delicate for the not-so-gentle toddler hand. We’ve had classic Crayola Washable Markers which are certainly kid-friendly and do indeed wash out, though the current set we have have caps that are hard for Silas to close all the way, so we’ve had more accidental dry-ups than before. I’m not sure I’d recommend a purchase. Refillable markers do exist, but they’re expensive and I’ve mostly found refillable dry erase varieties. What are you guys using?
Inside this old tackle/tool box, which I painted white, we keep other assorted art supplies like a pencil sharpener, erasers, scissors, origami paper, dice, a fuzzy, sparkly pom-pom, assorted instax mini photos, used carousel tickets, and other small treasures that must not, under any circumstances, be lost or moved.
What are we missing?