Having quality supplies doesn’t mean you should be spending a lot of money. Our collection is so big because we had a lot of it before Alder was around. We’ve added to it by looking for sales, both on-line and at local art stores. Another great source of art supplies are your friends. Ask around you’ll probably find someone who had brief aspirations that dwindled and now has a shoebox full of paints or, who knows what. Pretty much every art form can be done by kids, even if you have to modify it a little. Also keep you eye out for construction sites they are a great source for plywood and OSB which make great painting surfaces once they’ve been gessoed. Don’t feel pressured to fill your studio all at once just as you can, once you have it “full” cost goes down to just replacing things you’ve used up (in Part 4 I will talk about cultivating studio habits with young children).
This may look like a super time consuming activity (I mean keeping up with your supplies) but used up stuff just goes on the shopping list and at least for us we take a monthly art store trip for fun anyway. Occasionally I check Pearl Paint, Utrecht, and Dick Blick but only when I have a set budget and I feel like I can keep to it.
Paint and Ink
I think that paint is one to the greatest joys in life. There is nothing quite like the feel of a brush on paper or cardboard, or even the wall. We have a variety of paints around because they are all very different and are different experiences and work well in different projects. I should note that most of our art supplies originally pre-date Alder, so if it sounds like we have spent a lot of money we haven’t. When getting paint which doesn’t come in sets I usually get Red, Blue, Yellow, Black, White and Green to start (sometimes it’s hard to mix a vibrant enough green). If you aren’t sure which exact colors to get go to a real art store and ask someone who works there, they are all artists.
Yaraka Watercolors: Vibrant colors, mix well and very inexpensive. I like the colors better than the Winsor Newton student quality sets.
Liquitex Acrylics: Thick and opaque, there are other brands like Basic that are pretty good, just avoid acrylic craft paint, which tends to have the same consistency as tempera paint.
Winsor Newton Inks: These are super intense and can be messy but they cover large spaces better than watercolors and have a different feel on the brush than watercolors for painting. Kevin uses them sometimes when he’s doing if he doesn’t feel like grinding ink.
Chinese Ink and Calligraphy: I’m having a hard time on a link for this one. I can’t speak a lot about this because it’s Kevin’s passion but Alder had been grinding his ink and using the bamboo brushes with Kevin since he was two. I credit this with his calmness and aweness when it comes to art supplies since every time you want to paint you have to spend five minutes making your ink on the stone. What I can tell you is that listening to someone grinding ink is one of my favorite sounds to wake up to.
Rich Art Tempera Paint: To me this smells of childhood. These temperas are good because they hold their color and can be watered down for splatter paint and other projects. Again it’s the vibrancy and opaqueness that I like about Rich Art, not to mention the price.
Gesso: We use this to make a painting surface, especially on cardboard and plywood.
Brushes and Other Painting Supplies
Just like the paint quality really is important. I’m not suggesting that you run out and get a whole bunch of sable brushes for your 6 year old, they are wonderful for water color but at 25+ dollars for some brushes there are less expensive choices. I have some of my own personal brushes (and water colors) that don’t make it into the studio, but for a family studio I try to keep to student quality (remember we’re not talking those 2 dollar kids brush packages, you really want to avoid plastic bristle brushes they aren’t good and you want your kids to feel like they have control over the paint (it’s another one of those crayon things). I keep a large variety of sizes and use brushes around. We use different brushes for tempera, watercolors, ink and glue. Acrylic can use pretty much any of them but it’s one of the painting forms that I do repeat the ways to take care of our tools because a dried out brush with acrylic on it is as useful as a toothpick instead of toilet paper.
Water Color Brushes: I’m hesitant to list brands because my general mode of brush buying is looking for sales at the art store. There are two shapes round and flat, we have a few of each. There is also stiff or floppy (not the technical term). We mainly have stiff ones that you can draw the paint with but the softer ones are great for washes, either for background or layering. Just a note stiff does not mean thick boars bristles but just ones that hold their shape even when wet. It is also good to have a variety of sizes as well. Most of the brushes we have are synthetic, though I’ve found a few hare ones as well. You can find sets of watercolor brushes sometimes, I would see if you could feel them before buying.
Acrylic Brushes: I like hogs or boar bristle. Again mix up the shapes and sizes.
Glue Brushes: Please please please don’t use your painting brushes for glue if you can help it, my glue brush is permamently stiff even though I have washed it thoroughly. I have a 1 inch synthetic watercolor brush that I use and a smaller one for collaging. Once you start gluing with a brush you’ll save so much glue. For collage mix1::3 water to glue in a little dish. Then paint the glue on the pieces before putting them on the paper.
Other brushes or the like: Old Tooth Brushes, foam house painting brushes, rags, sponges.
Pallets: We have two sorts around here. A few watercolor pallets like this, which we actually use for acrylic, watercolors get mixed in the top of the sets. We also have small rectangles of glass that we have duct taped around the edges, which are great for mixing arcylics (though I haven’t introduced this to Alder yet…summer isn’t the time).
Pallet Knives: I like this sort they are the easiest to use for mixing acrylics on the glass pallet. This is another supply that I like to touch before a buy, I like rather sturdy ones that can handle little hands pushing on them, I also like a bent neck.
Pencils and other Drawing supplies
There are two sorts of art pencils; graphite and colored. Graphite pencils come in a number of different hardnesses which are good for drawing, drafting (we do a lot of making building plans around here), and using in mixed media projects. Colored pencils are my favorite supply, we have both watercolor ones and plain ones, they’re more vibrant than crayons and their points let you draw where you want to (I really can’t stand regular crayons).
Staedtler Graphite Pencils: My preference for these is sentimental, my mom got me a set of these when I was eight. Most brands are good though I would avoid anything made by General, they are really poorly made.
Derwent Watercolor Pencils: I like these a lot, they are great not only for drawing and painting at home but if you want to take an art kit out on a hike they can double for drawing and painting. I’d start with a set of 12 and then add individual colors as you want. The only thing I wouldn’t use these for is writing, especially with kids who are early writers, they tend to drag on the paper and makes writing tiring.
Neocolor II: This is the closest thing to a crayon I like to use. They are also water soluble and have incredibly intense colors. They are also can be used as great facepaint, especially since it dries and small hands won’t smudge it.
Cray-pas Oil Pastels: Oil pastels can be messy and aren’t great for using in a journal but they are so much fun. It’s the sort of drawing supply that you spend a lot of time smushing around with your fingers, scraping with your nails (or a paperclip if you really want).
Paper and other Surfaces for Art Making
I have mixed feelings about paper. I think for watercolors it’s important to have good paper but other than that anything works. We have copy paper, cut up cardboard boxes, old newspaper, and just about anything that comes through the house that isn’t too shiny, including plywood. There are sorts of paper we do keep around but I’m not too committed to anyone brand. Just so you know I can’t stand construction paper, who makes a product that fades in less than a month?
Watercolor Paper: I like cold press it’s the bumpier one, you can either get really big sheets and cut it down yourself or pads.
Sketchpaper: This was the only thing I picked up at the back-to-school sales this year.
Bristol Board: Stiffer than sketch paper and great for making posters and collages (it takes glue well).
Scrapbooking papers: I look for these on clearance at craftstores. They’re my version of construction paper.
Cardboard: Keep it! If you are using acrylic paints it is the best surface to paint on regularly. Start by painting an even coat of gesso on it and letting it dry, though we use a lot of plain cardboard for painting with tempera.
Ephemera: Catalogs, magazines, postcards, brochures tickets, wrappers. Designate a box for stuff like this for collages, every few months go through it and clear out the used up pieces.
Glue and other sticky stuff
Yes it gets it’s own section. I am a huge fan of the stuff because it’s what makes art fun. I’m talking me now I love mixing things up and adding things here and there.
White Glue: The stuff that’s everywhere. It’s okay and we use a lot of it but if you’re making a project you want to keep I’d avoid it, it’s not acid free and can dry out and separate (especially if you live in someplace like Colorado).
Yes Paste: My favorite, it comes in big tubs and can be used either strait or watered down.
Mod Podge: This is good glue for covering large surfaces, if you get the glossy type it can be used as a sealer or glaze as well for collages.
Workable Fixative: This stuff is nasty but needed if you have any chalk or pastel drawings. Use it outside without children. I wish I knew a kinder product but sometimes you just need to.
Athletic Tape: This is one of those personal things I just like using it in collages when I don’t want to glue things, especially when it’s hidden between layers.
3 Dimensional Art and Crafts:
We don’t do nearly enough of this. Mainly because we have never had these supplies around before so they have been slow in making their way into the house. My other hesitation with these supplies are that we live in a rental with beige carpeting. Still here’s a list of stuff we have or dream of using.
Modeling Clay: We generally use what ever is around and least toxic. But growing up I had Caran D’ache modeling clay and I really wish I could find some for Alder. Every time we went to our family cabin someone would decide on a theme and we would put out a box of clay and a large piece of cardboard for the scene to live on. Over the week everyone would spend time making bits and pieces. I still remember an intricate circus during a week when we had nine of us staying there.
Playdough: Though I love what playdough from the store smells like we make ours. 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup salt, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons oil, 1.5 cups water (or so), food coloring (optional). Mix all ingredients but water in pot and mix, add water and turn on to medium heat. When you start it should be about as thick as cake batter. Mix constantly while it cooks. Cook until it starts to pull away from the sides, remove from heat and continue to stir for a little longer. Remove from pot on to clean and covered surface and let cool. I add more oil than most people because it doesn’t stick to stuff as easily.
Tools for Playdough: look through the kitchen and have fun, we also have a set of textured rolling pins.
Pipe cleaners: They’re cheese, they come in a lot of colors, and they are instant gratification for people and cats alike.
Perler Beads: These take a lot of patience when your five, still they come out and it’s fun to see them come together when you iron them.
Glitter: Right now we have three colors on hand, white, green and purple. I really think that this is one of the best teaching responsibility supplies, one dumped container equals no glitter for a while. We always keep a little dish to keep the excess glitter from projects.
Stickers, glue-able stuff: We keep a jar of shiny stars for projects and random clearance stickers I find. The only ones I really try to keep around all the time are alphabet stickers.
Found Objects: This is my favorite sort of sculpture to make with kids, like collage just collect stuff. We sometimes go for alley walking to find stuff, or raid the back of Grandpa’s barn. This is one of the few supplies I keep separated just because it tends to take over our house when they come out. So Alder just has to ask for it and we need to clear some time for it.
Just Some Thoughts
This is just a list of what we have out regularly, there are lots of other art we want to try, as we attempt them together I’ll share more here. Also I haven’t listed any of the textile and fiber projects here, mainly because they live upstairs in my room and aren’t usually just out for the taking, though Alder does have free reign in the scrap fabric suitcase.