Category Archives: basics

On My Table

This is another post inspired by a daily prompt at write alm, On my table. You can also read my response to this week’s Kindred prompt, posted today here.

on my table at amyhoodarts.com

I’m sitting at the art table with G and N. The table has gotten a bit out of control since the Big Studio Clean at the end of the summer. Right now on the table we have:

* my sketchbook, pencils, markers, and wire, along with a full roll of wire;

* pirate hockey stick tape, recently bought and needing to be put away;

* my phone, wireless speaker, and camera;

* a jar of paintbrushes;

* colored tape;

* G’s box of fabric;

* bottles of liquid acrylic paints;

* G’s painting that she’s working on, her reference picture, and her palette, water jar, and cloth;

* N’s canvas, reference picture, palette, water jar, and cloth;

* finished works, in a pile;

* a squash, because it wanted to be a still life;

* tubes of Liquitex Basics acrylic paint;

* the big wooden caddy I built at Squam, full of glass jars of sorted supplies;

* a tray holding odds and ends, and a bowl holding other odds and ends;

* a metal ruler;

* a pad of Bristol board paper;

* a handmade snow globe;

* a wooden model of the human figure;

* a box of wet wipes.

My art table is where creativity blooms, where problems are worked out, where some of the best family time happens. It’s also where frustration sometimes blooms–mine, the kids’, alone or together. But it is the center of our finished basement, where the contractor assumed we’d want a carpeted family room with a TV. “No,” I said. “We’re going to have a washable floor, a utility sink, and the largest table we can manage.”

Setting Up An Outdoors Painting Area

My kids and I are trying out activities from the first Art Together e-zine issue, which I plan to have available for you next month. Today was not too hot or humid, so I decided to set us up to paint outside, and I wanted to share with you how easy this can be.

We have some basic plastic deck furniture–nothing too fancy or precious. The brown boards are masonite boards from Home Depot, cut to size–the same thing drawing boards are made from, but much cheaper. I’ve brought out our paints, brushes, glass rinsing jars, and a pitcher of water–this way, it’s easy to refill the rinsing jars without running back and forth into the house. My kitchen is on the opposite side of that wall, so it’s not that hard to refill the pitcher, either, when necessary.

That’s it! It’s that easy. Fresh air on a not-too-hot day and painting. Two good things together.

{Art Together} Make A Simple Color Wheel

Make A Simple Color Wheel

Materials: Paint (our samples include gouache, watercolor, and acrylic), heavy paper, brushes; compass and protractor (optional)

This isn’t an open-ended activity, but a color wheel can be a useful tool to have hanging on the wall of your art area, and making one is much more fun (and instructive) than buying one or printing one out. Any sort of paint can be used for this, but it’ll be more useful if you mix the colors yourself.

My 4yo and I used watercolor; this is simplest for the youngest artists because you can mix the colors right on the paper. My 8yo chose to use gouache, and my 11yo used acrylics; they both began with the primaries and mixed the secondary colors on their palettes.

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. You can’t mix these yourself; that’s why they’re primary. From them, you can mix the secondary colors: orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (red + blue). We’ll talk a little more about the colors when we have them in a wheel.

My 11yo decided he wanted to make a color wheel with wedges like a pie, so he used a compass to draw a circle and a protractor to divide it into six equal slices.

11yo's color wheel in progress.

11yo’s color wheel in progress.

The rest of us used simple dots arranged in a circle. (If it helps, you can draw the circle, or draw three lines intersecting in the center and place a dot of color at the end of each line.)

Regard your circle as a clock and place a dot of red at the 12-o’clock position, yellow at the 4-o’clock position, and blue at the 8-o’clock position. If you are mixing your secondary colors on a palette, put your dot of orange at 2-o’clock, green at 6-o’clock, and purple at 10-o’clock.

If you’re mixing right on the paper with watercolors, you’ll mix your red and yellow to get orange; your blue and yellow to get green; and red and blue to make purple. My daughter and I did this by putting two circles of each color together and then going back to overlap.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Note, though, that purple can be really hard to mix. Most likely you’ll feel your purple is a little too red or a little too blue. Try to be okay with this; I’ve had a professional artist/teacher in a class advise me to buy purple rather than try to mix it myself. (But I’m cheap, so I mixed it myself anyway.) Start with just a little red and a little blue and mix gradually and don’t get hung up on perfection.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Once you have your complete color wheel, take a closer look at it.

Acrylic color wheel

Colors that are opposite each other are known as complementary colors. See how red is opposite green? Green is made from the two primary colors other than red (ie, blue and yellow). That’s why they are complements—they complete each other. (That’s how I remember it, anyway!) Yellow and purple are complements, and blue and orange as well. Complementary colors are said to “pop” when used together. Try it out and see what you think.

My 8yo decided to take his color wheel one step farther and tried to include tertiary colors, which are secondary colors mixed with a bit more of the primary color next to it (ie, yellow-green, yellow-orange, etc; you can see a labeled one here).

Tertiary color wheel attempt

But if you’ve never made a color wheel before, a simple one with the primary and secondary colors is plenty enough to start. Hang it near your art area to remind yourself which colors contrast strongly. Are there any colors you avoid? When I was in kindergarten my purple crayon stayed sharp all year because I refused to use it. For some reason I thought purple was a scary color when I was five! Try using just a little bit of that color that overwhelms you with its complement and see what happens.

Further Resources

The MoMA Color Play Coloring Book is a large-format book designed to be painted in, with prompts for color mixing. We own it; we haven’t used it yet. But it might be just the thing if you’re a little wary of delving into color mixing without some guidelines.

You might want to also explore color through story books with a younger child. Apartment Therapy has a nice list of 20 Kids’ Books About Color. I say “also” because listening to a book or watching a show about color mixing can be a nice addition, but it doesn’t replace the actual experience of creating and observing the magic in real life. When a child has a chance to discover and experience color mixing while being in charge of it, the knowledge is real and theirs. It’s magical.

Take it Further

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using colored water

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using tempera paint

Consider adding a color wheel to your sketchbook using whatever materials you might take with you on a sketching excursion. For this, you wouldn’t necessarily be mixing; use the colors that come with your watercolor pencil or colored pencil set and draw yourself a color wheel to use as reference.

Share Your Work

A reminder that a Flickr group is available if you’d like to share photos! Just click the request to join.

Tips for Art-Making With Various Ages

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

In the comments to the last Art Together post, Sunny said she faces challenges trying to do art with all of her kids given their age range of 4 through 9. I can relate; my kids are 4, 8, and 11, and we began really making a habit of art time together when the youngest was 2. I wanted to share some things that have worked for me in trying to juggle the different needs of three kids, and I’m hoping others will share their experiences and what has worked for them as well.

When we’re in the studio all together, we have several choices:

Same activity, same materials: This choice is pretty straightforward. If we’re using materials everybody can use and doing an activity that works at all levels, we don’t really need to do anything differently. This doesn’t mean everybody is working at the same level. When we’re creating observational drawings or paintings, there may be a huge difference in skill level, but as long as the atmosphere is supportive of this, it shouldn’t be a problem. If younger kids are feeling less confident next to older ones, or older ones are feeling competitive, this doesn’t work well. In that case, I’d step back and set expectations beforehand, both for one’s own artwork and how to talk about each other’s artwork. (Is anyone interested in a post about talking about artwork, both to and amongst kids?)

Same activity, different  materials: You could choose to give a younger child different materials than an older child; for instance, tempera paint instead of acrylic, or oil pastels instead of chalk pastels, but you’re all heading in the same direction as far as the activity goes. Sometimes, my kids choose different materials anyway, because they’ve spent time exploring them and often know what they’d like to work with or experiment with to get a desired result.

Same materials, different activity: Perhaps a younger child is still at the point of exploring a material, while an older child wants to use it for a more directed purpose. If you can tolerate the messiness that is bound to accompany a toddler or preschooler’s exploration, this can work out well. My daughter began using charcoal at age two; she got a bit dusty. My middle child still most loves charcoal for the way he can smear it all over the paper with his hands. It does wash off skin, so this doesn’t bother me too much.

Different activities, different materials: This, of course, is the most difficult set-up for the facilitator (that’s us, the adults!). Sometimes we just all want to be in the studio together but we’re doing different things. My daughter might need paint, my son is using watercolor pencils, my other son is drawing with Pitt pens, and I have paint out, too, but different paint. Or I present a bunch of ideas and they each pick something different (as described in this post). We’re still all together, but I’m hopping a bit more to make sure they all have what they need.

Same activity, tweaked for age level: As much as possible, I try to adjust the activity so all the kids can participate at whatever level they’re currently at.  So, when we tried our hand at a Matisse-inspired collage (an activity chosen from a book), the youngest joined in by cutting and gluing.  When we carved stamps, the boys used the carving tools with my supervision, but my daughter, who was a bit past three at the time, made her stamp using craft foam and scissors. It definitely takes some creative forethought to tweak activities, but I have found that most open-ended art activities can be adjusted for various ages and stages. It’s simply going back to the idea of starting where you are.

Have a helper: If I’ve planned something more complex, it helps to have another adult around. The first time we printed with scratch foam, my husband was around to assist as well. Having an extra set of hands during a more intensive activity makes it so much easier to help anyone who needs it.

So it really depends upon the specific activity—but flexibility is key to facilitating art-making as a family activity with multiple ages. If anyone else has tips to share, please leave them in the comments! It will be helpful to us all.

{Art Together} Getting Started

I’ve talked about why the opportunity for process-based art is so important for kids (part 1, part 2, part 3) and about how making time and space for a family art habit was so valuable for not just my children, but for myself. Unsurprisingly, process-based creativity is important for adults, too. But I hear, and read, a lot of adults who just don’t know where to begin. What kind of paper? What kind of paints? What do we do with them? And most of all, “I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t teach my kids art.”

Family sketching at deCordova Sculpture Park.

Family sketching at deCordova Sculpture Park.

If you have endured the typical education that marginalized the arts; if you were discouraged early on from pursuing anything creative; if you internalized the idea that art “wasn’t for you;” or if you’ve simply never had an interest…if any of these reasons, or others, have left you lacking in confidence that you can start an art habit with your children as an adult, I’m going to argue that you can. I received no encouragement in art from any teacher from kindergarten through high school, at which point I was told not to take anything more than the one semester of art required to graduate, because the Bs I received in art would lower my GPA. Somehow, despite that, I persevered in thinking of myself as a creative person, and when I found myself pursuing a second Bachelor’s degree, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was already paying tuition and take an art class too.

In retrospect, I was pretty brave to sign up for that class. I think I even recognized that at the time. I felt kind of inadequate, but determined. And that class’s professor encouraged me to the extent that I ended up minoring in art. In my drawing classes, I often had to work for three or four times longer than the other students to get the results I wanted, but I loved sinking into the activity, even though it was hard work for me. I remember spending the better part of an entire Saturday drawing a skeleton. It felt like minutes. I believe this was the first time in my life I experienced flow, finding such joy and meaningful concentration in hard work.

Drawing and painting irises in the yard.

Drawing and painting irises in the yard.

I’m telling you: You are capable enough right now to sit down and make art alongside your kids (even if you think you can’t). If it only takes one person’s encouragement and that person hasn’t shown up in your life yet, I will be that person for you, if you’ll let me. Make some space, make some time, because we’re going to make this a habit. I’ll be here every Wednesday. You can join in at any point—just remember to start where you are.

This week’s task is simple. Think about joining me and spread the word, if you feel moved to do so. Check out my (new) materials page, where I’ve shared some of my favorite art supplies to have on hand. These are not necessary to begin, so please don’t feel overwhelmed. I’ll be back next week with a simple activity to get us started (and I promise it uses at-hand, everyday materials). I hope to see you here again next week.

Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worth while, and it will do you a world of good.
Cennino Cennini

Why Process Over Product? {Part Three}

(Part One, Part Two)

Part Three: Realizing a Vision

In Part Two, I said that if someone hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. Learning new skills is both exciting on its own and a means to an end; sometimes it begins as one of those and progresses to the other. Do you want to re-create somebody else’s vision, or know how to express your own? I want to do the latter, and I want my kids to be able to do the latter, too. I learned embroidery because I wanted to embroider poetry on my jeans, but in the process it became another way for me to express myself, and while I embroidered some commercial patterns at the beginning, while I was learning, I can’t see doing that anymore, because I’d rather use embroidery as part of my own artwork.

Practicing embroidery

Practicing embroidery

My 8yo, who already knew embroidery’s properties so well from having watched me, and already knowing how to sew, decided to learn how to embroider so he could make his aunt a snowflake ornament, based on his own vision of the finished project. I helped him with the angles of the snowflake and transferred it onto the felt for him, but the idea was all his. And we didn’t have an example of “this is what your felt snowflake ornament should look like,” either. It was all his own thought process and design.

Following directions give us the skills to re-create somebody else’s vision. There is nothing essentially wrong with that. I have no problem with knitting a sweater somebody else designed if I like it and want to wear it. It saves me the trouble of doing the design work myself. But if I have an idea in my head, I appreciate having the ability to make it a reality, rather than trying to find somebody else’s vision that sort of approximates my own. Following directions is certainly a useful skill to have, and prevents any of us from having to re-invent the wheel. But exposure to process-based activity is essential to gain the skills and confidence to realize our own unique vision.

“Just messing around” with materials allows the space for accidents to happen, for unexpected results, for discoveries, and that is when we learn. If something unexpected happens when the goal is to re-create a predetermined end product, it can be perceived as a disaster. If it happens during a process-focused exploration of a material or technique, it is a delightful discovery, leading to knowledge that is filed away for future use. When and if we have an idea that requires that particular effect, we know how to obtain it. Process-based art is not pressure-filled. It is fun. It is play. It is essential, for children and adults.

We cannot expect children to be creative, original thinkers if we only present them with so-called “art activities” that involve following directions to reproduce an end product. They deserve (as we all do) the space and time to develop the confidence and skills to determine their own end product, and then figure out how to get there. When I said, “I’m going to knit a stocking,” having never knit before, nobody was around to tell me I couldn’t. When my child says, “I’m going to make a snowflake ornament out of felt and embroidery,” even though he’s never embroidered before, I’m not going to say, “You can’t do that.” I don’t even say, “Let’s look and see what patterns you can follow.” My response is: “Let’s practice embroidery so you know how to do it. Sketch out what you’re thinking. You can totally do this.”

The process of looking for an already-existing project that meets your criteria versus creating the project you have in your head is so very different. Children who only have experience in following directions to produce a version of somebody else’s vision may not ever make the leap into realizing they can create the steps to produce their own vision. It takes more work on the adult’s part to mentor a child’s individual vision. It is harder to have a room full of children interpreting new materials or techniques in different ways, rather than following directions all at the same time. I see my job as facilitator, and I am on my toes when we’re in the studio, especially if we’re doing something new. But this sort of mentoring is essential, because the ability to have an idea and realize that idea is essential. And one way to raise children who have the confidence and skills to not only realize their ideas but to have the idea in the first place is to provide plenty of exposure to process-based art.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Two}

(Part One)

Part Two: Knowing the Materials

When a child (or adult) has an idea and a specific end result in mind, if he or she hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. I can’t stress this enough. It seems so basic, but I see so many people going about it backwards. Until we learn how to use various materials, we have no idea which one is best for the task at hand. If we have a vision in our mind but have a limited number of techniques from which to choose, we may never reach our vision.

When my children come into the studio with an idea, they have a vast array of materials from which to choose. They learned how to use these materials not by following step-by-step directions to reproduce a project designed by someone else, but by experimenting with the materials in a controlled way. Parameters are, I think, necessary when learning a new material or technique. I didn’t just give them watercolors and leave the room. We used, at different times, watercolors wet on wet, wet on dry, pan watercolors, liquid watercolors, watercolors from a tube. The different methods and materials yield different results, and we learned what they were by doing. In the same way, watercolors are different from acrylics and gouache and tempera. So when my kids say they want to do X and they need paint, I can now ask them, What kind of paint? And they will think about their desired end result and decide what they think they need.

The same thing is true of every material in our studio.

Non-representational creativity is often difficult for adults to understand. They think kids are just “messing around,” the painting is “random,” the activity is “aimless.” If it’s not a picture OF something, an adult often doesn’t see the point. Firstly, if the child is enjoying himself, is another point necessary? But beyond that, quite a bit is going on—or can be going on—when someone is “just messing around” with a material. The first thing I did when I bought new watercolor pencils was scribble with them and add water to see what happened. It would be frustrating to try to use a material for a specific end result if I didn’t know what the material could and couldn’t do.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

In the same way, a child learns quite a lot while “smearing” paint around. He’s learning how paint moves, how much to put on the paintbrush to get different effects, what happens when wet paint touches. If it’s quality paint, he learns what happens when different colors mix. When my middle child was about five, he spent weeks investigating different paint colors, a couple at a time. He learned about tints and shades and secondary colors while he moved the paint around on large sheets of heavy paper that I’d pinned to the wall. Limiting the color palette meant that he could see what happened when just those two or three colors mixed. This is, again, about setting parameters to help a child learn about the materials in a useful, meaningful way.

During this time, he happened to be painting while an adult relative was over, and that adult stared at the non-representational paper that held all that exciting information about tints and shades, and instead of asking my son about it (and he would have eagerly explained what he’d done to get that range of color), she stared and stared until she found something that sort of looked like a flower and pointed it out. “You painted a flower.” No. But now, when he does want to paint a flower, or anything else, he is confident that he can mix any color he needs or wants, in a variety of paint types. In fact, like me, he’d rather have just the primaries, white, and black in his palette, and mix his own colors.

For more on this sort of sequential introduction of materials (as well as how to talk—and NOT talk—to children about what they’re doing), I highly recommend Susan Striker’s Young at Art.

Next: Part Three—Realizing a Vision.

Why Process Over Product? {Part One}

Part One: Discovery vs Following Directions

Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, has a terrific forum area of her website, and currently it contains an active thread on process vs product art for children. If you’ve dug around on this blog of mine at all, you know I’m passionate about allowing children the opportunity to explore process-oriented, open-ended art. This series of posts grew out of the thoughts I shared in that thread; I encourage you to join Lori’s forums, if you haven’t already.

Playing with monotypes

Playing with monotypes

In process-oriented art, the DOING is what is important: the PROCESS of making, exploring, and discovering. Product-based art is focused on the end result. In an open-ended activity, we don’t know where we’re going to end up, while in a closed activity, the end result has been predetermined by someone else. My elementary school “art” classes were exercises in following directions, with the (teacher’s) stated goal being 30 projects that looked just like hers. Sadly, this is still true in many schools. There is no room for creativity there, for amazing discoveries and delights.

One example given in the forum thread as a possible support for product-based “art” experiences for children is that of a new knitter following patterns until she knows enough to design her own, the connection being that children learn skills by following directions rather than by process-based exploration. I taught myself to knit because I wanted to make something specific, a Christmas stocking for my first baby. I decided upon a specific skill, knitting, which I needed to learn, so I did. And yes, I followed the pattern for the stocking. Taking a class wasn’t a possibility, so I didn’t “learn” that a new knitter’s first project should be a scarf. There was nobody to tell me, “Oh no, you can’t start right off knitting a tube with four needles. New knitters don’t do that. You have to progress through this predetermined sequence of easy projects before you can attempt anything like that.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I figured I could do anything. That is the confidence I want for my children. I taught myself to knit in October and had a hand-knit Christmas stocking ready in time. Sure, I struggled, and the argument can be made that I persevered because I had a specific end product in mind. But—and this loops back into the goals of authentic project-based learning—I was committed to learning a new skill in order to realize my own vision and goal (and even with that first pattern, I changed it to suit me). The next item I knit was the sweater sampler from Jacqueline Fee’s Sweater Workshop. This project didn’t result in anything recognizable or a useful “thing,” but the process taught me a variety of skills. Then I either followed patterns, or not. Or I began with a pattern, but modified it to suit me, because I understood what I was doing.

I can tell you with much assurance that only following patterns doesn’t teach a knitter much except how to follow patterns. It is the same with any other skill. Only following somebody else’s directions only teaches you how to follow somebody else’s directions. If you don’t truly understand your materials and how they behave, you won’t recognize when the directions are wrong. Or if you do, you won’t be sure how to fix it. Learning how to design knitted items doesn’t come from knitting a whole lot of them, following directions slavishly. It comes from experimenting with different stitches and techniques, different weights and needles, and comparing the resulting fabrics. It comes from playing with the materials.

And that will be Part Two: Knowing the Materials.
Part Three: Realizing a Vision

{I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how important a mentor is, even for adult self-taught learners. My sister, an accomplished knitter, loaned me several of her books, including The Sweater Workshop and Knitting in Plain English. These are not pattern books. They are think-for-yourself knitting books, and I’m sure being exposed to that sort of philosophy right from the start helped shaped my attitude towards knitting and every handwork skill I added thereafter.}

The Importance of the Proper Tools (II)

My first post on this topic discusses my then-two-year-old daughter’s desire to cut fabric, and my search for proper fabric scissors that would be safe in her hands. (I’ve since shown her the business end of a pin and how to use them safely, since naturally, after cutting a bunch of fabric pieces, you want to pin them together.) I didn’t necessarily intend this subject to become a series, but here’s another post in the same vein nonetheless.

N (age 7) and I signed up for a parent/child art class at a local museum. We both like art, and art museums, and I think he, as my middle child, is really in need of some one-on-one time with me. This class seems like a great way to do that. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it seems (we’ve only had one class) that we’ll be working on one collaborative project over the five sessions. The first day, part of what we needed to do was sew the shoulder straps that will connect to the rest of the project. Rectangles of craft felt were pre-cut, and we were to choose two rectangles, and fold each in half and sew the two halves together, to make two straps. Easy enough. N and I looked around for needles…

…and all they had were tapestry needles. Those are the large, blunt-tipped needles you use, generally, with yarn, which is exactly what we were to use them with too. But they don’t pierce felt, so we were supposed to punch holes in the felt with hole punches first, and then weave the yarn through the holes to “sew.” Which is a pretty good method, except that anyone who cuts fabric knows never to use your fabric scissors on paper because it dulls the blade, and boy did it look hard to punch holes through craft felt!

N really wanted to use a “real” needle, which I thoroughly support. I don’t know if the tapestry needle/hole punch/yarn method was chosen out of expediency or safety. I got the sense it was safety, but the class is geared for kids ages 6-9, and any six-year-old can use a real needle if shown how. And I’ll be honest: I really didn’t want to try to punch holes in craft felt with a paper hole punch, so we took our pieces of felt home to sew.

Here’s N, using an embroidery needle and floss to sew his felt.

(That is a rare TV-on sighting in our house! It was Sunday afternoon–football was on.)

N used the chalk that you see in the photo to draw a line of what he wanted to sew, and then he followed the line. I showed him how to backstitch and helped him around the corners and sorted it out when he forgot and sewed around the edge of the fabric instead of back and forth. After a few times, he figured out himself how to fix that, even re-threading the needle himself. Since this is a collaborative project, we each sewed a strap. Here they are together (click to embiggen).

N’s is on the bottom. He backstitched that zigzag himself. With a real needle. And he is pleased. And yes, he poked himself once or twice with the needle, but he didn’t even bleed (so he’s doing better than I am; I usually draw blood from my thumb at least once per embroidery session).

Kids are so capable.  Let them prove it to you!

(PS: We also made the shirt he’s wearing, many years ago. It’s printed using a vinyl fish replica and liquid acrylic craft paint.)

Building a Writing Center

Towards the end of the summer, I ordered Playful Learning. While I’ve gone through and marked numerous pages with sticky notes, this was my first goal: to set up a little writing center. We have loads of materials in our art area, and the kids can get to lots of them on their own, but I wanted one place that held a variety of paper all in one spot. I loved the hanging thing that’s pictured for the writing center at the beginning of the book, but the book didn’t seem to say where it came from. I Googled for a while and eventually found it–The Container Store! We don’t have one near to us, so I had to order that too. But look!

It’s a canvas magazine holder, and a perfect solution for storing paper vertically, something I’d been trying to figure out since we put together our art/craft area. The table takes up most of the space, so anything that allows me to use the walls is great. From top to bottom, I have card stock of various colors, plain copy paper, lined writing paper (it’s that thin brownish stuff, so I put a piece of card stock in front to help prevent flopping), some letter paper printed out from the Playful Learning website, some alphabet stickers, envelopes and index cards, and a bunch of blank books, waiting to be filled with stories. Most of these I made using plain paper, but some I alternated sheets of lined paper with the plain*. I added some pencils (nobody can seem to find one when they need one) and some colored pens. The kids can reach other supplies–colored pencils, crayons, scissors, hole punches, paint–on their own, and they’re stored in other areas.

The sheet on the right is this one, found via Pinterest. I plan to add and/or rotate what hangs there. At the same time I ordered Playful Learning, Rip The Page! fell into my cart, and I’m thinking the best way to use it may be to simply leave provocations up near the writing center. I’m going to have to wait and see if writing is something the kids want to do all together, like we often do with art experiences, or if it’s a more solitary activity. (Can you tell, for me it feels better to write on the sly and then, maybe, let it see some light?)

I’m not quite done here–I’d like some better alphabet stickers, for instance, and some shape stickers for my youngest. (Any source suggestions? I’m not finding any locally.) I also want some lined paper more suitable for my nine-year-old. I hope it evolves through use, that it shapes itself according to what the kids need. My oldest, especially, seems excited about it.

I’ll keep you posted!

*To make simple blank books: Fold copy paper in half for the inside and card stock in half for the outside. Staple close to the edge (middle, top, and bottom). Cover the staples with duct tape. I had some sheets of it, so I just cut off strips that were four squares wide (there’s a grid on the back) and used that.