Category Archives: basics

Scented Play Dough

The idea of adding scent to play dough isn’t new; I’ve seen it scented with peppermint more than once. N’s teacher let me know on Sunday that he’d need some play dough for a class activity on Wednesday–we keep him on a gluten-free diet, and even though he’s not eating the play dough, there’s something about having him play with a ball of wheat that seems not-so-smart. He only needed a small amount each of three colors, but of course it’s made in batches (I used this recipe). I also wanted to double the recipe so G could play with some at home and there was extra to keep on hand in school for next time.

I placed all the ingredients for a double recipe in one pan. When it had warmed and mixed to reach the consistency of pancake batter, I added a couple drops of lavender oil–such a calming, soothing scent. Then I ladled some of the batter into two more pans, and then I added the food coloring, one color per pan. The beautiful (and beautifully scented!) result is in the picture above.

Art as Habit

I began this blog nearly 100 posts ago (this is post 99, according to WordPress) with a few modest, personal goals. I wanted to document what we did. I wanted a record of what worked and what didn’t work. And I wanted a bit of help with accountability. See, about a year before I began this blog, we finished our basement, which, at my request, includes an art/craft area. We built a big table with lots of storage and an easy, wipe-off surface. The floor is just linoleum, and we had a utility sink installed–mess isn’t a concern. A year later I realized we weren’t using it all that much. We weren’t taking advantage of this great space I’d created.

In October of last year we attended a workshop at Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum entitled “The Artful Family.” I began thinking about how I wanted to use that space and what I could do to accomplish this. I thought perhaps I could leave provocations for when the boys came home from school and began poking around for ideas. In one corner of my head, I sort of hoped I’d find an outline, neatly arranged, available online. But I wasn’t looking for crafts, and I wasn’t looking primarily for ideas for very young children, and I came up more or less empty.

One of V's sketches from our visit to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

At about the same moment I realized I’d be making much of it up as I went along, I decided to blog about it. I’ve blogged on and off for a long time, and it’s a method of documentation that feels very natural and comfortable to me. Also, because it’s public, it feels more accountable to me. Even if absolutely nobody reads a blog regularly, it’s still out there in the world, and it helped me make this sort of art-making–the kind where we’re all together, exploring, learning, together–a priority. Because just like everyone else, our family juggles–work, school, out-of-school activities, chores, errands, all that stuff that comes along with just life.

Making art together

My original thought of leaving provocations after school didn’t work. By the time my boys were home, had a snack, and completed homework, I’d be starting dinner, because we have a toddler with an early bedtime, so we eat dinner early too. Not only that, but the boys (and my daughter) quickly came to see these particular art experiences as an activity we did together. Trying to do this after school would just be rushed. I realized we’d need to explore together on weekends and days off from school, and that I’d need to schedule it, to treat it like any other important commitment. This isn’t to say we do things on a schedule; but I try to keep track and make sure we don’t go too long without some sort of art-making together. This blog helps keep me accountable to this goal.

So what have we gained by making art a habit? My toddler (nearly preschool now!) daughter sees painting as a viable activity choice, as much as reading together or building with blocks or any other game we may play together. She will ask to go downstairs and let me know exactly what materials she wants to work with. She has gained fine-motor coordination, color recognition, and confidence in her mark-making, among other things. But it’s more the changes in my older kids that interest me.

My children's artwork framed and on display in our dining room.

My 7yo has always considered himself an artist. In the past nine months, though, he’s become better at planning, thinking ahead, and becoming comfortable with different techniques. My 9yo, I think, is better able to see himself as an artist now than before; he recognizes his strengths. Last summer when we went on vacation I bought sketchbooks for all the kids, which were hardly used. They didn’t want to draw anything. This summer, it was as natural as anything for them to take their sketchbooks to the deCordova Museum and begin drawing. When my husband brings flowers home, the kids ask when they can paint a picture of them. And I suspect, too, that they are more observant, although they have always been the sort of kids who walk slowly, look at their surroundings, and try to really see.

Some of N's sketches from our deCordova visit

And then there are the benefits to us as a family. This is, primarily, a family activity. I make art right alongside my kids as much as I can–it’s not always easy, because I’m also helping and fetching materials for three kids. I bring my sketchbook places too. My kids see me being creative, both with them and on my own projects. We all have our own projects, but we come together often. And over the past nine months, I’ve felt my own creativity expand as well.

Some of my blind contour drawings of a flower

My kids like to read in part because they see their parents reading and we’ve always taken them to the library. My kids write things down in part because they see me jotting notes and typing at the computer. And my kids see themselves as artists in part because I’ve made it a priority to support art-making in our family. This is what art as habit can do, and the first step can be as simple as drawing whatever is at hand.

The Importance of the Proper Tools

I’ve always believed that kids deserve as good-quality art supplies as we can manage. This doesn’t mean the most expensive, but the tools and supplies we provide for our kids shouldn’t lead to frustration. The pencils and crayons should draw smoothly, the pastels should feel good against the paper, the paper itself should hold up to whatever’s being applied to it, and for goodness sakes, none of the teeny tiny paintbrushes and the watercolors that stay dry and colorless no matter how much water you add to the measly little block. (I always wondered, as a kid, how famous artists created such amazing watercolors. Learning about tubes of watercolor paint was a revelation, I tell you.)

Many products and supplies geared towards children are just not up to the task of carrying out the child’s ideas. But when I notice I need, I try to fill it; when a child has a desire, I try to make sure he or she can carry out the task. I don’t want an idea to fail simply for lack of the proper tools.

Not too long ago I decided to try sewing while G kept me company at the art (and sometimes sewing) table. I hadn’t tried this in a while, but I was making an apron for her and she was invested in the success of the experiment! She played with buttons, looked at some sewing books, and then wanted to play with, and then cut, some fabric scraps. I have a pair of fabric scissors set aside for this use, but they’re much too large for small hands, so I gave her some scissors from the art table. But cutting paper dulls scissors, and it was hard work to cut the fabric. She was very patient with it, but I decided I needed to get her scissors with blades that were sharp enough to meet her needs and desire.

After some research and asking around, I decided to try to find Fiskars 5-inch blunt-tipped scissors. Unfortunately, my local Joann’s (where the scissors were 50% off this week!) didn’t have those exact scissors, so I bought a 5-inch pair with slightly sharper tips than I wanted, and the 7-inch student scissors, which are also blunt-tipped. I’d thought the 7-inch ones might be too long, but they actually are just fine.

Can you see the small smile on G’s face? When we tried the scissors and she realized how easy it could be to cut fabric, she was so, so pleased. So satisfied. Like I said, she’d shown remarkable patience with the dull scissors, but I have a feeling using scissors that cut so easily was a revelation akin to my watercolor discovery. It is amazing to realize that something you want to do doesn’t actually have to be difficult.

We worked on how to safely hold the fabric and the scissors. (Her fingers are a little closer than I’d like here, but she was careful the whole way through.) I made sure she was always cutting away from herself, not towards her fingers or her body, and I didn’t take too many pictures because I was more concerned with holding the fabric to make her cutting work easier. She was intent on cutting small pieces, and then she needed a place to put them.

She was happy for quite a while, cutting up scraps and putting them into a glass jar. I think I’ll keep the smaller, sharper scissors for me and the student scissors will be hers. They enable her to do what she wants to do.

In the course of asking around to figure out what sort of “real” scissors would be appropriate for a two-year-old, I know I ran into some who disagreed with the idea outright. Here are some things I considered:

* This is not G’s first experience with using scissors. She’s been experimenting with cutting paper for a while now.

* The desire came from her–she had a plan and a need, and when a child (or anybody else) wants to do something, that person is likely to be invested in learning how to do it safely.

* I’m willing to sit with her and take the time to show her how to use the tool safely and supervise her at all times.

And, of course, respect–I respect her needs and desires and recognize it’s my job to help her fulfill them to the best of her ability. G, being the youngest of three, has always done things a bit ahead of schedule, and I’m not saying every 2 1/2 year old is ready to cut fabric with sharp scissors. I am saying that it’s so important to know the kids we are working with, provide them with the best and most appropriate tools that we can, and never underestimate their abilities.

(G, happily modeling her new apron!)

Working With Found Materials

I recently purchased Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini. This is not a how-to book; it’s a documentation of how the authors and teachers worked with early childhood students, in a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom, collecting and exploring found objects. As the authors say in the preface,

Rather than focusing on the creation of products, this book is based on observation and recording of children’s and teachers’ processes.

Fabulous. That’s what I try to do, too. I bought this with our natural collections in mind–mostly rocks and seashells–although the book covers all found materials, mainly recycled, and not just natural ones. Our collecting really ramps up in the summertime.

kids + nets + salt pond = summer as it should be

Documenting is an integral part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Here, the authors share the process of collecting and organizing the materials, exploring them, and working with them.

The kids are involved in every step. The first chapter begins with the authors acknowledging that it’s “crucial” to involve the kids and parents right from the beginning, thus with the collecting. Anyone who spends time with children knows they are natural collectors anyway. N picks up rocks everywhere. I find acorns in pockets, sticks on the floor, and G’s buttons absolutely everywhere.

We did not collect these jellies. We just observed them and let them go.

The kids in the book collect, clean, and categorize their materials. They spend time getting to know these items. How many ways can you classify something? They sort by material, by color, by shape. They work with them in temporary ways and in more permanent ways. They re-create self-portraits using found materials, they create 3-dimensional pieces, they study blue and circles and metal, with materials and through drawing and in paint.

The latest haul, rinsing in fresh water

It’s impossible for us to visit the beach without bringing back treasures, and we visit the beach at least weekly in the summertime. (The crabs in the left-hand bucket, by the way, were dead when we found them. They were supposed to be left behind, but G slipped them in.) On the way home, N was considering what we could do with some of our items–we can make rubbings of the Irish Moss, we can try printing with the underside of a crab (although, he pointed out, the paper might smell bad afterwards), we can make rubbings of scallop shells, with all those wonderful ridges.

Beautiful smooth purple piece of clam shell

I also collect at the beach, and I’m fond of the small polished pieces of broken clam shell. This visit, I found several purple pieces. (The bits that became the most valuable wampum, N pointed out. See here; scroll down to #9.) Aren’t they beautiful?

The main idea to take away from this book, I think, if you’re looking for just one, is that collections are not necessarily meant to be displayed and looked at, or, alternately, turned into some end product in order to have value. They can be living, breathing things, to be touched, to be rearranged, to be worked with. We have, literally, buckets of quahog shells, and I’ve been thinking they need to come inside and take their place on the shelf next to the tree blocks. Some of our rocks need their own basket on the play shelves as well (some live in the sandbox). Some items (oh-those-purple-pieces!) may become works of art to be worn; others may find their way into collages or sculptures; others we may love so much we give them a place of honor on the shelf for a while. But the best collections of found items, I think, are dynamic, just like the children who collect them.

Note: This particular beach is a barrier beach. We found most of the rocks and clam shells on the ocean side; we found living (and dead) crabs and jellies, as well as oyster and scallop shells, in the protected salt pond. It’s a fantastically neat place.

Traveling Art Box

Quite a few items live in my car during the summer–beach toys, picnic blanket, long-sleeved shirts (just in case), wet wipes–and at some point during the busy week that just passed I realized we need some art supplies in the car too. Not for keeping busy during long car trips, but in case we want to make some texture rubbings at the playground or draw the tree next to the library. You know, impulse art. I’m sure we’ll be packing more specific art supplies for particular destinations–we live, hands down, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world during the summertime–but this is what I decided we needed to have with us, at minimum.

The brown and blue at the bottom is a folder, and inside is regular copy/printer paper and some heavier drawing paper. I have a package of basic sketching pencils (no erasers, though!), and inside the pouch are some ultra-fine Sharpies for drawing and a set of colored pencils. My daughter arranged the crayon cakes, which we made the other day to use for rubbings. Just because they’re so pretty, here’s a closer look:

We’ll be making more of these so we have some at home, too. It’s the basic recipe of melting peeled, broken crayon pieces in an old muffin pan for about 15 minutes at 250 degrees, letting them cool, then popping them in a freezer for a few minutes so they slide right out.

With these supplies, we can make rubbings and draw in either color or black and white. I’m going to throw a couple clipboards in the car, too. The case, by the way, I found at Joann’s, and I chose this one because the handle was on the top, rather than the side, so the paper can lie flat when we carry it. I’m sure we’ll be bringing nature journals, pastels, and paints to other destinations as well. (I have this paint case on my list of possible supplies.)

So what would be on your bare minimum list? Do you keep an art kit in the car?

(And can you believe my kids have another month of school? It’s killing me.)

Labeling the Studio

(Inspired by the project “Water-Slide Decal Jars” in Print Workshop by Christine Schmidt.)

Materials: Photocopy of your child’s art and a copy of the book. I can’t find instructions online (although she blogs here and might include it as a project sometime, who knows?!) and I want to encourage you to buy the book yourself, because it’s so inspiring! But I can tell you that all the materials we needed were right in our house, except for the photocopier–our printer will make copies, but ink jet won’t work.

So. I had no idea water-slide decal paper even existed, but it does, and it allows you to print your own decals and then, like the name says, soak them in water and slide the decal off the backing. According to Christine Schmidt, her way is easier and doesn’t involve sealers or special adhesives. When I read the directions, I wondered how on earth this could possibly work–how can I make a photocopy, then get the ink to stick to the decal while the paper rubs away? But it’s in a book and all, so I decided to have faith and try it out.

This was the result:

My double-pointed knitting needles sit in an old pickle jar by my knitting chair, and I decided to make the jar a snazzy label using a stamp I’d drawn and carved. Nice, huh? The boys thought so, too. Since we never recycle glass jars in this house unless the label is completely stubborn, we have lots of stuff in glass jars in the studio–markers, pencils, buttons, paintbrushes, pretty much anything that can fit in a glass jar is in one. The boys thought drawing labels was a smashing idea. (Click to embiggen pictures.)

At one point I heard one of them say, “Let’s label everything in the world!” Oh, I do love me some organization! I arranged the labels onto two sheets, and sixty cents at the library later (and that’s because I made two copies of each, just in case), we were in business.

It’s hard to see the labels very well with stuff in the jars, but they’re there. I learned some things along the way, and I realize that if you don’t have the book, this won’t make much sense, but I’ll share them in case you do buy or borrow the book and you decide to try this project.

One, I think the photocopier at my husband’s work is better than the one at the library. He photocopied the knitting label for me, and when I peeled the paper backing off, all the ink stayed where it was supposed to. Not so much with the library photocopies, so for subsequent labels, I burnished them much harder with the bone folder before soaking. That helped quite a bit. (Inconveniently, my husband is in Chile this week, far far from his work photocopier.)

Second, it’s hard to catch everything when doing this with kids.

On one of those decals up there, I didn’t get all the white paper off in one little spot, but I didn’t notice the straggler until we’d already Mod Podge’d the decal onto the jar. Oh, well.

But that’s about it! Really, this is ridiculously easy and the wow factor is huge. So huge that when we began peeling paper away, both boys said, “WOW!” It’s really cool to watch how the ink stays behind. It doesn’t seem possible, somehow. I felt like we should be muttering incantations or something.

Meanwhile, the boys were drawing, writing, and designing, and my oldest decided to practice his cursive while he was at it. They had free reign to design the labels any way they wanted, as long as they fit on the jars (or mostly fit, in one or two instances!). The buttons one might my favorite, although “brushes” runs a close second. I was having a hard time getting a good picture, even with the jar emptied (and whew, I had no idea the button jar still smelled so strongly of salsa!). This was the best I could do:

I think our studio now has the coolest organization system!

Basics: Supplies: Drawing

What drawing materials do we generally have on hand? Here’s a list. Anything to add? Leave a comment!

Crayons: While beeswax crayons are great, especially for smaller hands (we have both sticks and blocks), there’s nothing wrong with a box of Crayola crayons, either. We have a couple of baby wipe containers full of standard crayons. They get used all the time. (But cheap, no-name crayons are just frustrating, and the block crayons really are the best for doing rubbings.)

Colored pencils: This comes down to preference, but definitely have some on hand. They’re easier to draw with than crayons. I can’t remember my six-year-old ever drawing with a standard, erasable pencil; he sets right in with his colored pencils. I love the confidence displayed with that decision. He’s been working with a set of Faber-Castell pencils that he was given. The supply list from the boys’ school requests Crayola brand, because, they say, they’re easier to sharpen. (I’ve never had a problem with others, but perhaps they’re easier for the kids to sharpen?) I do like the Lyra chunky pencils, especially the shorter ones for smaller hands.

Markers: We don’t use these often, but we have a set of Prismacolor permanent markers, the kind with a fat tip on one end and a skinny tip on the other. I also have some extra-fine Sharpies for drawing. I don’t like washable markers; they smear. We’ve had a set of permanent markers since my oldest was about four. At first he used them with supervision, as did his younger brother when the time came. But it didn’t take long for either of them to be able to use permanent markers on their own in a completely trustworthy way. Right now, they’re on a shelf my two-year-old can’t reach.

Pastels: Crayola oil pastels are inexpensive and easy to hold. Pastels also come in a chalk variety. We all really enjoy drawing with the pastels.

Colored chalk: We have both the blackboard kind, and the drawing kind. Be aware that anything that says “drawing” generally isn’t recommended for chalkboards.

Conte crayons: I just like these, and they’re a nice addition if you’re experimenting with various media.

Charcoal: Black, white, pencils, sticks, vine, willow. Get an assortment and experiment.

Drawing pencils: I’m not a big fan of erasable pencils. I think it can lead to overthinking and trying to reach perfection—I think when the option to erase exists, it will be taken, until a child gets so focused on getting that one detail just right that he loses perspective on the drawing as a whole. That’s not to say that your child might behave differently, or that at some point a drawing pencil really is going to be just the right tool for the job. (We used them, for example, for our shadow drawings.) So what you need to know, if you are looking to buy artist drawing pencils rather than the standard office-supply #2 pencil, is that they’re rated according to hardness. If you like a very soft pencil, go for the B side of the scale; the higher the number before the B, the softer it is. If you like a hard pencil, go towards the H end of the scale–again, the higher the number, the harder it is. 2H roughly corresponds to a basic #2 pencil. (For another take on not using pencils, see this post–and comments–on Deep Space Sparkle.)

One of our sets of sketching pencils (out of order)

One of our sets of sketching pencils (out of order)

Explanation of pencil hardness from inside the tin of the pencil set.

Explanation of pencil hardness from inside the tin of the pencil set.

I think that covers the basics. Please add to this list in the comments, if you have a favorite drawing material I haven’t included. And happy drawing!

Storing Artwork

My sister asked me this week, “What do you do with all the artwork? Because you do a lot more than we do, and I already don’t know what to do with it all.” Fair question, and one I don’t have a perfect answer to, but it’s worth discussing.

I have a big portfolio envelope for each of my children (two now for my oldest). You can find these at art supply stores but also at craft stores, including the ones that have weekly 40% off coupons–which is helpful if you’re going to be buying for more than one child.

I try to label the back of the piece with the child’s name and the date the artwork was done (usually just the month and year) before it goes into the envelope, but that hasn’t always happened. I noticed there’s a couple-year period there after my second was born during which very little got labeled, but I’m impressed, in retrospect, that anyone was doing any artwork at all and I managed to save any of it.

So, what goes into the envelope? I lean towards the sentimental when it comes to my children, so I put quite a bit in there. It’s easier to start with what doesn’t go in there. The seemingly millions of crayon creations on computer paper do not always find their way in there. Many of those go into the boys’ “special paper” boxes, which also helps with their own decision making. (Sort of. They’re both pack rats.) My six-year-old has his own pads of drawing paper, which helps keep the drawings in one spot for him. He can sit and draw in his room for hours, and these are his notebooks. The piles of paper that build up at the play table often get recycled once they’re filled front and back with crayon by my toddler.

When I Googled this topic to see what others had written (I include links at the end of this post), I was amused how so many mentioned the endless stream of artwork that comes home from school. We don’t have this issue. I don’t know what happens to the projects my kids do in art class–I don’t see much of it. (Yup, this bugs me.) My first-grader’s teacher makes a good effort to include art in the daily classroom, and those pieces come home, often folded, and often with his name written by somebody else on the front. This pains me. WE DO NOT FOLD A CHILD’S ARTWORK. WE DO NOT WRITE ON IT. (Don’t even get me started on CUTTING it.)

When a larger piece comes home from school, the first thing I’m usually doing is putting it under some heavy books to try and get out the fold line. Then I often pin it up on the big bulletin board in the kitchen for display, and after a while I rotate those, with the older pieces going into the envelope.

If my older son is any guide, the art work coming home from school is going to decrease sharply when my first grader goes to second grade.

We also have artwork from the art classes my six-year-old has taken. Many of these have been framed and are hanging in his room.

Those are not the only pieces of child art that are framed and hanging in my house. For years this frame (which is an inexpensive box frame) held a construction paper collage tree my oldest had made as a toddler/preschooler. When he brought home this painting in second grade, I replaced it.

(There’s more, but I’m guessing  you don’t need to see all their framed work…)

The three-dimensional pieces are a bit harder to store. My oldest took pottery classes through a local town’s recreation department for quite a while. He started at age five, so we have quite a variety in quality and usability. I have many pieces out, and I have many many more packed into several boxes in my closet.

I suggested he could give some to relatives as Christmas or Mother’s Day presents, but he didn’t really like that idea. My children are quite willing to give away the crafts they make (as long as we make one of whatever it is for ourselves, too), but they are extremely resistant to giving away their artwork.

As for the pieces we create at home, often I hang those up on the studio wall to serve as reminders of what we’ve done and what we can do, as well as inspiration. Actually, it’s about time I clear some into the portfolio envelopes to make some more room on the walls. I also hang some pieces up on the bulletin board in the kitchen (you might recognize some of our projects in that photo of the bulletin board up there!). I admit to keeping every single easel painting G has done so far. (I have her brothers’ too! Including a series N did when he was about four or five, exploring tints and shades of various colors.)

I’m not sure what I’ll eventually do with all the pieces in the envelopes. When I organized them recently (with an eye towards neatening so I could start filing new pieces away, not with an eye towards winnowing), my oldest was delighted to see the things he’d made when he was his sister’s age, as well as pieces he remembered creating.

“You’re not the type of mother,” he said, “who would just recycle stuff like this.”

Nope. I’m sure at one point we might need to talk about culling the collection, but we’re not there yet. I sort of see myself as the curator of my children’s childhoods. What they choose to do with it later on is up to them.


Here are some articles I found that talk about this topic (although they don’t necessarily all match my own philosophy):

Storing Children’s Artwork on The Savvy Source
Sorting and Storing Your Child’s Artwork on Real Simple
What to Do With All This Artwork? on Ask Kiddio

Have you found a solution that works for you? Please share in the comments!

New Additions to the Studio

Just one major one, really: a chalkboard.

Eventually that wall is going to be orange, like the rest of the walls, and there will be a full frame around the blackboard, and it and the ledge at the bottom will be painted purple. We also need to tilt the ledge a bit, because the chalk rolls off. (We made due with what we found in the edging section at Home Depot.)

To be honest, it’s making a heck of a mess at the moment, but it’s in the studio, so it’s not really a big deal. I scooped G up and set her on the step stool to wash the chalk off her hands (and face!), and later I noticed little chalky footprints on the step stool. Made me smile.

And a little addition… pink paper. Card stock, really.

The other day I was picking up some sewing notions and G declared that she needed some pink paper. The closest we could find was a package of card stock that included pink. G held onto that package of pink card stock in the car and told me when we got home, we needed to bring the pink paper downstairs and she would stick tape onto it. She had a plan, she had a clear need and desire, and she felt strongly about it. And she was pleased with her creation, so pleased she brought it upstairs and put it on the play table and kept it nearby.

She’s right, too. Our studio was lacking in pink paper. This was an easy request to say yes to. I try to say YES as often as I can. This is fairly easy with a toddler, given the attention span. I know when she asks to paint, she’ll be painting for, usually, fewer than fifteen minutes. I can set her up in the time it takes me to switch a load of laundry.

Art activities, especially at this age, do not have to be Big Productions–this can seem overwhelming to the adult, and halt a lot of exploration before it can get started. In our house, we have crayons and colored pencils easily accessible upstairs as well as downstairs. Down in the art studio, G knows that oil pastels, pencils, tape, and paint are all readily available. The easel has paint cups set up; I just need to pull down a fresh sheet of paper and gather the paintbrushes while she takes off the paint covers. She likes to put the brushes in the paint cups herself. When she’s done, she can cover the paint back up while I rinse the brushes.

If at all possible, if space at all permits, it’s worth it to have a corner where some basic supplies are handy and accessible. It makes it so much easier to say YES.

Basics: Our Studio

Don’t you love getting a peek into other folks’ creative spaces? I do. There are so many ways to solve the problem of how to create an art space in your home. We’ve only had a dedicated art/craft area for about a year. Before that, I made do, sometimes more successfully than others. When my boys were small, I didn’t provide as many creative opportunities as I’d have liked, simply because the logistics got me down. (They’re 2 1/2 years apart; many of those early days, the logistics of keeping them both fed, clothed, and clean got me down.)

Because we have a galley kitchen, our dining room table is also where we eat, which meant art projects needed to be cleaned up within a set amount of time. For a while I had a small table and an easel in our spare room/office, and the carpet tells the tale of many creative encounters with paint and play dough. When the room got too crowded for an easel, I bought a roll of cork and nailed it into the wall and pinned paper onto it. The year we homeschooled, I carved out an area in our unfinished basement and set up a table; I simply had to bring jugs and bins of water downstairs whenever we did wet-on-wet watercolor painting, which wouldn’t have been so difficult if I hadn’t been very pregnant (and then slinging a newborn).

This is all to say that the perfect studio space is probably never going to be achieved in the typical family home, but we do the best we can with what we have on hand (and we don’t feel guilty when we see other people’s wonderful-looking studios!). It’s also to say, when we decided last year it was finally time to finish the basement, which had been the plan from the time we bought the house, I made sure we got an art/craft area down there, and a utility sink. The contractor seemed a bit confused at first–he assumed the middle area would be some sort of common room, right? Couch, TV, video console type of thing? Um, no.

From the bottom up: I chose a vinyl flooring, because who cares if something spills on it? Let it get messy. The walls are bright because of the one major flaw in this space (remember, nothing is going to be perfect)–it has no natural lighting. I have four ceiling lights, and I have daylight bulbs in all of them. This is good enough to fool my camera into thinking it’s outside, and I think it’s the best we can do in a basement. (Other rooms in the basement have windows, but this area does not.)

In the bottom left you can see the easel. Behind where I’m standing is the laundry area, with my beloved utility sink and a shelf that holds drying paintbrushes along with laundry detergent. I strung some line in there with some mini-clothespins. Some days bathing suits are drying there; other days, art projects. Behind the easel, near the table, is our Learning Tower. I coveted one of these from the time I first had a toddler, and we finally bought one last year. Since our table is counter height, this is perfect for her to join us at the art table.

Speaking of our table, it’s not only tall, it’s huge.

We (meaning mostly my husband) made it ourselves. I searched online and came across a table that looked much like this and cost a fortune. I said, Hey, can we make this? And he said, Sure. The ends are the nine-cubby shelf systems you can find in Home Depot or Lowe’s. We got two of those and a huge sheet of melamine for the top and put it all together. The top is about 72″ long and 40″ wide and everything wipes off melamine. You can buy stuff at the hardware store to seal the rough edges so they don’t cut anyone or snag on anything. If we ever move, we’ll have to take the whole thing apart.

But look at all the storage I get with this! This is where I store just about all of our art supplies–paints of all kinds, markers, paper, crayons, paint brushes, collage materials, odds and ends that might be useful, anything at all I’ve collected over the years, it’s here. I also keep my sewing and knitting books in these shelves. Yes, all of this is accessible to my toddler and it has been for the past year. (The scissors are kept on the table itself, so she has to ask for those.) Yes, she’s gone on some shelf-emptying sprees, but mostly minor, and she’s learned to respect the materials and ask for what she’d like to use, for the most part.

(You can also see what we sit on while we create–stools, because the table is higher than normal. And I love the black and white floor with the black stools and white table. Just do.)

On the far wall, did you see the ledge? That comes with the basement. It’s so useful.

The permanent markers are up there, as I haven’t introduced them to my toddler yet. The boys can reach them themselves, though.

Under the table is, well, a mess.

Yikes! This is where I keep my bins of yarn and bags of fabric, the painting boards, and any pads that are too big to fit in the cubbies. On the right you can see we have a narrow shelf right under the table surface, which is under quite a bit of duress right now. Originally I planned to keep my cutting mat and large metal rulers there, but I’ve added some watercolor pads, too. You can also see some loose felt under the table, left over from a recent sewing project (troll hats!). I haven’t found a place for it yet, since I seem to have acquired an awful lot of felt, too.

So that’s our studio. It’s not perfect, but I love it, and right after we finally finished the basement I dreamed that we had to move and in my dream, I was most upset at leaving the art/craft area behind. If you have a post that features your creative space, I’d love if you left a link to it!