Category Archives: basics

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!

Basics: Supplies: Paper

Just about any book on making art with children (or adults!) is going to include a supply list, and there are posts about this throughout the web as well (such as here and here). It really boils down to personal choice and what projects you might want to do, but I thought I’d list some basic supplies. Then when I thought about it a little more, I thought I’d better break the categories down. Eventually you’ll be able to find all the supplies posts in the “Basics” category on the sidebar. And I really am trying to be very basic here and explain as much as possible, because it can all be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.

I love art supplies. I maybe go overboard a little. I remember how I used to walk into art supply stores and feel like an impostor, like I didn’t belong at all, mostly because everything seemed so confusing. I lived in a city with three or four art supply stores at the time and no shortage of art students, and I’d walk in and be too intimidated to even ask a question. Then I began taking art classes, and I walked in with my class supply list and I still felt confused and intimidated. But eventually I turned into somebody who knows her way around an art supply store, whether in person or online. All this to say, I probably have more art supplies than anyone really needs, so I’ll try to list what I think is good to have, plus, where applicable, some favorite extra items. (Also, keep in mind that when I began making art with my kids, I didn’t have lots of stuff. You don’t need lots of supplies; you’ll work up to it based on interest and desire.)

So, paper. At minimum, buy copy paper by the ream. I’ve given my kids reams of copy paper for Christmas, and they’ve been happy about it. It’s great for drawing with pencil and crayon. (I often give my two-year-old the backs of printed-on sheets, too.) Some heavier drawing paper is useful for using with charcoal, marker, and pastels, and some can handle watercolors. And watercolor paper is good for heavier painting, and you’ll need it if you want to try wet-on-wet painting. Finally, a large (18×24) pad of newsprint is super useful. It can go underneath your painting to protect the table a bit, you can sandwich your charcoal drawings in between pages to catch the dust, you can set paintings out to dry on it, you can use it for quick and multiple sketches, and you can tape it up on the wall for when your toddler really needs to color vertically. And that’s just the uses I can think of in two minutes!

Paper is categorized by weight in pounds, with the heavier paper being thicker. But it also has different surfaces. If you browse paper, you’ll see it’s broken down by what medium you want to use (with some overlap), and then there’s a variety within each category. For instance, the Strathmore 300 Series is less expensive than the 500, but the quality is still going to be good.

For drawing paper, I think the basic 9×12 is a good size, but for watercolor, I like to buy the 18×24 sheets and cut them in half (for the wet-on-wet paintings) or leave them as is for larger paintings. You can also buy paper by the sheet, but I’ve found it’s more economical to buy a pad of watercolor paper rather than purchase individual pieces.

Paper also, obviously, comes in different colors. A fun extra would be black paper to use with white pastels, or colored paper as a background instead of white.

I also have a roll of paper that fits into our easel. I use this for my toddler’s painting, but not all the time, since it’s not heavy and it crinkles up once it has paint on it. A roll of paper is also a good choice if you’re planning on mural work.

Collage is a whole ‘nother ball of, well, paper. Save interesting bits of paper, wrapping, tissue paper, and the like. Tissue paper in sheets for painting (a la Eric Carle) is another fun extra. I have a weakness for decorative papers, too.

Where to buy? If you don’t live near an art supply store (or, if like me, your closest one charges super high prices), you can order online or try one of the chain arts & crafts stores. Our nearest AC Moore has a few aisles of “fine art” supplies, including drawing and painting papers, and you can use those 40% off coupons. An office supply store is the best bet for copy paper, and ours has a “classroom supply” aisle that includes some basic art supplies.

In other words, you don’t need to walk into the art supply store feeling all intimidated. But if you happen to have an art supply store nearby, hopefully this helps you walk in with confidence!