My Top 10 Favorite Art Supplies for Kids

My Top 10 Favorite Art Supplies for Kids

Need help shopping art supplies for your children this year?

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I have formed a list of my top 10 favorite art supplies.  I hope this helps while you are choosing art products to buy for your kids this holiday season.  I am not being compensated for this, by the way.  I truly just want to pass on the things I have learned (often times the hard way) to parents who don’t know where to start.

One thing I would recommend AGAINST- is buying those fancy looking art kits.  They are so tempting- I mean it has a handy carrying case, it has a variety of supplies right there already curated, so what could be wrong with this?  They are bought in massive quantities annually for children by well meaning parents, but the truth is: the case may look nice, but the art supplies usually are very poor quality.  I have seen it time and again-  kids get discouraged because the art supplies “don’t work” and in the end this may curb their creativity rather than enhance it.

Now I should not discredit ALL art sets- I have seen some high quality brand art sets in nice boxes.  But they are also quite expensive.  I personally prefer to handpick a variety of art items when I am buying for a child myself because I know what is good and what is just going to be tossed to the side.  And I also prefer not to pay an arm and a leg for art supplies, so I’d like to share what I have learned over the last decade of art supply buying for myself, for my kids, and for a whole elementary school:

As an art teacher, I recommend skipping the fancy art kits in wooden cases, to be perfectly honest.  Buy a nice gift box from Michael’s, a fabric pouch, a basket, some functional storage system, and load it with supplies that are tried and true (by me and the hundreds of kids I have used them with), and that will get your kids excited about art.

My Top 10 Favorite Art Supplies for Kids:

(I am linking each of these headers to Amazon.com for viewing purposes.  Amazon doesn’t always have the best price, though.  If I have found these items less expensive elsewhere, I will refer to that store.)

1. “Good” Oil Pastels  (links below)

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If I was told I had to pick ONE art medium to live with for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t think twice about this.  Good oil pastels are so fun to work with.  And I don’t mean the oil pastels that come in big art kits- those don’t seem much different than crayons, and they give oil pastels a bad name.  No, no, good oil pastels are rich, creamy, very “smearable” and are just a joy to draw with.  I mean, they feel like I am drawing with tubes of lipstick.  They blend well, they are vibrant in color- I could go on and on about how fantastic these things are.  AND some of them are water soluble, which means you can take a wet brush to the pastel and it turns to paint.  This also means that cleanup is an absolute breeze- it rinses off hands super easily, and all you need is a wet paper towel to clean off work surfaces.  I have yet to find these in retail stores, so I purchase them through Amazon.  I like Crayola Portfolio Series and Mungyo.

2. Canson Mix Media Paper

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Paper quality really does matter.  When painting, you need good, thick paper with somewhat of a tooth- it affects the way the paint looks sometimes, too.  My favorite is Canson’s Mix Media paper pads in 18″x 24″ size.  I always buy my paper pads in an18 x 24 size because I like to work large scale sometimes, and so do my children.  You can always cut the pages down.  I fold them over and use a ruler to rip half sheets or quarter sheets out- It has been working quite well. 

The large size makes a child feel like a “true artist” as I have heard my daughter say- the scale gives her so much freedom, and it just feels great to be able to move your whole arm while painting!

I buy mine at Michael’s- it is a buck or two cheaper than Hobby Lobby, plus I use my 40% coupon every time, so it comes out about half the price of Amazon’s.

**If your child goes through a wealth of paper in one sitting- invest in a roll of art paper as well and tell him/ her to save the thicker paper for their “best work” and use the paper roll for their everyday stuff.

3. Liquid Watercolor

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I have always referenced the liquid watercolor in spray bottles before, but I have discovered a less messy set of liquid watercolors in brushes. I realize that not all parents want liquid watercolor on the loose in their households. :-) Here is a set of Jane Davenport’s Mermaid Markers. They are a lot of fun, and contain highly pigmented watercolor. These sets are normally over $40, but if you go to Michael’s you can use a 40-50% coupon to get a substantial discount.

4. Watercolor Pencils

This is a great watercolor medium that allows the precision of a pencil, but also the “spreadability” of a watercolor paint.  My favorite method is to start by coloring the paper with the watercolor pencils, overlapping colors, and then wet a brush and watch the magic happen. The pencil’s pigment is paint, so when water is applied, the dry paint begins to intensify with the wetness, and can be moved around with a paintbrush.  You can also wet the paper first and draw into the water directly from the pencil for a different effect.  There are a lot of watercolor pencil tutorials online, but here is a good, short one that gets straight to the point.  I have linked Kimberly brand watercolor pencils above, which I have really been very pleased with.

5. Charcoal & Charcoal Accessories

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Charcoal is a beautiful, classic medium.  It can be very messy, and if the dust is not controlled, it could be your worst nightmare, but if you teach your child how to use it and to be aware of his/ her surroundings, is a very valuable experience.  It is so rich and velvety black, and smears so far, it is just a pleasure to use.  It helps to know the difference between the different options out there, though.  Here is a little overview:

compressed charcoal- this is one of the messiest of all the options out there, but it also produces the most dramatic results.  It is my favorite.  Sometimes it is called pastels, or soft pastels, do don’t be confused by the product name. A couple recommendations: 1. Have your child start using this outside until he knows the medium better.  2. The dust that is produced is where the big mess comes in, so teach your child to either press the dust down into the paper, using it to his advantage by making the color even more intense -or- take the paper to a trash can and tap the edges of the paper, allowing the dust to fall down into it.  Teach them to not blow the dust away (as our instincts tell us to) because that is what creates more mess.

vine charcoal/ willow sticks- these charcoal sticks are not as dense as compressed charcoal, so they produce more grey color, rather than black.  They are great for sketching and planning a drawing because it can be erased very easily.  

kneaded eraser- this is exactly what it sounds like: an eraser that can be kneaded like dough.  It is very helpful while using charcoal.  It is self cleaning- if it is covered in solid black charcoal, just knead it and it kind of swallows up all the dust and is clean again to use.  You can twist a portion of it to make a sharp tip and erase small, detail areas.  It can also be flattened out to erase larger areas at a time.

charcoal pencils- if you are afraid of all these references I have made about this medium being messy, just start with charcoal pencils.  They don’t last quite as long and they must be sharpened frequently, but they still have the main qualities of compressed charcoal: velvety, pitch black color, and pigment can be smudged.

6. Prang Watercolor

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I purchased this brand every year when I was an elementary school art teacher.  The pans are semi-moist which prevents dried out, crumbles over time, plus you can purchase refills of a certain color when it runs out.  (I made a change here from before- last year I recommended Crayola brand, but I have had to throw out too many Crayola palettes that dried out into little crumbles.)

7. Brushes

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I have a bit of a struggle with paint brushes.  I use them for so many different applications, I have to have a very wide variety of them.  Not all are created equal.  I have bought so many brands and variations over the years, and the biggest thing I have learned is: you don’t want to go terribly cheap on these.  Bristles falling out while you are painting is just not fun.  Many of the “economy” sets you see for super cheap will give you just that: frayed bristles, and fallout.  Skip those economy packs, skip foam brushes.  Crayola brand has always treated me well, and so has Royal & Langnickel.  If you want to get  more “professional” looking brushes to make your young artist feel very prestigious, I would recommend going to Hobby Lobby (their brush selections are bigger than Michael’s) or another ART store, like Texas Art Supply or Jerry’s Artarama and actually feel the bristles.  

Some of my favorite brush types if you decide to get a handpicked variety: 

fan brush

mop brush

small detail brush

a script liner,

a pointed round brush

and a flat straight edge brush

(Please keep in mind these links here are for viewing purposes only- so you can see what they look like.  They are not necessarily the best prices.)

This one looks like it has a good variety, including many of the brushes I just listed.  I have never tried this set before, but it looks like something I would buy.

8. Easel 

The type of easel you decide on really needs to fit your space and your family’s lifestyle, otherwise it may not be used, or it will just be in the way. Think about how often your child will use it.  Just a bit here and there?  Then pick an easel that can be stowed away.  All the time?  Maybe a more permanent free standing one would be best.  Consider whether you’ll want a shelf to hold brushes below the easel’s surface, or whether you’ll want to attach a roll of paper to easily pull down.  These are important details to me- if the easel doesn’t have features like those, you’ll need to consider having a small table nearby to hold brushes, a cup of water, and supplies.

I linked my latest easel purchase above, because it was fitting for my life at the time.  Our house had sold, our possessions were all packed up and we were living with my in-laws temporarily.  I didn’t have the luxury of an art studio with a free-standing easel at the time, so this one was perfect.  It has a carrying handle and a drawer for my favorite supplies.  This would be great for painting plein-air!  

My daughter got a lot of use out of this $20 freestanding Ikea easel at our old house, where she had a little painting “nook” in her room.  It served its purpose, and I did not pay a fortune for it.  I was satisfied and so was she.

9. Sharpies

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Let ‘em use Sharpies.  Most kids will be responsible with them.  And if an oops happens, there is always the magic eraser.  It really works getting permanent ink off of hard surfaces, like tables and walls.  Life is short, don’t get too frantic about permanent markers.  They will be so excited to own their own set of Sharpies, you might actually be surprised at how well they take care of them.  Might.  

10. Chalk Pastels

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These are so fun to blend with.  I would compare the consistency to charcoal, and the color to the vibrancy of the above mentioned oil pastels.  I have linked the header to Prismacolor brand, which is a little pricey.  It is worth knowing, if you go real cheap on chalk pastels, I have found that they will produce waaaay more dust.  I tried a cheap brand once.  And only once.  I put them right back on the shelf and went with Prismacolor again.  

What supplies would you have in your top picks?  Are there any you would recommend to me?  I would love to hear about your favorites, too!

Allow Spontaneity Into Your Art

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “It is not about the product, it is about the process?”  As an art teacher I have heard this often.  I have learned the difference between focusing on the end product vs. focusing on the creative process along the way, and I really have come to fall in love the process of creating art.  This is especially true when I am teaching art to kids, but I want to encourage you as an adult to think this way, too.  

I have loved art my whole life, but only in the last few years have I experienced great consuming joy when I create art.  What changed?  My expectations of my final outcome.  I recently wrote a blog on my mixed media process, and described this change in my approach to art:  http://whimsylake.tumblr.com/post/139727261077/the-anatomy-of-my-mixed-media-art

“First, I must preface this with the fact that I consider this stage of my art a bit of a rebellion against my former self.  I started as a timid artist, very careful not to make mistakes, and this would often result in me making no art at all- in fear of messing up.  I was stuck with blank canvas syndrome.  Darn white canvas… staring me in the face, daring me to make a mark, and shaming me if that mark was not perfect, causing me to doubt myself as an artist.

I discovered American artist, Tim Yanke, and everything changed from there.  I watched his artistic process through a window into his studio called YouTube, and a spark was ignited: mess-ups are okay!  Not only are they okay, but they actually bring my art to unexpected turns that I would have never encountered by planning every step.  This new thought process was exciting!!  It has given me tremendous freedom as an artist. 

I feel a new artistic invigoration that makes me feel like a child again when I am creating, only better.  I am older, I am wiser, AND I get to experience that child-like excitement that happens when I trust my instincts, throw caution to the wind, and just create for the sake of creating.  I am not trying to impress anyone, I am not worried about a perfect piece, in fact, I often do not know what I will create anymore- it is a surprise, even to myself!  I tell myself to not overthink it- and sometimes my art comes out fantastic through this spontaneous process, and sometimes not, but that’s okay.  I will not create a masterpiece every time.”

Tim Yanke…  I wish I could meet him one day.  He has changed my artistic life.  When I saw his buffalo for the first time, I was intrigued.  I was reeled in and enveloped by his loose, sketchy, and bright style.  

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(Image courtesy of www.parkwestgallery.com)

Tim Yanke is a spontaneous artist.  In fact, I have heard him referred to as an action artist.  He turns up the music, and just becomes lost in his art, making quick decisions and trusting his instincts.  Here are the videos I watched that changed my outlook on my art, and then showed to my students to inspire them.  There is no fancy editing, it is just him in his studio doing his artwork:

Part 1:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQjtrlekbK4

Part 2:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7PX7AgPiYI

I am at my computer writing this hoping I can inspire you to become more welcome to mistakes, and more open to spontaneity.  And most importantly, accept your child’s artistic mistakes.  I have a quote I’d like to share by Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Picasso knew what he was talking about when he said this.  I imagine he watched the creative life drain out of many people during his long life.  He, on the other hand, became more unafraid and uninhibited with his art the older he became.  Just look at his self portrait evolution from age 15 to age 90: http://www.boredpanda.com/pablo-picasso-self-portrait-style-evolution/

Have you ever noticed how uninhibited a toddler is when he or she is painting?  They are just starting out their artistic life, and they are ready and excited to explore the world of color and lines and shapes.  They are so very unconcerned about making mistakes.  They are jabbing their brush into their paper, scrubbing holes into it, mixing colors together until they make brown.  As they get older, they hear that they need to color inside the lines, and to “not scribble scrabble.” I have heard that one time after time after time.  Their artwork may be compared to others’ and questioned, “Why didn’t you do your art like everyone else?”  These little scenarios that an average kid may encounter from parents or teachers or classmates as they grow up start planting seeds in their mind- that their art is not good enough.  They may eventually lose their childhood spontaneity, and inherit this line into their adult vocabulary that spills out so naturally and so easily it becomes second nature: “I don’t have a creative bone in my whole body.  I can barely draw stick figures.”  This is another one I have heard from adults time after time after time.  It is a sad situation.  People who utter this phrase were once spontaneous artists…  long ago.  If you say this phrase, please know that the inner artist still lives within you.  And the more you say this, the more likely your child will eventually inherit this phrase into their vocabulary because they hear it so often.  Give yourself some more credit, and try art again- and when you do, be ready for the mistakes to happen!  We’ll call them “happy accidents.”  And while you’re at it, read this with your kid: https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Oops-Barney-Saltzberg/dp/076115728X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469318095&sr=8-1&keywords=beautiful+oops

Embrace the process of art, and don’t get so caught up in the final product.  Don’t throw in the towel if you mess up, or should I say *when* you mess up.  Mess ups are inevitable, so learn how to deal with them.  Is the mess up giving you a new possibility that you had not considered before?  Look at it as a problem solving situation.  It may take you out of your comfort zone by changing your end result- and if so, great!  It gives you room to grow as an artist- better yet- it is a learning opportunity, and makes you a better artist.  Allow flexibility into your thought process.  Don’t get so intent on what your final product “should” look like.  Instead, consider it a welcome surprise to find out where your creative process takes you.  It is an amazing journey if you learn to let yourself enjoy the process.  You know what they say, “It is not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”