This is another of those posts that's in response to questions from you! I know I'm not very good at responding to every comment I get (particularly the ones that say, "Very good garment! Can you post the full step-by-step tutorial and do you have the free pattern in 5 different sizes?") but I try to reply to all your email messages. And, as long as I am sure you aren't a spambot, I do try to answer your questions. Sometimes those questions are general enough that I think other readers might enjoy reading my responses to them, in which case they become blog posts on their own. Like this one!
Today's post was written to answer questions like
- What sort of art and craft materials should I buy for my children?
- What sort of art and craft materials do you have in your house?
- How do you organize your art and craft materials?
- Where do you find time to craft with your kids?
- Where in your house do you and your kids craft?
- How do you contain the mess? What do you do with half-finished projects?
- I hate mess, so I feel like a bad mother because I won't let my kids do messy crafts. (Unspoken question: Are messy crafts really worth the hype?)
- How do you forsee crafting with your kids as they get older? When is a good age to let them "do their own thing"?
There's so much I want to share with you! This first part is about learning. I meant it to be practical rather than philosophical but guess what? It turned out philosophical. Gah!
Enough disclaimers. Let me begin by showing you some of the art-and-craft projects Emily has done in school:
|Clay spider, 1st grade|
Pair of leaves - freeform tape and ink, 2nd Grade
|Clay owl, 2nd grade|
|River, wax resist, 1st grade|
|Castle, paint and pastel, 1st grade|
|Self portrait, paint, 1st grade|
Emily is experiencing far, far more exciting fine art learning than I can ever provide in our home. Not just because her teacher is awesome and art-trained. But also because her school, as an educational organization with resources (i.e. a budget and space), has stuff I will never have in my home, like a kiln or a darkroom or a Science lab. This - that they have Fun Things to play with -is one of many reasons for which I love schools (and why I stayed at my teaching job for as long as I did). But let me get back to the point: because I am not my children's only teacher, I have the luxury to pick and choose whatever I like to have them experience at home, to supplement whatever they're learning at school. Plus, whenever the girls bring home some new artwork, I devour it and make them explain all the techniques they employed to produce it. They aren't the only ones learning from their schoolteachers - I am, too. And I love it.
I started this post by sharing Emily's school artwork because I wanted to set the right mood: our children's home experience is not going to be their only exposure to arts and crafts and it certainly will not be their best. They will have other teachers - some will be formal instructors, some will be influences, some will be inspiration, some will be books and some will be in forms that, right now, we can't even begin to imagine. I've chatted with other moms, some of whom believe that because their kids are already x years old and still not enrolled in art enrichment class, they are clearly doomed to uncreative and unartistic adulthoods. That's sad. Creativity is not about being able to paint or draw or sew or make cardboard wonders. It's about daring to believe we can do difficult things, knowing when to give up and try something new, solving a problem from angles other people have missed or dismissed. It's about patience, perseverance and courage. It involves hard work and time. It manifests itself in all fields - not just art. So you know those whip-up art projects? The ones in which we follow a tutorial and, 10 minutes later, wham! We have a finished product? That's not real creativity; it's just self-expression and practical application of maybe someone else's creativity- like the one who designed the craft in the first place. I know this because whenever I see a craft idea to pin for my kids, I recognize the genius behind its design and applaud the creativity that must have sparked it. And I also recognize that, excited while I may be to watch my kids make it, I won't feel that same creative spark when I'm merely reproducing that craft at my kitchen table with my kids.
I believe that children are inherently creative, as are all adults. Children, having fewer responsibilities (e.g. they don't have to cook dinner and do laundry), have more time than adults to freely experiment. And, having lived fewer years, they are less set in their ways than adults are, and are thus more inclined to try all kinds of things, even those that appear destined to fail. We like to nurture that free-spirited approach to arts and crafts in our children - we give them fresh paper and crayons and let them express themselves, or clay and ask them to design something for their teacher, or old magazines to rip apart to make a collage. We uphold the concept of the blank canvas as the cornerstone of creativity, don't we?
|Stepping stones bridge in cardboard, by Kate, age 4|
|Summer, by Jenna, age 6|
There's another aspect to creativity, though, that must be taught - fundamental principles that are the framework upon which children can build stronger structures, paint more detailed pictures, write more engaging stories. On the surface, there's nothing creative or self-expressive about principles, concepts and rules. I distinctly remember being extremely bored in middle school art lessons when we were learning facial proportions of adults vs babies. Or being extremely impatient whenever Mum was teaching me to draft and all I wanted to do was get to the sewing already. Or rolling my eyes when I had to give oral presentations that had a Hook, a Body and a Conclusion. My brain screamed, "This is beyond inane! Let me outta here!"
I'm eating those words now, of course. Those were all precious lessons that help me today in ways that, back then, I could not have dreamed of, let alone given credit for. I realize their importance now and I want my kids to have those same lessons. I myself will probably only teach them a shadow of those things I'd learned from my formal instructors and so am both hopeful and thankful that they will learn them from the various teachers in their lifetimes.
Much as I would love to write post after post of Proper Ways To Teach Figure Drawing or Landscape Painting or Writing Poetry, I can't. I don't know those things, let alone how to teach them. However, I can share how I try to supplement at home, those lessons my girls receive in their schools. I'm winging it as I go - remember that while I was once a teacher, I never taught art and I never taught children. So, instead of only or always teaching them techniques (of which my knowledge is hopelessly limited), I try to teach them concepts and how to be resourceful. For instance, when they were very little, all three children wanted me to draw them things, so I did - princesses, chickens, apples, rainbows, guitars and whatever else was fascinating to them at the time. I never sat them down and said, "Hey - this is how to draw a guitar. Follow me. Step one is..." Now, they still ask me to draw them things but they are no longer the simple shapes from their childhood - they want deer, space stations, Monarch butterflies. My visualization skills fail me, so I find a picture of an armadillo in a book or on the internet and say, "Let's follow this," and we draw it together. We will forget within hours, how to draw an armadillo but I am hopeful the kids will remember that, when we were stymied, we used a picture to help us. And the next time they need to draw something daunting, like the Eiffel Tower, for instance, they will know how to get started.
Now let's talk about the art and craft materials and resources my kids use. There are two main categories of materials in our home: the ones that were obtained for the kids and the ones that were obtained for me.
The ones for the kids
These are the ones that were bought or otherwise obtained for the kids to use. They have free access to these because they are safe, easily manipulated by children, relatively inexpensive and can be used without anyone feeling like they are too precious for kids to play with. These include
- Paper (printer, construction, watercolor/marker, kraft, notebooks, cardstock, sketchbooks, Color Wonder
- Glue (cool glue gun, glue dots, glue sticks, white glue
- Tape (3M, washi, masking, duct, electrical, painters
- Paint (tempura, watercolor, watercolor pencils, poster, fingerpaint
- Stencils (rubbing, cutout)
- Books - craft, art, drawing
- Markers - water-soluble, sharpies, thin, broad, color wonder
- Pencils - writing pencils, color pencils
- Model magic clay
- Glitter glue
- Craft foam
- Googly eyes, chenille stems
- Tape - washi, masking, packing, regular scotch tape
- Stickers, adhesive gems
- Colored sand
- Origami paper
- Weaving loops
- Perler beads
- Craft felt
- Wooden blanks
- Paper (watercolor, pastel, scrapbook etc)
- Pastels (oil, gel, chalk)
- Markers - oil-based art markers, Sharpies, sketch pens
- Paint -acrylic, oil
- Glue - hot glue gun, craft glue, superglue, fabric glue
- Fimo clay
- Wool felt
- Manuscript/calligraphy pens, ink
When the kids were very small (like toddler-small), I kept a clear distinction between Their Art Supplies and My Art Supplies. Safety and mess were the main issues - hot glue, pointy things, stinky-dangerous solvent pens and permanent ink are simply not for small children. As they got older and (one hopes) more responsible, that distinction blurred somewhat and my stash is now free for all (with appropriate monitoring).
Before he retired, my father was an art teacher. He made lots of wooden stuff for us - mostly furniture and one fabulous almost life-size rocking horse - but not as often sat with my brother and me to regularly "do crafts" they way I sometimes indulge my own kids. When he did, it was often in the context of us learning an art technique - silkscreening, decoupage, filing wood, Chinese watercolor painting, for instance. He did, however, provide us with vast amounts of art and craft supplies left over from the year's curriculum at school and otherwise headed for the trash. I grew up coloring with oil pastels and never touched a wax crayon till I was almost in my teens. I remember my brother getting a box of Crayola crayons for his birthday (not from Dad) and being completely amazed that they were so skinny and standing up in a box with a free sharpener. Dad never said "this and this are the grown-up type of art materials and you can't touch them till you're such-and-such an age. In the meantime, use these children-type art materials." Similarly, my mother and grandmother (who lived with us for some time) let me use whatever fabric and embellishments they had in their stash to make things with. And like Dad, they had rules, e.g. "Save fabric by cut shapes out near the edge of the fabric, not from the center." I remember feeling like I was allowed to try anything (within safety limits) but I needed to be responsible and accountable. Somehow, I grew up knowing stuff like "I must choose a suitable surface to work on (e.g. not the carpet) when I'm using messy, wet stuff"; "I must clean up after"; "I must tell someone when we'd run out of glue, and not leave an empty bottle as a nasty surprise the next time it's needed"; "I must put things back where I'd found them".
My parents' outlook on using art and craft materials governs the way my kids access their supplies now. When they are young, they will go through supplies at a frightening rate because it's all about quantity when they create. Kate, for instance, will draw sheet after sheet of pictures but not spend a lot of time filling in each. Emily, on the other hand, draws fewer pictures but assiduously adds details and color and (often) turns it into a book or instruction sheet for something else. Rather than buy them expensive sketchbooks for everyday use, we save those for traveling and keep the house stocked with regular printer paper instead. A $4 ream lasts a long time and they can cut it up, fold it, draw on it, tear it or make papier mache with it without me feeling like it's too "precious to waste".
We also have rules in the house for crafting. Examples:
- Things must be put back where they were found. The kids will forget and I will remind them but I will not clean up for them.
- The work surface must be protected. When they were toddlers, I'd line the table with newspapers before we did crafts. Now that they're older, they get their own newspapers or flats of cardboard to work on. The rule of thumb is: if the ink/paint leaks seeps out the back of the paper, it needs a backing. Sometimes (again) the kids will forget and they will come to me, shamefaced, that the Crayola Slicksticks got onto the kitchen floor, or the paint got smeared on the wall. There will (on a good day) be no scolding; I will instead say, "Oops." and hand them paper towels, soap and (if kid-safe) solvent to remove the offending stains. This way they feel good about making it right and they will understand that mess is normal and that is how we deal with it.
- Caps and covers need to be put back on. If the markers dry up because someone left the cap off, it's the end. They will not get replaced and we will do without black, or blue, or yellow until it's time to buy a whole new set.
- Glitter is wonderful and will only be administered outside the house e.g. the front step, the garage, the driveway, the deck. It is unrealistic to expect children to use glitter "carefully" on the kitchen table because even adults can't. So we pick a place where it's okay to have a bit of mess and the kids can apply glitter in the way that kids apply glitter, and nobody will need to tear their hair.
- You cannot wear your best clothes for crafting. Anyone appearing at the craft table in pretty clothes because those are their favorite outfits will be sent away. They can choose to either wear an apron or change into an old shirt or they will miss the craft altogether.
- Cardboard can be used by everyone but ask first, because the Mother has her favorite pieces and may have special purposes for certain ones (translation: the Mother marks her territory, thank you very much) Also some pieces are too thick to be cut with kid-safe cutting implements, so check first.
When I have the time, I like to teach them specific skills, like, "How to connect a circuit" or "How to sew with WS together so we can turn RS out and it looks nice" or "How to draw with pastels and blend colors and shades with your finger (and then wipe on paper towel)". But I that's not realistic as a regular expectation. And the kids need some time to themselves to process what they're learning and doing or to try new things themselves. They have some books to help them with basic skills. Here's one series -
Ed Emberly has delightful step-by-steps for drawing just about anything a kid might want to draw:
This is another set of books I picked up by chance in JoAnn (of all places). They were $1 each.
Emily loves these books - there is more of a "jump" between each of the six steps than Ed Emberly's sequences, but the characters are more cartoony, which kids love
and even Kate has drawn them to good effect.
This is another book we love:
Here's a page as an example - how to draw/paint trees.
Sometimes we do these books together but more often than not, the kids work on them on their own. Emily and Jenna also check craft books out of their school library and ask for help in making some of the projects. Here's an example of something Jenna picked recently
and that we made in the spring.
and that we made in the spring.
Many people have written to ask me where and how I store our art supplies. There is no short answer. They are literally all over the house because they are wherever people are working on things. For instance, there are craft kits and drawing books and drawers of markers and pencils and origami paper and all kinds of other deliciously creative things stored in Emily's bedroom because she bought them with her allowance and she's working with them.
|Origami peacock by Emily, age 8|
In the kids' playroom are stored both the bulk supplies and the more traditional kid-craft supplies: big bottles of tempera paint and colored sand, various tubs of beads, stampers, Perler Beads, googly eyes, popsicle sticks and our entire sticker collection. In the office supplies closet are all our paper (printer, construction, cardstock, vellum, sketchbooks, watercolor, envelopes, post-tis, notebooks), markers and pens, paint (acrylic, varnish, 3-D, fabric, watercolor sets, poster color aka tempera sets), pastels (chalk, oil), adhesives (tape, glue of all kinds), cutting implements (knives, guillotines, blades, punches, scissors), machines (laminator, sticker-maker).
There is cardboard stashed under the guest bed,
aerosols and wood in the garage
|House in wood, by Jenna, age 5|
and art/craft books in the bookshelves. And, if you consider that fabric (and its associated notions) is a craft material in its own right, then my entire sewing room is an art stash.
|Fabric dolls, by Emily and Mom, age 8|
My long-term fantasy is to have a glass-walled art and sewing studio, set apart from the rest of the house, with a state-of-the-art sound system, stocked with every kind of art material imaginable, plus an ensuite photographic studio with backdrops, lights, filters, and darkroom. And mini fridge. And secretary to answer email and help ikatbag customers with download problems. And a sewing staff to layout, draft, cut and rip seams for me, so all I do is stitch. And a personal chef who works at the house and buzzes me when dinner is ready. And an electrostatic lint-removal archway that ensures that I am lint- and thread-free whenever I walk though it to leave the studio and return to the house for said dinner. But my reality is a simple house with limited space and less-than-ideal lighting so we store, as well as create, wherever we can. Sometimes the kids choose to be in the same room I'm in, so while I'm sewing a dress, they'll drag their tub of Perler Beads to the sewing room and work on them at a nearby table. Sometimes, the kind of craft necessitates a certain venue e.g. a messy paint-type thing might require being in a room with a sink, or one without a carpeted floor.
Therein lies the conundrum: we want to contain the mess but we want the mess to be assessible. Art stuff organized and packed neatly away is beautiful to behold but easily forgotten. And if it's too much trouble to access, it never gets used. So in recent years, we try to keep the relevant art and craft materials where the kids can most easily access the ones that work best in that place. It facilitates easy cleaning up and putting away and, more importantly, makes the kids want to use those materials often.
After years of manually migrating supplies between storage and work areas, there is now a little Art Station in our kitchen. It's just shelves on which the kids have the materials that they use most often and most recently. When we notice that certain materials have fallen out of favor, we rotate them out for something else from the other black holes of art storage in the rest of the house. Currently, the Art Station is stocked with an organizer filled with printer paper, a pad of colored construction paper and stencils, that carousel of markers, a container of crayons, a big tub of white Crayola Model Magic clay, coloring books and a couple of the craft kits most recently received as gifts. The girls are at the Art Station several times each day, happily work at the kitchen table while I'm preparing meals and the cleanup is almost effortless because the shelves are mere inches from the work surface. Plus, there's no carpet on the kitchen floor so even wet messes are a non-issue.
Our completed projects (at least, the flat ones) and school art go into a big basket which -if I'm on-the-ball - gets sorted when it's full. The extra-nice pieces go on the kids' bedroom walls, the living room walls or the the playroom walls that get filled up as the months go by.
Some of the rest get photographed, others get thrown into the recycling bin or trash. Some get stored in school folders. Some (very few because who has the time?) get turned into other artwork.
|Egg Art in paper, crayon and watercolor, by Jenna, age 6|
So what's next? As the girls get older and outgrow the Crayola stage of their artistic development, what projects will they tackle? Have I thought about it? Have I got a home curriculum planned for their adolescent craft years? When I can't even plan ahead enough to buy groceries for tonight's supper, you mean? Hahahahahahaha! Heavens, no. You guys have way too high expectations of me. My to-do list sometimes contains such charming art-related entries as, "Replenish printer paper" and "Buy more scotch tape". I don't know what my girls will need or like in five years. When that time comes, we'll hopefully rise to the occasion. For now, I only think in terms of two seasons: the school term and the summer vacation. And last Spring, I had some ideas for tubs of self-directed things the kids (and I) might enjoy during this summer vacation when they needed a break from the outdoors:
- An electronics tub with circuit elements, batteries, a multimeter and some circuit diagrams to follow.
(Top row L-R: Insulated copper bell wire, alligator
(crocodile) clips, bulb holders
Bottom row L-R: bulb, switches, battery holders).
- A fabric scrap tub with felt, wool, stuffing, googly eyes, noses, glue, needles and plastic pattern templates for 2D dolls, soft animals and purses
- A wood box with ready-formed wood blanks, wood glue, clamps, sandpaper, dowels, 1x2s, acrylic paint, brushes
- A stitching/embroidery box with plastic canvas shapes, yarn/raffia and ribbon to make small 3D boxes and bags
- A pompom box with my pompom makers, yarn and googly eyes
and some projects that we can work on together - notice that some are quite messy, which is why I didn't even consider doing them in the winter when we have to be inside:
- Plaster of paris and clay - mosaics and molds
- Freezer paper stenciling (simple) and eventually silkscreening
- Dyeing (start with kool-aid, then natural and cold dyes)
- Block lettering (for posters)
- Oil pastel (shading and blending)
Guess what? We went swimming instead. And organized birthday parties. Turns out we never needed a break from the outdoors, so the tubs never got made. And I just file away these good intentions for another season because maybe some things are better enjoyed when the kids are a little older and have more dexterity and perseverance.
So this is how we do art in our house. Your turn now - how do you do art in yours?
P.S. I owe you a mesh swim bag tutorial. The photos are all taken - actually, several weeks ago. But it's summer and I'm sooooooo lazy.