10 things I’m loving


1. My zinnias

2. Having a friend over for wine and some crafting


3. Picking fresh veggies from the garden


4. The potential of art — always, always

5. Chocolate covered strawberries


6. This amazing almost-five-year-old who is such her own person


7. The explosion of changes my little one is going through

8. Afternoon thunderstorms


9. Drawing and other art making on the mirror

10. A quiet weekend at home

Happy weekend, everyone! What are you loving right now?

Arwen’s art spaces


Arwen is a lucky four year old with some amazing kid-friendly art spaces in her home. Her mom, Kayte, e-mailed me these photos in response to my request. I asked if I could post them here to share with all of you and, lucky us, she granted me permission.

Now, I have to admit that I have complete art space envy right now. Of Arwen's art spaces as well as of some of the others linked to in the comments from the other day. There are so many beautiful ones! And I almost didn't post this because I don't want to foster the idea that you have to have such an amazing well-stocked art space in order to encourage regular art making in your home. You all know that, right? A simple table (even the dining table), some paper, and a few supplies are all you really need.

But… Arwen's art spaces are too great not to share. I think Kayte has set up some pretty ingenious solutions to storing art supplies while keeping everything accessible. I especially like the wall hung paper holder she sewed, the tape dispenser solution she came up with, and the over-the-door shoe holder she uses to house various art supplies.

Kayte is an avid crafter with a degree in education is a former product designer for a paper craft company. She re-arranged her craft room and her home a couple of years ago to accommodate Arwen's growing art needs, inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education as well as her own Montessori background.

From here on I'm pasting Kayte's words and descriptions.


Your comments about
encouraging creativity and ownership really resonate with me. I could
not agree more and we have given our daughter Arwen, who is now four and
a half, free access to supplies since before her second birthday. In
our house we have a dedicated art room, but also have a few other niches
throughout the house which also foster the 'create on demand' urge all
at her own pace.

Here is my daughter's side of
our main art room…


Access to supplies:
At the table there is a collection of buckets, from the dollar section
at target and the like, to hold supplies. I love this system for several
reasons. It is easy to keep organized (even the youngest visitor puts
the supplies back naturally without suggestion), easy to transport to
any room in the house or even outside, and they easy to switch out (we
have a fabric bin of out of rotation cans) when we want to use something
else. The window sill next to the table allows for storage off the
creating surface. You'll notice I am big fan of using window sills in
our house.  We have buckets that contain: glue, scissors, rulers,
crayola thin markers, crayola fat markers, Bruynzel even fatter markers,
colored pencils, watercolor pencils, gel sticks, do a dot markers,
wikki sticks, a variety of different brand, shape material crayons,
chalk, glitter glue, and a few I am sure I am forgetting.


Paper is available to her from
her chair. I searched all over for a paper holder that would hold a
variety of sizes. Short of spending $500 at a school supply store I
could not find a system that would work and not take up too much space,
so I opted to sew a hanging system holds several types and sizes of
paper that hangs on the wall.


The bulk of her other supplies
are on the wall in a combination of elfa and Ikea system. 

There are
removable drawers for stationery (mail creating is huge at our house),
collage materials, paints (tempera and water color), stickers, clay
(traditional and model magic), rubber stamps and ink pads, notebooks and
bound specialty paper.  

One the top surface of the Ikea
unit is a bin for scraps and her masking tape. I used a large Ikea paper
roll holder ($6)  and wrapping paper tubes to make a tape dispenser
(since they are so pricey- I'd rather spend the money on tape!) Plus
there is a bucket for postage stamps and a small index card holder where
she loves to write and file things.

One the next shelf up has trays
with blank books (hardback and soft back in several sizes), shrinky dink
paper and other speciality papers, and a tray holding old cloth diapers
we use for paint brush cleaning with a small white tray for her to drop
dirty rubber stamps into. I take the tray and wash them when it's full.
 Next is a orange and clear round bucket. It is our "okay to glue it"
bucket. And is one of the most beloved things in the room. I introduced
it to her about 2.5 along with elmer's glue topped with – "tap n glue"
top. In it are buttons, feathers, random wooden pieces, cotton balls,
sequins, gems ,etc… in nicely divided areas. I try to refresh this
often and I think that has helped keep the interest for over 2 years. It
is very popular with my daughter's friends and we have twice given a
similar bucket with glue as birthday gifts. And just to the right is our
bin of out of rotation buckets. Sometimes I rotate them to spark
interest but Arwen often changes them out herself. 

The shelves actually go to the
ceiling and house my craft and art supplies.


Other things in the room: The
closet houses a good bit of my craft supplies and fabric, but the doors
do offer access for Arwen to ribbons, trims, pipe cleaners, popsicle
sticks and some other tools and glues.


You may notice the absence
of a standing easel. Instead of we have two folding table top easels.
Originally I got them because of the lack of space of a standard one but
now love the flexibility. They move to any room or outside easily.  We
store them in a tall skinny cabinet in the kitchen so they are easily
accessible, though in the winter we keep them set up in our kitchen
window sill (which either houses seedlings and our butterfly lab during
the other three seasons). We have two for painting sessions with mom,
friends or on  occasion, two paintings at once.


When the weather is warmer
they go outside a lot. 


We have a similar window sill
in our living room. It houses a small paper roll and crayons and markers
so drawing can be done in this room at will as well. We also keep a set
of either crayon rocks or unwrapped crayons since it is adjacent to our
homemade discovery box (filled with things from outside) that inspires
lots of rubbings. 

I am always amazed at
the comments from moms who visit our house for the first time,
especially when Arwen was younger, balking at the access to markers in
our living room. I truly believe Susan Striker's philosophy that when
provided with paper and appropriate art surfaces, children never have
the need to write on walls or furniture. Arwen has never done it.  

We also have a chalkboard wall
in our kitchen along with two drawers children can access anytime. One
filled with play dough, cookie cutters, rolling pins, etc..and one with
finger paint tubes and large format finger paint paper. 

I try to keep specific craft
projects and defined art projects off the table in her art room and
instead present those at our dining room or at the kitchen counter (with
the help of our learning tower). I think this reinforces that her table
is for her art as she decides to experience it and more importantly
have complete ownership of it.


I think every room at
except the bathroom has at the very least a bucket of crayons and a
notebook, just in case the drawing mood strikes. But our current
favorite "room " to draw isn't our art room, the kitchen, the living
room, or any other room with supplies at the ready, it is our vine
covered fort in the backyard.      

Okay, it's me again. Aren't the art spaces in Kayte and Arwen's home amazing?! I want to have a playdate in their house! I'm also inspired to overhaul our own art spaces…

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

You realize, of course, that after all the fun we've been having with hole drawings and hole paintings, we can't stop now. Now every new project has the possibility of a hole as part of the artwork. Every art method we've explored in the past has the potential for being re-explored with a hole as one of the variables. A collage? We can try one around a hole. A blank book? Each page might need a hole!

Or maybe Maia will forget about holes tomorrow. Who knows.

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

This painting started off with a drizzled design of rubber cement for a watercolor resist (like we did here). We did the rubber cement on the front porch to avoid the fumes and left it to dry outside. Afterward Maia drew over and around the dried rubber cement with pen and crayon.

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

Then painted over it all with liquid watercolors.

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

She's singing as she paints in this photo:

Dab, dab, dabbity dab

Dab, dab, dabbity dab…

I'm an artist. I'm an artist.

Oh yeah! Oh yeah!

She cracks me up sometimes.

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

Here's the finished painting after the rubber cement was rubbed off. It's hanging in the window with the stained glass leaves. The leaf banner got moved to the wall and is now hanging vertically like a scroll painting.

Multimedia Hole Paintings with Watercolors

Thanks for all your comments yesterday with your descriptions of your great art spaces and links to photos! Keep them coming!

Despite my insistence that an art space is so important, less art has been happening in the studio lately and more in the rest of our house. I've found Maia sitting on her bed working away happily with her paper, crayons, scissors, and tape. We also drag her little red table from room to room. And, as you can see, we've been doing a lot of art at the dining table these days.

This is partly because Maia is a lot neater than she used to be so I don't worry about the mess factor as much and partly because the studio isn't very baby friendly at the moment.

Basically our whole house is our studio!

Note Some links in this post may be affiliate links. I only use affiliate links for products we use and love. If you follow an affiliate link and place a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the sales price and will send you virtual hugs.

Tell me about your art space


I've posted about creating a dedicated art space before and also about the art spaces in our house.

A dedicated art space is great
for kids because it gives them permission
to create art anytime they like, whenever the mood strikes. It encourages them to create art just by being
there, with all those tantalizing art supplies. It creates ownership.
The space is there for them to use it as they like (within family
boundaries, of course).

Also, when a child approaches the
art space of his own volition and creates something on his own, motivated only
by himself, he’s an artist! He owns his art, owns his artistic mojo, owns his
space – what confidence that engenders!

How many of you have a dedicated
art space for your kids? I'd love to hear about it if you do. Is it a whole room, a corner of a room, or a table? What kind of feel does it
have? What supplies is it stocked with? How does your
child use it? If you have more than one child, do they share an art space? Or,
do you mostly do your art in a multipurpose space like the dining table?
If so,
how does that work for your family? And if you don’t have an art space, what would
your dream art space be like? You don’t have to write an essay and answer all
of these questions. I certainly wouldn’t mind if you did, but one or two will
do. I’d love to hear! And I’m sure everyone else would, too.

I’d also love to see photos of your art spaces. So
if you like you can link to a photo, upload a photo to my facebook page, add
one to the children’s art gallery on Flickr, or just e-mail one to me ([email protected]). Thank you!

let’s hear about your art spaces!

Simon says, draw!


You know Simon says — that game we played as kids? Well, we've turned it into an art game in our house. Simon says, "draw circles," and the artists (in this case Maia and her friend Marlise) draw circles. Simon also says things like, "trade pastels," "draw dots," and "draw a face." It's great fun! We don't make it competitive at all — more like drawing prompts.


They love it!


See how different their drawings are even though they each responded to the same Simon says instructions?

I wrote about "Simon says drawing" as well as as a group body tracing activity for my column in this month's WNC Parent magazine. It's the birthday party issue, so my article is about art party activities. You can read my column here. Enter page 24 in the page search field at the top of the screen, then click on the page itself to see it large enough to read.


Let me know if you give "Simon says drawing" a try!

Diana of Clementine Art on Eco-Art Supplies


A longtime children’s art teacher, Diana Mercer began
making her own line of art supplies — Clementine Art — as a safe and ecological
alternative to commercially available materials. Join me in learning about her reasons and her products.

***Note: Readers will have a chance to win a set of six Clementine Art paints at the end of this interview.***

Diana, I understand that you used to teach art to children. Can you tell
us about that? What was it like having an art studio for kids?

DIANA:  I loved it with all of my heart. I started my
teaching career in the kindergarten classroom and was lucky to teach in a
small, progressive school that valued the development of the whole child; head,
hand and heart. I was free to teach through play, and to weave all kinds of
colorful, rich, and vibrant art and music experiences into our days. During
this experience, I began to dig deeper into the idea of process art for
children and I learned more about the philosophies of Bev Bos, MaryAnn Kohl,
Rudolph Steiner and Reggio Emilia that encouraged children to explore,
experiment, and express with beautiful, natural materials and lots of freedom. 

I opened Clementine Studio in 2003 because it seemed clear to me that modern
children weren’t getting enough time to ‘play around’ in an unstructured way
with lovely art materials. Most of the artistic choices available on the retail
shelves seemed skewed toward creativity-free and direction-heavy craft projects;
choices that struck me as inauthentic and contrived. I wanted children to have
a place for open-ended explorations that provided thoughtful support,
interesting art materials, and a lovely environment.

Will you share a bit about your decision to create your own line of
ecological art materials?

  During a tot’s art class at Clementine
Studio, my art space in Boulder, CO, a parent discovered that her toddler had
placed a spring green paintbrush in her mouth, much like a lollipop. We both
flinched as the paint smeared around her little girl’s lips, fully coating the
inside of her mouth. Springing to action, we rinsed and wiped her daughter
clean. This mother turned to me with a worried look and asked, “Is this really
“Our paint is non-toxic.” I replied with assurance.  For more than 20
years as a teacher, I had understood that non-toxic is as good as it gets for
children’s art supplies. The label ‘non-toxic’ means that a product is not
related to any toxin or poison. I am confident that this means it will not kill
anyone. For many years, The American National Standards Institute (ASTM) has
been certifying that art supplies meet non-toxicity standard ASTM D-4236 and
that any toxins will be clearly listed on the label.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has this to say: Parents and
others buying art materials, school supplies and toys such as crayons, paint
sets, or modeling clay should be alert and purchase only those products which
are accompanied by the statement "Conforms to ASTM D-4236."
Like many people, I have lately become concerned about the environment and more
aware of health issues as they relate to my food, cosmetics, and other consumer
choices, I buy organics when I can, bring grocery bags to the store with me,
and ride my bike instead of getting in the car so often.
After the paint-in-the-mouth incident, I felt besieged by unanswered questions
about what children’s paint is made of. I wondered why the ingredients aren’t
available to me on the label? The colors, odor, and seemingly infinite shelf
life of children’s paint made me wonder what kind of chemicals, synthetic dyes,
and preservatives were contained in my non-toxic bottle of paint.
As a consumer, I have been concerned by news that widely distributed toys from
China were discovered to contain excess levels of lead paint; that children’s
dough is reportedly made using a petroleum base; and that art materials contain
synthetic dyes that have been linked to a wide variety of health issues in
children including allergies, ADHD, and a variety of cancers. In fact, The
Center for Science in the Public Interest just published a report entitled
Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks
urging the FDA to ban the use of artificial colors. 


I love art, and children. As an art teacher, I want to provide children with
safer choices. On my short list, I’d like a product that is made with natural
ingredients that I can pronounce. I’d like to purchase them from a company that
is honest enough to list their ingredients right on the package. I want
art materials that are safe for children, and the environment. 

Clementine Art was founded on the principle that we can do better for children.
Clementine is committed to providing all natural, and non-toxic art
supplies for children made from simple, and wholesome ingredients. 


What was the process like in coming up with the recipes, creating them,
testing them… Did it take over your kitchen and your life?

DIANA:  Oh my, yes. It did take over my life…in a
good way. I felt a bit like a mad scientist, but the process was fun,
challenging, and much harder than you might imagine. Natural colorants
are notoriously unstable, so finding the right mix of stability, acidity, ph
balance, texture, and natural preservative was interesting, and often
surprising. One time, I made a big batch of lovely purple dough,  and then
went for a walk. By the time I had returned an hour later, the purple dough had
turned into another color completely (sort of a pinkish grey…). The ph was
wrong and it turned out that that particular color was very ph sensitive.

Did it take over my kitchen?  Yes indeed!  I am still scraping wax
splatters off my cabinets, my measuring spoons have been donated to the
Clementine cause since they are so coated in wax, and my car stubbornly smells
of natural cranberry extract after I spilled an entire bottle in there. We have
moved into a warehouse for research and development, and now have US based
product manufacturers who are in charge of the messy work now, thank goodness. 

ClementineCherryCreek026 JEAN: 
Can you tell us about the ingredients in your own Clementine Art products versus what is in commercially available art supplies?

DIANA:  All of Clementine’s products are made with
all natural ingredients, no chemical dyes or colorants, and no petroleum
products. We are the first company to list all of our ingredients right on the
box so that you can see for yourself what’s in them. More specifically, our
crayons are made with earth based, oxide mineral pigments which means they have
been simply treated with heat to get their vibrant colors. The crayons and
rocks are also made with soy and beeswax instead of paraffin wax, a petroleum
product. Our paint contains pigment, water and vinegar as a gentle
preservative, while who knows what’s in conventional paints? Our glue is a
strong, clear craft glue made with wheat starch, and our markers are colored
only with plant and vegetable dyes like elderberry, turmeric, and annatto. Our
modeling dough is made with many of the ingredients found in freshly baked
bread, and colored with spinach, turmeric and other natural colors. I’ve been
trying to find out what’s in conventional dough for several years, with no
luck. Here’s a link to our podcast on the subject.

If you could encourage parents to seek out an alternative to one
commercially available art material, what would it be and why?

DIANA:  I would personally be most concerned about
the product that spends the most time on the skin, like finger paints, modeling
dough, and markers. Our skin is our largest organ and is used to both
eliminate, and absorb, toxins and chemicals. 


What role does education (of parents/consumers/teachers) play in your

  One of our most important goals is to
encourage the development of creative families. I’ve seen a lot of parents who
are hesitant to bring creative explorations into the home because they don’t
feel creative themselves. I hope, through helpful articles, resources, and art
ideas, to take some of the mystery out of art development and to introduce
children and parents to an artistic life, well-lived.

Raising the issue of natural
ingredients is always an education – for ourselves and hopefully, for our
customers. We believe that the bar has been set too low for children’s art
products and the status quo is to simply accept what’s available. We’ve been
wondering, and we hope our parents will join us, why we don’t have more
information about what ingredients are in children’s art products. In the
meantime, Clementine will continue to provide clean, wholesome art products for
children with a level of transparency and honesty about our ingredients that is

Anything else you’d like to add?

DIANA:  I believe everyone is an artist…even if you
don’t feel like you can draw a dog that looks like a dog… Realism is
only one genre of expression. There are many ways to enjoy texture, color,
shape, and design in a more abstract, free, and expressive way.

Thanks so much for sharing, Diana! Hearing your story and what has led you to start Clementine Art and your line of child-friendly, eco-art products is a first step for many of us.

Visit Clementine Art to learn more about, or purchase, her art supplies. Diana also has a blog, darling clementine, where she shares fun, process-oriented art projects featuring clementine art products (such as these melted crayon monoprints or these summer paintsicles). You can also follow her on facebook.



Readers who leave a comment to this interview by Thursday, July 15th at 12 midnight EST will be entered in a random drawing to win this set of six tempera paints by Clementine Art. They are colored with Mayan mineral earth pigments and are free from chemical dyes and petrochemicals.

The random number picked #108 so Leslie wins the set of paints.

We are
JUST starting art, these would be GREAT!!!

I just heard from Diana that she's willing to offer another set of the paints to a second winner!! The random number generator picked #2 this time, so Emma wins the second set.

what great
products, I'd love to try these out with my kids – thanks for the
giveaway!! :)

The bean pole teepee


Our teepee is fully covered with green beans. Time to pick!

Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude


This book made its way into our life well before I was aware of it. Since Daphne's birth, I've been reading chapter books with Maia as our special mama-daughter bonding time. We cuddle in her bed and read a chapter (or two or three) from The Boxcar Children or whatever book we're currently reading, while Harry takes Daphne. We still get stacks and stacks of picture books from the library, but Harry is more often the one to read them with Maia.

So when Maia started going around saying, "It can be whatever it wants to be!" and "Why of course it can!" I didn't realize she was quoting from a book.


And a pretty amazing book at that, it turns out.

It is called Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude (written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Calef Brown) and is such a pleasure to read and look at! About writer Gertrude Stein, it makes learning about her life, and the artists who were part of her circle, effortless and fun. Written in Gertrude's stream-of-consciousness style, the text is catchy and whimsical, not didactic.

Oh, Gertrude writes whatever.


and pages

and pages

and pages

with words all over the pages.

My goodness, what fun.

What fun to write whatever words occur.


The viewpoint it gives of writing and creating is exactly what I want my
daughter to hear.

A picture is a picture.

It can be whatever it wants to be.

It doesn't have to make sense.

It doesn't have to look like a waterfall,

not if it doesn't want to.

A picture can be whatever.

Why of course it can.

Those seven lines are worth the price of the book alone! We will soon replace our library copy with one for our own shelves. This one is a keeper, keeper, keeper. Why of course it is.


I know I can be overly enthusiastic with all my exclamation points and the words, love, love, love. I try to tone it down sometimes, but that's who I am, too, and I really do love this book!

Make Your Own Chalkboard Art Bins

Chalkboard Paint Art Storage Bins

Take a look! These Melissa and Doug nesting boxes were repurposed into art supply bins that can be written on (with a coat of chalkboard paint). Although I wish I had thought of the idea (genius!), they were made by Shawn Ledington Fink who gave me permission to post her photos. She painted the nesting boxes with chalk paint, turning an outgrown toy into a great functional tool for her children's art space. How cool is that?

Chalkboard Paint Art Storage Bins

Shawn says she's writing a new mantra on the boxes every day.

I love chalkboard paint!

Hole inspiration


I love, love, love all the creative inspiration the holes are providing! Besides doing the big paintings, like the one I posted about on Monday, Maia's been drawing up a storm on smaller paper with holes.


This drawing is double-sided and she said it's a birthday card for when Daphne turns one (still three months away — I guess she's thinking ahead). The card is shown folded in the photo below.


Here's one with a triangular hole. She's done circles, triangles, squares, and amorphous shapes so far.


She's tracing her hands onto the paper on this one.


If you have kids Maia's age, you probably know that tape is one of the most loved art supplies around. Right?! It's not just Maia is it? Here she taped a second sheet of paper to the drawing she was working on and then taped the shape I had cut out of the first paper onto the second.

This is not the sort of thing most people would post on their blogs because it's not terribly attractive. You can't frame it and if you sent it to grandma, she'd say, "huh?" But I think it's incredibly creative!


The inside view.


Here are a couple with multiple holes…


And a monster mask.

Not only do I love how inspired Maia has been by the negative spaces, but she has spent hours over the past few days working happily on these drawings and paintings! If that's not enough to get you to try this with your children, I don't know what is!

And, if you haven't read the comments from Monday's post, here are some great ideas from Barbara Zaborowski, a teacher I interviewed a couple of years ago, who does this with her preschool students:

Have you
tried making the hole off-center? Or making several small holes? Or a
large circle and a small one? Or making the paper some random, flowing
shape with a perfect square cut-out somewhere in it?

The possibilities are endless

As you can see, I tried a couple of her suggestions (and intend to try the others). Also, MaryAnn Kohl gave these ideas on my Facebook page:

Try a crazy shaped hole that isn't even in the middle. Another idea is
to glue some shape onto the paper, or glue a yarn piece on the paper.
These are called "Challenges" and you can almost hear the child's mind
clinking away snapping synapses as they work with it.

I think we have a lot of exploring left to do!