Creative Family Living

Messy Art for Homes That Don’t Have Messy Spaces

If you don’t think your house has appropriate spaces for messy painting projects, I have some ideas for you to try…

painting baby

If the kiddo is under a certain age, you can put her in her high chair and let her fingerpaint, paint with a brush and tempera or watercolors, or draw with a marker, and she won’t be able to paint the walls with her paintbrush or touch the sofa with paint-covered hands. See the painting baby post on My Family Loves It about their daughter painting in her high chair (above).

The kitchen is generally more washable than the rest of the house. Depending on its size, you could put in a toddler-sized table in a corner or set up an easel in the kitchen for painting projects. You can even tape a large sheet of paper to the front of the fridge for drawing or painting.

messy party

If the weather is nice, set up a table in the backyard for painting and mess-making. You can always hose off the kids and the table afterwards. This photo shows Maia and Vivi outside at the “messy party” we had when we first started the art group. The messy party was inspired by a Mothering magazine article from a couple years ago.

bathtub drawing

Give the kid some fingerpaints or bathtub crayons and let him paint or draw while he takes a bath or before. We use both. Susan Striker, author of Young at Art, suggests mixing food coloring with powdered soap flakes and water to make an easy-to-clean up fingerpaint to use in the bathtub. After the kid paints in the dry bathtub, fill it with water, and wash the kid and the tub.

And then there’s always the old standby of spreading newspapers or a dropcloth under your child and the art in progress…

Any other ideas for letting your kids paint and do other messy art projects if your house doesn’t seem to have the right space?


  • Reply
    February 9, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Hi Jean – the reason there are no photos of my kids on my art blog is that they are always completely naked for any arts and crafts and always near a tap – I find even the most basic of glue ruins their clothes and special aprons etc just distract them from creating. If we are doing something that has the potential to actually stain the walls or floors – like tempura paint – then I try to do it with them on the weekend when my husband is there to clean away the paint whilst I clean up the kids so they don’t go straight back to the mess when I have cleaned them up. We have ruined quite a few tiles, inside and out, with our experiments in this process!!!!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    we save cereal boxes, open them all the way, and use it underneath the art in the making– to soak moisture from watercolors or to minimize the mess on the table.
    my almost 3 yr old loves to color with pens standing on a stool at the kitchen counter… he sees me making lists up there so i think he likes to make his own “lists.”
    another outside idea i stole from a neighbor: tape paper to a fence and paint away!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2008 at 11:06 am

    you already covered the top 2 for us, bathtub and high chair, but i see in your picture you also have a splat mat — that has been big for us, using oilcloth under artwork in progress… also, lots of rags handy, and a dedicated table for art if you can swing it. we don’t have the space right now but at one point had a little unfinished wooden ikea table — we didn’t really have to clean off much glue or paint, just enough to keep it level. it has its own sort of patina now! also we keep an easel outdoors during warm weather. a friend of mine keeps butcher paper covering her living room coffee table at all times. we use our dining room table for our art projects, keep newspaper handy, and just don’t sweat the occasional paint or glitter glue stain. love the striker soapflakes idea. another really fun one is to mix cornstarch and just enough water to make it “goopy” and add colors. really little kids love the texture to play with. much messier and slipperier than playdough but great fun.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    My 2yo loves to paint with plain water on her chalkboard. She uses those fat bristle brushes or inexpensive sponge brushes. Can’t save her work, but there’s no mess to speak of. In nice weather we use regular housepaint brushes (cheap ones) with water on the sidewalk or picnic table or siding or fence or etc. Anything that shows a contrast when wet.

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    February 9, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Lots of good ideas! Thanks guys. Gwyn – Yes, Maia is often naked when she paints too, although we also put her in old, stained clothes for painting/art sessions, especially in the winter and when all her friends are over for art group. And MamaBird – I like the idea of covering the coffee table with butcher paper. We’ve made the goopy cornstarch and water mix, for textural fun, but didn’t think to add food coloring and turn it into a paint!

  • Reply
    February 10, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    we like to use shaving cream on the counter top or the sliding glass door or just ’bout anywhere outdoors! It wipes up with ease. As an added bonus in drier weather, the cream changes texture. Eventually you can roll it into a ball.

  • Reply
    Lola's Mami
    November 27, 2009 at 10:31 am

    My mom used to spread a large tarp on the floor of our apartment, you know, the kind that painters use when they paint walls and such? I was thinking of heading to the hardware store for that now that Lola is getting bigger and I’m feeling the need to explore more art with her! Our batik spread is no longer going to be absorbent enough for all of the wonderful projects I’ve found through you!

  • Reply
    May 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    An old favourite for us is chalk drawing outside, on the deck, tracing around each other or on the driveway. The master pieces last till the rain comes. For inside I have recently discovered tubes of writing icing, with plain bought biscuits/cookies it is really mess free and easy to let my 2 year old squeeze the icing all over the biscuits, which we eat as a treat after dinner.

  • Reply
    June 14, 2010 at 7:00 am

    We live in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment, so it’s been a challenge to balance toddler art time without covering our entire apartment at times. A couple of times I’ve just rolled up the carpets (do a quick vacuum) and then tape butcher paper down to the floor. Then we paint, color, etc. It’s great. When we are done I’ll hang the painting on the wall to dry, so we can walk around.

  • Reply
    July 25, 2011 at 9:28 am

    We have t-shirts designated for art projects. Have you thought of designating specific clothing for mess? That way you can use pictures!

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