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The Best Kids Art Tools for a Successful Experience

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We always seem to place so much emphasis on the kids’ art materials—the best paints and markers and such—and the kids art tools that are equally important get overlooked.

I do the same, I hate to admit, and this is my attempt to remedy the situation.

Here’s my list of the tools we use to make the kids’ art experience as successful as possible.

First, The Basic Kids Art Tools

Kids Art Tools -- the Basics, including scissors, hole punch, and stapler

Scissors – For making things the size and shape you want them to be.

Hole Punch – Kids LOVE punching holes! The regular hole punches that we all know can be frustrating for little hands to manipulate, though. Target has a new-ish Up and Up brand, one that is much more ergonomic and easier for the little ones. You can find it in the office supply section, it’s cheap, and I highly recommend it!

Stapler – We use our sturdy little Swingline stapler all the time.

Kids Art Tools -- the Basics, including tape, tape dispenser, pencil sharpener, and eraser

Tape and Tape Dispenser – A sturdy and heavy tape dispenser can make getting (Scotch-type) tape much easier for little kids!

Masking Tape – For holding the edges of paper down, for tape resist art projects, for hallway hopscotches, for hanging art on the wall, and for collages. We use both regular masking tape and colored masking tape. Plus printed craft tape.

Pencil Sharpener – We like this double pencil sharpener, because it works well for regular pencils and colored pencils (both thin and thick), is easy to use, and keeps the the shavings off the desk.

Eraser – We’re suckers for fun erasers, like this selection at Stubby Pencil Studio, but for everyday art use, not much beats a good ole kneaded rubber eraser. A kneaded eraser can be shaped for more precision erasing. It can also be used to create highlights.

Kids Art Tools -- All Kinds of Glue!

Glue – I put glue as one of our top ten art supplies yesterday, but it seems to be as much a tool for art as an actual art material so I’m adding it here, too. Besides the glue bottles, we use glue sticksglue pens, and a glue gun.

Tools to Protect Your Furniture and Clothing

Kids Art Tools to Protect Furniture and Clothing from Paint etc

Art Trays – We really like these art trays and use them all the time. I had my eye on them for a long time but kept putting off buying them because it seemed like a waste of money. It’s totally not and we’ve used them nonstop since I finally did. These are well worth getting and really help keep the art messes contained. You could also just use an old rimmed cookie sheet, if you have one.

Art Mats – Otherwise known as a placemat. In fact, you could easily just buy some cheap plastic placemats from Ikea or Target or someplace. We do that, too. These are good for protecting the table when you’re drawing, doing a less-messy collage, playing with playdough, using clay, etc. In other words, when you don’t think you’ll need the rim of the art tray to keep glitter or paint from getting everywhere.

Update: We now own and use these larger art mats and LOVE them. So worth it!)

Drop Cloth – You could spend $ on a proper drop cloth, or you could pick up a cheap waterproof tablecloth at the dollar store as we do. We have this Brawny Tough Keep-It-Clean Mat and it does the job, but it’s stiff and better for the floor than the table. For the table, I either use an old tablecloth that I can pop in the wash or the above-mentioned vinyl tablecloth (which I’ve also been known to pop in the wash). There are other options out there, including this lovely spill mat, but I haven’t tried them.

Kids Art Tools -- Painting Smock and Art Drying Wall

Art SmockMake your own from a large T-shirt. Or just wear a large T-shirt. Most kids’ art smocks are either apron-types that don’t have any type of sleeve (and we know how little kids get paint everywhere) or have sleeves but are made of some stiff, crinkly waterproof material that hampers arm movement and that kids just aren’t going to be comfortable in. If you want to buy one, I like this Crayola Tidy Top Art Smock better than some.

Drying Rack – You’re gonna want to have someplace you can set the paint-y masterpieces while they dry. We have some wires strung across one of the studio walls (in between hook eye screws) that we use for hanging just-finished artwork with clothespins. You can see pics in my post about studio changes. We like this solution and have used it for years. However, for art that is extra paint-goopy, extra glue-y, 3-D, or involves foam paint/shaving cream, you need some sort of flat horizontal space. We usually set them on top of the washer or dryer (since our studio doubles as a laundry room), on the floor, or on the countertops (if we’re working in the kitchen/dining room.

That said, one of these days I’d like to get an actual drying rack. They just seem too darn expensive when the top of the dryer is free, though. I’d rather spend my money on art supplies.

Kids Art Tools for Transferring Paint to Paper

Kids Art Tools -- for Transfering Paint to Paper, including brushes, droppers, and paint cups

Paint Brushes – I haven’t really found a paint brush that I truly love for kids’ art. Except for these Stubby Chubby Brushes for toddlers (so glad they’re available again!). I must have conflicting criteria. I want something inexpensive, easy to use and clean, indestructible, and good quality. If you have one you love, please let me know!!! I need some new ones to try.

That said, here are some that we like better out of the brushes we’ve used: Colorations Plastic Chubby Paint Brushes (inexpensive & easy to clean), Colorations Watercolor Brushes (inexpensive, nice soft bristles, variety of sizes), Colorations Best Value Easel Paint Brush Assortment (inexpensive, variety of sizes). I just bought this brush set, by the way, and am looking forward to trying it out.

Droppers – Great for transferring liquid watercolor paint to paper, coffee filters, ice, baking soda, etc. We use these all the time for both art projects and science experiments.

Paint Cups – For holding paint during an art activity (especially good for working at the easel!) and then for storing extra paint until the next art activity. These no-mess paint cups are great basic ones. If your kiddo likes more color choices (especially at the easel where space is at a premium), then use the double-dip paint cups. And for liquid watercolors, we really like these smaller paint cups in a base. You can also just use miscellaneous cups and bowls for holding your paints. We use small mason jars a lot.

Kids Art Tools -- for Transfering Paint to Paper, including spray bottles, squeeze bottles, and paint roller

Spray Bottles – For spray painting with watered-down liquid watercolors on paper, fabric, snow. Or for spraying water on the chalkboard or outside. You can generally pick these up at the dollar store and other places for cheap.

Paint Trim Roller – These are like the paint rollers you use for painting your walls, but smaller and meant for trim and corners and such. We use ours in the studio for kids’ art because rolling paint is lots of fun. I buy ours from the paint section of the hardware store.

Squeeze Bottles – For puffy paint and other fun squeeze painting ideas. We usually just buy ours at the dollar store or something, but this is a an economical set that we also use and love. The bottles are smaller so it doesn’t take as much paint to fill them up.

Kids Art Tools -- for Transfering Paint to Paper, including brayer, box frame, palette, and hands

Brayer – We use one of these for most printmaking projects.

Acrylic Box Frame – These are really for framing your artwork, but we keep a couple in the studio for printmaking purposes. We roll the ink or paint over the surface of the frame to coat the roller or brayer evenly. We especially like the box frame for monoprinting with kids.

Palette – We have a cheap plastic paint palette that we use sometimes, like this one, and use it for acrylic paints, tempera paints, and paint mixing. But, mostly we just use cheap paper plates because you can toss them afterwards and it’s one little thing we can do to make clean up easier and quicker.

Hands / Toys / Nature Items – Because hands are great for transfering paint, printing, sculpting, etc. Car wheels and other toys can also be fun for painting. As can pine branches, flowers, and various nature items.

Tools to Store and Organize Art Supplies

Kids Art Tools to Store and Organize Art Supplies, including shelves, dresser, and storage bins

Shelves, dresser, or cabinet – For storing your art supplies.

Storage Bins – We have little bins from Ikea (can’t seem to find the product link at the moment), but any little boxes, storage bins, or buckets would work. We have one for tempera paint, one for liquid watercolors, one for printmaking supplies, etc. That way, I can grab one bin down from a shelf rather than try to juggle 10 paint bottles.

Kids Art Tools to Store and Organize Art Supplies, including masking tape dispenser, paper roll holder, and marker holder

Table-Top Paper Roll Holder – This paper holder from Imagine Childhood is what we now use (after trying one from Ikea that was too flimsy for us).

Masking Tape Holder and Dispenser – We have one of these tape holders for our colored masking tape. It looks great on the studio shelf and keeps all the tapes organized and in-view. However, we don’t find it very easy to use for actually dispensing the tape. We often find ourselves taking a roll of tape off the dispenser, bringing it with us to the art table, and using it on its own—either tearing the tape with our hands or using scissors to cut pieces off.

Marker Holder – We used to have and love this DIY marker holder (from MaryAnn Kohl’s First Art, page 126). Then I made a new version for my book and had to put it away until the book came out so it wouldn’t appear in blog photos. Sadly, I’ve never re-found it. It’s past time to make another!! For those of you who have my book, the instructions are on page 71-72. And if you just want to buy one, this marker stand is pretty good.

Art Furniture

Kids Art Furniture, including an art table, art easel, and tabletop easel

Art Table – Any table will work, including the kitchen table. For little kids, a table they can work at standing up, though, is especially good. We have and love these adjustable SANSAD tables as well as the stools (the stools don’t seem to be available anymore). We’ve also used regular toddler and children’s tables and chairs, mostly secondhand. And now have some wall-mounted, fold-down tables along the windows.

Easel – We still use and love our Melissa and Doug adjustable easel! If I’ve calculated correctly, it’s given us a good 7 years of art-making service so far.

Tabletop Easel or Wall-Mounted Easel – If you just don’t have the space for a regular easel, how about a tabletop easel or a wall-mounted easel (this elephant easel is adorable and this wall-mount easel looks promising if maybe a tad small)?

Update :: We now have and LOVE this slanted surface drawing desk for both drawing and for homework. It is both well-made and economical.

Kids Art Tools for Working with Clay and Dough

Kids Art Tools for Clay and Dough

Clay Sculpting Tools – We use this inexpensive pottery tool kit for clay sculpting.

Playdough Tools – Our Melissa and Doug wooden playdough tool set is still going great after many years. Unfortunately, they don’t make it any more and the closest I could find just didn’t compare. However, you could make your own with some textured rolling pins, a regular rolling pin (we have a little one from a play kitchen as well as our big “real” one), some cookie cutters, a garlic press, a wooden knife (again from a play kitchen), and any other tools that catch your fancy.

Mat – We use plastic art mats or placemats, both with clay and with other arts and crafts activities.

Pottery Wheel – We have this pottery wheel by Craft Project Ideas and Maia and her friends really seem to like it. It doesn’t have a whole lot of power, though, and if she keeps up her interest in clay, I may look into other options out there. Any ideas?

Whew! This turned out to be a longer list and post than I thought it would be when I started!

Okay, your turn… Any important kids art tools that I missed? What would you add to this list? And feel free to argue with me about my choice of “best”—I certainly haven’t tried everything out there! And everyone’s situation and preferences are different.

A Few Other Art Tools for Your Art Closet

Graphite pencil – A good graphite pencil set is good for older kids who love sketching. For the younger kids, there is a good variety of other pencils they can choose from, including some themed pencil options to make drawing time even more fun.

Sponges – Sponge painting is a good way for kids to explore paint, learn colors, and tune up their fine motor skills. Different sponge sizes and shapes allow children to explore a different way of painting.

Watercolor Paper – Watercolor paper is good to have because it is thick and made for wet media. The kids can explore different watercolor techniques and experiment with watercolor paint.

Sketchbook – In addition to watercolor paper, it never hurts to have a few sketchbooks laying around the house too. That way, the kids can grab a sketchbook and their favorite marker set and go to work creating new masterpieces for the refrigerator.

Collage Supplies – A great art project to work on with the kids is a collage, so you want to have all the best collage supplies at your fingertips. This means you should have colored tissue paper, feathers, pom poms, yarn, fabric scraps, googly eyes, and stickers. The kids can even gather up their paper scraps and turn them into Pablo Picasso collage masterpieces.

Everyday Objects – Finally, having a good assortment of some everyday objects can also come in handy as you create the best kids art tools set. Some everyday objects include construction paper, beads, clothespins, and pipe cleaners. You can also let the kids get creative with empty toilet paper rolls, plastic jugs, and cardboard boxes.

Why You Need the Best Art Tools for Kids

To inspire creativity, keep little hands and minds busy, and to get a moment of peace as a parent, it pays to have the best art tools for kids stocked up and close by. They are lifesavers for rainy days or days when the kids are bored in the house and wanting to flex those creative muscles.

I have given you an extensive list to work from above but choose the items you know your kids will love and see what they can come up with!

Okay, your turn… Any important kids art tools that I missed? What would you add to this list? And feel free to argue with me about my choice of “best”—I certainly haven’t tried everything out there! And everyone’s situation and preferences are different.

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  • rachel
    January 7, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    this is a great post jean! thx for taking all the time- it’s very thorough and helpful!!

  • Gina :|: Listening in the Litany
    January 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    These round-up posts are gold! I’m always hesitant to fork out money on new supplies because I’m afraid I’ll buy the wrong thing but you make it so easy. Thank you!

    January 7, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Fabulous post! We LOVE art in our home, even with a toddler.

  • Amanda
    January 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    It’s always fun to see what other people like to use for children’s art. I, for one, loathe those paint cups with the spill proof lids. As a preschool teacher, I find that the kids end up mixing the colors, and then we’re stuck with 2-3 full containers of brown. We now use plastic squeeze bottles and Styrofoam egg cartons, cut into little 2×2 squares. The kids squirt what colors they want, and there’s very little waste. Then they get to wash it out for the next person!
    I love the art tray/ placemat idea. After spending way, way, way too much time scrubbing off dried-on glue, I find I really need to get some cheap classroom placemats!

  • Megan @ The Art Pantry
    January 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    These last two posts are so great and really comprehensive! Thanks for sharing some of our tools and materials at The Art Pantry. I totally agree with you about the trays. Having a sturdy tray can make it so much easier to set up, clean up, and store art projects. I love the discount school supply ones, but I’ve recently found a really great one at Ikea as well (the SMULA plastic, clear tray).

  • Laura F
    January 7, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Thank you for making these lists! I look for your suggestions before buying because your recommendations are always spot-on.

  • Isabel
    January 8, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Excelent article. Thank you for your commitment to art and to us all.

  • Besquirrely
    January 8, 2014 at 9:23 am

    This is great! I would add a few:
    give your children: patience, space and time
    nice paper for painting
    I always keep extra pieces of flat cardboard (ends of paper pads, pieces that come through the mail) for putting underneath paintings on the table.
    Always love your blog – thanks!

  • Aili
    January 8, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for the tip on the hole punch! As well as the rest of the list. My daughter got a tape dispenser of her own with several rolls of replacement tape last Christmas and it has been used pretty much daily ever since.

  • Faigie
    January 9, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Amanda I have also recently discovered those egg cartons. I discovered that you can THROW them out at the end without having to do so much washing. It especially comes in handy for me since I started teaching art in a new school and the first time we painted I spent forever standing over the sink washing out these palettes I had bought. No more, Now I have stacks of egg cartons waiting to be used.

  • Frances
    January 10, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Thanks for the tip on using an Ikea paper holder for tape. We have an extensive duct tape collection taking up way too much space!
    More from Ikea: I bought three white plastic serving trays, about 18 x 24″, a couple of years ago for two bucks each. Score! Paint trays, lego, messing around with sensory things, beading…these things are golden.

  • Sarah
    January 17, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Fantastic post!! I’m definitely putting some of these items on my must have list. We recently discovered Frog Tape, it’s similar to painters tape. We use it for so many crafts and hanging artwork on the walls.

  • Jessica
    January 27, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    I’d like to add these DIY art boards to the mix, from That Artist Woman. Following her lead, we just had a huge piece of gloss white hardboard cut to 16×24 sheets at Lowes. They double as white boards!
    Since the 4×8 sheet is a better value than the 4×4 sheet, I just had the 4×8 cut in half, and then had cut 6 art boards out of one 4×4 piece and kept the other 4×4 piece for a whiteboard wall. (We much prefer whiteboards to chalk boards.) I’m running duct tape around the edges, which are a mite rough.

  • MJ
    May 31, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Re: art brushes, I found a great (and unexpected source): Old makeup brushes. My mom had tons accumulated from all those department store makeup offers. Most have chubby handles and stand up to the little kids pretty well.

  • Kathy May
    June 1, 2014 at 12:13 am

    I’m sorta in love with…your whole blog:) I picked up the summer art book last weekend and we have done several activities! I will be ordering more…I just picked up the pencil sharpener and stapler;)

  • Marianne White Dunlap
    June 1, 2014 at 8:41 am

    In our Montessori classrooms we try to link the children’s art projects to geography, biology or their basic human needs. Expressing ideas with various media help the children to integrate the lessons we give in these areas and others. e.g. linking the bunting flags with a study of Tibet, or tissue paper stained glass with Marc Chagall or making a belt with our need for clothing or leaf rubbings with parts of the leaf. Using art as a means to express what is learned brings an added dimension to their work. Not always necessary, for art for arts sake is perfectly desirable; but something to think about when the opportunity presents itself.

  • Sarah I.
    June 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    I am so eager to buy great materials and art products, but my daughter is two and for now I will try to be patient and use these great ideas that have been suggested, like egg cartons and such. It has been fun to watch her express herself and try out different art materials. We did have a misstep today when her dad and I found a beautiful and creative design on the (apartment!) WALL, made with wonderfully vibrant Crayola Slick Stix (which wash off skin and the wall quite easily, BTW…) So to save space and money for now, instead of an art easel, we’ll cover that part of the wall with art paper and continue the mantra “Crayons go on art materials, like paper, not the wall, unless you have permission”…(Trying to keep the creative spirit alive…we really just say Crayons go on paper for now…but don’t want to completely cramp her style. Haha!)

  • liz
    August 7, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Trader Joe’s deli entrees come in black plastic trays that we use for color mixing– I give my son a squirt of two colors of his choice and sometimes the mixing becomes the art activity.

    His preschool teachers occasionally laminate a large painting that the kids do, these make excellent placemats and a nice way to see and use previous art. If you have a lakeshore store near you, they do it, too.

  • Katie
    October 11, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    How could you forget containers!? We have so many baskets, bowls, yogurt cups, styrofoam trays, and jars filled with our different supplies in my classroom. Keeps everything very organized. Also, clips! We have hundreds of butterfly clips in every size for hanging artwork. Essential.