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The Essentials: 20 Art Supplies You Shouldn't Be Without

Creating at home shouldn’t be costly or complicated. We’ve created this list of 20 tried-and-true art supplies to have on hand whenever inspiration strikes. Stock up on this and you’ll be ready to tackle almost all of the projects in our virtual studio.

This list was created from nearly two decades of experience working with kiddos of all ages in studio settings. You’ll find helpful links directing to our favorites. Most are available through online retailers such as Amazon or Dick Blick. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. The product choices and reviews, however, are entirely my own.

PAPER/ART SURFACES - Great artwork needs a good base to begin its creative journey. Here are our essentials:

1. SULPHITE DRAWING PAPER: Although you might be tempted to use regular copy paper or construction we want to let you in on the art teacher’s secret weapon: Sulphite Drawing Paper! It has that perfect trifecta: 1) heavier than printer paper, 2) not as fuzzy as construction paper, and 3) it’s inexpensive!

2. WATERCOLOR PAPER: We also recommend stocking up on inexpensive watercolor paper for projects that use watercolor paint. Watercolor doesn’t flow on other types of paper so you won’t get that lovely washy look. Steer clear from any of the “artist’s grade” stuff - you don’t want anything that precious! Loose sheets or bound - it’s up to you.

3. SKETCHBOOK: Kiddos need a space to draw - early and often. Sketchbooks are a record of thoughts on paper and contain all of the little nuggets of arty goodness that are in progress. We prefer Sketchbooks that are 8x10 or larger. You can also make your own with copy paper using a three-hole punch and a binder - or with simple binding techniques.

4. COLORED PAPER: good quality construction paper is great, but we find ourselves drawn more and more to multipacks of cardstock like these for their rich colors and heavier weight. These are a staple for adding a little extra pizzaz to collages, constructions, and drawings (especially when accompanied by hand-painted papers).

MARK MAKING TOOLS - many of these you likely already have on hand - check those orphaned school supplies before buying new. We’ve included a few you may not have heard of (Poscas anyone?) but we can assure you are worth the purchase.

5. WASHABLE MARKERS: Crayola is our go-to. Basic packs are a good place to start, but they also come in larger packs with more variety. We also love these fine line sets that come in a range of colors sure to get those creative juices flowing.

6. BLACK SHARPIES: Repeat after us - kids can use permanent markers with minimal adult supervision. We often have our kiddos take a sharpie oath (“I will not draw on anything but paper, this includes items such as my hands, furniture, and friends. I will remember to put the cap back on. This is my sharpie promise!”) - and we hold them to it. More often than not you’ll find they rise to the occasion. The fine line markers are essential, extra fine is a nice addition.

7. COLORFUL SHARPIES: see above, but this time with color! We love juicy sets like this. Though other brands also pack a similar punch.

8. POSCA PENS: If you only buy one new thing from this list make it this. Posca pens are acrylic paint pens that provide the perfect amount of opaque color to turn any “eh” piece into a masterwork. We prefer this set. Discounted chalk markers might give you a similar feel, but they won’t have the quality of these pens.

9. PENCILS: are a wonderful tool for older artists who are beginning to want to focus on detail (they’re great for practicing gradations in shading). We prefer bolder mark-making tools for younger artists. Crayola’s sets are a wonderful value. Prismacolor is the gold standard of quality (with a heftier price tag). It’s also a good idea to have some #2 pencils on hand if you don’t already.

10. CRAYONS: we’re sure you have some of these lying around somewhere! If not, treat yourself to a new pack here.

PAINT - Repeat after us: paint is great. I will not panic. I will let my kids use paint because it’s awesome and it’s not as scary as I make it out to be.

11. TEMPERA PAINT: is our GO-TO in almost all of the painting projects we do with kids. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. what kind? liquid tempera paint is the most versatile and easiest to clean up of paints for kids. We are picky and prefer Blick’s Premium Tempera. It has the best consistency, is economically-priced, and works well in a variety of applications (including printmaking). Our second choice would be Crayola Premium.

  2. what colors and how much? - you do NOT need a bottle of each color. Our suggestion is to purchase pint or quart-sized bottles mixing colors (magenta, turquoise, yellow, white, and black - they make the most vivid colors). Additional colors which are nice to have (but NOT necessary) are red, blue, fluorescent yellow, and burnt sienna.

12. WATERCOLOR PANS: watercolor pans can be bought very cheaply. Our favorite in terms of color quality is Prang’s 16-color set. However, you can find several generic pans out there that work well. The only brands we’d avoid are those bought are Rose Art (as they’re always the worst) and the dollar store variety. Anything else should do just nicely.

13. LIQUID WATERCOLOR: is an art supply few have had a chance to experience. However, once your kiddos have a chance to play with it you’ll consider it a staple! Basically, it is the concentrated liquid version of its pan counterpart. A little bit goes a long way. All you need is a few drops in a cup with a bit of water and you’re good to go. Word of caution - it can stain (but that’s why it’s amazing to use on all kinds of surfaces - including fabric and wood!) Here’s a starter set and a larger set that work well.

ESSENTIAL TOOLS - other bits and bobs to bring pieces to life. Don’t forget to also check your house for these “Art Pantry” and “Freebie” items to round out your home studio area.

14. BRUSHES: again, check your stash first. Don’t go overboard. Cheap is fine. Be sure to have a variety of sizes. We love this multipack by Crayola. If you’re mixing your own colors using paint jars it’s nice to have a brush for each color. It saves kiddos from having to rinse all the time (and decreases the chances that they’ll spill the water cup as often). Inexpensive synthetic brushes like these are great to have on hand for detail work.

15. SCISSORS: ideally at least two pairs - one reserved for cutting heavy-duty crafty things (i.e. yarns and things that may have been recently sopping wet with glue) and one sharp pair dedicated to paper only.

16. HOT GLUE GUN: kids are perfectly capable of using a glue gun with proper instruction and supervision. It is an essential tool for sculpture. Look for multi-temp/kid-friendly models like this. If you’re still on the fence, offer to assist in the gluing portion of their artmaking endeavors.

17. GLUE STICKS: always have more on hand than you think you’ll need. Be sure they are compatible with the glue gun model you own. You can also take it a step further and get some cool colored sticks (some even have glitter!)

18. WHITE SCHOOL GLUE: Elmer’s is a classroom favorite, but most generic glues work just as well. We buy in larger quantities to distill into plastic containers with sponges instead of using those dang always clogging tips. Trust us, once you make this switch, you’ll never go back.

19. TWISTY GLUE STICKS: we buy these in smaller quantities because it seems they have a tendency to dry out when purchased in bulk. They’re good for quick assembly of paper and other lightweight parts.

20. GRAPHITE TRANSFER PAPER: do we want kids to learn to love drawing from observation and their imagination - ABSOLUTELY! But sometimes they need a little push. Transfer paper is a great way to help kids get more complicated drawings onto another surface. Tracing definitely has its benefits as students are learning to draw more confidently. Get a pack like this and you’ll have it on hand for when they need a little extra help.


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