Are you choosing a gift for a kid who likes drawing, painting or sculpting? Read about our favourite art supplies and art projects we did with them!
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I like working on art and craft projects -always have since I was a little girl. My mom supported me, but as an engineer, she had little understanding of art materials, and we had to learn everything through trial. For instance, we went through many boxes of coloured pencils. Most of them made lines so pale you couldn’t see it without pressing the pencil very hard into the paper. Then – snap! – it would break. They were a constant disappointment.
When I was fourteen, my art teacher finally recommended a good set of pencils. I really appreciated it. They were creamy, smooth and vibrant. We invested what seemed like a small fortune into them, but what do you know – I still have them! My son uses them a lot. He has crazy artist parents who are in love with art supplies. He’ll probably grow up to be an engineer to complete the circle, but he does like to draw and paint now.
In my experience, it isn’t easy to judge a product until you try it, so here you will find my impressions on some of our favourite art supplies, recent discoveries and wishlist favourites! While we have a few art materials that we always have on hand, for holidays we like to get our children something really special. It really adds joy and pride into their artistic pursuits.
I have noted an age range that would most likely enjoy this material, but do choose based on the interests and abilities of each child and check the manufacturer’s recommendations as well! While this list have been created with children in mind, these are all real art materials, so if you’re looking for a gift for a creative adult, don’t hesitate to read on.
Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils (age 3+): These are the pencils my husband has had since he was fourteen, which makes our box over twenty years old. I found them in a drawer this year and was amazed at their quality. With them, I actually like drawing with pencils. They’re soft, vibrant and have a great variety of colours! They’re also the pencils that persuaded my son to stop choosing markers for drawing and try a new medium. We really like them.
Watercolour Pencils & Inktense Watercolour Pencils (age 3+): Inktense watercolour pencils are a more colour-intense version of watercolour pencils. Draw with them like with regular pencils, then gently brush some water over, and see the colours blend, creating a hazy watercolour layer. Technically, I bought them for myself, but my son has been using them a lot. He’s mesmerized by the way lines and colours change, once you add a little bit of water to the picture. The picture above is a watercolour pencil drawing before and after being taking into the rain outside. Anselm sure loves experimenting with our watercolour pencils!
Gel Sticks (age 2+): A kid-friendly uptake on watercolour pencils – these are watercolour crayons! They draw in a creamy oil-pastel way, and adding water creates a watercolour effect. They’re very vibrant, but from our experience, it’s impossible to create detailed images. A lot of fun for making experiments though, and the white gel stick creates a very thick layer, so good for coloured paper.
Shrink Dinks (age 4+): First you draw, then you cut, finally you bake, and suddenly your drawing shrinks and turns into a piece of hard plastic! An easy way to make keepsakes and personalized trinkets that children can give to their friends and relatives. Jewellery, keychains, charms, etc. Children will need help with baking, but other than that it’s very kid-friendly.
Art Activity Books (age 2+): I often cannot resist sitting down with my son and working on them together. I see them as creativity exercises. The unfinished picture poses a question, and it’s up to children to find a solution. Unlike in math, there is no single right answer! My friend Tetiana and I have recently made a book of printable art prompts. Now we can print the prompts in several copies and try different media on them or laminate and use with play-dough. Anselm and I started playing with art prompts when he was still a toddler. He loved adding eyes to people or legs to bugs I drew for him. It’s still one of his favourites!
Liquid Watercolours (age 2+): At first I was dubious – we already had a good set of watercolours. I ended up buying them on sale, and it turned out that they’re nothing like artist watercolours… They’re tremendously fun in a different way! Most of all, they remind me of giant jars of food colouring. They’re good for staining. They mix beautifully, both on paper and on a palette. Sometimes children like to spend an hour just mixing the colours and diluting them with water, pretending they’re scientists. We made several projects with them over the last year including this rain art painting and these snow colour mixing experiments, and behind the scenes it’s been my son’s go-to art supply when he wants to paint.
Paint Sticks (age 2+): It’s great when children try new art media, and this list is a result of my firm belief in it. But the truth is, for young kids most of art activities, especially the ones involving paint, require an adult’s supervision. Up until very recently, when my son wanted to paint I would stand close by with a big stack of wipes. Even now, it’s rare for us not to have any spills. Paint sticks allow kids to paint in a mess-free way with no need for brushes, cups or water. Definitely a tempting addition to a toddler’s art supplies!
Stained Glass Paints (age 4+): If you think that decorating your windows in stained glass paintings would be fun, try these paints. They work on glass and plastic, so children can create a variety of removable designs if you’re not quite ready to let them paint right on the window. I wasn’t. The paints are a little runny, so they’ll need a lead to create a containing contour, if they’re aspiring to create anything other than abstract designs. Not to say that abstract designs in stained glass paint aren’t beautiful!
Window Art – Stick on! Peel Off! (age 7+; younger with help): Similar to stained glass paints, these are translucent. Children paint on a sheet of plastic, and once the design is dry, they can peel it off and transfer to any surfaces, plastic or glass. Peeling is a little tricky, and they need to be able to follow particular painting instructions for this to work, hence the age suggestion. The set is surprisingly fun! I got this set for my husband a few years ago before we even had kids, and he made some custom stickers for my bottles of perfume.
Heavy Body Acrylics (age 7+): Professional heavy body acrylics are different from craft acrylics. They are thick, vibrant and have excellent coverage. We like using them when we paint wood, and goodness knows, my son loves painting wood! Craft acrylics usually require several layers, but with heavy acrylics one layer is enough. We used them for making gradient blocks, monster blocks and even our toy barn.
Stockmar Modelling Beeswax (age 4+): For children who like sculpting with play-dough and plasticine, this modelling beeswax can present new opportunities. It’s very different from other materials we have on hand for sculpting, but once you figure it out, it’s very interesting. The finished translucent models are beautiful and surprisingly strong. I would recommend it for older children because it requires a bit of kneading before it is pliable and benefits more from the use of sculpting tools – but my son loved it when he was two. Our dad built miniature excavators, cranes, and dump trucks from this beeswax. Beeswax firms up quickly, and you can use models as little toys and play with them. The little beeswax vehicles would often hold up for a few days, including baths, and you know how strenuous a toddler’s love can be on toys!
Polymer Clay (age 4+ with adult’s help): A sculpting level up! Children can build whatever they want, then bake their creations in a regular oven. Baking is when adult’s help will be most required; it hardens the clay into a durable plastic, so children can play with the results of their work as much as they want. I made this very hungry caterpillar for my son two years ago, and it’s still around. Polymer clay is one of my favourite materials to use, and I recently tried it with my son and niece for their first time. The results were very satisfying! We made over a dozen little pies, and the children came up with and executed their own ideas.
Professional Sculpting Set (age 7+): I got this set for myself, but every time I take it out Anselm tends to gravitate towards my work table and borrow a tool or two. On several occasions, he has spent an hour or so blissfully playing with my sculpting tools and his play-dough. I wouldn’t buy this set for a toddler to play with, but it’s a great set for older children who are interested in pursuing sculpting or pottery.
Felting Kit (age 7+): Another unique way to sculpt is to use wool fibres! I find this activity to be very relaxing, perfect for long winter evenings and family readings. Yet it’s very gratifying, both in the process of working with natural materials and in the result of having a little toy. It involves needles and patience, and that’s why it’s more suitable for older children. That being said, my son has tried needle felting at three while I was working on this woodland meadow playmat.
There is this modern principle of choosing four perfect gifts for kids – no more and no less: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. In our family, we definitely like to add at least one more – something to make art with! And this is where choosing only one usually becomes a problem.