It’s hard to like something you’ve never experienced, and harder still to get really good at something you never practice. Parents eager to raise artistic kids should offer plenty of spaces where art can happen.
Art can happen anywhere, I suppose, and I doubt that the lack of an art studio would ever keep a truly driven artist from his or her muse. But I suspect that art-friendly play and living spaces can only help the cause.
So what can parents do to assure their child is at home with making art?
When my children were in elementary school, we knew a family with a whole room dedicated nearly exclusively to art. You knew it was a fun place the moment you walked in—because the carpet was deep purple, and light cheerfully streamed in from windows along several walls.
Built-in storage units in white laminate lined a wall, concealing paints, brushes, aprons, clean up supplies and more. A nearby bathroom was perfect for rinsing brushes and wetting paper towels to clean up any messes. Extra wall space displayed the children’s watercolor paintings and other pieces of art.
The message when you entered the room was obvious: Art matters in this house.
It’s not the message I get when I enter a room layered in televisions, electronic game playing devices and computer monitors—or a room strewn with piles of taken-for-granted toys.
Throughout the rest of the house, artwork (paintings, sculpture and more) was displayed and integrated into the overall feel of the home. It never felt stuffy or showy.
At the time, our version of an art studio was a cramped laundry room. It had the advantage of a built-in sink, but little counter space. Cabinets that might have held detergent, dryer sheets and light bulbs instead held stacks of clear rectangular crates with white lids. Each was labeled to indicate its unique contents—whether paintbrushes, rubber stamps, glitter, ribbon or modeling clay.
Today my laundry room (in a different house) has a new dual purpose—food pantry. Now I find myself digging for art supplies when someone needs them (I need to work on laying low so others can dig for themselves). If you have a crafty kid, go the organized route. It’ll save time and money too—because you won’t be running out to buy things you already have but just can’t locate.
In a decade or two of parenting, all that time and money really adds up.
Never fear if you’re just not ready to take the purple carpet plunge. There are plenty of other things you can do to inspire the young artists in your home. First, stop thinking of “mess” as a four-letter word. Have at least one place where your children can do art without the paralyzing fear of upsetting you with a paint spill or glitter explosion.
Glitter happens. Life is good.
Next, be sure you have ample basics in stock at all times. If you wouldn’t dream of a kitchen without coffee beans, don’t let yourself run out of arts & crafts essentials like wax paper and plastic cups either (for protecting surfaces from paint and rinsing paint out of brushes).
Consider an arts & crafts survival kit for your family holiday gift this year. Let the kids help you stock up on paints, pastels, charcoal pencils, sketch pads and other art supplies.
Then gather things to make projects go more smoothly—paper plates (to hold paint or glue), baby wipes (to wipe up paint spills), trays (for messy materials like sequins) and such. Invest in a couple of arts & crafts books that feature projects appropriate to your children’s ages and interests (and grow the collection as they grow).
When choosing books for your children, don’t overlook art-related titles. Select stories that feature music and dance. Choose books that include poetry and song. Hit the library for age-appropriate books on everything from architecture to theater.
We used to keep our children’s books in charming little baskets placed throughout the house, so the kids could grab something to read on a whim. (In the absence of books, I fear they’d have reached for the remote control or the refrigerator door.)
Find several places for displaying your children’s art (our children’s earliest works now take up nearly all three antique china cabinets I inherited from my mother’s mom). Nothing wrong with a fridge door covered in finger paintings—but there are other options too…
Try covering a wall with sheets or squares of thin, flexible cork board (available at most craft and home improvement stores)—then add tacks or push pins (assuming your child is older than three and past the ‘everything goes in the mouth’ stage) for hanging art. Use chalk board paint to cover a wall in your child’s room, then supply your child with a bucket of colored chalk and an eraser (friends will love coming to your house!).
String wire high along a wall, hanging art along it with colorful clothes pins (you can tell your child stories of how laundry hung out on the line during the ‘good old days’). Make sure your child can’t get caught in the cord. Metal display areas are handy too so you can hang artwork with magnets, and enjoy magnetic letter and word art. (Our favorite is the “Magnetic Poetry Kit” ala Shakespeare.)
Give your child at least one place to create art—preferably at his or her own height, and with a comfortable chair that promotes decent posture. For many years, Jennifer had a wooden door we’d painted together over short cabinets or shelves in her room.
It served as her art station, so we never had to worry about clearing away dinner dishes or homework when the urge for art took hold. Cups running along the back held her special pens, beads and wire, and other art materials she used on a regular basis. (Shelves or file cabinets are perfect for holding project instructions printed off the Internet, flat supplies like scrapbook paper and more.)
Although Jennifer and her two sibs had plenty of time for solitary art activities, we made sure they also enjoyed art alongside friends. Birthday parties often involved art activities like painting flower pots or photo frames. Ours was always the house where the crafty kids could come and do their thing (Jennifer’s best friend has a wonderful book- and craft-friendly home too).
Most importantly, we created art right alongside them. We were never too busy or too proud for Play-Doh or Shrinky Dinks. (Several of our family creations still grace our Christmas tree every year.)
Children judge what parents value by watching what parents do. You don’t have to excel at art, but making time to create it lets your children know it’s important. Have you rolled up your sleeves lately to see just what you can do with a fistful of feathers, some googly eyes and a bottle of glue?
Finally, spend a bit on frames and shadow boxes for those special pieces. (Nowadays frames are easy to find at discount, dollar and resale stores.) Framing children’s artwork shows them just how much you adore it.
We’ve hung 20 x 24 painting of flowers over our fireplace, placed tree paintings made using watercolors and straws (to blow paint across the page for fanciful branches) in our home office, and displayed 3-D clay pieces Christopher crafted in shadow boxes atop our dresser.
One year I sealed the laundry room off with a sheet and labeled it ‘Santa’s workshop’ while the kids used miniature botanicals (like pine cones and rose buds) to create three heart-shaped art pieces for shadow boxes they presented to their father for his office on Christmas morning.
There really isn’t any place in our home that you can go without experiencing art. It’s not the million dollar variety. It’s the heartfelt version, and it never fails to cheer us.
James’s mom still has a framed painting of a house with a rabbit (made with watercolors over waxy crayons) hanging in her laundry room. It makes doing laundry almost bearable.
Art is that powerful…
Update: Click here to read an article in The New York Times that explores what your treatment of your child’s artwork reveals about your parenting style