Just about any book on making art with children (or adults!) is going to include a supply list, and there are posts about this throughout the web as well (such as here and here). It really boils down to personal choice and what projects you might want to do, but I thought I’d list some basic supplies. Then when I thought about it a little more, I thought I’d better break the categories down. Eventually you’ll be able to find all the supplies posts in the “Basics” category on the sidebar. And I really am trying to be very basic here and explain as much as possible, because it can all be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.
I love art supplies. I maybe go overboard a little. I remember how I used to walk into art supply stores and feel like an impostor, like I didn’t belong at all, mostly because everything seemed so confusing. I lived in a city with three or four art supply stores at the time and no shortage of art students, and I’d walk in and be too intimidated to even ask a question. Then I began taking art classes, and I walked in with my class supply list and I still felt confused and intimidated. But eventually I turned into somebody who knows her way around an art supply store, whether in person or online. All this to say, I probably have more art supplies than anyone really needs, so I’ll try to list what I think is good to have, plus, where applicable, some favorite extra items. (Also, keep in mind that when I began making art with my kids, I didn’t have lots of stuff. You don’t need lots of supplies; you’ll work up to it based on interest and desire.)
So, paper. At minimum, buy copy paper by the ream. I’ve given my kids reams of copy paper for Christmas, and they’ve been happy about it. It’s great for drawing with pencil and crayon. (I often give my two-year-old the backs of printed-on sheets, too.) Some heavier drawing paper is useful for using with charcoal, marker, and pastels, and some can handle watercolors. And watercolor paper is good for heavier painting, and you’ll need it if you want to try wet-on-wet painting. Finally, a large (18×24) pad of newsprint is super useful. It can go underneath your painting to protect the table a bit, you can sandwich your charcoal drawings in between pages to catch the dust, you can set paintings out to dry on it, you can use it for quick and multiple sketches, and you can tape it up on the wall for when your toddler really needs to color vertically. And that’s just the uses I can think of in two minutes!
Paper is categorized by weight in pounds, with the heavier paper being thicker. But it also has different surfaces. If you browse paper, you’ll see it’s broken down by what medium you want to use (with some overlap), and then there’s a variety within each category. For instance, the Strathmore 300 Series is less expensive than the 500, but the quality is still going to be good.
For drawing paper, I think the basic 9×12 is a good size, but for watercolor, I like to buy the 18×24 sheets and cut them in half (for the wet-on-wet paintings) or leave them as is for larger paintings. You can also buy paper by the sheet, but I’ve found it’s more economical to buy a pad of watercolor paper rather than purchase individual pieces.
Paper also, obviously, comes in different colors. A fun extra would be black paper to use with white pastels, or colored paper as a background instead of white.
I also have a roll of paper that fits into our easel. I use this for my toddler’s painting, but not all the time, since it’s not heavy and it crinkles up once it has paint on it. A roll of paper is also a good choice if you’re planning on mural work.
Collage is a whole ‘nother ball of, well, paper. Save interesting bits of paper, wrapping, tissue paper, and the like. Tissue paper in sheets for painting (a la Eric Carle) is another fun extra. I have a weakness for decorative papers, too.
Where to buy? If you don’t live near an art supply store (or, if like me, your closest one charges super high prices), you can order online or try one of the chain arts & crafts stores. Our nearest AC Moore has a few aisles of “fine art” supplies, including drawing and painting papers, and you can use those 40% off coupons. An office supply store is the best bet for copy paper, and ours has a “classroom supply” aisle that includes some basic art supplies.
In other words, you don’t need to walk into the art supply store feeling all intimidated. But if you happen to have an art supply store nearby, hopefully this helps you walk in with confidence!