Any materials list can easily get overwhelming, not only to read but to write. If I listed everything I have in my basement—items I’ve gathered over the course of two decades—you’d feel like it’s hopeless to even try to acquire what I have, and I’d have to face the truth of exactly how much is down there. Let’s not do that. Instead, I’ll try to break down the basic categories and include a few of our most-used items for each.
The paper used most often in my house is regular printer paper, bought in 500-sheet packs from Staples. I bet you already have some of that on hand.
For more serious drawings and for painting, I like something a little heavier, with some tooth. I try to keep a pack of Fabiano Accademia Artist Paper on hand in the larger size (I cut it down for smaller pieces). It handles all dry media and lighter paint with no problems. You can find something similar at the big box craft stores that also stock fine art supplies.
Specialty papers abound. You may want to have some water color paper on hand. You can buy really, really nice (and expensive) water color paper by the sheet, but I mostly buy pads of watercolor paper in a larger size so I can cut it down. This one by Canson is not terribly expensive, and I’ve seen it at local craft stores.
I talk more about paper in detail in this older post.
This older post covers drawing supplies quite well and more in-depth than I will here. In brief, you can use a basic #2 pencil from the office supply store for sketching. Even craft stores will have a basic set of drawing pencils (the linked post explains what those letters and numbers on them mean). We most often use colored pencils, crayons, and permanent markers (a fine point Sharpie makes a good, inexpensive, easy-to-find waterproof drawing pen). Branching out into watercolor pencils (not included in the linked post) is fun, too. You can use them as-is, leaving them dry; draw with them on dampened paper; or draw on dry paper and then wash with water for various effects.
The first thing I look for in paints is some indication of non-toxicity. Even once kids are past the stage where they may taste the paint, I don’t want to use anything potentially dangerous.
Pan watercolors are the trays you’re probably familiar with. Crayola and Prang are common student brands, and there’s nothing wrong with using those. I took a watercolor class with a local instructor and she uses Prang in her classes for kids and adults alike, and that’s what I bought to use with my co-op art class kids. They’re extremely affordable. We also have a Van Gogh travel set and a Reeves set in our art area. We use them all.
Watercolors also come in tubes (such as these), which was a revelation to me as an adult. I was told to buy gouache for one of my classes, which is an opaque (non-see-throughable) watercolor. You can also buy regular (more translucent) watercolors in tubes. You squeeze the pigment out of the tube onto a palette and add water. I loved the control this gave me. A little bit of a control freak, I added water with an eyedropper for utmost precision. (You don’t have to go that far.) I also felt this made it easier to mix colors, although the teacher in that local watercolor class showed me how easy it is to mix pan colors, too.
Then there are liquid watercolors, which are these sort of amazingly vibrant colored liquids that are extremely easy for kids to use. They’re quite intense. Finally, if you come across a Waldorf curriculum or “wet-on-wet” watercolor painting instructions, they often use Stockmar watercolors, which you dilute to create something very similar to liquid watercolors, but the colors seem more muted—more natural, in a way.
Tempera—the sort you can find in squeeze bottles in any kids’ craft section—is fine for many painting projects, but the colors rarely mix well. This is not my choice for anything “special.” It tends to flake as it dries and can be a very frustrating paint all around. Better for pure process painting.
Tube acrylics (Liquitex Basics, for example) are great for color mixing (again, you’ll need a palette on which to mix them—a sheet of freezer paper works just fine, or an acrylic box frame, or an old plate).
Liquid acrylics, which come in small cheap bottles in craft stores, are good for painting rocks, wooden items, and even clothing, but they’re only so-so on paper.
I think that’s a good start. If you have colored pencils, watercolors, a fine-point black Sharpie, and a basic #2 pencil, you can get pretty far in your art explorations. Please leave a comment or email me (kidsinthestudio at gmail dot com) with any questions and I’ll do my best to help.