Art Critters with String and Markers

Today I’m sharing a new twist on a project I shared a few years ago: Shape Monsters for Halloween. If this looks like a fun project for your child, I’d encourage you to check that post out as well to see how a 3-year old might interpret this prompt.

The set-up is simple (you may know that I LOVE simple), and the open-ended nature of this project encourages creative thinking, experimentation, and fun.
Make an art critter, art project for kids that encourages creative thinking

Supplies for Art Critters

This list contains affiliate links – I only share products that I love.

  • String, approximately 24″ long
  • Markers or your favorite drawing tool. My favorite marker for young children is Crayola washable markers. Crayola Super Tips were used in this project.
  • Scissors. I’m a fan of Fiskars. They also have fantastic left-handed scissors.
  • Card Stock or other heavy weight paper. Thin paper will work, too.
  • Collage paper (optional)
  • Glue stick (optional). Elmer’s Disappearing Purple is great for young children because they can see where they put the glue.


Start with a piece of string. Move it around the paper until you get a shape that you like. This could be a good time to introduce your child to the term organic shape. An organic shape is a free-form shape. Unlike a line, shapes close off at the end. In other words, a shape is a line that closes! You can look around the room or outside for example of organic shapes such as trees, flower petals, shoes, and squishy pillows.
Make an art critter, art project for kids that encourages creative thinking

Once you are happy with the shape. Draw a line around it with a marker or tool of choice.

Make an art critter, art project for kids that encourages creative thinking

Remove the string. Look at the shape for clues about how to build a critter. You might try moving the paper around to find the right direction for your critter. Add eyes, horns, tails, patterns, etc.

Be creative and have fun!


Fun art project for kids make art monsters.jpg

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m co-hosting a drop-in art making workshop this Saturday, November 7 from 2-4 pm with Ann McMillan of DrawPaintStudio.

We’ve met so many adults at our events who love to make and create, so we decided that this will not be just for kids. Kids are, of course, MOST welcome, but why should they have all the fun? All ages welcome!

Please stop by and say hello.


art critters this saturdayj

Frozen Chalk Paint – an Art Provocation

If you’re fighting against hot weather and could use a creative activity that will get you outdoors, frozen ice chalk is a wonderful way to explore the intersection of art and science with little ones…on a hot day.

How to make frozen chalk paint with corn starch

How to Make Frozen Chalk Paint

Making up a batch of frozen chalk paint is easy, and you can make it with ingredients that you probably already have at home, which is the best in my opinion. I was inspired by this recipe at Reading Confetti.

This post contains affiliate links. 

How to make frozen chalk with corn starch | TinkerLab

Supplies: Frozen Chalk Paint

Corn Starch, also known as Corn Flour in the U.K.

Liquid watercolors. I like this brand. The colors are bright and they’re non toxic. India Tree makes a set of natural food coloring that is lovely if you’re looking for something all-natural.

Ice Cube Tray/s. I found this set of 3 trays (stars, flowers, and mixed shapes) that are similar to mine, and a good deal for all three.


Mixing Bowl


frozen chalk with corn starch

Instructions: Make Frozen Ice Chalk

  1. Mix 1 part corn starch with 1 part water.
  2. Add food coloring or liquid watercolors until you reach the desired color.
  3. To make multiple colors, mix in smaller bowls or simple add the food coloring directly to the ice cube tray.
  4. Pour into the mold.
  5. Freeze.
  6. Pop out and play.

A quick note about frozen chalk: Food coloring and liquid watercolors, mixed with corn starch, can temporarily stain sidewalks. Ours left a beautiful rainbow on the sidewalk for couple weeks. It looked lovely and we didn’t mind, but it’s something to keep in mind if you have a precious surface that you want to preserve.

Play with Ice Chalk Paint - A Sensory Experience for Preschool

Play Ideas for Frozen Chalk

  1. Place them on a sidewalk and watch them melt
  2. Draw with the chalk
  3. Place different colors near each other and make guesses about what color the melting chalk will turn into as the paint mixes (see photo below)
  4. Offer a stick to push the frozen chalk around with

Frozen chalk paint sensory experience for preschool

More Homemade Art Supplies that you can Make

Salt and Flour Paint – Just as it sounds, you will only need salt, flour, and food coloring

Easy Egg Tempera Paint – This gorgeous paint dries with a slight shimmer.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Paint – This may be the most delicious paint recipe ever.

More Art Provocations

If you are looking for more art provocations like this, the Creative Table Project is filled with tons of ideas that you can implement right away.


Bark Painting Craft with Watercolor Paint

Bark Painting Craft - This is a fun and frugal way to bring more painting into your life.

We did a fair bit of traveling this summer and one of our trips took us to Los Angeles to visit family. Because we try to travel light, there is always a resourceful eye out for easy-to-do art projects with materials we find along our journey.

My parents happen to have this gorgeous tree on their property, which prompted a Bark Painting Craft. While I’ll focus mainly on bark here, you can borrow this idea for leaves and palm fronds as well.

Maybe even coconuts?!

find a tree

The first thing you’ll want to do is find a tree that sheds bark. As some healthy trees grow, the bark thickens and the old bark will peel off. It can often be found scattered around the base of the tree and loosely falling off the trunk. I’m not sure what kind of tree this one is. Any ideas?

Trees that shed bark:

  • Sycamore
  • Silver maple
  • Birch
  • Redbud
  • Shagbark hickory
  • Scotch pine

You can read more about why sycamores shed bark at the NYC Parks and Recreation page.

Bark painting lesson plan

Next, set up a painting area. I love this travel watercolor paint set from Sakura (affiliate). It comes with a cool refillable brush that you can load with water so you don’t have to pack a bowl of water for traveling. Neat! Because my kids and I share the set, we also pack a bunch of our favorite watercolor brushes. If you’re ever at the Metropolitan Museum, look in the kids’ art area for the black brush we have in this post. It’s fabulous and affordable!


bark painting

And finally, paint. Let your imagination go!

bark painting craft

Paint circles, patterns, faces, dots. There are so many options. Each piece of bark has its own unique shape that might lend itself to a certain design.

Bark painting lesson plan

If you want to keep on going, find some leaves to paint!

Bark and leaf painting

For another twist on Bark Painting, you’ll want to know about the Mexican craft of Amate Bark Painting. See this Lesson Plan from Incredible Art Department for more on that.

More Nature Crafts

With a little bit of acrylic paint and a skinny brush, you can paint up a storm of adorable leaf critters.

Adorable leaf critters, the perfect Fall art activity.

This post is also part of a series of 20 Nature Crafts, hosted by Red Ted Art. 

Yesterday, Maggy from RedTedArt shared this sweet, colorful driftwood seashell rattle, and tomorrow Ana at Babble Dabble Do will share these lively painted rocks. I can’t wait to learn how they’re made!

Nature crafts for kids

Thanks for joining me today, and, if you enjoy Nature Crafts like these, be sure to check out all of the other posts in this series of 20 ideas.  Or simply pin the next image so you can come back and check them all out later.

20 Creative and Fun Nature Crafts for Kids

Wishing you a week filled with creativity, Rachelle

Camouflage Coloring Pages | A Creative Table Prompt

Camouflage Coloring Pages on TinkerLab

My older daughter and I gathered up crayons and colored pencils to play around with camouflage designs the other morning. I shared an image of our progress on Instagram and Facebook, and asked if anyone would like to play with some camo images. The answer was “yes,” so I  pulled a printable together for those who are interested.

Camouflage Coloring Pages on TinkerLab

Coloring in Camouflage

The idea is simple.

  1. Collect 4 or 5 colors from the same hue together. These can be colors from the red family or green family, for example. Seen below: turquoise, light blue, grey-blue, royal blue, and blue.
  2. Fill in the bumpy sections with your choice of color.

Camouflage Coloring Pages on TinkerLab

My daughter had fun sorting all of our crayons and colored pencils into families of colors. Once she saw what we had to work with, she could see what colors she wanted to use. Camouflage Colored Pencil combinations

And then we just had fun with it, relaxing with the colors. Not worrying too much about it. It was a great activity for the morning, and could be a nice drawing prompt for a lazy afternoon.Camouflage Coloring Pages on TinkerLab

Why I like this project

  1. Children learn how to group colors by hue
  2. It’s a relaxing drawing activity
  3. The result is fun to look at
  4. It teaches an aesthetic appreciation of camouflage

History of Camouflage

Camouflage painting of uniforms unofficially launched during the Spanish-American war when troops smeared mud on their blue uniforms to become less obvious targets. This article form USA Today, A brief history of U.S. Military Camouflage, will tell you more about the evolution of camouflage.

Camouflage Coloring Pages Printable

This printable is on sale for a limited time. Print yours here today!

Camouflage Coloring Page Printable on TinkerLab


The Best White Pens for Black Paper

The Best White Pen for Writing and Drawing on Black Paper

Writing and drawing with white pens on black paper is a fun way to add some pizzaz to a drawing practice. In our traditional black on white world of mark-making we’re accustomed to putting dark marks on white paper, and perhaps it’s the tonal reversal that’s compelling and unique about white on black drawings. However, finding a good white pen that will show up on black paper can be a challenge. At least it was for me, and I wanted to spare you the hours and expense of trying and testing a ton of pens that might prove disappointing.

A few months ago we invested in a big roll of black paper to cover our art tables. This paper is fantastic. It’s heavier than wrapping paper and thinner than Kraft paper, so it does a nice job covering the table without being too difficult to secure with tape.  With the tables covered, we were itching to draw on it with opaque pens, and white ones in particular. Check out White Drawings on Black Paper to see the drawing prompt that kicked off our search for the best white pens.

After a few false starts with pens that faded against the bold black backdrop, I picked up some white pens at the local craft store. Unfortunately, these pens didn’t cover the paper well and one skipped spots as I wrote. Hmmm. There must be a better pen out there!

It turns out that not all white pens are created the equal.

This prompted to me to do a little digging to find the best white pen for black paper.

The best white pens | TinkerLab

The Best White Pens: The Testing Pool

Here’s what we worked with:

Craftsmart White Paint Pen (Michael’s Craft Store)

Recollections Signature Broad (Michael’s Craft Store)

Sakura Pen-Touch 1 mm Fine Point (Amazon)

Ranger White Opaque Pen (Amazon)

Signo Uni-ball (Amazon)

I brought my 4-year old into the decision-making process since she’s the one who actively uses the table as her own personal scribble zone.

white pen on black paper drawing

Signo Uni-ball (Amazon)
Our hands-down favorite. Since doing this test I have since ordered three more, and frequently travel with one in my bag. There’s a reason this pen gets 5-stars on Amazon. The ink runs consistently and it’s thick and opaque. It also writes like a regular pen, meaning that it’s not bulky like a paint pen. (3 for $7.50)

Ranger White Opaque Pen (Amazon)

This was our least favorite of the group. With the ball-point system, the ink came out in chunks and wasn’t smooth at all. Pass. (2 for $5.89)

Sakura Pen-Touch 1 mm Fine Point (Amazon)

This pen has to be primed by pumping the nib and up and down, to get it going. Not as bright as the Recollections pen (below), but it works. ($6.49)

Recollections Signature Broad (Michael’s Craft Store)

This pen was a favorite. It’s easy to write with the color is opaque. It’s perfect if you’re looking for something broad and thick. ($1.99)

Craftsmart White Paint Pen (Michael’s Craft Store)

This is one of the first pens we used. The ink flowed well and it was easy for my daughter to use. The only complaint is that the color wasn’t hyper-opaque. ($0.99)

the best white pen

child drawing white pen

If you come across a particularly fantastic pen or have an opinion on this topic, I would love to know about it. Share a link in the comments below.

Happy drawing!

the best white pens for drawing and writing

Phonebook Art: A Painting Meditation

“When there are thoughts, it is distraction: when there are no thoughts, it is meditation.”

-Ramana Maharshi

Phonebook Art | TinkerLab

When I was cleaning out my studio last week I came across a few phonebooks. I occasionally use them as scrap paper or throwaway sheets for printmaking, and decided that my 4-year old and I could have some fun painting on them.

We cleared some room on the table, took out our watercolors, and got busy.

Why Phonebooks are Great for Painting

  1. They are free! Woop!
  2. Because they’re free, they aren’t precious. And that’s great because it frees us up to go hog-wild and not worry one iota about ruining expensive paper.

For more videos like this, be sure to subscribe to the TinkerLab channel.

Why this is a Meditation

I’m trying to get into the practice of waking up early and taking in some quiet time to reflect, journal, and exercise. Today’s phonebook art project is an extension of that practice. Why? Meditation is the act or process of spending time in quiet thought (source). If you can turn off the inner critic, get into the zone of making, and have fun, this phonebook painting project can serve as a meditative act.

I’m a fan of Lou Reed, and I really like how he describes it:

Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. What I do is about as simple as you can get. You could just count the beads, one, two, three, with your eyes closed or open, whatever makes you happy.”

Using phonebooks, a free, disposable medium, gives us the freedom to create without adding too much value to the end product. This allows us to consider the process more deeply and get into the moment of creating.

How to set this up

  1. Clear a large work space: a table, the floor, whatever works
  2. Rip a bunch of pages out of your phonebook and spread them around the table.
  3. Set up your materials: watercolors, a water jar, a rag (for cleaning/drying the brushes), brushes
  4. Turn on music (optional)
  5. Surround yourself with inspiration. Place inspiring photos or images nearby that can act as inspiration
  6. Paint! Be free, be quick, don’t worry about perfection

Recommended Paints

Pelikan Paints OpaqueWe used our Pelikan watercolor set (affliate). It’s a double-decker box with 24 colors. The colors are bright and the variety of hues is thrilling to me. And, bonus!, it’s currently 31% off.

See it in Action

Lovely idea for relaxation through art! Paint on phonebook pages. They're free, plentiful, and free you up to experiment.


Join me!

Do phonebooks still get delivered to your address? It surprises me that we get them, but I’m seeing it as a bonus. If you get phonebooks, join me by setting aside a few minutes to make some Phonebook Art.


  • Paint on it
  • Collage with it
  • Use it for paper making
  • Cut it up and sculpt with it
  • Use it for papier mache
  • Fold it into paper airplanes that go far.
  • Look on Instagram for #phonebookart and you’ll get some ideas

Lovely idea for relaxation through art! Paint on phonebook pages. They're free, plentiful, and free you up to experiment.

Other Things you can Make with Phonebooks

Make a beautiful garland with your kids, as seen on Art Bar Blog

Turn them into sculptures as Jonathan Callan did

Take a cue from Alex Queral and draw portraits on them

Make a wreath out of the pages, as seen on A Little Tipsy

Turn it into a Pencil Caddy, as seen on Chica and Jo

Make Paper Bows, as seen on How About Orange

After you make your phonebook art, post it to Instagram with the hashtag #phonebookart.

Join the TinkerLab Community

If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the weekly TinkerLab newsletter. It’s free and we often send exclusive content and opportunities that are only available to our subscribers.

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

TinkerLab Newsletter

Art Tips and Tricks: Paint Brush Deal

This is the first of a new TinkerLab Video series called Art Tips and Tricks. In this episode I share my favorite deal for detailed paintbrushes – you won’t believe how inexpensive these are and what they were originally intended for!

Art Tips and Tricks: Amazing Deal for Detail Paintbrushes (plus, the source of these brushes may surprise you)

Art Tips and Tricks

I’ve been sharing art tips and tricks on my blog for some time, such as 24 Ideas for Cleaning up Art Messes with Children and How to Recycle Boxes into Art Panels. After a bit of brainstorming, I thought it would be fun to turn these art tips and tricks into a new video series.

You might know that I’m messing around with video. It’s been an enormous leap into the unknown, with an even bigger learning curve, but I’m having fun with it.

And isn’t having fun the point?

If you haven’t already subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can follow me here where you’ll get at least one new, inspiring video each week.

Paint Brushes from a Surprising Source

Grab this DEAL on Amazon (affiliate) here.
*Note, at the time of filming, these brushes are $3.78, which includes free shipping. These brushes ship from China and may take a week or longer to arrive.


7 Tips for Setting up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio

Art Tips: The Bits and Pieces Box

Art Tips: What to do with Leftover Paper Scraps

Tips on How to Clean Up After a Creative Session with Kids

Catch the next Episode

Check back next week for the next episode in the Art Tips and Tricks series: How to Store Tempera Paint

Art Tips and Tricks: How to Store Tempera Paint to Save Paint

The Best YouTube Channels to Follow for Creative Kids Activities

As you might know, I recently launched a new YouTube channel for TinkerLab: TinkerLab®TV. The idea behind this channel is to share videos that celebrate hands-on making that encourage creative and critical thinking skills. On my channel, you’ll find project ideas that focus on the intersection of art, science, and technology, interviews, answers to your burning creative questions, and more!

Check out my YouTube Welcome Video!

The Best YouTube Channels to Follow for Creative Kids Activities

To celebrate this launch, I’m sharing 8 YouTube Channels to Follow for Creative Kids Activities. While these are not necessarily the hugest channels out there, I’ve chosen these as places that are sure to inspire and that show great promise for growth. Shall we take a look?

TinkerLab Youtube Channel

TinkerLab TV from Rachelle Doorley is my new happy place where you’ll find videos that encourage creative thinking for kids of all ages: art activities, crafts, science projects, and tinkering ideas. The thread that runs through these is experimentation and exploration.

RedTedArt Youtube Channel

Red Ted Art from Maggy Woodley shares all sorts of crafts for kids. Cute, easy, and lots of cardboard roll ideas! So many simple ideas for repurposing natural materials and recyclables.

Babble Dabble Do YouTube Channel

Babble Dabble Do from Ana Dziengel shares imaginative handmade games with links to free printables. Her videos are some of the most gorgeous things I’ve seen on YouTube — ever!

Inner Child Fun Youtube Channel

Inner Child Fun from Valerie Deneen is full of PLAY ideas. Make your own bubble solution, how to make sidewalk chalk paint, and how to make an outdoor obstacle course. LOTS of ideas for summer fun.

Meri Cherry Youtube Channel

Meri Cherry from Meri Cherry is one of the newer pages, and I love everything I’ve seen so far. Meri is an art teacher and mom to two small girls. Her glowing tutu and waterbead videos are fantastic and beautifully shot.

Coffee Cups and Crayons YouTube Channel

Coffee Cups and Crayons from Megan Sheakoski is full of ideas that focus on learning, play, reading, and kindness! She is actually the queen of the kindness challenge, and I look forward to seeing more ideas on how we can make a difference in the world from this channel.

Kids Activities Blog on YouTube

Kids Activities Blog from Holly Homer and Rachel Miller is chock-full of easy projects that keep kids busy. And this active channel will keep you busy, too!

The Artful Parent YouTube Channel

The Artful Parent from Jean Van’t Hul is one of the newer ones on this list, but if you know The Artful Parent, you’ll understand why I’ve included it here. This channel is already sharing hands-on kids’ art activities that are simple and process-based. This is one to keep an eye on.

What an Inspiring List! 8 YouTube Channels to Follow for Creative Kids Ideas and Activities | TinkerLab

What Would You Like to See on TinkerLab TV?

If you have a chance to leave a comment on the video or here on the blog, I’ve love your honest feedback and I’d also like to know what you’d like to see me share on this channel. Thanks!

Want more?

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to subscribe to our weekly newsletter…

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids