Basic Art Supplies for Kids

Basic art supplies for kidsWith bright, shiny things that pull at our attention and dollars, a visit to the craft store can be an overwhelming experience. That’s why I’m breaking the basics down for you today. If you’ve already set up your creative space, this list will help you sort out the materials to fill it.

Start with the Basics

My best advice is to keep it simple. When my first child was about 18 months old, and just starting to make marks on paper, I was over-the-moon excited to invest in gallons of paint and reams of paper. I have to admit that I went a bit overboard (we still have rolls of that first order of colorful tape…six years later), and I’d like to spare you some of the trouble I went through.

My best advice? Start with the basics. Once you have a few things in place, build from there as your child’s interests and your comfort level with making at home grow.

With young children, too many options can create a paralysis of choice, and simple is usually better than too much. When we limit the number of choices, we also set our kids up to think more imaginatively and creatively.

This list of supplies will get you started. Feel free to add other items that strike your fancy and visit our resources page for more products that we love.

This list contains affiliate links.

1. Tempera Paint

child squeezing paintTempera Paint is your basic creamy paint with a consistency that reminds you of mustard or house paint. It comes in stand-up bottles that look shampoo containers. These bottles can be squeezed onto a plate or an ice cube tray and then stamped with sponges, cotton balls, pine cones, paintbrush, you name it. I like to use washable tempera paint, for obvious reasons 🙂

If you want to go DIY on this, you can also make your own egg tempera paint with this easy recipe, which I highly recommend trying at least once.

Make an interpretation of modern artist Jasper Johns in this whole body painting experience (above).

2. White Construction Paper

painting the paper mural

Big sheets of paper are a blank canvas for multiple ideas and projects. We have plenty of 8.5″ x 11″ paper in our home, and that stuff is both easy to find and useful, but toddlers and preschoolers do better with larger paper. They don’t have the fine motor skills nailed down and their big, sweeping arm movements are more satisfying on large canvases.

This versatile paper can be used for all sorts of activities from painting at the table to taping against a fence for painting a large mural with 18″ x 24″ paper.

3. Paint Brushes

rubber band brush

If you’re painting, you’ll need some brushes, right? Of course, you can use all kinds of kitchen tools and found objects for painting, but let’s chat brushes for a sec. I have a few favorites:

This set of 5 brushes from Crayola can be used with watercolors, tempera, and acrylic paint. It’s inexpensive and versatile!

This set of 4 brushes from Melissa and Doug is excellent for easel painting and for painting with glue.

If you’re interested in detail brushes for older children and parents, check out this inside tip, and if you want to get experimental, try making your own brushes like the rubber band brush (above).

4. Crayons

Crayons as art basic supplies for kids.

Crayons are a childhood staple, no? My children now go back and forth between colored pencils and markers, but crayons were their go-to mark-making tool for years and often make an appearance on our current art table for projects such as camouflage coloring and melted crayon drawings. Just for fun I set up this poll on my Facebook page on crayons vs. markers that you might enjoy reading.

After trying a range of brands, Crayola crayons are hands-down my favorite and short crayons like Crayola Palm Crayons are good for supporting pencil grip for little hands. You can also break your crayons in half to make them more manageable for the preschool finger grip.

5. Markers

markers or crayonsWe enjoy bright markers for loads projects such as drawing art critters or a cool chromatography exploration with black markers. As I sit here typing this, there’s a container of markers sitting across from me on the coffee table, brought out for a recent card-making session.

From a pretty early age, my children preferred markers to crayons and I suspect it’s because the color from markers is much more vibrant and gratifying. For that reason, I suggest having a few different mark-making tools around to experiment with.

Crayola Pip-Squeaks are good for little hands, and I like this set of broad markers for toddlers.

6. Liquid Watercolors

How to make Goop ::

Liquid watercolors get used in so many different projects from coloring playdough to squirting it on coffee filters to homemade Goop (above) that they are easily the most used art supply in our house next to paper and markers.

The come in toothpaste-sized bottles and squeeze out of a bottle like ink or food coloring.

I love this set of 8 assorted colors made by Sax.

7. White Glue

leaves and glue painting

I have a love affair with Elmer’s Washable School Glue. I’ve tried other glues, but I’m incredibly loyal to this brand. It’s reasonably priced, non-toxic, and works like a charm.

If you have a toddler, this is an excellent beginner glue project for exploring glue, and you should also try setting up glue and leaves (above).

8. Tape and Stickers

Tape and Paper Invitation

Washi tape, paper tape, clear tape, stickers. We love it all.

I love this set of colorful paper tape from Discount School Supply, and comb the aisles of the craft store for tapes that make me smile. Especially when I have a 40% off coupon 🙂


You can make your own tape dispenser with PVC pipes or cut small pieces off for your child to easily remove (above).

9. Scissors

cut play dough with scissors

This one is pretty straight forward. Fiskars is my absolute favorite brand:

Blunt tip (above) for little kids, Pointed-tip for older kids, and  Left-handed 

And here’s a little trick for helping young children use scissors that I learned from Mary Ann Kohl’s awesome book, First Art for Toddlers and Twos: offer them fat worm forms of play dough to cut up (above). It’s much easier than cutting paper, and a rewarding experience!

10. Play Dough.

The best play dough recipe |

Play dough is a staple! I probably should have put it first on the list because it’s just that good and useful. There’s a sensory experience around playdough that children adore. You can squash it, roll it, build with it, “cook” with it, and add toys to it as seen in this post.

I’m pretty sure I learned how to make the Best Play Dough Recipe from First Art for Toddlers and Twos (see above), and have since seen this same recipe used by every single preschool teacher I know. It’s amazing, pliable stuff that lasts for ages and it’s completely non-toxic. If you’re interested in buying play dough, I really like this eco-friendly plant-dyed option from Eco Kids.

11. Treasures

gluing feathers small

Treasures are objects that delight such as feathers, sequins, and pom-poms. This is probably stating the obvious, but please be cautious when using small objects with young children. I don’t want your child to curiously poke a bean up her nose in the name of creativity. 🙂

I fill clear plastic jars (so that we can easily see what’s inside) with things like buttons, beads, pom-poms, and feathers.

12. Recyclables

Art tip: Save cardboard pieces for art making | TinkerLab

Recyclables are FREE, don’t require a trip to the store, and help us do our bit for sparing the environment from new materials.

What to collect:

13. Low-heat glue gun

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge |

If you have a child who likes to build things, a low-heat glue gun is a tool you will love having. The tip doesn’t get enormously hot and it can be used to easily and quickly attach sculptural items together.  You can start with making recycled art sculptures and work your way up to making found object critters.

14. Easel

one year old painting at the easel

When young children are invited to paint, they’re often more comfortable working at an easel where their arms can have a full range of motion.

We love our reasonably priced IKEA Mala easel (above), which we painted to give it a little bit of personality.  I also like the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Easel includes trays on both sides so that two children can create simultaneously.

With the easel you can either use a roll of paper or the large 18″ x 24″ construction paper mentioned in the paper section.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you! For more ideas on basic tools and tinkering supplies, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my book: TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors.

Make art with us!

TinkerLab Saturdays at Cubberley Community Center, Palo Alto

You might not know that behind the blogging scenes, I’m also an art educator and make art in a sunny studio in Palo Alto, CA. Our home is tiny and I’m blessed to have a little extra space to stretch into.

The studio is a converted classroom in what was once Palo Alto’s Cubberley High School. After being open for a little over 20 years, it closed in the 1970’s and all of the old classrooms have since converted into community spaces such as preschools, art studios, community college classrooms, dance studios, and even a Chinese reading room. The complex is a rich collection of cultural wonders, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

cubberley high school hallway

Sharing the Space with the Community

One goal of TinkerLab is to create a community that celebrates each of us as makers.Toward this end, I’ve been opening my studio to families as a space for hands-on making. After taking a break for summer, we’re bringing back a series of FREE maker afternoons where families are invited to experiment and explore with different materials and ideas.

The next drop-in workshop will be Saturday, September 26 from 2 – 4 pm and I hope to see you there.

See below for all of the upcoming dates.

Art making workshops with TinkerLab®

Workshop Description

Drop-in Art-Making Saturdays. Think like an artist and get inspired to create new works of art in TinkerLab Saturdays, a fun, interactive workshop for families with children ages 3 and up. Drop into our studios any time between 2 and 4 p.m. to create new projects based on the monthly theme. Presented by artists Ann McMillan and Rachelle Doorley. Free. Just show up! Children must be accompanied by an adult. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Find us on the map.

  • September 26
  • November 7
  • December 12
  • January 9
  • February 6
  • March 5
  • April 30
  • June 4

Drop me a line if you have any questions or if you’d like to talk with me about hosting a private workshop for your group.

Cheers, Rachelle

p.s. If you’re looking for fun and simple art projects to try with your drop-in family workshop, try rolling marbles in paint (toddlers LOVE this one) or easy homemade stickers.

Party Dresses in the Art Studio

We’ve been in our new art studio for about two months, and it’s starting to feel like our second home. I’ve been busy planning and prepping for workshops and a keynote talk, so there hasn’t been as much making time in the space as I would like, but we’ve managed to spend a fair amount of time tinkering, crafting and making over there. Here’s a little sampling:

Art Projects at TinkerLab

Homemade journals, sewing stuffed animals with my 4-year old, crafty Saturday with my brother-in-law, Painting salt dough ornaments. 

To celebrate our new digs, our friends at Poppy England sent my kiddos (and me!) party dresses to wear in our new space. And they’re rad!

Poppy Dresses on TinkerLab

I was first introduced to Poppy England’s dresses when I was lucky enough to win a contest hosted by Maggy Woodley of Red Ted Art. (If you don’t know Maggie’s site and you love crafting with kids, you’ll want to bookmark it). As the winner of Maggy’s contest, Poppy sent my older daughter the sweetest dress from the Boats and Floats collection (see image below). She loved it so much that she wanted to wear it for her first day of school. Awww.

Boats and Floats Poppy England

Since that wonderful introduction, I’ve become a full-0n Poppy fan, and we’re excited to share our new party dresses (and a peek into our slowly-coming-together studio) today.

My kids love any excuse to take photos (as in, they love to be behind the camera), so I set up a tripod and let them have at it. They were entertained.

Kids in the art studio |

And here’s the photo they captured of me. Not bad!

Poppy Dresses on TinkerLab

I should mention that the fabric of these dresses is beyond cool…and very thoughtful. I selected my dress for the hardware pattern, which seemed too apropos for our new studio. Take a look at the little hammer, power drill, and and wrench details. Charming!

My girls picked out matching snowstorm patterns. The grey and black fabric is punctuated with balloons that are little bursts of yellow and lime green. These sweet linen dresses would be so cute for winter holiday parties.

Art Studio Party Dresses on TinkerLab

The kids caught me with this sort of pensive, confused look, which is probably how I look all the time. If you know me, you’ll have to let me know 🙂

Artist, Rachelle Doorley in Art Studio | TinkerLab

And after that bit of photo-taking passed, we were back to our usual silly, maker selves.

Poppy Dresses on TinkerLab

You can see how the studio is filling out. I’m trying to keep it somewhat clean and empty because lots of space keeps my head clear. Here’s a look at how it looked when we first started to move in:

Artist Rachelle Doorley in Art Studio |

And my favorite is this time lapse of us pulling all the furniture in:

Thanks, Poppy England, for helping us make our new maker home so much fun!

Girls’ Dresses: Martha Snowstorm in Grey

My dress: Ava Long Sleeves in Hardware

Gift Ideas: tons of unique products that would be perfect stocking stuffers.

Bonus: Poppy England is offering TinkerLab readers a special 15% off discount with the code TINKERLAB15, which ends on January 7, 2015.

A question for you: Which Poppy England Dress is YOUR favorite?

click here for all of their dresses.



A New Art Studio for TinkerLab

TinkerLab Art Studio

A New Art Studio

Last night I was officially introduced to my new art studio! It’s a gorgeous space, formerly occupied by my friend Cristina Velazquez, who’s working on a large-scale installation with over 400 unwanted VHS tape. (If you live in the Bay Area and want to join her for a VHS tape knit-in this week, more details can be found here.)

I applied to be an artist in the Cubberley Artists’ Studios Program in Palo Alto earlier this summer, and recently learned that I was granted a spot! I’ve been eyeing these spaces for YEARS, and to say that I’m excited about moving in is an understatement.

The program is housed in the former Cubberley High School complex, along with other community-based programs such as preschools, dance classes, and continuing education classes. It’s a remarkable reuse of what might have been an otherwise vacant space, and I’m honored to soon be a part of this community magic.

They hosted a welcome event last night where I found out which studio would become the new home of my art initiatives and big tinkering plans. Most of the 28 artists were there, and a highlight was getting to peek into all of the incumbent artist studios. I didn’t get permission to share any of their spaces (yet) and hope to introduce you to some of them in the upcoming months.

My Former Art Studio

As you might know, I’ve been working out of our small home for the past many years 🙂 You can take a look at our current maker space here. I love this space, but it has been getting cramped, and it will be SO nice to reclaim my home for, you know, living in.

My kids will undoubtedly continue to make this space their own, but I’m sure they’ll also make their way into my new studio since I don’t do a very good job at separating my work from them. As such, I have a feeling that the content of this blog may reflect some of these physical changes.


In case you’re not already privy to the awesome spaces I’ve been sharing here, you might enjoy the Tinkering Spaces Series. These are largely home and community-based spaces that support tinkering and making.

More Art Studios on TinkerLab

I’m obviously an enthusiastic proponent of art studios — either at home or off-site — and I’m eager to make this topic a larger part of TinkerLab. If you have a moment to fill out this QUICK survey, I’d be so grateful!