Evolution of the Art Table

Over the course of a week, our art table gets worked pretty hard.

My kids begin almost every morning with some kind of making that may involve markers, colored pencils, tape, glue, or paint. And then there’s the occasional snack or meal that go along with art-making when my girls are too busy to stop the magic for food.

I thought it might be fun to take a look at how the table evolves throughout the week.

Here we go…

Evolution of the Art Table: See how a child's craft table changes over the course of a week.

I’m attracted to the fresh start of clean, brown craft paper. Even though the surface of our art table is covered with paint stains, I find that the paper covering gives my children (and me) more freedom to drip paint, and along with that comes peace of mind.

I’m often asked about our craft paper — I pick it up at our oversized hardware store for about $14/roll. If you’d like to order some online, this craft paper on Amazon looks like it’s the same product.

Ah, isn’t that clean table-top lovely?!

A few days later, the table is covered with dry paint drips, watercolor splits, and pencil marks. My kids sometimes take this as an opportunity to use the craft paper itself as inspiration for new pieces of art.

Evolution of the Art Table: See how a child's craft table changes over the course of a week.

At some point we deem that the soaked/torn/dirty craft paper has served us well and we roll it up to recycle. We then spend a day or two with dry media like markers, stickers, and crayons.

And breakfast. That’s important too.

Evolution of the Art Table: See how a child's craft table changes over the course of a week.

Finally, we’re ready to get back to painting and otherwise mucky art, so I recover the table and make it an inviting scene once again.

Evolution of the Art Table: See how a child's craft table changes over the course of a week.
Evolution of a Child's Art Table: How the art table changes over the course of a week.

A question for you…

How does your art table transform across a week? And do you cover your art table with paper?


If you liked this post, you might enjoy checking out the Creative Table Series and How to Organize a Self-Serve Art Space.


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Organize a Self-Serve Creativity Zone

“The drive to master our environment is a basic human characteristic from the beginning — from birth.”

-Jack P. Shonkoff, Harvard University (From Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky. New York: Harper Collins, 2010).

Do you have self-serve spaces in your home that are dedicated to creativity, art, science, and tinkering? Today I’m sharing our creative zone, the space where most of our art and creative explorations take place.

The key to this space is that it’s all self-serve. I jump in and participate, of course, but my kids know where everything is and it’s all accesible to their little hands. And they’re capable of cleaning it up when they’re ready to move on to the next thing.

We live in a small home, and I’m not suggesting that our plan will work for everyone, but the general spirit of it is something that I think we can all stand behind: when children can execute on their own ideas, it builds their confidence and encourages curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.

My objective is to give my children room to take charge of this space in order to test and follow through on their big ideas.

This space has moved all over our house, but for now it’s in our dining room space, just off the kitchen. It’s perfect for us because the light is the best in the house and there’s room for our self-serve art supply furniture. The table and chairs (Pottery Barn) are sturdy, meaning that grown-ups can comfortably sit in them and there’s plenty of natural and artificial light.

In order to execute on their ideas, children need to have access to creative materials, so all of ours are stored on low shelves where my kids can find them (and then, theoretically, put them away). Having a garbage can (Ikea) in the space is also key to keeping it neat. I don’t know why it took me so long to get a waste basket for this area!

Not all of our creative materials are stored here: I keep less-often-used materials like bottles of paint and play dough tools in a closet and the garage. I also introduce new materials when my children seem to tire of what’s in the space — maybe once a week. This week our table is consumed with a big batch of slime! If you’re interested, you can watch our video tutorial on how to make slime here.

There’s a letter writing center on top of one of the book shelves, which includes envelopes, cards, small homemade booklets, string + tape (both in action at the moment), a stapler, art dice, compass, and an address stamper. Next to this is a 3-tiered dessert tray, repurposed to hold collage materials and stamps.

Beneath this shelf is storage for clean recycled materials (including a phone book that just arrived — I can’t believe they still make these!), sketchbooks, a magnifying glass, and this hammering activity.

Next to the shelf is a unit of drawers, and one of them is dedicated to my kids and their creative pursuits. It’s filled with various tapes, extra clear tape (we race through this stuff), scissors, hole punchers, extra scissors (because mine constantly walk away, like socks in the laundry), my card readers, and a few other odds and ends. This drawer is in flux, but for now it’s working for us.

The other day I set out this invitation of pre-cut paper and a bowl of stickers to greet my kids when they woke up. So simple and it took me three minutes to arrange it. When my kids saw the table, their imaginations turned on and they got right to work, dreaming up all sorts of possibilities as they pulled various materials out to help them realize their visions.

More Creative Zone Inspiration

Organize your Art Station

New Creative Studio Corner

Art Supply Organization

Organizing Art Supplies: Day One

Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

Organizing Art Supplies: Pantry Labels

Art Table in the Living Room

What are your self-serve tips and tricks?

Bonus: 50 Art Materials for Toddlers

50 Art Materials for Toddlers is a fun post that rounds up our favorite supplies for little hands. We asked our readers to share some of their favorites, which are added in the comments. See what you think!

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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

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Scanner Art Experiments

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in February, 2011.

This low-mess project kept my preschooler busy for a whole morning. Lots of fun for curious kids!

scanner art experiments

Not too long ago we had a big print job in our home, which peaked my daughter’s interest in the printer. The noises, lights, and moving paper were all new and exciting, I’m sure. Every time I printed something, she volunteered to rescue it from the machine. So we set up a scanning project, just for her. For the first run, we helped her select some objects to scan. Once she got a hang of it, she was off on her own!

Setting up materials on the printer bed.

Soooooo exciting!!

She experimented with different materials: puzzle pieces, acorns, baker’s twine, and her own hands. And she experimented with different colors of paper.

While this quickly became HER project, I was lucky enough to be invited to join her.

If you don’t have a printer/scanner, you could easily do this in your local printshop (which we’ve done too!). N thought this was cool field trip. I think she liked the big machines, the whirling sound of copies as the come out of the printer, and the novelty of it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Cause and Effect: How placement of objects on scanner affects the image output
  • Exploring the functions of machines and how they can help us
  • Composition and Selection: Making choices about what objects to place, and in which location

You might also enjoy

Follow my Tinkering board on Pinterest

Your turn!

Have you tried scanning with your kids? If this inspires you to do some scanning, please come back with your stories with me.

This post was shared at We Play @ Childhood 101. Go ahead, give it a click for more play ideas.

Why We Would Be Lost Without Tape

Are you a “Tape House?”

We love tape in our house, and it gets used for just about everything: taping up wax paper sandwich bags, taping labels to things, taping art table creations together, taping up marble runs, taping up whimsical installations. A roll of clear tape is a fixture on the art table and we have a big box full of colorful paper tape (this tape from Discount School Supply is amazing) that enables my children to realize some of their big ideas. And painter’s tape is irreplaceable for taping up furniture and things that can’t stand up to too much stickiness.

Here’s an example:

We have a basket of diecast vehicles thats almost never taken out, but my one year old wanted to play with airplanes so we got the planes going. I saw this as an opportunity to “paint” some runways on our coffee table with blue painter’s tape.

My older daughter thought this was a great idea, but she had her own thoughts as well. I’m sure that many of you can relate!

First, she requested shorter pieces of tape and blocked my runways off with those vertical lines you see in the photo.

So, I abandoned my runway idea and made some cute little parking spaces.

That was also shot down.

N then blocked my runway with a big “X” so that the plane wouldn’t get away. I didn’t take it personally.

And then I learned the real reason for all this independent thinking!

Apparently a category 5 hurricane was on its way, and the plane was in danger of getting blown away. For extra safety, it was securely taped to the back of a large truck whose windows were also taped shut.

You know, because windows can shatter in a hurricane.

And if that wasn’t enough, the truck + airplane combination was carted off, dropped into a basket, wrapped in a blanket, covered with a pillow, and then sat on…

so that they wouldn’t blow away.

And all this started with a little bit of tape.

Now isn’t that a great way to spend $3?!

I really want to pick up some washi tape like this. Have you used it? Do you have a favorite brand?

What about you? Would you be lost without tape, too?


Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

This is the second edition of a new series where I’m sharing my messy spaces and process of organizing as I strive to build a more beautiful, accesible, and relaxing space for living and creating (here’s the first post). My friend and professional organizer, Jillian, is spearheading this project — it helps to have company — and this week we tackled so many things: art supplies, coat closet, office supplies, and toy bins. I’ve taken at least three trips to the thrift store (sad…I’ve lost count…shows you how badly I needed to go through this!) and I’ve learned so much about myself and my home along the way!

For our first project, we tackled these catch-all drawers that are home to mailing supplies and office materials. Now everything has a home. Ah, breathing sigh of relief. If you’re planning to join me with your own urge to purge, I recommend beginning in a small area like this. It won’t overwhelm you and you’ll have results in super-quick-no-time. The strategy, really, is to toss/donate/sell anything that you won’t use or have duplicates of. And it helped that I already had the drawer sorters. You’ll need little boxes or sorters to keep small things in their own tidy areas.

I realize now that I’ve been cleaning and organizing AROUND my clutter, which takes so much time and effort. Effort to clean, effort to find things, effort to put things away. It boils down to the plain fact that we have too much stuff, so this first step has been all about clearing the clutter. And once the clutter is gone we’ll have room to dream up fun ways to maximize our space.

Here’s a good example:

Eeek! Overstuffed coat closet!

If your first thought isn’t “Horror,” it could very well be, “you live in California; Why on earth do you have so many winter coats?!”

The same closet, looking down. This may actually be the worse view of the two.

We use the closet for a lot things, but it’s time to clear it out so we can find the best way to use it. Jillian suggested that once it’s empty it would be a great place to it to store our art-making supplies, which is why I’ve been pinning all of these fab art storage closets. Yes to that!

I think N overheard this conversation because the next day she and her entourage set up shop in the now almost-empty closet. They sat there in their self-proclaimed art studio, happily tinkering away with newly-found rolls of paper and markers. This process is hard and time-consuming, but I can already see that it’s worth it!

Have you been inspired to purge? What do you do with all that stuff?

Are you challenged by space limitations? Do you struggle with having too much stuff? Have you succeeded at paring things down, and have a space that inspires you?