Today I’m joined by the inspiring and talented Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent, who I’ve invited to kick off a new series of informative interviews that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces, or tinkering spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room, or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.
RACHELLE: Welcome, Jean! Your blog,The Artful Parent, is a huge reason why I’m blogging today. You’ve inspired many parents like me to begin their own Toddler Art Group, your writing is so friendly that I often feel like I’m chatting with you over a cup of coffee, and now, lucky for us, you’re writing a book! I’ve watched your art studio grow and change along with your children and I’m excited to have you here today to share some insights about setting up a functional home art studio.
JEAN: So glad to be here! I love your blog too, Rachelle, especially your generous approach to experimentation and creativity.
RACHELLE: Thanks! You have an adorable, functional studio space that I would love to call my own. Can you tell us a little bit about this space and how it got started?
JEAN: We moved to our house when my older daughter, Maia, was almost a year old. I’d been reading books on children’s art and wanted a space to use for art. The house is small, but there is a large laundry room at the back with a cement floor. Perfect for kids art! I painted over the fake wood paneling, gave the cement floor a coat of paint, set up a coffee table to use as a toddler-sized art table, and invited one of Maia’s toddler friends over for an inaugural art experience (feelie goop). Over time we added shelves, more art supplies, different tables, and an art drying wall.
RACHELLE: If you had to be selective, what are three things that you love the most about the space?
JEAN: Well, I truly don’t think a child needs a fancy art space in order to make art. A table and a few supplies are enough—whether they are in a corner of the living room or just at the dining table between meals. That said, here are three things I especially love about our studio:
- The wall of shelves my husband added. There are low shelves where I keep art materials accessible for the girls and also high shelves where I keep art materials that I don’t want them to use without supervision.
- The drying wall, which doubles as an art display wall.
- My IKEA adjustable tables—a generous gift from my toddler art group mamas! The table top is a wipeable laminate, which is so perfect for art.
RACHELLE: You recently posted about updating your creative space to accommodate a five-year and a toddler (and of course, the Toddler Art Group). How did you change the space to welcome children of different ages and various developmental stages?
JEAN: I was mostly just more selective about what materials I kept within reach and what I put higher. Also, I had to think about (and adjust) easel and table heights. Beyond the actual art space, I had to reconsider how and when I let my older daughter do art. The one-on-one kinds of projects we were used to were hard to do with a needy baby/toddler with us, so we started doing more simple projects and saving the more ambitious projects for naptime. I also began setting up a variation of the big sister art project for the toddler. It’s getting easier again to do a wider range of activities and Daphne is joining in more and more.
RACHELLE: Your children are prolific art-makers! What do you do with their art as they make it and how do you organize and store their completed projects?
JEAN: They certainly are prolific! And I can’t say I always keep up. I try, but the art piles up! I do have a simple storage system that has worked well for me. I use plastic storage boxes labeled with the child’s name and age. We also use artwork for birthday and holiday cards, wrapping paper, and gifts.
RACHELLE: You’ve written a lot about your favorite art materials, and I’ve discovered my favorite watercolors and paper for young children through you. What five supplies are indispensable to you and your kids at this moment?
JEAN: It’s so hard to keep it to 5!
- Liquid watercolors
- Washable tempera paint
- Homemade playdough
Those are the five that get the most consistent use. But how can I leave off contact paper?! Or collage materials? Or tape and glue?! Really, the supplies that are indispensible are whatever the kids are working with right now. How’s that for an answer?
RACHELLE: If you were only restricted by your imagination, what would your ideal children’s art space include?
JEAN: I’d have to say that our art space is pretty ideal for us right now. If I were wishing for more, I might add a sink right in the studio for washing hands and brushes. Also, morning sunlight. And a studio elf to keep it clean.
We actually don’t do the majority of our art in the studio, though. A lot of our art making and creative activities happen at the dining table or the nearby kid-sized table. There’s something to be said for having an art space (even if it doubles as an eating space) right in the thick of things and in the midst of family life.
RACHELLE: You also seem to be an avid sewer, and I know that many of us would love to find more time for our own creative pursuits. Between blogging and writing a book, how do you carve out time for your own projects? And where do you work on them?
JEAN: Ask me again in a few months!
Parenting is my priority time- and energy-wise right now and my own creative pursuits often take a backseat to what I can do with my children. But I have started to think about how I can embrace my own creativity and see what that might mean to me at this point. I’m not even sure. I’m considering trying out an evening art class and possibly a photography class. We’ll see…
RACHELLE: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
JEAN: Thank you for inviting me here, Rachelle! I hope we can talk in person someday!
RACHELLE: I hope so too; that would be so much fun. Thank you for joining us today!
Jean has graciously offered to share a 2012 Artful Parent Calendar with one lucky reader. Around the Year with The Artful Parent: Celebrating the Seasons and Holidays with Arts & Crafts” is no ordinary calendar. This one is chock-full of ideas and inspiration to keep you and your family artful throughout the coming year. Each month features at least one seasonal art or craft activity complete with photos and instructions. By keeping this calendar handy, you’ll have an attractive visual reminder to add a bit more art into your family’s life throughout the year.
Readers who leave a comment by Monday, December 19 at 9 pm PST will be entered to win a free copy of the Artful Parent calendar. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. Open internationally.