Are you completely comfortable setting up the easel and letting our kids have a go? Or would you rather hide under a pile of laundry (clean or dirty!) at the thought of setting up what could turn into painting chaos?
Despite my status as resident art mom, you may be surprised to learn that I can easily fall into both camps. Because I’ve been quick to say “no” to creative ideas, while also knowing full well that my children gain so much from unbridled art making, I want to share some thoughts on how you can maximize your art easel time in a way that can preserve your sanity.
Of course, one of the simplest things you can do is take it outdoors, but if the weather is uncooperative, I have ten tips for having a smooth indoor art making session.
First, I’ll walk you through the benefits of easel painting and then we’ll get into the tips.
I don’t leave our easel out all the time because our house is small, it quickly blends with the scenery if my children see it all the time, and lately I get a little stressed when my kids request paint. This is mostly because my one year old is learning her boundaries, and I don’t trust that the furniture and walls are yet beyond her consideration as potential canvases.
However, once the painting station is up, I breathe easy knowing that the painting area is as organized as it can be, which will help keep my toddler focus on the task at hand. And it’s worth the effort!
Benefits of Easel Painting
Through easel painting, children can:
- learn how to hold a brush
- develop control over their marks
- experiment with color mixing, paint thickness, and variations in pressure
- experience self-expression
- develop creative confidence and independence
- explore imaginative ideas
- develop hand-eye coordination and small motor control
Benefits of Color Mixing
The way art teacher Nancy Beal explains the experience of paint mixing emphasizes the importance of learning through doing.
“The paint is in charge. The paint is teaching them. You can’t teach someone to dive into a pool by saying, ‘Walk to the end of the board and jump in.’ He has to get on the diving board himself. He has to do his belly flop into the water and keep doing it until his body teaches him. It’s the same with mixing colors. You have to do it until you know that you can’t get orange by using equal amounts of yellow and red; you have to use more yellow.”
-Nancy Beal, The Art of Teaching Art to Children in School and at Home (pp. 83-84)
Can you imagine only learning colors through a color wheel or crayons? The nuance of color that can be achieved through paint is so varied!
Imagine you want to bake a cake. You probably wouldn’t dive in without first consulting a recipe, shopping for ingredients, and getting tools ready.
Similarly, the trick to successful easel time lies in planning ahead and having all of the ingredients ready.
Note: This article may contain affiliate links.
- Drop Cloth
- Easel. We use and adore the IKEA Mala easel. The main drawback is that it accommodates one artist at a time because there’s only one paint tray.
- Paint Cups
- Fat, round brushes
- Washable Poster Paint
- Large sheets of paper + Bulldog clips (if your easel doesn’t have clips) or a Roll of Paper
10 Steps for Easy Indoor Easel Painting
This could be:
a few yards of colorful oil cloth
old sheet, inexpensive shower curtain
kids drop cloth
Place the easel in an open space, away from furniture and walls.
Move furniture if needed. This will keep painty hands away from precious things.
Set up a drying area for completed work.
Have a roll of masking tape handy to tape paintings to the walls or windows
Clip art to a clothes line.
Place art on the floor.
Use a roll of paper or large sheets of paper, clipped to the easel.
If using sheets of paper, clip as many as you can to the easel so that you can easily peel completed work off and your little artist can keep right on painting without too much fuss.
You can always add more. I like to limit the number of paints with small children. In the photo (above), I gave my 16 month old two colors: one for each hand. It was perfect. She likes to paint with more colors, too, but fewer choices makes clean-up easier too!
Place the bottles of paint on a high shelf near the painting area so that you can reload as necessary.
You could also use a small apron (I always find cute, reasonable aprons at IKEA) or old clothes.
Read this article, 15 Apron Ideas for Kids, for more inspiration.
Place a brush in each pot of paint. The brush stays with the paint. If your child wants a new color, she can use the brush that goes with that color. This allows you to avoid using water cups at the easel.
You can also make these cups color-coded, to remind your child which container they could return the brush to. This can help keep colors less muddy.
Snap some photos. Drink a cup of tea. Email your best friend. Do some online shopping. Okay, dreaming just a little bit here, but it will be fairly stress-free.
When your child is done, wash hands, pick up the paint buckets + brushes and place them in the sink, wash brushes + buckets, wipe down the easel, wrap up the cloth, and put it all away for another day.
Did you find this helpful?
What camp are you in? Do you love easel painting or does the thought of it stress you out? Do you have a recipe for easy indoor easel painting?
If you want art time to be fun and exciting, but not too messy, be sure to join my newsletter where I’ll share tips for simplifying making art at home, while also supporting creative confidence and family connection.