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
Set up a drop cloth.
This could be:
a few yards of colorful oil cloth
old sheet, inexpensive shower curtain
kids drop cloth
or canvas painter’s 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.
Fill paint containers with a small amount of paint (about 1/3 cup).
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.
Cover your child in a smock.
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.
Have one paint brush per cup.
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.
Use spill-proof paint cups.
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.
Step back and enjoy the process.
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.
Clean Up is a snap
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.
Great post! Beautiful pics of your kids painting. i have tons of pics of my daughter painting. Â The easel has been in the basement for a while and hasn’t been used in a long time…..time to bring it up! It seems when kids are older easels are not used as much, Â but yet Painters use them all the time….hmmm? What do you think?Â
My daughter will tell me if she wants to paint at the table or the easel. For ages now, she’s chosen table, and I think it’s because the variety of paints is greater at the table. The easel is always tempera, always the same size paintbrushes–I’m guessing if we figured out a way to change it up at the easel as much as we can at the table, she might be more interested again. And my older kids, I think, see the easel as mostly a little kid tool, because it’s set to her height–and also because there’s no variety there.
Well, I’ve evolved. When my older kids were younger, we didn’t have a good place for the easel, so it wasn’t out much, and that frustrated me. I ended up setting up a painting space in a corner of a room, with a drop cloth on the floor and a big sheet of cork (the kind you can buy in rolls at an office supply store) nailed to the wall. We could tack a big piece of painting paper to the walls, and the paints were on a table right there. My middle child explored tints and shades there, learning for himself what happens when one color is mixed with white and black. So–that’s to say, if you don’t have room for a big easel, be flexible and work with what you have.
Now, the easel is available all the time. My youngest used it much, much more when she was more toddlerish, and I loved that it was always set up, because often she’d paint only for 10-15 minutes, and the set-up and clean-up were minimal (and she helped as well).
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Amy. I think I’m in a similar place to where you were. We used to have the easel out all the time, but it just didn’t seem to have a real home and my older daughter had no interest in it. Easy decision to pack it away. I also think that some children naturally gravitate to easels more, making it more appealing to keep them up all the time. My youngest is definitely that child, and my challenge is to find her some room or hope for good weather!
This is a great post – tomorrow I’ve written about a painting just for painting sake and in it I talk about needing an easel. I’m off to link up to this post. I love Easel painting but agree that it needs a recipe to get it to work effectively.
Unlike in my teaching rooms where I have had space to have easel’s and chalk boards available constantly at home this isn’t so, space is limited and like everything at the moment it’s a case of take out and put away so the recipe really works for those circumstances.
I’m looking forward to the summer though where in the garden I will be able to have the easel out and in constant use there it doesn’t matter if the grass gets painted as long as we’re using washable paints.
For more than one reason, I look forward to summer too 🙂 Thanks for sharing this with your readers. Look forward to reading your post.
At home we have our easel out all the time – it fits just right beside the fridge in the kitchen – but we always use it with pens, pencils and crayons. I some times draw something on there myself to give the kids an invitation to notice it again: maybe just some circles with a face in just one of them. At our creche where the kids are 1 1/2 – 3 years old we have the paint easel out all the time and despite their young age we never have spills on the floor. I think a shelf with deep edges to hold in the paint pots really helps.
I’m glad you chimed in, Cathy. If we had room in our kitchen, the easel would most definitely live there. Proximity to the sink and easy-wash floors make this the ideal spot.Â
Cheap Linoleum floor in the kitchen + steam mop and painting is stress free at our house. Easy access to the sink and lots of counter space for artwork to dry.
As I was just saying to Cathy… 🙂
I love this post! Can you tell me where you got your matching apron and mat? They are super cute!
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