Tools of the trade
Creativity – it’s that special spark children have. It’s self expression. It’s problem solving. It’s experimenting.
There are many, many ways to ignite the creative spark in your child. You can do it with simple things like allowing them time and space to just potter about, by limiting their screen time, and by offering ‘open-ended’ toys such as building blocks, or ‘found’ materials such as pebbles and leaves. You can also support creativity by having some art supplies easily accessible at home.
Collecting art materials doesn’t have to be a big deal. Your child doesn’t need a huge selection, they need access to a few basics, a few bits’n’pieces ready to go. If you know where to look, you may find you already have some of the following lying around.
Collect some surfaces to draw and paint on
Paper doesn’t need to be fancy – photocopy paper, an exercise book, a recycled flyer, or even a panel of cardboard recycled from a cereal box are just fine. You can find cheap paper sources - at the end of summer holidays the supermarkets sell discounted exercise books, or you can grab a quite decent sketchbook at a $2 shop. Intercept letters, envelopes and flyers on their way to your recycling bin… if it has a blank side, it’s gold. If you insist on new stuff a packet of cheap photocopy paper that’s properly stored can last for years. Cardboard is great for pasting, even panels cut from a cereal box can be used for a base. If you ever get anything framed ask the framer if they have a box of mount board off-cuts.
My kids were little before mobile phones became a time-filler so I’d always carry a notebook in my bag for impromptu scribbles created while sitting in waiting rooms or cafés. I see that much less now, but I think is a really nice creative opportunity too sweet to miss.
Gather some ‘mark makers’
You’ll already have bits and pieces around your house – a pen or pencil from your desk is fine to draw with, but offering colour opens a whole world of possibility. Short thick drawing tools are best for little hands to grip. There’s a huge array of coloured pencils on the market, but my very favourites come from the Lyra brand and are pictured above. Their soft leads come in rich colours, and while they’re not cheap they can be purchased individually at large office suppliers, so you can just collect one or two at a time. Their only drawback is that you will need to sharpen them with a blade every now and again. Oil pastels are smooth and bright to draw with and can be purchased cheaply, as can crayons which are harder and waxier in texture. Textas are fun, and if you choose the right type they can be introduced quite early on. I really like the ones with sold conical nibs (pictured below) as they make a lines in a range of thicknesses and last for years.
Collect a few paints and brushes
You only need a few basic paint colours, don’t feel you need to offer the whole rainbow each time. Ultimately most colours combine to make a murky brown, so just offer one or two colours at a time and avoid black as it tends to dominate. Tempera cakes, watercolour palettes or even liquid acrylic is fine - just make sure it’s non-toxic, water soluble and washable (to avoid regret at laundry time!) Palettes can be as simple as egg cartons or plastic lids, but a good stable water pot is paramount. Pots to have a flat bottom, and must be stable enough to hold a couple of brushes standing in water without tipping over. Stumpy brushes with short thick handles are great for little hands, but of course fingers make lovely (and irresistible!) brushes so don’t be surprised if your child prefers them. Why not?!
Spread a sheet of newspaper (scarce these days!) or re-usable sheet of plastic (such as a $2 shop plastic cloth) over your table. Any large old T-shirt or shirt makes a good art smock.
Bits’n’bobs for collage
Save scraps of wrapping paper, ribbon and fabric. Collect natural items, feathers, dried leaves and twigs. Store them all in a shoebox and throw in a glue stick – I really like the ones that go on blue, so little artists can see the sticky bits. Add a pair of kids safety scissors when you think your child is ready to experiment with those.
Make some modelling materials
Homemade playdough is fabulous stuff, and a nice big batch can last for months if you pop it away in a sealed container. There’s a simple recipe below.
1 cup of plain flour
1 cup of water
½ cup of salt
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
a few drops of food colouring
Mix together all ingredients and cook over a medium heat in a very well greased saucepan. Keep turning in the centre. The mixture is cooked when it forms one springy mass. Remove from the saucepan and, when cool enough, knead the mixture until the right texture is achieved. It will keep for several months in an airtight container in the fridge.
Art materials make wonderful gifts
Try requesting art supplies from friends and family for your child’s birthdays and Christmas gifts. Consider art materials when giving gifts to other children: grab a few lovely Lyra pencils, some paints or a packet of colourful paper. A special and affordable gift is a warm batch of homemade playdough with a couple of metal cutters. Art materials can be so much more special and useful than a plastic toy, and might be just the thing to ignite that creative spark in your little friend.