Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finding Materials, Creating Space

I love art supplies. I really do. In fact, I can likely go on record as hoarding them (just a little). Few things give me a thrill like a well-stocked art supply cupboard.

And I'm very picky about what's in it. You won't find me shopping for materials at a big box store unless I can be assured of a product's quality.

Nope, I like to get my art supplies at one of two places: a legitimate art store (usually privately owned) or a Waldorf materials supplier.

Art Stores

In BC, we're very lucky to have Opus Framing and Art Supplies on the Lower Mainland and in Victoria. And they have an online store for people who would rather shop that way! Not only do they know their stuff in terms of quality supplies, they also understand safety issues. The Opus stores have sections dedicated to materials suitable for kids. These materials are slightly cheaper and usually conform to all the necessary safety requirements for children (but do double check).

In Victoria, we have the Island Blue Print stores on Fort Street and in Sidney that offer homeschooling families an educator's discount of 10%. These are lovely stores with knowledgeable staff and good selections of supplies intended for children.

But kids (especially kids 9 and up) don't need to be limited to kids-only supplies. There is a world of wonderful artists' materials out there to explore, but only use them if they are clearly labelled non-toxic. Look for "Conforms to ASTM D-4236" or the Certified Product (CP) or Approved Product (AP) seal of the Arts and Crafts Materials Institute as these materials have been approved by a toxicologist. Look for evidence of toxic substances (lead, cadmium, nickel, mercury, arsenic, chromates, talc) in materials and don't buy anything that contains them.

California has an excellent set of Guidelines for the Safe Use of Art and Craft Materials with children. There are links on that page that are worth exploring as well.

Waldorf Supplies

There is nothing in this world that beats the smell of freshly applied beeswax crayons. Other than freshly-baked cookies. You will never buy regular wax crayons again!

I love Waldorf materials. I'm not big on Waldorf methodology, as I've witnessed grown adults weeping at a seminar for educators because they were told their watercolour paintings had been done incorrectly (wrong use of colour for the season). But the materials are fantastic.

The one-stop shop for Waldorfy art supplies is Mercurius International. You can get a good idea of what is available by cruising through their website. But if you want to buy in Canada, you'll need to contact the Mercurius Canada distributer. If you don't want to purchase the $250 minimum purchase required, there are a couple of retailers in the South Island area. Or you could get together an order with other homeschooling families in order to meet the minimum.

There are a couple of wonderful online stores to buy Waldorf materials from:

A Child's Dream Come True (US site)
Natural Pod (Canadian, based in Cobble Hill)
The Wooden Wagon (US site... wonderful wooden toys and things, too)
Waldorf.ca carries a number of the materials you can buy through Mercurius.

Materials and Storage and Space to Create

The knitty-gritty of what materials are best for which project I'll leave for another post.

But I think it's important to talk about both storage/organization of supplies and creating space where it's safe to be messy.

Kids need to have access to their art supplies and a place to use them every day, all day long. We never know when inspiration will hit and a child will need to paint a picture or create a drawing or make a stop-motion animation. The more we "schedule" art, the less likely it is to happen spontaneously (this is another reason why I believe that art classes as the "only" option for art-making actually shuts down the creative process for many kids).

Amanda Soule of SouleMama does an amazing job of keeping it all accessible for her children. She has an art cabinet where all the supplies live and where her kids can access them at any time. For many years, this cabinet was in their family eating area and the table was a catch-all location for projects and family meals (a real juggling act that she made work for her family). She's recently moved into an old farm house and there is enough room there to have a bona fide art space (although she calls it The Library). It will give you some idea of my ideal space for kids to create art. However, I must warn you, if you are prone to feelings of inadequacy as a parent and, heck, as a person, do not read further on her site. She does wonderful things but if you read about them all at once, you may end up curled into a sobbing ball in the bottom of your nearest closet. I know this from personal experience.

In our house, our art space is not the same as our eating space.

We have a kid-sized project table in the kitchen area with insta-access to drawing materials (pencils, crayons, pencil crayons, water colour pencils and crayons, different kinds of paper including construction paper, sketch books, etc.). This space is used daily for lots of different things, including crafts like needle felting, origami and beeswax sculptures.

Sometimes the floor is the best place!

Truly messy or Herculean projects happen elsewhere. This can cut down on our spontaneity, I have to admit, but it also is a big plus for my sanity and general well-being, so it's a win-win most of the time. And the majority of these big, messy projects are ones that I initiate anyway as they require materials, set-up, and, sometimes, know-how that go beyond the norm.

We have an art/science corner in a finished utility room that is crammed with Ikea disposable furniture (so not all that precious), such as these Trofast storage bins and shelves, a drop-leaf table, and wooden folding chairs. There's an child-sized art easel (that used to be upstairs, too, when it was used more) and there are plans to get a full-sized easel soon (to meet our taller painting needs). For some art supplies (finicky, small ones), we use wooden fossil boxes and small wooden drawer units to keep things organized. Paper is trickier. I either buy art paper in pads (so it's stiff and can be stored vertically between things or I store it in a large, zippered art portfolio that is wedged between a shelving unit and a wall. This far-from-perfect room also happens to have a large sink (which somewhat makes up for the lack of natural light in the room), so it makes clean-up easy, too. In order to cheer the space up, I have put colourful things on the wall like this butterfly kite and some of our favourite art prints.


I keep the supplies stocked and organized. I don't expect that my child will do that (the organizing) but what I have found is that if it's easy to find, it's more likely to happen. And there's nothing I enjoy more than beautifully stored art supplies (other than walls of filled-to-the-brim bookshelves), so it fills an aesthetic need for me, too.

But... don't ever feel that you need a separate or special space to do art. Buy a plastic drop sheet (if you are worried about your table or your floor) and let your kids go to it wherever works for your family. Find a space for art materials that your kids can easily access whenever the urge hits them to create, make sure that they have the time to be spontaneous, and you are well on your way to creating an art friendly home.