Every year at Christmas I would get a brand new box of Crayola crayons, a rainbow of shiny factory points so full of possibilities.  I guessed my mother bought the 48 pack size because it conveniently slid into the stocking. It didn’t matter to me that the other kids got the giant 64 pack because in my day 48 still had the sharpener on the back.  This set was all I needed to be creative. 

Once,  I remember being quite upset, I didn’t get my crayons.  When I cried, my mother said, "Come on Susan, you are 40!"

A recent statistic claims that 17 billion dollars was spent marketing stuff to children.  This goes beyond toys and computers into the art supply category. Step into Michael's and see what I mean. So much stuff. Christmas all spread everywhere even before Thanksgiving. Kits and coupons and sales. It makes my head spin.

So if you are buying artsy stuff for a young architect or artist , here is my advice. Remember the  words of the famous architect Mies van der Rohe who said, "Less is more".  I doubt he meant a shopping spree to Michael’s or a child’s Christmas list. Still, the words may keep your head from spinning and help you navigate through the marketing.  Kids really don't need a lot of stuff to be creative.

Here is my very best advice ever:

  • Make art a part of your life.
  • Buy original art. It isn't as cost prohibitive as you may believe.
  • Truly you should never outgrow art making. 
  • Adult coloring is all the rage with lots of sets available from the dollar stores to the high end art supplies.  
  • Coloring is scientifically proven to improve brain functions and ease anxiety.
  • Color doodle or look at something pretty everyday.

Here is my list of what to buy kids:

  • a good smaller count set of colored pencils . They all are sold on Prisma Colors but they aren't what they used to be and  Derwent or Faber-Castell are good too. I'd opt for the water soluble type for twice the fun.
  •  a colorless blender for the colored pencils. Looks like a pencil but is a clear wax and it is what gives any colored pencil that professional blended paint like look.
  • a set of pencils with varying weights. You know standard number two pencil but the kids know that artists' pencils go up to 8 for great shading and value scale.
  • Lyra graphite stick. Looks like a jumbo crayon. It is a giant pencil in various weights. Get the water soluble type. If your child has taken a class with me, they know how to use it and  love it.
  • one good pad of mixed media paper. This heavy duty stock can be used with paint , pencil, pastel, markers , and even crayons.
  • AVOID the kits with 100 pieces or more. Artsy kids can already tell the difference and will be dissatisfied with the quality. Here there really is a difference.

Here are my few exceptions to the " less is more " rule:

  • Lots of paper. Pads, reams, or packs . Paper as opposed to a fancy sketchbook because the sketchbook can be intimidating .   A piece from a pad of paper can be ripped off and tossed away if the child is  dissatisfied with the work .  I try to teach them to save their work and work on their mistakes when we are learning. But it is also very beneficial to have a lot of paper they can tear through without any pressure to perform .  Lots of paper facilitates my philosophy about not being afraid to try and experiment . You have to make a lot of art before you make your masterpiece.  

Here is one FYI warning:

  • The big trend is Copic Markers. They are pricey and sold separately.   You’ll see a big sad face if they get the off brand . I am not sure that the quality is any better but Copic is the new status symbol especially at some schools. If your child is really into animea, manga, or character development, illustration, or fashion then you might want to invest. But if they are just enticed with the hype, your money will be better spent elsewhere. 

Here is my plug for Shop Local, Buy Local. Support Small Business:

  • Avoid the long lines, crying children, coupons, and  gimmicks. 
  • Shop Artist and Craftsman Supply. They are 100% employee owned.
  • Consult with the staff who are knowledgable and are typically artists or craftspeople who really use the stuff they sell.
  • You can buy a $20 tax deducible membership to the Halsey for your K-12 student which gets you a year long discount on supplies at A&C.
  • If the traffic or parking downtown is discouraging, shop on line.  It's the next best option to buying form the store directly. http://www.artistcraftsman.com/