Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Art Closet

Wanna peak in my closets?  There is something about homeschooling that just makes us all giddy about looking in other homeschooler's closets.  Or maybe that's just me.  Today is your chance to nose around inside our art closet, or if I want to try and sound classy...part of our atelier.  

Taking my cue from Susan Striker's book, Young at Art and from one of my favorite blogs, The Artful Parent, my approach to art in our home is as follows:

  • give the child free access to a high-quality, well-stocked collection of art supplies
  • show them how to retrieve, care for, and clean up the supplies
  • let them use the supplies without imposing your ideas of how the material should be used
  • follow Susan Striker's "10 Cardinal Rules for Teaching Creative Art"

Yes, we house our art supplies in a closet. Many will advocate having the art supplies on open shelving, not behind closed doors...especially if they are bandying the word atelier around.  Well...the boys are in this closet so often that the door is ALWAY OPEN anyway.  It's driving me crazy. I've been wishing it had an "auto-close" feature like the doors on a minivan.  An advantage of the door is that it can be closed when we have other young visitors who don't know how to care for the supplies or our home.  You may remember that I have an "uncontrolled-art-supplies phobia."

Door open or door closed, our art closet is well-situated in the front entryway of our home.

Yes, we've replaced the closet doors since we moved in but haven't gotten around to replacing the casing or baseboards to match the new trim around the front door.  I also plan to eventually add some wainscoting and change the light fixture.  Not that you care, but the trim driving me nuts in this photo.

To take this photo, I am standing at the kitchen table where most of our art takes place.  However, I am facing the front door and if you were to walk toward our front door and turn right you would walk directly into our school room (only 10 ft from the closet).  This means the materials are as easily accessed from the school room as they are from the kitchen.  This is why you won't find art shelves in our school room.

We don't have the luxury of an entire room in our home dedicated to art, but I've tried to prepare the environment so that art can happen in the spaces we have. Our Standing Easel has been mounted on wheels and can be easily pushed around the house by a child so that they have freedom of location (but no paint on the carpet!).  Our laundry room is right off of our kitchen as well so the boys (and I) have easy access to the laundry sink for washing paint brushes and the like.

It's really hard to get a good photo of the closet's interior in its entirety because it's in a hallway and I can't get far enough away from it.

I stood on the stairs to snap this one so you could get your bearings.  The rest of the photos are close-ups.  The concept of an atelier (a well-stocked space provided so that children can create art at will) is often credited as a Reggio idea and some go out of their way to say it is not a Montessori idea.  I agree that an atelier seems to be a standard part of a Reggio classroom.  I also agree that often times the impulse to "set up work on trays" in a Montessori environment sadly leads to a lot of assembly-line style crafts rather than "art."  However, I have seen many photographs of beautiful art spaces in Montessori classrooms.  Also, you would be hard-pressed to convince me that preparing the environment, providing high-quality materials, teaching the children to care for them, and letting them explore them with little interference from adults is borrowing from another philosophy rather than simply an extension of Montessori principles and a place where Montessori and Reggio simply agree.

Some of the most beautiful art spaces I've seen online have used 100% natural materials for both storage and for art supplies...think wooden boxes, seed pods and leaves for collage materials, handmade papers, etc., That just isn't practical for us, so as you will see, plastic abounds.

upper half

Confirming my addiction to self-adhesive business card holders all of the bins have one stuck to the front.  Where possible, I've filled the pocket with the actual contents of the bin.  Where it wasn't, I printed a picture.  I'll point out what I put in a couple when I give you the run down on the supplies just to throw a few ideas out there.

lower half

Everything in the art closet has been chosen very carefully and for a particular reason.  I didn't just go crazy in the children's art aisle at the local Wal Mart (except perhaps in the "collage material" category), but ordered papers to be a certain weight, certain shapes of crayons, etc.,  In Susan Striker's book, Young at Art, she provides a very thorough and thoughtful list of items to stock.  When we started accruing art supplies I placed an order through Discount School Supply and purchased most of the things on her list.  Our collection has grown since that time (three years ago?) as we started crafting as well and began to need things like pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and small paper plates.  We are well-prepared for any art emergency!

Buckle your seatbelt and I'll take you on a tour of what's in here!

1.  Paper.  Blick Construction paper in two sizes (9x12 and 12x18). This is 80 lb paper so it can take paint and glue well.  Unlike the super cheap construction paper it folds and cuts cleanly and markers won't bleed. It is acid-free, lignin-free and light stable.  Also stored here is economical 12x18 Manila drawing paper  that I buy by the ream so my prolific little artists, who will occasionally use 10 sheets a day apiece, won't drive us to the poorhouse.  I have also been happy with Colorations heavyweight construction paper from Discount School Supply.  I always am well-stocked in manilla, white, and black papers.
2.  Assorted Pack of Premium Felt 9 inches X 12 inches, 50 Sheets wool felt in assorted colors.
3.  Scraps.  I didn't use a business card holder on this bin, I just taped ripped scraps of paper to the front.  I am trying very hard to train the boys to look in the scrap bin for plain colored paper rather than taking a fresh 12x18 piece each time to cut out a 1" circle. I was accruing quite a collection of otherwise untouched 12x18 pieces of paper with small holes cut in them.
4.  Washable Dry Erase Markers  in assorted colors and a collection of laminated mazes, dot-to-dot pages and the like.  The dry erase markers are used most often in the school room.
5.  Scissors.  Fiskars plastic scissors with metal-edged blades are known to be the best.
6.  Colored pencils. We used Falk stubby, triangular colored pencils when they were younger. They are easiest to hold.  Now that they are older we have switched to Short Colored Pencils because they sharpen better.
7.  Crayons.  My favorites from the beginning have been Crayon Rocks and Stockmar Beeswax Block Crayons .  Both free the child to use any surface of the crayon to color in different ways and the rock crayons are excellent for reinforcing the tripod grip.  Now that they are older and often do more detailed work, I bought them this Crayola 150-count Crayon Tower/Carousel . We used to use Triangular Crayons that I put in a homemade pouch for each of them.  However, they don't sharpen well and the pouches would get jumbled so that one kid would cry because the other had "both reds."  They carousal sits nicely in the center of the table.  There are so many colors they don't fight over who has what.  And, it's easier to clean up because you don't to keep track of where the colors go. If you are going for quality over quantity I recommend the Stockmar Beeswax Stick Crayons

2.  Play-doh accessories: Clay Texture Sheets (also used for rubbings with other materials), Dough Presses , Cutting Tools , rolling pins , cookie cutters, etc.,
3.  Stickers
4.  Fancy scrap paper.  My mom, an avid scrapbooker, is kind enough to save us her scraps for collage work.
5.  Adhesive foam stickers< in simple geometric shapes.  Instead of a label, I stuck a few right to the front of the bin.
6.  Simple geometric shapes pre-cut from cardstock for collage work.  Slide right into the pocket label!
7.   A collection of fancy scrapbooking scissors for any kind of edge imaginable (hand-me-down from my Mom)
8.  Geometric shapes and other simple shapes (like a leaf) pre-cut from shiny and sparkly material (Sequins and Spangles ), more collage work.  These might technically be a fancy kind of confetti.  They also slide nicely into the pocket label.
9.  Four different sizes of Craft Sticks .  I slid some smaller popsicle sticks right into the business card pocket.
10.  Feathers and pom pons
11.  Paper punches (more scrapbooking hand-me-downs).  I used them to punch some paper, and slid the shapes right into the pocket label.
12.  Glue .  Both by the bottle and by the stick.

1.  Various types of Jingle Bells and Wiggle Eyes .
2.  Cotton Balls
3.  Many types of Paint Brushes , glue brushes, and palettes .
4.  palettes , Curl Ribbon Spool , Adhesive Back Jewels .
5.  Stamping materials. jumbo stamp pads , geometric Stamps , alphabet stamps .
6.  Assorted .
7.  Play-doh
8-10.  Oops!  I already did those in the last picture!

1.  My stash of Manila drawing paper used to refill the paper organizer at the bottom as needed.  Also, a couple extra packs of construction paper in the colors that go fast in our house.  We always seem to go through 3x more green than any other color.
2.  Bin of "odd stuff" I collect for future projects.  For example, oatmeal containers for making drums, egg cartons, neat lids, paper plates.
3.  12x18 Blick White Sulphite Drawing Paper - 12 x 18, Pkg of 100 Sheets, 80 lb by the ream.  For a long time we used this all the time and didn't have manilla.  If price isn't an option, this could be your everyday paper. It IS our everyday paper for painting and gluing.  The manilla is mainly for drawing.
4.  Chalk in assorted colors.  Great to use on black paper.  Up HIGH so my kids don't use it, forget to wash hands, and crawl on my furniture.
5.  Standard jumbo crayons for visitors who are put off by our rock and rectangular crayons, but too young for the "big boy" crayons.
6.  My bulk stash of rock crayons .
7.  Cake watercolors .
8.  Washable markers.  Again, up high because art isn't fun if something is damaged and mom screams and yells like a maniac.  I like to know when they are using markers.
9. Glitter glue, assorted colors.
10.  Aquadoodle , Magnadoodle

The one type of art supply that is not stored in this closet are any kind of liquid paint.  I want to know if they are using paint.  The brushes and pallets are reachable to "get them started" but they have to ask for the paint.  We have liquid watercolors , finger paints , washable tempera< , dot paints , and acrylics.

This might be a ridiculous amount of materials if the boys attended school outside the home, but they don't.  When you outsource your child's education one of the side benefits is that you also outsource many of the accoutrements of that education.  We don't outfit ourselves like this for every subject matter, but we do when it is something near and dear to our hearts.

Home of: The Ultimate Montessori Blog List The Ultimate Montessori Search Box The Ultimate Montessori Homemade Materials Collaboration

Montessori Monday
link back


  1. Great job on your art closet! Wow! We need a perfect spot like that. I just love how organisation looks too =D

  2. This is really lovely! So easy to find what you need. I will be using this for inspiration when I start organizing our art supplies.

  3. I just wanted to let you know that I love your closet -- and your organization in general! -- and that you made me laugh today. I thought I had the only kids who would walk by a bin of scrap paper and take a new piece of paper for each and every circle! (By the way, I have solved that problem by relocating our full sheets of paper temporarily -- they have to ask for those, but the scrap paper bin remains prominently on our art shelves!). Thanks for your wonderful blog!

  4. Wow!!! There you go!! GREAT JOB!! That the perfect way to find something!! LOvely!!

  5. Awesome post!

    We are blessed in our small apartment to have a humongous bathroom - so we have an easel in there with the lower shelves of the closet in there being for art supplies. Other art supplies are in a set of drawers in our hallway (the less messy supplies).

    Before anyone says "ew" - it really is a huge bathroom! It's bigger than my kitchen, or the easel would be set up in there!

  6. Wow it looks great! I love the clear storage containers for easy to find storage! I also love the scraps box, I think we might just have to add one to our room! Thanks for sharing!

  7. I LOVE your art closet ... so organized and attractive! I always had organized classroom shelves but was never as good with my closets. Fortunately, my adult kids have very organized closets despite my closets that were always a work in progress. You've given me a goal, though!

    Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Organization and Preparation Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/organization-and-preparation/

  8. Jessica,

    Thumbs up to the easel in the bathroom!

  9. How is your crayon bin organised? Do you have the different types in different containers within the bins? Love your paper storage. I am inspired to create an art area at our house! Right now so much is out of the kids reach. I see a flurry of art activity happening here soon!

  10. Sheryll,

    The dishpan that holds all the crayons has five items in it. Two are handmade pouches that contains all of the rock crayons. Two more are tin containers full of beeswax block crayons. The fifth is the big crayon carousel I mentioned.

  11. What are you using to store your construction paper? I'm trying to find something similar. Yours looks perfect. Thanks!

    1. Sandy,

      You can buy it at School Specialty. I think it is by Childcraft. They have less expensive options too, but with different configurations.