Art supplies for a five year old child?
September 8, 2018 9:39 AM   Subscribe

My niece is in the first grade, and I think she shows remarkable "talent" as an artist. I'd like to get her some "nice" art supplies for her birthday, what should I get her?

I use the term "talent" loosely here, because she's five and I don't mean "already draws with photorealistic perspective" or anything. But she draws with more attention to detail than I did at any age -- I can probably draw a tiny bit better than she can at age forty, but I suspect that's mostly about fine motor control.

I'd like to get her some kind of art supplies that are a little more serious looking than crayola without being super-expensive fancy things she won't know how to use. But I also don't know anything about art supplies, because as I just noted, I have approximately the drawing ability of a five-year-old.

I thought maybe something like this art case that includes some different pencils and paints and also some paper?

Something available on Amazon would be ideal.
posted by jacquilynne to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was interested in art from an early age (and ended up majoring in art in college), and in kindergarten/first grade/second grade Crayola was exactly what I wanted. (I got fluorescent Crayola crayons for my fifth birthday and LOVED them.) More “serious” art supplies tend to be more appealing for ages 8 and up, but most younger kids will be excited about the most giganto box of crayons they make, or a huge thing of markers, or crayons/markers with interesting colors/tips/etc.

If you think she’d definitely be into something more mature, colored pencils are about as accessible as you can get. I like Prismacolor and Koh-I-Noor.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:05 AM on September 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

You are an awesome aunt and I'm glad your niece has you!

The case looks like something I would have been pretty excited about at her age, and if she has an adult willing to supervise a bit (especially stuff like how to clean brushes after using acrylics) and access to an appropriate space for painting, it should be fine. (I do wonder how much actual paper is in those pads because that has been a source of disappointment in the past)

I'm sure you'll get lots of ideas but here's one alternative idea - put together your own art kit.
* Thick pad of inexpensive drawing paper (or multiple pads)
* Colored pencils
* Glue stick
* Markers (washable)
* Origami or other patterned paper (for collage)
* Colored paper
* Stickers? if she's into them
* Tempera paint and brushes

(This assumes she already has decent crayons, but like Metroid Baby says the big sets with lots of colors are GOLD at that age).

If she continues to show interest you can keep adding to her art supply collection year after year - wax pastels, water soluble pastels, better markers, better colored pencils, acrylics, watercolors, brushes, how-to books - informed by what she expresses interest in.
posted by bunderful at 10:09 AM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Would sculpting and modelling appeal to her? My daughter loves to work with Sculpey (generic term = polymer clay). It's a little more pro-grade than Play-Doh so you can't eat it, but it otherwise it's safe. It can be cured in your oven without cracking or shrinking. You can also drill/shape/sand/decorate it after curing.

She loves making little charms with them. There are countless books and website with project ideas and how-tos.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

The bigger the box of crayons, the better. Get a newsprint pad, one of the big ones, and let her sit on the floor with that and color away. The size of the pad is important - it emphasizes the act of drawing itself, as opposed to carefully planning around and avoiding the edges of smaller papers and pads. Also, just more fun. :)
posted by Crystal Fox at 10:33 AM on September 8, 2018 [8 favorites]

How about a child-sized easel and pads of big paper or even canvases to paint on it with? (Acrylic paint is probably best for her age, since it's bold and easy to use, but is also washable).

Crayola markers and crayons are great for her to play with. Fancy markers and pastels are fun, but they're also less washable, so that's the trade-off. If you're going to go nuts on buying nice supplies, go for nice paper. Having her draw/paint on higher quality paper or cardboard will make it easier to preserve her drawings over time (construction paper and newsprint degrades fast).

You also might want to try papier mâché with her. It's cheap and easy and very fun.
posted by rue72 at 10:35 AM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Acrylic is not washable, it will permanently stain clothes and needs adult supervision. Watercolours (the kind in a tray, not tubes) or tempera is better. Watercolour pencil crayons are awesome, crayola makes a set. You can colour, then go over with a wet brush, or dip the pencils in water.

My kids LOVED books about arts and crafts at that age... I bought cheap books, and they like reading them. Origami, and dollar store paper, books on clay, a book on paper sculpture, one on candle making... a book on how to draw cartoons. Cool blank notebooks to create your own book, with words by a grownup and pictures by a kid.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2018

Every summer I got to the Eric Carle Museum's Teacher Conference day, the museum is amazing- and the education programs are so incredible, and the work they do in their art studio is wonderful- I went to a session in the studio and they shared information on a lot of their art supplies. The one thing I seriously wanted to purchase, but I just can't justify the cost for them to use with 600+ students were the Stabilo Woody 3-in-1. The write on any surface imaginable, and are richly colored and leave satisfying marks. I would buy a set with some black paper for your niece. The combination will be amazing.
posted by momochan at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

Nthing the suggestion to make sure there's lots of paper. I received art supplies as gifts as a kid any somehow (well-meaning parental enthusiasm?) got it in my head that this pad of watercolor paper was "special" and that translated into "not to be used unless the art is perfect" which got me drawing less not more. So I vote for quantity over quality until you know she's interested in special tools.
posted by aimedwander at 11:47 AM on September 8, 2018 [8 favorites]

My kids really like extra large fancy colored pencils in metallic and neon shades.
posted by bq at 12:04 PM on September 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely a big box of good crayons. Crayolas. Not any of those cheap waxy brands. And get the regular size "big kid" ones, not the big fat "little kid" ones.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:28 PM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

For her birthday earlier this year, I got my 5 year old niece some small canvases, cheap acrylic paints, brushes, and a giant old tshirt to wear over her good clothes. She got to be a "real artist" and had everyone in the family sit for a portrait. We kept the mess to a minimum by having a grown up be her "art assistant" and squeeze out the acrylic paints for her. She had an absolute blast and now keeps requesting more canvases for painting things for people. (The painting of me with cat ears and whiskers is now hanging in my living room. It is both awful and fantastic. )
posted by ilovewinter at 2:39 PM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Prismacolor Colored Pencils are an artist go-to and you can get a set cheap on Amazon. Watercolor brush pens could be fun too - less messy than watercolors but can still blend with water. (24 + a water pen for $15.)
I'd also get some sketchbooks - you can go for cheap ones. But sketch paper is slightly thicker and then it's contained in a book. Get a watercolor sketchbook if you use anything with water so the paper doesn't wrinkle too much or get soaked.

And yeah, acrylic is not washable. It's water based - but dries permanent. For paint you want watercolor (which can still stain) or washable tempera paints and here's another.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:40 PM on September 8, 2018

Also as an Art Kid - those art kits suck. The quality is really bad on all of them. I know - because as an Art Kid people would buy them for me and I wanted them -but they all sucked.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:42 PM on September 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

You are a perfect aunt. I still have parts of the art supply set my godmother gave me when I was 6, and I still use them because she went for the best quality and there were a lot of different forms of crayons and watercolors and other stuff I've forgotten. I agree the paper thing is very important, too.
If I were her parent, but also if I were me as someone who teaches people to do art, I'd keep away from the acrylics at this point. Actually I'd also stay away from even water-soluble markers, but I know every kid loves them.

On preview, what Crystalinne says.
posted by mumimor at 2:45 PM on September 8, 2018

Okay I came in to say exactly what Crystalinne said. As an Art Kid people would buy those art kits for me and they all sucked. Awful. Box of every possible crayola color? Amazing. Still use them sometimes today.
posted by Mizu at 4:10 PM on September 8, 2018

I have a large box of Prismacolor colored pencils that belong to me but my kids are allowed to borrow them on condition that they take Excellent care of them because they are Very Grown Up art supplies. Makes the kids feel important.

Prismacolors also work with a blending pencil, which is fun, as long as you have nice paper. (I personally hate newsprint for kid art, it’s not durable enough.)
posted by telepanda at 5:14 PM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sort of doesnt answer your question but one of the things I really wanted at that age was one of the big paper rolls so I could chose how BIG I wanted to do art (also useful if you want to cover the floor if she paints )

I thought what the art teacher had was the coolest thing ever.
I never got one. Not an artist. YMMV.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:30 PM on September 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

When I was 5, I received a metal case of coloured pencils - there must have been 60 for a xmas present. I also recieved a magnificent doll house with openable windows. The pencils, I can still remember their smell. I'm 51 and use multiple media to make art, and my advice to you is this:
Big set (not 12) coloured pencils.
Second set (they break more easily because they're softer) of watercolour pencils, and a sitdown exploration together to see how they work. (This over the water colour paints usually on offer to kids because they are fucking crap, or acrylics, that piss your parents off when you stain your clothes, table, floor, sheets etc and ruin your brushes if you're not disciplined and what 5 year old is).
Lots of paper of different quality and sizes. I was always desperate for enough paper.
Books aimed at multiple ages that shows steps in a painting or drawing.
If there's access to a tablet, ArtRage is awesome. Again, some help/exploration in use.

I personally hated crayons and pastels because they didn't have a fine enough tip for me to control outlines etc. I disliked markers/felt pens because I couldn't get an even field of colour.

For 3d, Das clay and origami paper and safe scissors and glue. Multiple balls of wool, and cardboard for making pompoms. Hessian or calico, and threading options. Pinterestboard for collecting artsy /crafty ideas and printing out if child doesn't have access. Input, loads of input. Send pictures of art deco, posters of art nouveau, photos of Lascaux Cave paintings, and primitive carvings, and celtic knots. Naive style paintings like Grandma Moses and contemporary-ish stuff like Ken Done. Show her Georgia Okeefe work, and Mexican day of the dead and Australian indigenous dot paintings.
posted by b33j at 8:20 PM on September 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

These tempera cakes are what we use in my classroom for painting projects that don't make a big mess. The colors come out nice and bright, more vivid than watercolors.

We also have the neon ones.

They work well on thick paper, so a pad of watercolor paper would go along well, and a package of brushes.
posted by mai at 10:16 PM on September 8, 2018

Nth-big the big set of pencil crayons.

In a couple years, I think it would be great to get her some higher quality grey paper with white, grey and black conte sticks, a paper stump, charcoal sticks, sandpaper for sharpening, and a kneaded eraser. Those were the ingredients of the Jon Gnagy art kit (which also included a drawing instruction book).

I got it when I was about 8. Drawing on grey paper really opened my eyes. It was roughly the same set of supplies you'd use in art school and to me they felt like serious tools. I have a really warm feelings when I think about it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:34 PM on September 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I decided to go with some polymer clay and a book on how to make things with polymer clay because that will be the most fun for me when I visit. But Christmas is also coming so some of these other ideas will come in handy in a couple of months.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:04 AM on September 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Clay will be fun!

If you're going to visit, take her to an art supply store and see what she gravitates towards (if she's like me it will be almost everything), then make an age-appropriate purchase while she's distracted.
posted by bunderful at 8:05 AM on September 9, 2018

Seconding the big roll of paper. I got them for my kids at a newspaper printing plant for $1.

At her age I think art supplies are more about quantity and access than about quality. If you give her nice stuff she might not be allowed to play with it as freely as if you get her Crayola-level stuff. (Don't get the really cheap supplies; Rose Art and dollar store crayons really aren't as good.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:31 AM on September 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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