What To Stock In Your Art Supply Cupboard

I received an email from a reader that said: Hi Design Mom, I would LOVE it if you would consider doing a post about art supplies. I always wonder what staples I should keep on hand.

If you’ve never set up an art supply cupboard before, it can be intimidating. Craft stores and art supply stores are huge! How do you know where to start? But it’s a good answer to figure out, because a well-stocked art supply makes it a thousand times easier to get creative with your kids.

So here’s a list of 15 Art Supply Essentials + 4 Helpful Secrets. Keep your cupboard stocked with these suggestions, and you’ll be ready for pretty much any idea your budding artists come up with.

These 15 items represent a beginners kit, geared toward younger kids, but there are suggestions for upgrading the kit for older kids too.

1) Crayons.
You can go with classic Crayolas, gorgeous beeswax crayons, or choose an option like triangle crayons that are especially made for little hands to hold. Secret #1: Stock up during back-to-school season. Buying this all at once can add up! But if you shop sales in August and September, you’ll spot amazing bargains. Like a box of crayons for 25 cents!

Older kid upgrade: Cray-pas. They’re like an inexpensive oil pastel. They blend well and make really intense colors.

2) Colored Pencils.
Sometimes, crayons just can’t make the kind of details your little artist is imagining. That’s when colored pencils save the day. Colored pencils are so pretty, I like to keep several styles in a jar on my desk. Here’s a classic starter set, and a European-made set.

3) Markers.
I recommend choosing washable markers for beginning artists.

Older kid upgrade: Sharpies. They’re permanent, so be careful, but they open up lots of new options for projects — like Sharpie tie-dye.

4) Coloring books
There are so many options out there! Sticker books. Character books from their favorite movie. I personally favor these Taro Gomi doodle books, and Hervé Tullet’s scribble books.

Older kid upgrade: Give them their very own sketchbook.

5) Big Roll of paper.
Secret #2: Big paper = big ideas. Look for over-sized sheets or a wide roll. Having easy access to BIG paper is so inspiring.

6) Watercolor paints.
Watercoloring is interactive — dipping in water, wiping excess color off your brush, mixing colors. Some kids really love it! Note: always watercolor on the heaviest paper you have on hand.

Older kid upgrade: If you can see your kids enjoy painting, you could invest in a better quality paint set which will help them really learn to mix colors.

7) Construction Paper
The big sheets of solid colors spark ideas, and the paper is easy to cut.

Older kid upgrade: try patterned origami paper.

8) Scissors
Go with a safe pair. Secret #3: Stock extra scissors. Scissors are one of those items that get taken away from the art space to cut a loose string or a flower or whatnot. It can be super frustrating to reach for a pair of scissors and find it gone, so I recommend stocking multiple pairs.

9) Play Dough
You can buy an easy-to-find set, make your own at home, or buy a naturally made version.

Older kid upgrade: Try bakeable Sculpey. You can use it to make all sorts of things.

10) Craft Sticks
You never know what kids will come up with when they have a pile of crafts sticks in front of them.

11) Pipe Cleaners
They’re fun to fiddle with and come in handy at unexpected times — like connecting things when glue won’t work.

Older kid upgrade: If your kids love bending and shaping pipe cleaners and working with their hands, you could introduce embroidery floss and projects like friendship bracelets.

12) Googly Eyes
You will be shocked how often your kids will find uses for these. Secret #4: Googly eyes are irresistible. They make pretty much any art project a success. Use them to tempt your kids to the art table.

13) Glitter
Like googly eyes, glitter makes any project seem special.

14) Glue Sticks
Especially helpful for mess averse moms. I like using the purple kind with little kids, so they can see where they’ve applied glue.

15) Liquid glue.
When a glue stick isn’t cutting it, this is your go to. A liquid glue is also helpful when you want to dilute it.

Older kid upgrade: Mod Podge. Use it for all sorts of projects, like decoupaging.

There you have it! 15 essentials for your art supply stash, plus 4 helpful secrets. What do you think? Anything you’d add to the list? Other “upgrades” you’d recommend? I’d love to hear.

62 thoughts on “What To Stock In Your Art Supply Cupboard”

  1. I must be getting old – craft sticks were “popsicle sticks” back in the day…sniff…

    Great list! Perfectly in time for summer when it’s too hot or too rainy to go outside.

    I’d add scraps of different kinds of fabric (colours, textures, etc) for making collages. And old magazines too for the same.

    1. Hah! I don’t think you’re getting old, Sandra. I think of them as popsicle sticks too. : )

      Love the idea of including old magazines and fabric scraps!

    2. Too funny. I didn’t even know what a “craft stick” was until I saw your reply. Duh…a Popsicle stick. Now it is all coming together. Can you tell I am not very crafty.

  2. What I need is a post to tell me how to keep all those supplies organized. Our craft supplies are in danger of taking over the entire kitchen!

    1. I second that comment. How about a post on how to organize all the supplies. I keep buying small organizers but they are taking over the house! I think I need one dedicated place that is properly organized.

      1. For our craft supplies I made a peg board with a frame that I hang in the kitchen (renovation on kitchen means it is currently not up so I can’t take photo, sorry). I fill plastic freezer bags (ziploc) with our supplies and then put these clips (http://www.bassile.com/product.php?product=552) on them and hang them to the peg board hooks. My son can see everything and decide on what he needs but it is up out of the way and stays fairly neat most of the time :)

  3. Don’t forget tape! Glue often requires a level of thoughtfulness and patience that kids don’t have.

    Also, we save all kinds of recyclables for our kids to create with — toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, juice cartons, cereal boxes, etc. It’s amazing what they come up with!

    1. Tape! Yes, I kinda want to forget about including tape because my kids are addicted to the stuff. But it IS an important part of the process, as you point out.

      & the toilet paper tubes, juice cartons, & cereal boxes–good stuff too!

      1. When my daughter was little, her great uncle asked what little thing he could include with her birthday check and I told him several rolls of tape. He thought I was crazy but she LOVED being able to use all the tape her little heart desired! :)

  4. Funny, because I’m about to blog on this same exact topic! We don’t have an art supply closet–just a long table with lots of jars filled with markers, crayons, straws, string, coffee filters, paper plates, construction paper, pencils, paint, scissors & glue. I cover the table with butcher paper so my kids can draw on the table. So important that kids have resources to be creative.

    After seeing this, I should add: googly eyes (why didn’t I think of this), pipe cleaners, & old magazines. Oh, and popsicle sticks.

  5. God, I’m such a sucker for this stuff!

    It’s interesting to watch my kids evolve with projects. My 6 yo son, who has become a great reader, just wants to staple white paper together to make books. Then he sits down with markers and draws pictures and writes the story. It amazes me. For him, I need oodles of paper and markers. And a stapler.

    My 4 yo daughter loves to take a picture that is already created, and color it. She doesn’t just pick one color, but makes each and every thing multicolored, and it is beautiful. So for her, I need pre-printed pictures and markers and crayons (which she pronounces as “karens”).

  6. Mom in Mendon

    Big Rolls of Paper Tip: Maybe it’s common knowledge but if you live near a printer, ask them for “roll-ends.” They’re inexpensive, if not free. : )

    1. I remember you coming home with 5 or 6 roll ends from a stop at the printers. I loved the abundance of it. Like we would never ever run out of paper again.

  7. I love this list and have to second the tape! I’m always running out of it because they love to stick it all over the house.
    My kids also love the craft scissors that cut patterned edges, they come in nice kits with interchangeable ‘blades’.
    And I always have a big pad of patterned paper and letters handy as they love to make their own cards. You can get the big books of patterned paper on sale often for up to 50% off as they can be quite pricey. But those square 12×12 sheets are also perfect sized to make six bunting flag pieces.
    Which leads me to a last favourite which is ribbon!

  8. Jennifer Jordan Burns

    I just organized our art cupboards last week! Must add these wonderful art supplies we couldn’t live without:

    *d’jeco markers (oh, these are so nice. Vibrant, beautiful colors. Two sides for
    each marker: fine point and soft like a paintbrush)
    *Stockmar beeswax crayons
    *Staedtler watercolor crayons
    *Watercolor pencils (eeboo makes pretty tins of pencils)
    *watercolor postcards
    *Paintbrushes that fill with water
    *paint pens to paint rocks, etc.
    *embroidery floss to make friendship bracelets
    *Rosie Flo’s coloring books, by Chronicle Books

    I love to use our bonne maman jam jars to hold scissors, googly eyes, alphabet beads, alphabet stampers, pompoms, homeade crayons, etc…

  9. I need all of this stuff! Thanks for the post. My craft supplies consist of reems of copy paper, black sharpies and paper clips. haha. (missed your blog while I was away for two weeks. It was fun catching up when I returned.)

  10. This is so helpful! Now please do a post on ideas how to store all this stuff ! I am at a loss on how to store it all do it’s neat but accessible (and inviting) for my 3 yr old twins. Right now I have everything shoved into clear boxes on top of a bookshelf–which is neither neat nor accessible. Art supply storage tips please!

  11. Thanks for this awesome list. My daughter recently turned two and I have been trying to provide her with a variety of art supplies (many of the ones you list above) and she just doesn’t seem interested. I have tried finger paints which got a bit more interest (as in two minutes as opposed to 30 seconds) but she simply doesn’t seem to love art projects.

    I am hoping she will become more interested as she starts preschool in the fall. In the interim, do you have any fun art project suggestions for the tot set?

  12. Brilliant list! So many great ideas that I don’t have anything to add. Well, the only thing would be that if it’s at all possible, it’s great to have a dedicated spot for kids to create. We have a little wooden table and art supply bookcase at one end of the dining room.

    Sure, it’s taking up valuable real estate and I have visions of a comfy sofa there some day, but in the 10 years or so that the kids have had their own “art area,” it’s been used nearly every single day. I think having the art supplies in full view and easily accessible helps.

    I’m enjoying this new series! Looking forward to what’s next. :-)

  13. So I happened upon a super cool solution for storage of art supplies and thought I would share (it’s too good to keep to myself). I found a cabinet that looks like an old library card catalog cabinet (you know, with all the drawers), but it’s actually meant for CD and DVD storage, I think. Lots and lots and lots of drawers. They have little paper labels on the front, so you can label each one. Perfect for art supplies. And so much fun to peek into each one to find new surprises! The drawers are big enough to hold nearly every art supply out there, except paper, which we keep in a file-folder sorter up on top.

  14. i’m an artist, and my 2 year old and i work side-by-side in my studio after nap. she is constantly asking to “do her work” at her own little blue table and i’m directed to sit at mine.
    my list of supplies for her- roll of paper/dispenser that came from a restaurant supply store, markers and crayons in bon maman jars, sheets of random stickers (florescent dots from the office supply store are a hit) are held berry cartons alongside little sheets of colored paper. all is stored on an ikea tray that we can pull out easily when needed.
    these days, her favorite activity is using alphabet rubber stamps with her “big ink”. the stamps are all shapes and sizes, numbers and letters and they live in a big glass screw top jar. the “big ink” pad (melissa and doug brand) has 6 colors and is perfect for her little fingers. she’s learning her letters and numbers as she “works”. :) i have some photos of her little table here: http://sarahearn.blogspot.com/2012/05/adas-spaces.html
    my summer goal is to get it all together in an old cabinet so i can close the doors and store more as she gets older. great topic!

  15. Thanks! This is a wonderful list! Reminds me I have to open up new markers, our old ones are all dried up and we want to craft tomorrow! :-)

  16. Perfect timing! Both kids don’t have anything planned for next week so I’m placing my Amazon order this afternoon. It’s really difficult having projects that both my 11 year old and my 4 year old will have fun doing but I think with this fantastic list of supplies, there should be less fighting at our house next week. Fingers crossed, anyway!

  17. Great list!

    We had great fun with a Mod Podge project this spring, but I still have it stuck to my wooded kitchen table and soapstone counters. Any ideas on how to get this off?

  18. I love this post! I especially love the big paper brings big ideas bit – I remember once in 7th grade my teacher assigned us to have a friend trace our body onto giant paper and we filled it with colors and materials that represented us. So fun and so memorable – all because it was so big! I guess size really does matter. ;)

  19. What’s missing are all the natural elements that can be picked up for free….branches, sticks, pebbles, pine cones, large seeds, bark….Otherwise, everything is so bright, sometimes too bright….

  20. Love these ideas! I was surprised (and happy) to realize that I already own most of them, but I definitely think I need to make them more accessible to my kids. I would love to see how you have all of your supplies organized.

  21. Jennifer Rodgers

    This is a wonderful list! As a high school art teacher, I think the big kid upgrades are spot-on. Also, you’d be surprised how many high school art students still love a little glitter! :-)

  22. I love this post. It made me want to go out and buy canvas and paint a bright happy picture.

    I thought call craft sticks popsicle sticks too!

  23. A “big kid” upgrade: liquid watercolors (they come in tubes) and real watercolor paper – preferably cotton. The thicker, dimpled paper is so much better at taking water! Try stapling the paper to a piece of thin plywood or cardboard to keep it from wrinkling as it dries. Also, try sprinkling some sea salt on the wet paint – makes a neat effect!

  24. Yes! I agree with the folks that would like some tips on organization. I’ve really been wanting to create an art station for our daughters, but haven’t really decided how to go about setting it up. Thanks!!

  25. I make sure my daughter has a plastic serving tray to do her messy creations on. You can glue, glitter and paint all over the place then simply wipe the tray clean and start again.

  26. For my my “middle” aged children, I use card stock instead of water color paper, because it is less expensive.

    I also would add more paintbrushes in different sizes, including a fan brush.

    For younger children, I use washable watercolors. They are almost the same price as the individual set, and they come with 3 rows of watercolors in more shades.

    Rather than play-doh, I use modeling clay for children. It doesn’t dry out and it doesn’t crumble. It comes in tons of colors and I can get a package for around $5.

  27. Those are definitely great items to have in art supply cupboard. What I have trouble most of the time is figuring out a creative way to use those art supplies. I found that keeping a collection of art and craft ideas with lots of pictures in a binder helps tremendously. The kids can flip through what they want to do and use them as a guide.

  28. I simply HATE glitter. My daughters love it but… I can’t stand with it. I have most of the things… I have to buy pipe cleaners anyway!

  29. Great post! This is what I do for a living… encourage parents to create a dedicated art space for their children with quality essential supplies. One of the biggest challenges people face is organizing the space and keeping it organized. Sorry for the self promotion here, but in case this helps anyone, I have some links for you. I’m working on a series of blog posts about organizing kids art spaces- so far I have posted two:
    And if you’d like to see a lot of inspiration, here is my Pinterest board of kids art spaces:

  30. I’ve designed a book called DRAW! you can see it at my site. I believe that children (well everyone ) should be able to draw figuratively, it is the basis of visualization and realization.

  31. The best scissors for 2-4 year olds are from IKEA… They don’t have fingerholes and little hands can very easily cut by simply squeezing.

  32. I just found your blog via Martha Stewart. I don’t have kids, but am an Auntie to very creative nephews & nieces. Art supplies, a Fantastic gift idea and I won’t forget anything with all the ideas here. Now, I can shop the back-to-school sales & put together a treasure chest of art goodies just in time for the holidays.
    The children will be thrilled to open the packages and begin making masterpieces.
    Excellent blog post!

  33. Chelsea Horsley

    I just have to add, as a fan of the goggly eye myself, a discovery I made this week that kept my busiest non crafter toddler busy for quite a while- hide some goggly eyes in a bowl of slime. They’ll love squishing around in it to dig them out!

  34. Dee Platt, Keepy Community Manager

    Great list of supplies for keeping the little artists busy! With all of these tools, the kids will no doubt be creating a lot of artwork. Instead of letting it pile up, use Keepy to easily organize, store and enjoy it all. Check it out! http://www.keepy.me

  35. Your list is spot on. Here are a couple of tips and additions from an art teacher. There are certain supplies you should really splurge on and spend the extra few cents or dollars because some brands just get it right. Crayola crayons and Elmer’s glue and glue sticks are a must if you want even coverage and projects to stick together for the long haul. Don’t forget about Prismacolor colored pencils – they blow the competition away. And one of my favorites are watercolor pencils. A small pack of Crayola watercolor pencils has lasted me years. Not only are they fun to use for drawings/paintings, but they are a grat alternative to use in place of face paint. Soak them in water for a minute and then draw away…so much easier than trying to paint on thick, cakey face paints (and they wash right off). I love to see families create outside of school, thanks for promoting the arts!

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