If I had to highlight the very best books currently out there for young artists, parents, and art teachers, I would definitely pick these five first.
I volunteer every week at a facility that serves lunch to 80 kids, ages ranging from 4 to 18, and I do one lesson a month with each age group. Since I’ve started volunteering in 2017, I was starved for good resources, so each one of these books comes recommended with hands on experience.
First though, we have to talk art: what do you consider “art making”? Do you keep supplies at home for your kids to experiment with? Are you willing to “allow” for some mess in the house? Will you be willing to participate on activities, or you’d rather let them explore and experiment at their own pace? Are you willing to spend in some art material such as paintbrushes and watercolor paper?
For me, art making is all about the experience: testing out different materials, trying new ideas and subjects, learning about famous artists and their paintings or sculptures… However, I do know that kids get easily frustrated with some basic things like drawing big, or will feel dismayed if something goes awry in their design.
As a child, my mom encouraged me to pursue my creative interests and gave me all the material she could spare, but I am the eldest of five and was left to my own devices most of the time. I think a good book with a good image of the expected result and clear instructions is key to enjoy the process, and a great way to encourage young kids to persevere. As we know, STEAM activities will teach you a couple of things: resilience, hands on making, and they allow the development of critical and creative thinking. All the books I’m going to present fill in those requirements:
Book Number 5
Sharpie Art Workshop for Kids: Fun, Easy, and Creative Drawing and Crafts Projects by Kathy Barbro.
A great way to start, this teacher focuses on the basics, and lets you being with easy to do drawing techniques before stepping up her game and doing really challenging and engaging work. If you are just going to start with one investment, let it be Sharpies or your brand choice of permanent markers, they are very versatile and fun.
Tin foil and Sharpies is a technique that never ceases to amaze me. Besides, Sharpies are waterproof, which is great for adding details in lessons such as this one: these landscapes were made by kids aged 14 and up.
Play, Make, Create: A Process-Art Handbook by Meri Cherry
If you think art is all about the process and that the result is not that important, then this is the book for you. This mother of two, who now hosts an art studio in Los Angeles, bases her work in a Reggio Emilia approach, for her:
Process art is about the journey. It is about listening, connecting, empathizing, and wondering. It values critical thinking, exploration, thinking outside the box, and the developmental process of each individual.
That means, in all, to use some choice art materials and that variety is key, from homemade play dough, to the use of food coloring, to cotton swabs as paint brushes and coffee filters as canvases… everything can be turned into something beautiful.
What stayed with me is her love for washi tape and sequins, something that adds a bit of a sparkle to a finished piece and that the kids really enjoy: details do matter. This art piece was made by 4th grade:
I find that her “invitations to create” are the most interesting: by simply setting a special place and allowing kids to explore and have fun with the materials, that really opens up the possibilities. Just a tray, some beads, a piece of string and some pompoms can do the magic.
Book Number 3
Draw, Paint, Sparkle Creative: Projects from an Elementary Art Teacher by Patty Palmer.
If you think that painting, brushes and color pencils must come first in any art project, this book is for you. This former elementary school art teacher will start with the very basics: from how to create painted paper, to why she doesn’t use pencils to start drawing, to easy techniques with just crayons, salt, and watercolors. Then, well, she can go all the way: to fancier techniques such as background glitter and metallic crayons, to really intricate collages, the sky is the limit. Here’s one of her videos:
We used her “Cozy Cat” lesson with 1st graders this year, and the kids really enjoyed it.
I find that her guided drawing lessons are the best, since many kids struggle with very basic concepts and feel frustrated. Drawing is something you learn how to do, it is a process, and you do get better at it with practice. That does mean that drawing skill levels vary a lot from child to child, and that templates and step by step drawings can encourage some kids to improve with time.
She has a fun-and-filled-with-activities website (Deep Space Sparkle), a Facebook group, an Instagram account, and a weekly podcast. Every week she hosts a Live Facebook event and offers a free lesson; right now she is covering fall art projects and Halloween, as you might have guessed. Her team is fabulous and her PDFs are golden.
Book Number 2
Clay Lab for Kids: 52 Projects to Make, Model, and Mold with Air-Dry, Polymer, and Homemade Clay by Cassie Stephens
I have to say here that I am totally biased: for me there is only one art teacher out there and she is Cassie Stephens. I follow her everywhere, and since she is herself an over sharer, that’s fairly easy to do. Her videos are the BEST, all are free, and engaging to the max. Many lessons of hers are being used at my station, and one thing that always bummed me is that we do not have a kiln, because her clay projects are just amazing.
Luckily, this book of hers came out, and with it, a lot of recipes and ideas for different types of clays that do not require a kiln.
Here’s one of her videos:
We did her Salt Dough flowers with 5th grade, and we also used cloud clay to create these muffins with the same class.
She is not only accomplished in 3D projects but is fabulous at dry chalk, oil pastel, water color, tempera, collage: all of it. And her lessons, especially those at her YouTube channel, are the easiest ones to follow along.
Book Number 1
Stitch and String Lab for Kids: 40+ Creative Projects to Sew, Embroider, Weave, Wrap, and Tie by Cassie Stephens
Hands down, the best book for kids that are willing to explore Fiber Arts. This book was perused by my nieces, nephews, friends, son, and everyone wanted to do something. I was never willing to do Fiber Arts with the kids because I didn’t feel confident doing them: Cassie has demonstrated that the only thing that you need to do is follow along the first few basic stitches and just go to town; everything from needle felting to applique to string bags to pompoms feels possible.
This video here is her suggestion for Halloween:
Since this book is my most recent one, I’ve just been experimenting at home, sorry for the blurry photos:
She does it all by herself (including some very fun dresses), and I’m really looking forward to her next book.
Disclosure: some of these books were provided to me for review purposes, but all opinions remain my own.