Accessible Materials in the Art Studio
Faber-Castell Beeswax Crayons
These vibrant, soft crayons have a triangular shape that are perfect for developing a tripod grip. (A tripod grip uses the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers and is a helpful grip to grasp writing utensils and use buttons.) The triangular shape also means that they don’t roll away on the surface as you draw.
Lyra Colored Pencils
This brand offers a variety of large colored pencils that require less frequent sharpening, provide vivid colors including metallics, and work well on all colors or paper. They work with all ages, but we found their large shape is great with young learners. Some are also triangular shaped, so they stay put on your drawing surface.
You can make your own large-sized crayons that are great for young learners and folks with different grips. Making them yourself, you can also decide what ingredients to put in, and avoid any allergens.
Stabilo Woody 3-in-1
These large colored pencils are perfect for small hands and making bold, creamy marks on paper. If you add water to the marks with a paintbrush, the marks become vibrant watercolor paint. Since they are water-soluble, you can draw on non-porous surfaces such as mirrors, white boards, plexiglass, and glass, and they wipe right off with water. We have also had success taking marks off the walls which comes in handy. Note: There are heat and cold parameters that Stabilos work best within, so please read the packaging before using in extreme heat or cold.
We had a guest ask several years ago whether we had scissors that were accessible for their child. We unfortunately did not at the time, so we asked if they had any recommendations for us. They said they enjoy using loop scissors, and so we began to research into options. We started with purchasing a scissor kit that provided options for accessible scissors including loop, tandem, and spring-action scissors. We tried them out with the public and discovered that folks loved loop scissors, including guests just learning to cut, guests with arthritis, and guests with different grip needs. Since then, we now provide loop scissor options in all our projects with scissors. We also kept the other options from the kit available in case the loop scissors aren’t working for a group.
We want to make sure that guests feel welcomed within the space, and one way I have seen that happen is when we began to provide lefty scissors with every scissor project. Inside each basket for those projects, we now have scissors that are lefty (including lefty loop scissors) as well as righty. We wrote on the blades “lefty” as well as put an “L” on the handle so folks can find them. Ever since we made this change about 5 years ago, I have overheard many lefties who have shared how happy they were to see the scissor options available to them.
We are currently testing ceramic cutting tools which are marketed as skin-safe. We bought a Slide box cutter and a pair of Slice scissors and have been happy with their performance and safety. We are thinking in the future we might consider phasing out box cutters with our Art Studio staff and replacing them with ceramic blades, as well as the ceramic craft knives for adult classes. We are also considering putting out the Slice scissors in the public baskets to provide adult-sized scissors that are kid safe. They are significantly more expensive than metal alternatives, so this will be a longer-term transition.
Deli Hole Puncher
These hole punchers are great for all ages but work particularly well with little ones as they require less force to punch and can be placed flat onto a table for a press-down motion. They are unfortunately difficult to source in the US, but we have found that they are worth the sourcing effort.
Available at Amazon.
Makedo Cardboard Construction
This cardboard cutting tool, screwdriver, and screws kit is a wonderful, kid-friendly option for cardboard construction. Our older kit has a cardboard cutting blade made from plastic, but the more recent ones have kid-safe ceramic blades. With this kit, you can effectively cut and connect corrugated cardboard. They are great options to have for construction.
Prang Glue Sticks
We use the 0.74oz blue glue sticks with all ages with great success. They are larger than other brands, so they don’t break with pressure and are easier to grip. And the blue colorant (which dries clear) allows artists to see where they placed their glue and how much they are using.
Glue Jars with Brushes
We use bottles with brushes attached to the top and they are the perfect size for small hands. We fill ours with a tacky glue that is much easier to use than their original packaging. (The original packaging was opaque so you could never tell how much glue you had, and the thick glue would take a lot of squeezing and shaking to try and make it flow.) We have found that you have to clean out the bottles when you are storing them for a long time because while they twist shut, they are not completely airtight, so we found they tend to glue shut. The benefits to accessibility outweigh the downside of cleaning, so we continue to use them.
Available at Amazon.
These inks are professional-grade, non-toxic, and wash up with soap and water. We learned about them from a local, professional printmaking studio called Zea Mays, and used them successfully in adult workshops. But since they are AP certified non-toxic, we could also use them with older children. (We use tempera paint for printmaking with young folks because it is washable and more easily cleaned out of brayers and tools in our drop-in program.) Due to their long drying times, it is recommended to use very absorbent paper to help them set faster.
Small Squeeze Bottles
These small bottles work great with folks of all ages, but especially for young folks to allow them to control their paint amounts without creating a lot of potential mess. Since they are only 2oz, there is a relatively small amount of paint so if a guest is excited to squeeze out the whole bottle, we can provide a sensory experience that doesn’t impact our paint supplies. Here is more information about how we have used these bottles in a past project.
Available at DecoArt.
Prang Tempera Cakes
These are wonderful, large cakes of paint that we use as an alternative to small watercolor pans. The large cake format allows for easier access and larger brushes to swipe across. The solid form also makes wiping up any mixed colors a lot easier than a semi-moist or tube watercolor. We take the cakes out of their packaging and place them into ceramic holders we bought separately to create smaller, shareable palettes.
These are a great way to provide water or paint but prevent large spills. The cone shaped top prevents liquid from coming out all at once, and either twists or snaps on for a secure fit. We use them constantly with our watercolors and have used them in special programs to hold tempera paint.
Aprons and Smocks
For covering outfits, we have a variety of smocks and aprons to provide options for kids that want full coverage or no sleeves. We have ones that little ones can put on themselves, with adhesive straps that wrap from the back panel to the front. These are great options for those that don’t want sleeves. We also have smocks that adhesive stick in the back, like a backwards coat. All can easily be washed and reused after each use.
Easy-fasten aprons available at Montessori Services, and unfortunately, our long-sleeve, Velcro smocks aren’t manufactured anymore. But there are alternatives at Discount School Supply and Bed Bath & Beyond.
We make our own stamp pads that provide more surface area to stamp on. They are much easier to use than small stamp pads, can be revived, and filled with washable, non-toxic tempera paint. Homemade stamp pads are also great ways to incorporate paint projects into a space that might not be able to host paint projects due to a lack of access to sinks. The paint is contained within the stamp pad, so clean-up is much easier and not much paint is used in them overall.
We use these stamps all the time in our printmaking projects. They have an easy-to-grip handle and while they come with certain shapes already on them, we like to take them off and replace with more abstract patterns or for specialty projects. We’ve created stamps using self-adhesive foam, bubble wrap, and other found materials. Most recently, a team member used self-adhesive foam to create stamps for a batik-inspired stamping project.
For sewing projects, it can be inaccessible to thread needles. We bought a few options of threaders, and these double-sided ones are great because they can fit into two different sized needle eyes. You run the hook through the eye, then run the thread over the hook and pull it through. It has worked great in adult bookmaking classes and for prep projects for our team.
Available at Jo-Ann.
Large Plastic Needles
For bookbinding with young folks or folks who find small needles inaccessible, we have used large plastic sewing needles. They are easier to thread and fit within a hole-punch-sized hole, which is wonderful because pre-punching the holes mean you do not have to use a sharp bookbinding tool called an awl to poke holes through the pages.