Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Drawing Theory and Resources

Colorful Pens Inspire Children's Stories

Meghan Burch

One of the things I do here at The Carle is lead studio activities for guided tours. The groups that come are primarily K-2nd grade classes, but we welcome preschool through seniors citizen groups too. One spring’s guided-group project, inspired by the motivation behind Eric Carle’s creation of Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth, was to make a story about something important to you. Participating students could tell their story any way they chose-word and pictures, or just words, or just pictures. I offered pre-stapled blank books, markers, color sticks (colored pencils without the wood part) and the colorful pens pictured above. I selected these tools because they provide a range of marks- from broad and light to thin and vibrant, without the drying time required with wet media. When introducing the project, I pointed out that there were no erasers and asked each class to share suggestions with each other on what to do if they make a mistake or have something they’re not happy with.

Baskets of drawing tools alongside colorful blank books.
Using basic tools kept the working time concentrated on concept and story development rather than on becoming familiar with the materials. For many students there was no learning curve with the materials I offered, so they got to spend the majority of their time (approx. 40 minutes) on drawing and writing their ideas. The pens, however, caused much excitement with the students. Many were thrilled to be allowed to use pens, and others were drawn to the beauty of the tool itself. They were a hit with their teachers too, who observed that the special pens helped the students feel that their work was important and their ideas worthy of a special material.  Many told me they’d be getting some for their classroom writing center.
A drawing of a person with colorful clothes on and a big smile.
A couple of great books I was reading last winter inspired my materials selection: Playful Learning by Mariah Bruehl and The Write Start by Jennifer Hallissy. Both books discuss how providing simple tools paired with time and a space for their use sends a clear message to young learners that their ideas are worthy of exploration.  Both books also provide lots of activity ideas, resources and beautifully designed activity guides.
A hand-drawn book with an animal searching for bananas in a tree.

We ordered our pens from one of the school/art suppliers we typically order from, but I know colored pens can be found in all kinds of office supply, stationary, craft and other kinds of stores.  In the Studio, we need retractable pens because caps just get lost or glued into projects. I love the quality of gel ink pens, but those average more than $1 per pen or $11-$18 per set and I always need at least 8 sets of everything for guided program activities. I found a line of pens called Wow Colors by Pentel for about $4.25/ pack of 8, which have worked out to be a good value. A small handful of them broke by the end of the school year due to students being uncertain as to how to unclick the pens, but they were used by hundreds of kids, so, not bad.

Need a go-to birthday gift for your children’s friends? A set of colored gel pens and a little notebook, totaling no more than $10-15, would be special for any child 5 and up. Younger than that, and I would recommend gifting a different type of drawing tool, and that is a discussion for another time. Do you have a favorite kind of pen or other writing instrument for you child’s home art box or your classroom’s creative center?


Meghan, smiling and wearing a grey shirt with a blue background.

Meghan Burch

Art Educator from 2003-2016, Meghan has a BFA in Illustration from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She tries to think with materials and work with her hands every day.

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