Use the Good Stuff; wisdom from The Creative Family Manifesto

Girl Painting at an Easel, by Georges d'Espagnat

I recently spent a few snow-bound days happily perusing a little book I highly recommend: The Creative Family Manifesto, by Amanda Blake Soule. If you've ever wanted to encourage creativity in your family but weren't sure where to start, this book would be a great starting point.

Rather than write a traditional review today, however, I'd like to discuss one of Amanda Blake Sole's points that really resonated with me. She highly recommends (almost demands?) that when supplying your children with materials for their creative work, you spring for the good stuff. I completely agree.  Trust me, I know how expensive good materials can be; I know how much money it takes to raise a family; I know how often children's artwork will end up a tangled/scribbled/torn mess that has to be discarded. The thought of spending money on anything beyond dollar store crayons and watercolor paints can seem ridiculous.


As Soule points out, you're sending your children a message if you provide them with quality materials. You're telling them you think art and creativity is a worthwhile pursuit and a priority in your life. If you give them printer paper and dollar store paint, you're telling them the exact opposite.

You're also dooming them to fail and become discouraged. My husband distinctly remembers being handed some cheap art supplies in his early elementary years, being left with no guidance and the vague encouragement that anything he made would be beautiful, and failing miserably. Fortunately he wasn't left in that environment forever, and several good experiences of succeeding or growing better at art overwhelmed his first negative experiences. I wonder, though, how many children lose their desire to create because of such an incident. They grow up and tell themselves, "Oh, I'm not good at art," but really they just lost the motivation to learn and grow early on. No one was born good at art. But some people can have better early experiences with art than their peers, and that's going to make a big difference when it comes to how they later choose to spend their time.

There are many resources (Soule lists several) for finding quality art materials at a lower price. Keep an eye open and ask around. We've purchased yards of high-quality fabric at Goodwill for pennies. We've found so many skeins of beautiful, high-quality yarn at estate sales that I've had to start giving them away because I would need three lifetimes to knit that much. There are second-hand art supply stores dedicated to keeping quality supplies in the hands of artists and out of landfills. (Try google searching "second hand arts and crafts supplies" to find such a store near you.) I can bet you have a friend or two who has tried an art class and decided it wasn't for them, leaving them with a stash of excellent charcoal pencils and kneadable erasers they have no use for.

I also think it's totally appropriate to tell your child, "No, I don't have any paper for you to paint on today because I'm saving up for some good pads. Would you like to try a different project?" Ultimately they might decide it's worth splashing some paint onto your printer paper, and maybe it's okay to let them choose that for themselves--as long as they know that any results aren't indicative of their skill or lack thereof. But at least they know you care enough about their work to thoughtfully set money aside to support it.

A final thought: some of the art materials you can buy are bits of art in themselves. Beautifully designed fabrics, hand-spun or hand-dyed yarn, good musical instruments...these are created by artists who need the support and encouragement of other artists. There are lots of good reasons to buy hand-made local items, from care for the environment to the satisfaction of getting a great product. But remember, as Kathleen Kelly from You've Got Mail would say, it's not just business, "it's personal to a lot of people."

When you're trying to live your life artfully, maybe "personal" is a good place to start.


  1. What great advice. I think it's some instinct that made me buy the better coloring pencils and markers. But it is my daughter who taught me to splurge on the good stuff. And how she enjoys it. She's taking a painting class this semester--her favorite!

    1. Oh, I'm so glad to hear that she's taking a painting class! Her drawings are excellent.


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