DIY
Backyard Watercolors Anytime Activity

At heart, I’m really kind of a lazy mother. If I have to go to a lot of trouble to set up a fun activity, I’m apt to find a million excuses for putting it off until tomorrow. But that tendency conflicts with my desire to be a mom who says yes, a mom who makes anything possible. Take, for instance, painting. My kids love to paint—the younger set especially. A couple of years ago, I realized that the muss and fuss of set-up and clean-up was causing me to say “Not now, sweetie” more often than “Sure!”

That’s when I assembled the Art Bag.

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Taking a tip from a friend, I cut large sheets of watercolor paper into postcard-sized-pieces. (Real watercolor paper is pricy but much more satisfying to paint on than drawing paper, so cutting it into smaller pieces economizes and reduces waste—and the postcards are the perfect size for tucking into an envelope later, with a little note on the back.) I stocked a sturdy, wide-mouthed bag with the paper, several sets of watercolors, a couple of blank books for sketching, some pencils and good colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, some plastic cups for water, and a few paper towels for blotting mistakes.

I tend to use cheap trays of watercolors because they are quick and easy—the tube paints allow a wider range of color-mixing, of course, but you’ll need jars or trays to serve as palettes. We save tube paints for fancier projects; our backyard Art Bag is all about convenience.

I keep meaning to pick up some of those special watercolor brushes with the fat, hollow handles that hold water; all you do is squeeze a little and the water drips out. For now, we make do with regular brushes and cups of water.

For a surface to paint on, we like dry-erase markerboards. They’re flat and smooth, and spilled paint wipes off easily.markerboards-475x429

I try to keep the Art Bag stocked and ready, so that any time one of the kids wants to paint, he or she can grab the bag and head outside—or to the kitchen table. The bag makes set-up and clean-up easy for indoor painting, as well; even my two year old can get himself set up to paint. He only needs help filling his cup with water.

(Actually, I have a trick for the toddler: instead of giving him a cup of water to dip the brush into, I pre-moisten all the paints in his tray. He doesn’t care if the colors get mixed. In fact, that is generally his primary objective. Because really, when you’re two, is there anything nicer than a nice gloppy, muddy brown mess?)

I’ve also noticed that if I grab the bag myself and spread a blanket under the trees, the sight of Mom painting a picture is a powerful magnet for children of all ages. Before I know it, I’ll be surrounded by four or five busy young artists—and only one of them is likely to be drinking the paint water. At times like that, I don’t feel like a lazy mom at all.

Melissa Wiley

Melissa Wiley is the author of The Prairie Thief, Inch and Roly Make a Wish, Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, and other books for children. Between chapters, she's raising a brigade of book nerds in sunny San Diego and blogging the adventure at Here in the Bonny Glen. Melissa and her husband Scott Peterson are cowriters of Into the Thicklebit, a webcomic about family, illustrated by Chris Gugliotti.

8 Comments
  1. Awesome! I find that whenever I pull out my art supplies, my kids will gladly sit down and join me. When I use my supplies in public, I often get an interested audience and I like to invite them to join me. Sharing portable art is an awesome feeling.

    Happy Painting!

  2. Jennifer

    I have some thing like this put together for our daughter. Since we do a lot of our art out on nature walks, two things I’ve added is a round bug box and magnifying glass for nature exploring. And the bug box can double as a container for water for the water colors in her kit as well when we are out and about.

  3. Jason W.

    Great ideas! Thanks! Might have to hit up the store for some supplies on the way home from work today. I like the idea of cutting the watercolor paper into smaller sizes too.

  4. yvonne

    I love your suggestion of the dry erase markerboard!! I already have an art bag, thanks to your splendid post last summer. (I used one of my free diaper bags from the hospital.) My bag looked as tidy as yours ONCE and only once. LOL!

  5. Debra in GA

    Great idea! Just wondering what specific kind of paper you’re using for the watercolor postcards? I’m not very art supply-savvy…Thanks!

    • Melissa Wiley

      I bought a big package of Fabriano cold press watercolor paper years ago. It comes in huge sheets–we can get 16 postcard-sized pieces out of a sheet, I think. (Sometimes we fold it to bigger pieces–quarters, for example. Each quarter makes 4 postcards.)

      Real watercolor paper is expensive, but it is so much more satisfying to paint on than other paper. It’s the one thing I splurge on. We buy dollar-store paint trays for our younger children.

      Here’s an example of the paper at Cheap Joe’s: http://www.cheapjoes.com/cat/30453/

  6. My I had found this post very delightful to read. Even though I have no children I still could relate with the part about being a lazy person well in my case a lazy Aunt.

    This is my first visit here

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