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Accessible Materials in the Art Studio

Sara Ottomano
In the Art Studio, we are always thinking about our materials and tools. When we make purchases, we consider their sustainability, accessibility, and quality. 
Some of this information can be found through research, some through experimentation in the studio, and other times, they came through suggestions by the public. We’d like to share in this article information about some of our favorite accessible materials in the studio. (Note: We are not sponsored by any brands, we make our recommendations here based upon their use in the Art Studio. We have included links to where they can be purchased, but please support your local shops or secondhand shops such as Make and Mend whenever possible.) 
A colorful line-up of beeswax crayons.

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.

Available at The Carle’s Bookshop, A to Z Science & Learning Store,​​​​​​​ Nasco, and Blick

Several colorful colored pencils lined up next to each other.

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.

Available at The Carle’s Bookshop, Guild Art SupplyNasco, and Blick

Three, large homemade crayons in different colors stacked up together.

DIY Crayons

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. 

A colorful line-up of Stabilos, placed in rainbow-color order.

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.

Available at The Carle’s Bookshop, Blick, and Michael’s

Three loop scissors with handles that are attached together in one continuous loop of plastic.

Loop Scissors

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.

Available at Fun and Function and Nasco

Two lefty scissors next to each other with the word "lefty" written on each scissors' blade.

Lefty Scissors

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.

Available at Fiskars and Jo-Ann

A hand slides a ceramic box cutter blade out from a plastic holder.

Ceramic Tools

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 unfortunately expensive, so this will be a longer-term transition.

Available at Blick, Jo-Ann, and Slice Products

An X-ACTO craft knife with curved handle next to it's blade cap.

X-ACTO Designer Series #1 Craft Knife

These adult craft knives have been successful in our older adult classes for their ergonomic design. They have a soft grip handle, and the shape makes them easier to grip than the classic X-ACTO shape.

Available at Michael’s, and Jo-Ann

Two small hole punchers that sit flat on a table surface, with a push-down lever to activate.

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

The Make-do cardboard kit with a plastic saw, screwdriver, and screws.

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.

Available at Demco, Nasco, and Makedo

Three Prang glue sticks lying next to each other.

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.

Available at Nasco, Guild Art Supply, and Blick

Two small glue bottles, one standing and one lying down.

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

A stack of four pieces of easy-to-cut rubber blocks to use in printmaking.

Easy-to-Cut Printmaking Blocks

These blocks made of rubber are a friendly alternative to harder linoleum materials. They create wonderful prints and have been used in our older adult programming at The Carle.

Available from Guild Art Supply. Blick, Blick, and Michael’s.  

A stack of three bottles of Akua printmaking inks.

Akua Inks

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.

Available at Guild Art Supply, Blick, and Michael’s

Two small squeeze bottles with small spouts, one standing up and one on its side.

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

Two sets of dried tempera paint cakes with three colors in each set.

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.

Available at Nasco, Blick, and Michael’s. (The trays we use are unfortunately no longer manufactured, but similar ones can be purchased at China Fair, Williams Sonoma, and Webstaurant.) 

A no-spill cup assembled with a lid and extra top leaning against it.

No-Spill Cups

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.

Available at Discount School Supply, and with different lids at Blick, and Nasco.  

An apron and a smock, both folded lengthwise to show one has sleeves, and the other is sleeveless.

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

Three homemade stamp pads of different sizes and colors stacked against each other.

Stamp Pads

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.  

Three stamps with large, circle handles stacked against each other, with one showing a base with teardrop shaped patterns on it.

Handled Stamps

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.

Available at School Specialty and Nasco

A needle threader, with a white thread on the hook, being put through the eye of a sewing needle.

Needle Threaders

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

Five large plastic needles placed next to each other on a table.

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.

Available at Jo-Ann, and Nasco

Authors

Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator since 2016 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.

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