Budding Artist

Got a burgeoning dancer,designer, actor, or artist in your house? Here are gifts to please the most creative of young souls.

By GreatSchools Staff

If it means painting

a Jackson Pollack on the kitchen wall, restraint be damned. Young artists like yours can't help but express themselves, be it penning and producing their own plays, composing a sonata, or drawing a really cool tree. Whatever the artistic medium – visual arts, theater, writing, dance, music – your young talent thrills at the act of self-creation. To help your artist-in-residence achieve greatness, though, he needs the right tools. To that end, we've put together a list of artistically inclined gifts to transport your creative genius to new heights.

Crayon rocks

Crayon Rocks

Ages 3 and up

Yup, these crayons really do rock. Young children may find something magical about the vibrantly hued Crayon Rocks, which look like a collection of semiprecious stones. Their small, pebble-like shape makes them a cinch for small hands to grasp. (And a good small-motor excercise to strengthen muscles needed for writing.) Plus they are nontoxic and made of natural materials (soy wax and mineral colors) and come with a handy cloth pouch for easy storage and portability. The result? Hours of fun creating lushly colored masterpieces. Your fridge will thank you.

Bottom line: A "magic" bag of rocks sure to inspire pintsize artists.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
HarperTrophy (1981)

Many of us will remember imaginative Harold from our own childhoods. These books about an artistic little boy, with true-to-life illustrations, have withstood the test of time and are a must-have for every child’s collection.

MOMA Artist Coloring Books

Ages 5 and up

Say goodbye to ho-hum kiddie coloring books, and have your child apprentice with modern masters instead. On the pages of the Museum of Modern Art's Artist Coloring Books, he can lend his own style to some of the world's greatest masterpieces, including work by Edward Hopper and other modern artists.

Bottom line: A great way to introduce kids to modern art, whether or not they draw inside the lines.

Now I'm reading! Plays: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Ages: 4-7

Now I'm Reading Plays: Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a great way to introduce kids to early reading skills like vocabulary, comprehension, and storytelling

Whether or not your young child is an aspiring thespian, this storybook-cum-playbook has masterfully woven together some of the best elements of early reading, making it — in all senses of the word — the best of child's play.

Given that it is the same price as an average kids' hardcover book, you get a lot for your story bucks: five 16-page play scripts, a 24-page storybook, and four masks (three bears and Goldilocks, of course). Early readers can take the scripts and put on their own show for the grown-ups: The perfect rainy-day (and shhh, learning) activity.

Bottom line: An active and clever way to teach reading through, ahem, play.

Grandpa Green

By Lane Smith

Ages: 5 and up

Grandpa Green used to remember everything. Now he sometimes forgets, but luckily his garden never does. This charming and poignant story follows Grandpa Green's great grandson through the garden where the old man has carved memories of key events in his life — large and small — into fantastic topiaries. Grandpa has shaped trees to reflect growing up on a chicken farm, his time at war, meeting the love of his life, even his fourth-grade bout with chicken pox. (That would be the topiary with the red berries.) The artwork is exquisite: the boy and old man are drawn with simple, expressive lines, while the trees are rendered in lush watercolors, oil paints and digital art.

Bottom line: Grandpa Green is a perfect book for reading with a grandparent or special elder.

Art Activity Easel

Ages 6 and up

What child can resist an easel and blank sheet of paper? This solid hardwood Art Activity Easel from Art Alternatives has it all: a chalkboard, white board, and hidden paper roll that feeds over either side for drawing and painting. It also features three washable plastic baskets for storing paint, chalk, markers, and other supplies. The easel is adjustable, so it will grow along with your child. (The Children's Easel Accessory Set provides your artist-to-be with 30 essential easel supplies including a paper roll, paint, no-spill paint pots, brushes, chalk, markers, and erasers.)

Bottom line: The perfect easel that will long be an artistic household staple.

Washi Tape

MOMA Patterns and Colors Washi Tape

Ages 7 and up

If your kid is the kind who loves tape — we haven't met one yet who doesn't — she'll go crazy for this tape. Made of washi (handmade Japanese paper), the Museum of Modern Art's Patterns and Colors Washi Tape is easy to tear and use and has no end of creative functions: Your child can wrap presents with it, write on it, and even scrapbook with it. Comes in 10 patterns and colors or black and white.

Bottom line: Terrific tape that will make kids' imaginations go wild.

Nomad Compose

Ages: 7 and up

Got an iPad and a kid who likes to draw on it? Turn digital finger painting into a stunning art experience with the Nomad Compose , a brush designed for "painting" with pixels. It works with whatever painting or drawing app you like and feels as if you are working with a brush on paper. It's a remarkable sensation. The brush is 7" long and comes with two interchangeable tips: each tip creates completely different textures on the page...er, screen.

Bottom line: A paintbrush for the digital age that makes creating art on a tablet both futuristic and inspiring.

Klutz Drawing Book

Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered

Ages 8 and up

This "sketchbook with training wheels" has received numerous awards from parents' groups and children's arts advocates. Why the accolades? Klutz's Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered is like a terrific art class packed into a smart, well-stocked, and affordable book. It includes lots of helpful drawing tips, an artist-quality sketch pen, two watercolor pencils, and plenty of space to DIY — plus wisdom and wit from celebrated illustrator Quentin Blake

Bottom line: Encouragement and guidance that will take dedicated doodlers, aspiring cartoonists, and fine artist wannabes to the next level.


By Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellison

Ages: 9 and up

"I have no idea what’s going on but I’m not insane . . . So if you’re going to come along, you’re going to have to believe this stuff too." So declares Prue, the gutsy 12-year-old heroine of this adventure fantasy, the first in a projected trilogy. It's not hard to believe the richly imagined world conjured here in a Portland, Oregon forest known to locals as the Impassable Wilderness. When a flock of crows snatch Prue’s baby brother, she and goofy classmate Curtis must venture into that fearsome Wilderness to rescue him. There they encounter a world where animals talk, plants feel, postmen carry double-barreled rifles, and a terrible power struggle is taking place. Two other pleasures of the book: Ellison's elegant illustrations and Meloy's vocabulary-stretching language.

Bottom line: Wildwood is a great read for fans of such classic fantasies as The Chronicles of Narnia or Alice in Wonderland.

Hearthsong Interior Design Studio

Interior Design Studio Kit

Ages 9 and up

Have a future architect or decorator in the house? Start building his brilliant career with HearthSong's award-winning Interior Design Studio Kit, which allows kids to easily design and color imaginary dream homes. The set includes everything your child needs to create his own interiors, including room samples, vellum, construction-tone pencils, brush markers, and a McMansion's worth of inventive ideas.

Bottom line: The next Frank Lloyd Wright will thank you for such a smart start.

Figures Drawing Set

Aria Beginning Master's Figure Drawing Set

Ages 12 and up

As many an art teacher will confirm, you can't be an abstract master until you master drawing — most notably the human form. This studio-in-a-box deftly guides young artists in perfecting the challenging skill of figure drawing. The Aria Beginning Master's Figure Drawing Set includes an eight-inch manikin, a sketch book, pencils, and a sharpener, as well as an illustrated guide.

Bottom line: Help kids master figure drawing (and, with luck, score a scholarship) to art school) with this modest investment.

PLAYFULL Waterproof Video Camera

Ages: Middle school and up

When Spielberg was a kid, he started out making movies on an inexpensive but cumbersome Super 8 camera. Your budding filmmaker has it much easier. She can slide the credit-card sized PLAYFULL Waterproof Video Camera into a back pocket and whip it out as the cinéma vérité unfolds around her. And if a film subject takes offense at your young paparazzo and a scuffle ensues, no worries — at least not about the camera. It will survive a five-foot drop (and it's waterproof to boot!). Uploading her creation is as simple as flipping out the USB plug, sticking it into a computer, and clicking the camera's "share" button. With a pocket full of SDHC cards to store her raw footage, she could create an epic — all of it filmed in HD.

Bottom line: A sweet, affordable HD video camera that will fit in a pocket and survive being dropped into spilled cereal milk.