By Connie Matthiessen
"Every child is an artist," said Pablo Picasso. (He also said, ""Every act of creation is first an act of destruction" — worth remembering the next time the kitchen wall is covered in Magic Markers.)
Even if you don't expect your child to one day show his or her oeuvre at the Louvre, there are no end of compelling reasons to encourage any and all artistic impulses. Recent research has found that, from kindergarten scribbling to high school self-portraits, the visual arts can play a vital role in developing children's creativity, self-expression, and problem-solving skills.
As a parent, you can nurture your child's innate creativity by exposing her to the work of other artists or encouraging him to paint outside the lines whenever possible. Also essential for your artist-in-residence? Keeping art supplies on hand for whenever inspiration strikes. Here are 10 top gifts that will keep your naturally imaginative kid creating.
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.
Ages 4 and up
Whether in preschool, grade school, or middle school, your artiste will find a museum's worth of inspiration in this portable art box. It's a Draw Art Box can be easily packed away and pulled out to use at home or on an outing — providing plenty of happy distractions. All the essential tools of the trade are tidily packed inside: paints, markers, colored pencils, pastels, paintbrushes, glue, and more. Foldout trays allow for easy access, and the sturdy aluminum box keeps supplies organized.
Bottom line: Pricey yet sturdy and well stocked, this all-in-one art box will provide years of use.
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.
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.
Ages 6 and up
For the kid who not only likes to make art but also wear it, Molotow One4All Paint Markers come in 34 colors that can be used on any fabric (see Converse All Star Blank Canvas Sneakers) and are weather and UV resistant. Another selling point (or caveat): They can be used on almost any surface. So before stuffing any stockings with them, you might want to make clear the household graffiti rules.
Bottom line: All the world's a blank canvas with these professional-quality markers that will paint just about anything.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For tweens and teens (sizes 4 through 13)
Let your Project Runway-inspired fashionista loose on these unisex Chuck Taylor Converse All Star Blank Canvas Sneakers, which she (or he) can customize with fabric paint (see Molotow One4All Paint Markers), jewels (glue gun, anyone?), and whatever other fabulous bling the creator's heart — and sole — desires. Made from bright white, unprimed canvas and available in low- or high-top styles.
Bottom line: Perfect for the one-of-a-kind tween or teen who doesn't follow trends but sets them.