Art is a part of our family. It is an effortless joy for us to look and learn from great and beautiful pictures. We have an impressive collection of art books, nearly all of which were bought by my husband and myself before we even met. Because he and I value beauty, our children have inherited a sense of awe and reverence for art.
I realize it isn't so natural for many homeschooling families. There are hundreds of (mostly pricey) art programs that promise to produce little art historians and such. But even for a homeschooler who is completely unversed in the visual arts, I think it's mostly overkill.
An art center in your home doesn't require much space at all. A couple drawers in the kitchen will suffice, plus a place to display some books or prints.
I mostly stock our art center with better quality PLAIN WHITE PRINTER PAPER. Coloring books are a silly invention. Children don't need them. Children are creative. They will get the pictures they want. They will experiment, trace, beg mummy to draw whatever it is they need. "Draw me an 'A', Mommy!" (My children actually call all writing, drawing. They 'draw' instead of 'write' letters and words.) "Draw me a squirrel on a branch, Mommy!" (Um, dear, go find that in your nature book...)
To go with your white paper you'll need crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Don't be sweduced by the fancy brands- beeswax crayons are not magical. Believe me I have used every art supply on planet earth, and for children under the age of ten, and for most children OVER the age of ten, washabe Crayola is fine. Don't buy the cheaper brands because they really don't work as well, but save the fancy Lyra, Prismacolor, Stockmar, and Koh-I-Noor stuff for older children who really want to pursue art seriously.
The best accompaniments I have found for these simple supplies are Ed Emberley's drawing books. Have a child with poor handwriting who hates to practice? Hand him or her Ed Emberley's Make a World or Ed Emberley's Animals on a Saturday morning and see what happens. These books utilize basic handwriting strokes to make very cool, quick, fun drawings of anything and everything. The child is motivated to observe closely and make the strokes properly in order that the item (s)he is drawing comes out right. Just don't require anyone to work out of these books or I think you'll really spoil the effects!
For clay play, regular or homemade play-dough and some fun tools will do the job. Older children may enjoy Plastalina, a clay that never dries. (It's what's used for claymation movies.) A stack of construction paper is all most children need for endless crafts (cutting, glueing, and sculpting masks, teepees, paper dolls, and whatever else), with maybe a couple of magazines for cutting out nice photos and pictures to use. I'm very amused by the kits and packs sold for homeschoolers with pre-cut shapes for different 'crafts', as if children with a pair of scissors and a pile of colored paper needed any of them!
Really, that's all you need. We also have lots of craft sets that have been given as gifts, as well as pan watercolor paints. Any other paints are at your discretion... sometimes too much paint creates insane mothers, if you know what I mean.
The art books and prints you choose to have in your home should be those you love and really enjoy looking at. Some kid-friendly artists include Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Raphael, Pontormo (Italian), Velazquez(Spanish), M.C. Escher, Grandma Moses (a wonderful choice when studying American History), and Rembrandt. Another lesser-known artist whose work is very informative and appropriate for children is the painter Morandi. He is what is called "a painter's painter"- meaning painters love him and most other people have never heard of him! It is very good to have several books of individual artists so you and your kids can get a true feel for their particular styles. For a wide variety of artists is one book, try the Come Look with Me series of children's art books.
Tracing paper can be helpful for a child who wants to copy pictures out of these books- my oldest son recently spent days tracing and freehanding the Mona Lisa. He decided, in the end, that there was a good reason it was one of the most famous pictures in the world!
Used book stores and Barnes & Noble's bargain section are wonderful places to find art books economically. A cheap acrylic or wooden book display that allows a book to be held open is a nice touch, with the book and page changed often. Many libraries have full-sized, framed art prints you can check out for 6 weeks at a time. My husband checks out a diferent print for our home and his office faithfully every month.
None of this promises that your children will become extreme art lovers, prodigy art historians, or draughtsmen of wonder. But it does promise an easy, inexpensive, enjoyable way for your whole family to explore the visual arts.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."
"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."
"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, "You mean they forget?""