Let’s assume, for a moment, that you’ve started with some basic supplies, or already had supplies sitting around your house. Perhaps you don’t quite know what to do with them. Perhaps they’re sitting around collecting dust. In order for your supplies to get some decent use, you’re going to need a space to use them.
I realize that not everyone is going to have a dedicated space in their home set aside simply for creative exploits. I’m an artist, and lucky enough to have a small bedroom in our house that serves as my studio. With big windows providing plenty of natural light, it’s a fantastic space meant only for art, writing and waiting around for inspiration. As such, I don’t mind if it’s a mess and I have long since given up worrying about the state of the carpet. If you can’t have a space like this, dedicated and completely open to experiments and mess-making, what do you do?
Look around your home. Do you have a small corner of a room that could take a table or desk meant for art or writing? If you can’t set aside part of a room, could you use a room at certain times of the day, or when inspiration strikes? Could you turn your kitchen table into an art studio for an hour or two? What about the mess? Do you balk at using paint because you fear for the safety of your table, floor or wall? It’s very important to find a space that can get a little messy. Mess goes with the territory of art and creation. There isn’t much getting around that, though I have a couple of suggestions that might help.
If you are looking to create a nook or corner of your space to leave open for art and other creative pursuits, think about getting a small table or surface from a thrift store, something that you don’t spend much money on, don’t care much about and don’t mind getting a little messy. Put the table in the corner that you’ve set aside and consider getting a small area rug to go beneath the table to protect the floor from spills. You could cover the wall above the table with something inspirational, like a cork board filled with your kids’ art, pieces of interesting pattered fabric, or quotes from your favorite books. If you prefer a cleaner look, hang some framed art, either your own, your kids’ or your favorite artist.
If you can’t dedicate a space and would rather set up temporary art zones, I highly recommend investing in a drop cloth. These are readily available at paint and hardware stores. There are all kinds and they range in price. If you can afford it, I would suggest going for a canvas drop cloth. They will last…forever. They roll out and roll back up easily, and can be quite compact to store. I have two of them. I have used them for about eight years. They are a mess and they are beautiful. Every mark on them is a record of what we’ve done over the years. If I’m worried about the floor, I’ll lay these out. If I’m worried about a tabletop, I’ll lay them over the surface. If you want something less expensive or waterproof (which canvas is not), you can go for a plastic or plastic-lined cloth. These will really protect against spills, though they may not last as long. Whatever type you go for, putting down a little protection for your floors and surfaces will make you less uptight as your children experiment with form and color.
Weather-permitting, you can really keep the mess out of your house by using any available outdoor space. Be it a garage, a patio, or a sidewalk, creating outside can be very freeing, opening up your creative mind to different possibilities. We love to color with sidewalk chalk and have painted our white vinyl fence with washable paint. A clipboard, sketchbook or journal can be brought outside easily and an easel can allow for painting the landscape around you, whatever it may be. Just the act of being outdoors, with or without creative material, will impact your muse, as you take in the sights and sounds.
Make sure that your children are aware of the appropriate space(s) you’ve opened to creativity and then keep those supplies handy. Depending on the age of your child, you’ll want certain, but perhaps not all, supplies within reach. That way, your child can seek out the supplies when they feel inspired, giving them agency in their own creative endeavors. You know your child best and you’ll have a pretty good sense of what you feel comfortable allowing access to.
Now, I’m going to shift gears. There is another aspect to establishing a safe creative space in your home, and it’s just as important as the physical location I’ve talked about above. You will need to hold a safe emotional space for children to create. (This is just as important for adults. Be kind to yourselves. Allow yourselves room to grow, without judgement). Creative confidence is tenuous and extremely easily lost. It needs to be built up and encouraged. Parents, often with the best of intentions, can derail that confidence. Let me show you how.
I have spent countless hours over the years attending artistic and creative programs with my daughter. I have witnessed parent after parent cringe at their child’s creation, make loving, though misguided suggestions for how to fix it, even taking the project from their child and ‘improving’ it or micromanaging each detail from the sideline. I have seen children look to their parents before making creative decisions or look to them after making a decision, awaiting final approval. The result of this parental intervention is obvious when children are removed from the influence of their parents. I have witnessed an entire room full of elementary-aged children balk at a creative challenge, asking as a group for something easier, less thought-provoking. I have worked with children as young as three on basic creative writing skills who have insisted that they can’t imagine a character to build a story around. That they are not creative. And I find it shocking every time. These same children, with a little encouragement, almost always come up with something interesting. Whether they believe it or not, they are creative.
In order to grow and nurture creative confidence in children, we must stop judging their creativity. Unless we are teaching them a specific skill or technique (which obviously necessitates a degree of involvement and guided improvement), we must stop making suggestions and taking over their projects. I’m not going to say this is easy. I’m not going to tell you that I’ve never made a suggestion to my daughter, that I’ve never cringed or had to literally bite my tongue to stop myself from telling her that mixing all the paint together and slathering it on a canvas looks…terrible. Nobody is perfect and allowing your children to create without judgment is truly a challenge. But it’s a necessary challenge. It’s how they grow. They are proud of what they create, even if we can’t see the visual merit. They need a safe emotional space to experiment, to grow, to find their own voices. What they see as beautiful may not be the same as what we see. It may grow and evolve, or we may never see eye to eye. What’s important is that they feel safe enough in their home environment to express themselves. Allow this expression to be free.
Now, go forth and find that safe creative space for yourselves. Determine what it looks like for your family. Invite yourselves to the table.