Art is good for kids. It helps them build what researchers have termed “studio thinking,” the set of cognitive tools that artists develop, including stick-to-itiveness, collaboration, motor skills, and creative thinking. Mario Asaro, a fine arts teacher at MS 158 in Queens, adds that the prominence of visuals in our culture and the related trend of more jobs requiring artistic skills in the future are also important reasons for kids to study the arts.
Asaro, also the president of the New York City Art Teachers Association, has been teaching art for 32 years. He recommends that the parents of his students not settle for big box and office supply stores. He says there are lots of reasons to shop at art supply stores like Blick.
“You can often get much more for your money if you know what you’re looking for,” Asaro says. And then there’s the variety and quality of the supplies. “I tell my students that they don’t have to get professional grade materials, but they’ll notice the difference between a pack of pencils they can buy at the 99 cent store or a box of crayons they might get at Staples and the different types of materials they have at Blick.”
Blick and its counterparts carry plenty of student-level supplies, “an intermediate between more expensive professional grade materials and what you would find in office supply stores.” It’s these supplies that Asaro recommends for his students, and you can find the products below both at Blick and in his classroom.
Prismacolor Colored Pencils
These student-grade colored pencils are available in a ton of different colors and quantities. They’re durable and their colors are bright. Asaro recommends getting a blender as well, a colorless pencil that lets kids combine colors on the page.
Dixon Ticonderoga Pencils
The ubiquitous number two is always a necessity, but Asara recommends seeking out harder to find number one and number three versions, which have softer and harder leads, respectively. Artist pencil sets include a wider variety of hardness and darkness levels, but Asaro says they probably aren’t necessary for your kid.
Prismacolor Ebony Pencil
This pencil is, according to Asaro, “an all-purpose dark black, very sturdy, and easy to sharpen.” A two-pack is just a bit more than a dollar.
Tombow Refillable Eraser
For kids working on their drawing skills or sketching plans for works in other media, Asaro is a big fan of these mechanical erasers (he has dozens in his classroom.) This version comes with a 2.3 mm-diameter tip, but 2.5 and 5 mm refills are also available.
Part of drawing is making sure one’s pencils are properly sharpened, and sharpening by hand gives artists more control over the point they’re drawing with. Asaro has a few of these in his classroom, where his students can use them under supervision.
Gouache Opaque Watercolor Paints
The student-grade line of these versatile paints is helpfully called Student Gouache, and you can get 24 10 mL tubes for about 54 cents each. Asaro says these “are heavy if you want to use them as opaque, or you can water them down and use them as watercolors.”
Prismacolor NuPastel Color Sticks
Like Prismacolor’s colored pencils, their pastel chalks come in individual colors and varying quantities of multipacks. It’s worth mentioning that pastel chalk is a smudgeable medium, and you can buy a $5 fixative to preserve your kid’s work. However, Asaro says you can use dollar cans of hairspray to the same effect. Just make sure your kids use them on a thicker paper that can soak up the paint.
Asaro is admittedly old school, but he is also quick to point out how good much of the computer-based art his students make outside of class is. “In the old days, computer art was very clunky and hard to manage, and the reason was you couldn’t control the pressure.” With modern, pressure-sensitive tools like Wacom tablets, kids can draw on a computer in much the same way they’d draw on a piece of paper.