When I was five, my mother gave me a old-fashioned tackle box, lovingly stocked full of brand new art supplies: different types of pencils, index cards, markers, watercolors, erasers, glitter, even stickers and stamps. Our annual Christmas audio tape (it was 1979!) records little me exclaiming, after a speechless moment, “ooooohhhhh… I WANNA DWAW!” For the rest of that Christmas morning, I had no interest in opening gifts. I kept repeating, “But I just wanna dwaw! I wanna dwaw SO BAD!”
Most artists remember receiving THAT gift… the art supplies that filled them with such utter, magical joy. Sometimes we feel like the only thing more beautiful than a masterfully executed art piece is a fresh bunch of brushes and a blank canvas. Our hearts race and our pulse quickens at the sight of a clean rainbow-hued set of gleaming, new pastels, pencils or paints.
A few of the best artists we know, the Art Steps teachers, have shared memories of their favorite childhood surprises:
“Miss” Valerie describes her favorite gift, “…a set of oil pastels mailed to me by my Grandpa. They came from Germany .. and they had a white plastic case…
“I didn’t use them right away — I wasn’t exactly sure about them — I didn’t know how they were different from crayons. I didn’t have art class to teach me. I just loved them all together… how they looked, the unusual design of the art on the case … so very foreign … and especially that pristine rainbow of little color sticks lined up in two rows. I loved that I couldn’t read anything — it was all in German….I have managed to keep some of them since the 80s….you can tell from the photo, I hardly used them though … my love for them was all about aesthetics and possibility…”
Lora says, “My favorite art supply as a kid was a fashion drawing kit. It came with stencils of figures in different poses and texture cards. It had some examples as well. I drew so many models because I could trace the figure, which was hard to draw at that age, but then my creativity could come out designing different outfits filled with different colors and patterns. I could draw hairstyles and accessories, creating different women with different stories and lives.
Aaron explains that when his parents invested in an artist’s drawing table, it signaled to him that they were ready to take him seriously as an artist. Gemma’s favorite art tradition was receiving those all-in-one art sets. “One year it was acrylic paints, brushes, and an easel,” she says. From then on “my family always gave me a new one every year. I was always excited when I got a new art supply to add to my collection.”
Lindsey, who grew up taking classes at our studio, recalls her 16th birthday. “For me, it more that my mom designated an area in our guest room where I was allowed to paint. She bought an easel and canvases that I got to put it in there. I was so excited. Just being able to go into there and shut the door and play my own music without being interrupted, and to kind of have that be my own little area to get into ‘the zone’ was the best part of it. It was my first little studio.”
Yves received two “how to draw” books that his mom gave him when he was about 8 years old. “One of the books was on the basics of drawing people and the other one, the basics of drawing simple animation type cartoons. They were my favorite books at the time: less words and more images! They were definitely memorable, especially when they helped me draw a likeness of a family member for the first time!”
Kristie, also a former student, reveals a highly personal connection to drawing and painting: “My mom had a tackle box full of art supplies, from when she used to do art. It was mostly pencil supplies, like kneaded erasers, some blending sticks, Prismacolors, charcoal. I was so happy because I was always looking at my mom and trying to be an artist like her… She gave it to me in 7th grade, right before I started my first art class at school. I felt like the best kid in art class because most of the kids only had the basic colors, but I had this whole variety, even ones from Germany, too. It made me feel special.”
“One particular Christmas stands out in my memory” writes Elizabeth. “I received a beautiful colored pencil set and (the part I was really excited about) and two volumes of an illustrated encyclopedia of mammals. I LOVED animals and drawing them and this was the perfect gift, as I drew from those encyclopedias for years and actually still have them.”
“My parents gave me an easel that doubled as a painting easel and chalkboard,” says Miss Marielle. “I felt like a true artist, standing at my easel with my artwork displayed for my whole family to see. It was a huge transition from just regular notebook paper and working on our kitchen table. It meant that my parents took my interests seriously. In retrospect, I feel that my parents supported and encouraged me to further my interest and talent at such a young age, which is really everything in the world to a growing artist.”
What treasures. Every artist is different, but we all had something that lit us up. My tackle box full of art supplies came with the promise that my mom would restock it every birthday and Christmas to come, and sure enough, my childhood was filled with the best possible kind of magic. To this day, every year is still filled with art. Thanks, Mom. And thanks to you moms and dads for reading this. I hope you’ve found a little bit of inspiration too.