Art Supplies: Perfect Paints

Paint is the perfect elementary school art medium. Picking up a paint brush is irresistible to kids and I know why; it’s when the magic happens. It’s vibrant, messy and oozy. But even though kids love paint, sometimes it’s hard to know what paint is best for the classroom. In keeping with my series on popular art supplies, here is a list of paint that has worked and some that haven’t.

 

Today’s Feature: Perfect Paints!

Tempera paint is by far–and I stress–by far the most essential paint to have in your classroom. I use it for more than 3/4′s of all my painting projects. I love Crayola Brand mostly by default. It’s the brand that my school district orders and when I tag onto the school’s large order, I get a better deal. I get the basic colors: Black, White (more white than any other color), Flesh, Primary and Secondary colors, Turquoise and Brown. With these colors you can achieve most any color that you desire.

Other art teachers have found success using other brands and the truth is, I don’t think they vary much. So order whichever brand offers the best deal.

Distribution of Paints:

I like to distribute my tempera paints in 6-well plastic trays for projects that require my students to mix paints. I try to gauge how much paint the class will use because once you squirt the paint into the trays, it’s hard to save the left-overs. Sometimes I will mix colors directly in the bottles and then squirt the new color into the tray. I think it helps give the painting project a color boost. Try adding a bit of white to the standard yellow. It takes the green tinge away making the paint so much prettier.

Tip: If you need to save the paint-filled palettes until the next day, place some plastic wrap on top. It should keep the paint relatively moist for up to 3 days.

When a project calls for general colors, I like to set plastic tubs of pre-mixed paints on the tables. This is my preferred method as I don’t waste paints. Even if the colors come straight from the bottle, it makes sharing paint and brushes much easier. After the class is over, wipe the rim and place the plastic cover on. My paints will last 2-3 months with this method. Any longer and the paint will begin to smell.

Specialty Paints:

There are alot of specialty paints out there that look pretty darn fun. I’ve tried quite a few and feel that most aren’t worth it. Here are the ones I’d recommend:

Sargent Art Metallic Tempera: I love, love, love the gold and silver version of these metallic paints. I wouldn’t bother buying the other colors as there isn’t much need. They are expensive, about $6 for an 8-oz bottle, but if you use them as an embellishment for a painting or collage project, you’ll be surprised at how long they can last. Even in a project that requires an entire surface be covered, like these Poinsettia Plants, you still won’t need more than 1/3 of the bottle for 2-3 classes.

Occasionally, I have purchased colored metallic paints like red or turquoise. I love these two colors as they are really a standout in some of the projects that I have done. The Cardinal in Winter is my favorite and you can see how beautifully the metallic blue paint works.

If you can afford to buy a couple of bottles, stick with gold and silver and give these a try. Lots of fun and the kids LOVE them.

Glitter Paint: I’ve purchased a couple different brands of glitter paint hoping for that magical formula but I’ve always been disappointed. The paint always ends up with a strange viscosity; a bit gluey and transparent. I’d pass on glitter paint in the tempera form although the liquid watercolor glitter paint is a bit better (but still doesn’t have the wow factor I was hoping for). Your best bet with glitter is the old shaker style glitter which you can apply on top of any paint surface. And it’s alot more fun as well.

Pan Watercolor Paints: You may all know that I adore liquid watercolor paints and it’s really my go-to choice when it comes to any watercolor project. I’ve written a whole post on the virtues of liquid watercolor but I don’t often talk about pan watercolors. And there is a good reason for that; I don’t like ‘em. Mixing cheap pan watercolors is frustrating for many kids; the colors get muddy, the pans are never clean and cleaning them is a pain. BUT they’re an important part of art education, so I must use them.

I’ve used Prang brand ever since I’ve started teaching art and although they are probably as good as any other affordable paint set out there, this is the year that I’m changing it up. I don’t yet know which brand I will buy but if anyone has had success with anything in particular, let me know.  It might be time to invest in a better quality and order fewer sets and use them only for my upper grades.I’ll let you know what transpires.

Update: October 6th, 2011. I just ordered double palettes (24 cakes) of Prang Watercolor sets and by golly, they’re pretty good. I’m using them right now with a James Rizzi art project and the colors are fantastic. Maybe it’s because the palettes are brand new or perhaps it’s because the variety of colors makes it unnecessary to mix, but I like them alot.

 

Fluorescent Paints: I bought a set of fluorescent paints last year. They were expensive; about $50 for six, 16oz bottles. Would I buy them again? Probably not. I did find having the pink and orange on hand was great as it’s hard to get a good vibrant pink and orange from mixing the standard tempera. Aside from these two colors, I didn’t think the other colors (yellow, green and blue) were of any great advantage to any of my projects. If you can order separately, get the pink and orange and then at least you will have the bright color in your paint arsenal.

Have you found any other must-have paints? Please share what you have found!

Here are three links for great art supplies….

eNasco Art Supplies

School Specialty (Sax)

Dick Blick

This post contains affiliate links

34 comments

  1. Katie Morris says:

    I’ve used Crayola watercolors and they are really vibrant. I think some of their sets have different rules for mixing colors which makes me wonder if it would confuse the students. I thinking it was something like mixing red orange and red violet to make a red, for example, but I can’t remember for sure.

  2. lauralee says:

    I love the prang semi moist oval DOUBLE sets, really nice color selections, especially turquoise and magenta. Have tired other and still go back to prang.

  3. Therese says:

    What are the paints in the first photo underneath the watercolors? Those colors are beautiful!

    I love Blicks student grade tempera and Sargents liquid watercolors- I just ordered the Sargents Metallics- so I’m so glad you recommend them! Can’t wait to get messy! :)

  4. phyl says:

    I purchase mostly Sax Versatemp for tempera – good consistency and less expensive than Crayola, plus they are from School Specialty which is where I’m supposed to do my orders.

    I also use a lot of acrylics, in particular for papier mache projects, clay (air dry clay is all I have), and plaster bandage sculpture. I am partial to Nasco’s Bulk-krylics. They are a school grade acrylic but the colors are pretty nice. I’ve aslo used Blick’s school acrylic and they are OK too. I do NOT like Chromacryl. The colors are wonderful but the paints are SO thick they are hard to get out of the bottles so there is a lot of waste, and they are also tougher for the kids to keep their brushes clean.

  5. eam says:

    I use Reeve — it’s a palette with landscape colors. To mix, I’ll often have kids use a glazing technique.
    I too use acrylics — liquitex or Reeve brand — I stretch the acrylics by having kids gesso the paper first — it’s fun and the paint goes on so smoothly. Sargent for liquid watercolor and Dick Bilck for tempera paint.

  6. sue says:

    I also like the crayola tempera.

    Have you ever tried the crayola tempera mixing mediums? Glitter, pearlescent and texture? Was thinking about trying them out this year.

    Any ideas on how to preserve tempera paint on canvas? Polyurethane or something?

    • heather says:

      I order those every single year and my kids adore them. I have mixed them with other liquid paints besides tempera and get great results. The peralescent is generally the fave around here.

  7. joanna says:

    I am a HUGE fan on tempera cakes for my little ones…the do tend to stain my tables, though, when the kids push the paint along the sides of their papers! They love them because only THEY get to use them!!!

  8. debra bearden says:

    A good tip that I found works great is to add 2-3 drops of dishwashing soap to the paint when you dispendse it for the kids. Mix it in and it makes clean-up super easy without affecting the texture of the paint.

  9. Melanie says:

    Hello! First of all, thank you so much for your blog! I am a second year art teacher and have used so many of your tips and ideas to get started.
    I had a question regarding watercolor…I know you said you hate pan watercolor and I am quickly starting to feel the same but I had a whole bunch donated to my art room this year so we are using them. I was wondering if you know any way to prevent them from getting sticky. The kids get the colors so wet, especially after a few class periods of use and then they just turn into a sticky mess pretty much forever. Any tips?

    • Patty says:

      Hi Melanie,
      I suppose there are some virtues to pan watercolors but you certainly hit upon one of the biggest annoyances! Sticky paints. Yuk. Surprisingly enough, that hasn’t been one of my problems but I certainly see it enough. Obviously, the student used too much water. One solution is to dry out the pan quickly. That means an open cover storage option. Just lay them on a table in all their open-face glory and let ‘em dry out. But some never dry out completely and they are always sticky. Only solution is to toss them and stick in another oval. There is probably some scientific solution but well, I’m just not that intuitive.
      Good luck and buy liquid watercolors.
      Have a great second year!

  10. Susan says:

    I’m having trouble with Crayola’s washable tempera. It is not mixing well with other colors and is thick in the bottle, but only a thin layer seems to stick to the paper. I thought I didn’t shake them up well enough so I shook them like mad and it did not help. I’m considering dumping them into my art blender, mixing, then putting it back in the bottle.

    I usually love Crayola, but have never ordered the washable kind before.

    Does anyone have any tips?

    • Patty says:

      Hi Susan,
      This is an unusual problem. I’ve always used washable tempera and although it is thick in the bottle, I always add water to it until I get the consistency I want. I’m not sure why it is not sticking to your paper. It might be best to call customer service where you purchased the paint and see if you have a bad batch.

  11. Susan says:

    Thanks, Patty. I’ll try mixing them with water first, then call costumer service if it still doesn’t work.

  12. Jess says:

    Love your website!

    My art room came with some paint that has probably been sitting on the shelf for a couple years. They smell clear the room terrible. I was wondering, what is the shelf life on tempera paint? Is there a way to avoid it going rotten or is it still usable?

    • Patty says:

      I’m really not sure of the shelf life of tempera paints but if it smells, you probably want to discard it for the smell alone. You can call the manufacturer to see if they can replace it. I’m wondering if they have an expiration date on the bottle? Sometimes this happens to me when I mix my paint in tubs. They start to smell after awhile. I don’t bother with preservatives.

  13. Dale Adams says:

    Watercolors… I have been using Yarka Semi-moist watercolor pan set of 12, for a bout $4 a tray from Dick Blick. They are vivid, and worth the upgrade from a prang or Carola set. Our elementary art teacher discarded the Crayola ones after trying these.

    Cleaning the pans… if you use a tiny stream of warm water rinsing over the pan for about 4 seconds, shake out the excess water/paint, and do it again.. Success! It is clean… as long as the black was on the lower end of things.

  14. Susie Ellis says:

    Dear Patty,
    I have wanted to thank you for a long time! Your site is amazing and has helped me so much in the art room! As far as glitter paint goes, I feel disappointed in glitter paint, too. I found if I watered down glitter glue in cups and provide a brush for the kids, adding glittery details is better than the glitter paint.
    Thanks again!
    Susie

  15. Kristi says:

    New art teacher here. I’m curious to know if you purchase the large gallon jugs of paint or if you purchase the smaller 16 oz bottles at the beginning of the year? Thanks!

  16. Lisa R. says:

    Hi, love the information the site offers. When using watercolor with the kids, they seem to use way too much water, and the colors run and make a mess. How do you get them to use enough water, but not too much? Any suggestions would really be appreciated. Thank you!

  17. Maggie Mo says:

    I have made over 900 papier mache pigs with my students each year for 10 years. At some point, Crayola started making Artista II Washable tempera, now just called Crayola Washable Tempera. Not totally thrilled with the opacity– I mix a bit of white in with the orange and yellow colors so the newspaper doesn’t show through. And if the paint is too thick it cracks when it dries. It’s more expensive, too, but I buy it by the gallon. The up-side is that it completely washes out of clothing, even white t shirts. The old tempera paint would stain no matter what. When I started switching over to Washable tempera, sometimes I’d mix a color and use a bit of the regular tempera, which would turn the paint into silly putty. So I’ve had to be very careful when mixing to only use the washables together. The slippery quality of this paint might be the reason Susan is having trouble getting it to stick. Sometimes you need 2 thin coats.

  18. Katy says:

    I love the Yarka pan water colors. Your ideas are inspirational. I teach kindergarten and I have used and adapted many of your ideas. Thank you for sharing your wealth of experience and creativity.

  19. Sarah J says:

    So, am I a horrible art teacher if I use paper plates to put my tempera paints on? I use it sparingly and give students more if they absolutely need it. The clean up is so fast…into the garbage. It never seems like I have time to wash trays between classes or at the end of the day. And it seems like any extra paint that may be thrown would be washed down the sink using palettes. (Not a lot of paint, just the very end, dried up smear)
    Feeling a little wasteful..but saving time.

  20. Jane C. says:

    Hi Patty… I am Tempera Gloss for my paper Mache masks and when used over the red or black paint it runs and ruins the whole mask! Why would the glaze that is supposed to be for Tempera do that? Any ideas?
    Also my Acrylic in jugs smells really bad, but is working O.k. on my plaster-craft masks… should I throw it out? Thanks!

  21. Any suggestions for containers for tempera paints? What kind of containers are the clear plastic one’s in the photo above? I hate throwing away paint!!!

  22. Sondra says:

    I’ve found the best way to seal and gloss paint on 3D artworks (ceramics, paper mache) is to spray with an acrylic coating such as Krylon Crystal Clear. This is the same stuff usually used on chalk pastels, but I’m amazed how well it works on paint. Just be sure to spray when kids are out of the room and with the windows UP as it’s pretty “fummy.”

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About Patty

Welcome to DSS. I'm an art teacher to 400 elementary kids in Goleta, California. This is where you will find a library of art lessons, handy PDF lesson plans and resources to make teaching art to kids a whole lot easier.
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