Archiving Childhood Artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

Any artwork that I did in elementary school art class is long gone. I remember a few projects very well, mostly the 3-D cities and marshmallow covered grapefruits that resembled igloos rather accurately, but there is no tangible evidence that either ever existed. Drawings that I did on my own at my kitchen table, however, were saved.

As a child, I drew all the time. There was nothing I wanted to do more than to be tucked away in my kitten wallpapered room and left alone with my Laurentian pencil crayons and my typewriter paper tablet.

That’s all children need to have a creative experience: time, some type of marking tool and some type of paper. I did not have special drawing supplies or special art instruction. I simply drew because that is when I felt truly myself.

Have you ever been immersed in an activity where you have completely lost track of time? Or didn’t have to think or struggle about what to do next? Drawing for me was complete joy. I couldn’t stop my imagination. I see that same look sometimes in art class….when a child is completely wrapped up in creative energy…happy, producing…then I have to ring the clean-up bell. Dang it!

Art needs to extend into a child’s home experience if that’s what a child is inclined to do. That’s where the real magic happens.

My imaginary world…

When I was a young girl around the age of ten, I created a school that later became Greenwood Academy. I developed profiles of 60 girls and created 5 years worth of yearbooks to document their athletic and personal accomplishments. Hundreds of pages of treasured drawings and records were stored in school notebooks and binders until this November. I wanted to archive my drawings, to preserve them in a way, for my daughter or whomever should want them later on.

I also thought it would be fun to document the story behind the drawings, like my formula for naming my girls, or why the school was strictly a grade seven-eleven school, so I added my own adult commentary to embellish my scrapbooks.

Removing these bits and pieces from the yellowing tablets, was an exercise in pure nostalgia. What fun to revisit my ten year-old self and have the memories of each drawing reignited. I remember drawing each one as if it were yesterday (and it was clearly not!). Want a peek?

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

How to archive childhood artwork

Here’s what I did and what supplies I used:

Art supplies stores are a great resource for archiving old artwork. I bought a hardcover 11″ x 14″ watercolor pad. The pages are bound and beautiful. Perfect for a lasting memory.

Use rubber cement to adhere all drawings to the watercolor pad pages. Rubber cement is underrated. Not only is it acid-free but you can peel off the artwork if you need to reposition or remove. No tearing or damaging.

Use acid-free pens that don’t leach through the paper. Uni-Ball pens are great; Sharpie’s are not.

Add acid-free scrapbooking paper to define ages or grade levels but be careful not to buy paper that is too thick. I made this mistake. Now my book is bowing with the extra page inserts. If you do use paper to add weight to artwork or headings, just use them sparingly.

Colored pencils and watercolors are much better to help emphasize artwork and text rather than scrapbook paper. The results are more artistic and it helps keep the book from becoming too heavy.

I finished archiving Greenwood’s first year into a acid-free sketchbook, now I’m ready to start on year two. Do you have any childhood art work that needs to be archived? Do you have a special way that you saved it?

What do you think?

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  • Asiyah

    This post absolutely rocks! When I was a kid, I drew reams of 1 page comics with the profile of two people talking. I called it “The Talking Heads”. I wish I still had those but I plan to archive my daughter’s drawings and need tips to do so. Especially since she (in her 5 year old wisdom) quit ballet and announced that she is an artist, not a ballerina. LOL!

  • Fatcat

    Very cool.

    I drew houses/floorplans when I was a kid. I should have been an architect, I guess.

  • Pat Stevens

    I remember drawing futuristic cities, house floorplans, Egyptian figures (using cubits!!) and lots of comic strips. I also spent a lot of time designing fonts and writing words in different ways. Mom didn’t save any of it…….Sigh……….

    • Patty Palmer

      My mother didn’t save mine, but I did. I was so prolific, my mother probably couldn’t make sense of the boxes of drawings I stored. I’m so glad I have them. I try to save my kid’s artwork by scanning and photographing them, but now I’m realizing that nothing is like the real thing.

  • Christie

    Have you thought of making this into a book???? Very cool – it brings back memories of the hundreds of drawings I, too, did in childhood years.

  • Phyl

    Oh my god, Patty, what a treasure! I have virtually no record of the artwork I did as a child. Don’t know why, but it s sad. Thanks so much for sharing your marvel with us!

    • Patty Palmer

      It’s a sad feeling isn’t it? I used to save all my childhood books until one year the basement flooded in my parent’s home and turned my precious books to mildew. I was devastated. I spent the next fifteen years searching used bookstores and eBay to replace them!

  • Laura Dodson

    With five sons, three of them elementary age, I have a very difficult time keeping all of their work. The three are prolific creators: drawings, box sculptures, booklets galore. I want them to continue to make away, however, I have no room to store it all.

    About a year ago, I did purchase each an inexpensive sketch book with spiral binding, and they loved it. I believe that will be their gift this year.


  • Joanne

    I have 11 year old triplets. They love art! They produce tons of stuff…I learned pretty quick that it would not all fit in our house forever…enter my digital camera. I photograph and save everything they do. I have them make a label for every piece of art with the name and the name of their piece..sometimes that it the best part! Once we take photos they get to decide if it is special enough to save in our forever folder (big art holder I bought at Michael’s -we have two full ones) …if it is not a save forever it goes on the fridge for the week and the hits the trash…but will forever be on the computer. We just made disks last year for their “first ten years of art”.

  • Susan Antonelli

    This is absolutely fantastic. I love it so much! I’m going to show my daughter- she loves to do this same kind of imaginary “world creating!”
    Right now I have 8 years worth of my children’s artwork in 3 huge plastic bins. I know; I’ve got to do something with it! It’s just that some of the pieces are so big! I’ve seen the ideas for photographing kid art and publishing an “art book” but I’m not willing to part with their original work. I can still see brushstrokes and pudgy little fingerprints – so precious to me.

  • Carmela Marciante

    Wow! I’m impressed by 10 yr old Patty! This is extensive and thorough. How a bout a “comic book” about them? Or turned into dolls or colorforms?

  • Taiye Oladapo

    This is amazing to read through! Seeing your early artistic skill, the engagement of your imagination and devotion to creating “Greenwood School” with it’s layers of activities is impressive and inspirational. I love it! And the story resonates with me as someone who, as a child, spent tons of time writing stories and illustrations about the world around me as a 6 and 7 year old. I was often in my own world creating a variety of things. Unfortunately, we did not retain much of my childhood old art work. Yet it’s those early impressions made through those primary creative explorations that have sourced my sense of adventure as an adult and fueled my work in art education all these many years. Thank you Patty for taking us back to where it all really begins – our childhood imaginings.


    Imposter syndrome started early with me. When somebody complimented my drawings in sixth grade, I would reply something like ” Oh it’s nothing” and downplay my talent. When something comes easily to you, it’s hard to believe it can be very difficult for others. It took many years before I realized what I did was special, unique and something many others could not do. I still struggle with it a bit, even though I have been an art director for an ad agency, a freelance illustrator, and an art teacher in a city program. I have to keep reminding myself that I deserve the compliments. And can somebody tell me why this affects mostly women?

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