November 3, 2016


We are fortunate enough to have a dedicated art room. I basically decided we weren’t going to attempt fancy dinner parties anymore and gave away the dining table and chairs. (Everybody likes scrappy dinners better anyway, right?? I mean, at least they happen.) And just like that, we had a dedicated room just for making things.

I didn’t fill the space with a ton of stuff. Just a low shelf, a kid-sized table with chairs, and a rolling “art cart” full of art supplies. But before we got rid of the dining table, when I was still in my let’s see if this art thing is really going to stick phase, the only thing that made that space “the art room” was the art cart. It was a great start to our art studio, and if need be, it would have been enough on its own to accomplish most of the things I wanted to do with the art space.

What is an art cart? It’s just what it sounds like. It’s our 3-tiered rolling IKEA cart that I’ve stocked full of the most-used art supplies. Here are five reasons why I love it and would keep it even if we downsized:

  1. It’s kid-sized. My two year old can access everything on it.
  2. It makes everything visible. If you can see it, you’re much more likely to use it!
  3. It’s portable. She can roll it to wherever she’s working. That means if the room gets turned back into a dining room someday, she can roll the main art supplies to the kitchen table, her room, or wherever she feels inspired to make.
  4. It’s relatively inexpensive. At $29, you’d be hard pressed to find a quality 3-tiered shelf, let alone a cute rolling one!
  5. It’s non-committal. Are you afraid this art thing is just a phase and you might regret installing a shelf full of paint and glue? I’ve been there. No worries. If you’re not ready to have a shelf full of art supplies make a permanent fixture in your dining area, the art cart is the perfect let’s-just-try-it-out solution!

You can get it at IKEA for $29.99 (or on Amazon if you MUST have it in blue…).

What do I put in my art cart?

Whatever you want! But since this is my blog, I’ll tell you what I did. Our art cart has evolved in the last couple months, and will continue to, but here’s what we’ve settled on for now:


The top level consists of frequently accessed supplies, mostly writing utensils. I picked up eight metal plant pots at IKEA for $0.99 each. The eight pots are filled with these easy to access essentials:
Note: This post contains affiliate links. 

  1. Paintbrushes and pipettes. If I didn’t already have a bunch of brushes lying around, I would get this set. And if you were wondering about the pipettes, they go in the paintbrush pot because they are a fun way to get liquid watercolor onto paper! We do this sometimes and then blow the drops or pools of watercolor around with a straw. They’re also great for squirting colorful vinegar into baking soda for a fun science-y project. (I got this set of 100 pipettes… want some???)
  2. Fat crayons.
  3. Normal crayons.
  4. Mr. Sketch markersThese produce the most vibrant colors! Not very washable though.
  5. Crayola Washable markersI let her draw on herself with these because they really are ultra washable!
  6. Thin markers from my childhood. When she encounters a dried out one, she has my permission to toss it.
  7. Medium sized markers, also from my childhood. Boy these things really last a long time!
  8. Washi tapeI was on the fence for the longest time about buying it, but decided it was worth it for fine motor skills. And for decorating paper plates.
    decorating-platesVerdict: She LOVES the Washi tape. It provides great fine motor skill practice as she picks away at the end, trying to get the tape to come off. She uses scissors to cut it, and it entertains her for dayz. WORTH IT.


The second tier of our art cart is filled with tools, including:

  1. This tape dispenser. Related: You’d be surprised how many of my fourth graders struggled to tear tape off of a tape dispenser. I was determined that my children would have this skill down before turning nine!
  2. Elmer’s glue
  3. Glue sticks
  4. String
  5. Scissors: we have blunt end kid scissors (my favorite), toddler training scissors (she doesn’t mind them, but I find them kind of annoying to work with), and craft scissors with fun zig zaggy lines and stuff.
  6. Blue tape
  7. Baby wipes, for cleaning messes quickly
  8. Rulers. So far, I’m the only one who uses this.
  9. Stamp markers. Pretty inexpensive at IKEA.


The bottom tier is filled with mostly off-limits items that I want easy access to. So I guess it’s mommy’s tier. I originally tried filling it with with jars of beads and cotton balls and stuff, but the raised edges made it hard to see what was inside each jar. Then I tried filling it with play dough supplies, but they wouldn’t all fit. I considered storing paper there, but it wasn’t practical with the raised sides. Since I already had six large plant pots from Daiso laying around, I decided this was the best place to use those anyway… so Mommy’s Tier it is! They’re filled with the following sundry items:

  1. Colorful set of permanent markers
  2. More permanent markers (mostly black)
  3. A rolled up cloth I use to cover her table when I know it’s going to get messy.
  4. Stamps (she can use whenever she wants)
  5. Unsharpened Pencils
  6. Random stuff that doesn’t really belong anywhere else.

If we didn’t have a shelf in the room, I’d probably use the bottom tier to store paints or maybe go back to the jars of knick knacks (beads, googly eyes, sequins, clothespins, foam stickers, etc.). I’m happy with this easy-access system we have, where both of us can reach for and use supplies anywhere in the room.

What about a rolling drawer cart?

Good question. I actually ALSO have one of these in our art space right now, because I stuffed a bunch of stuff in there before I picked up the art cart. And I have opened it pretty much zero times since then. It’s not that the items in it are completely useless, but it’s the nature of the cart. The drawers do a good job of hiding everything away, even with the clear-ish drawers. But that’s also the problem: out of sight, out of mind.

Meri Cherry, an art teacher in LA says, “My number one rule for organizing art supplies is, if you can’t see it, you won’t use it.” It’s true. I’ve had a TON of art supplies chillin’ in boxes in the closet for years, and I rarely touched them in that time. I totally forgot I even had a bunch of them and would sometimes buy double of an item or tool.

Now that things are out in the open, we use them all the time. And this mantra definitely goes for 2-year olds, too: if they can’t see it, they’re really not gonna use it. Mostly because they don’t even know that the (hidden) items exist. Ever since I’ve put the writing utensils and tools in the easy to see and easy to access IKEA art cart, she’s taken off and uses them comfortably and frequently. So if I had to choose between the two, I’d definitely go with the IKEA one. There’s a reason all those art teachers rave about it!


So even if your space is limited, I think this is a nice way to give the art space thing a try. The kids can easily roll it up to the kitchen table to do art, and you can also hide it away when company’s over. The plant pots are a great way to store everything and also make it super easy to pull out just what you need without disturbing other items. If you have a utensil holder in your kitchen, you’ll understand how much easier it is to pull out a wire whisk from that instead of fishing it out of a drawer every time. My daughter often takes out just the one or two pots she wants to use and sets it on the table, does her thing, and then puts it right back. Everything in it’s place. Yay :].

Just last week, the kids were both down to sleep for the night and I found myself pulling a bunch of materials off the cart as I made banners and decorations for a party. Blue tape? Scissors? Crafty scissors? Tape? String? Rulers? How handy- they are all right here within arm’s reach! Crafting had never felt so breezy before. My hope is that my kids will enjoy the same convenient experience as they continue to tinker and create in the future!

4 responses to “Art Space for a Small Place: The Magical Art Cart”

  1. Jenny says:

    Pretty awesome, but I wouldn’t trust most toddlers with unsupervised access to this cart. How did you train her not to draw on walls/furniture, use the Sharpies, etc?

    • joellen says:

      Good question! From the very first time I let her use crayons and markers, I always stayed close and made sure she stayed on the paper. Like, since she was 1. So it’s pretty ingrained in her by now to stay on the paper. I don’t think she even thinks about things like drawing on the walls or furniture. I told her everything on the bottom level of the cart (like Sharpies) she needs to ask first before using, but everything else is hers to use whenever she wants as long as she is responsible. I wrapped green tape around the off-limits pots with Sharpies to be extra clear, and she understood from day 1 and it’s never been an issue.

      I know not every kid is going to respond this way, and you know your child best, so it might be better to start with things you’re REALLY comfortable giving your toddler unsupervised access to first- washi tape, magic nuudles, training scissors with a guard, etc., emphasizing that if they show they are responsible, you will add more items to the cart. It might be a little bare at first, but they will grow older in no time and become more and more responsible! 🙂

  2. Lulu says:

    What are the dimensions please?