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Practicing Visual Art at Home

Guest Post by Hilary Key, Director, and CEO of Art Steps

Hilary Key

In my 20 years teaching and coaching children in classical, realistic drawing and painting skills, I have occasionally come across exceptionally gifted young artists who either came to us with great skill or whose artistic development was accelerated. I have asked their parents,“What’s your secret? How did you nurture that talent at home?” Students themselves have also lent insight into what supported and lit them up, over the years.

Here are some of my favorite tips from extraordinary families whose children clearly thrived artistically at home. (For more information about Art Steps and how to receive a free introductory class please see the bottom of the post.)

Age 2-5

Provide a Two-Sided Easel

An easel is consistently available when a young child is ready to draw; it cannot easily fall prey to piles of clutter like a table can. One exceptional middle school artist said that her childhood habit of drawing both on the paper and the chalkboard side of her $12 Ikea easel provided some of her favorite memories, nurturing her love of mark-making at an early age. Make sure to keep the roll of paper ready to go, and stay stocked up on chalk.

Age 6-8

Build Sketching Time into the Routine

Art time becomes a child’s own when he or she trusts that it’s safe to look forward to unwinding and relaxing with a pencil and paper. Sometimes a reference for something to copy will provide great practice time, though it’s important to allow for symbolic drawing – drawing from imagination – as well. Find a regular time where your child can get comfortable with at a table or desk daily, free from distractions from screens, pets, little siblings, or even interfering parents. Try to pick a time where your child has had a little bit of exercise and is well-fed. A habit of winding down at night with art can become the catalyst for creating a dedicated artist for life.

Age 9-12

Provide Step-by-Step Books

At these ages, developmentally, children will want most to flex their art muscles, seeing how much observational skill they can develop and show off. This is a perfect time to provide how-to drawing books. Unlike YouTube tutorials that can move too fast or provide unrealistic expectations for a beginner (or can distract easily at this age), good old-fashioned step-by-step books allow kids to focus, working at their own pace. If you choose a book with simple imagery based around their favorite subject matter, a youth can self-propel themselves into absorbing important concepts, such as seeing proper proportion and how a complex image starts with simple shapes.

Age 13 - 18

Set Up a Garage Studio

A teen who can escape into a world of his or her own can delve into practice at a much deeper level. A drafting table can be a perfect place to set up either drawings or paintings. One teen had a bookshelf dividing her space from the rest of the garage and completed it with a stool, a music source, and a bean bag chair, and lots of trinkets to make it her own. Whenever her twin brother got on her nerves, she would go paint, and would regularly bring us great master copies in oil, done completely independently.

All ages:

Provide a Sketchbook

Just about every successful artist has kept a sketchbook at one time or another. This essential tool benefits every artist, young and old, beginners and great masters. Bring sketchbooks with you in the car, to restaurants, and on vacation to practice, practice, practice!

Frame Their Art

It seems that every college art major and career artist I have met had their childhood art framed, hanging on walls at home. Nothing is more encouraging than Mom and Dad believing in their talent enough to show it off in their own house. Encountering the finished results of their efforts every day for months and years also helps kids understand that what they make matters; it has a life beyond the initial process of creation.

A few more tips:

Always keep pens, pencils stocked and other art supplies stocked and available. Provide rich experiences over time, such a museum and gallery trips, to foster a love of viewing and reading visual art. Research careers in art together (there are so many!). Finally, and most importantly, provide only compliments, never criticize their work, and teach siblings to do the same.

Participating in visual art is such a joy. You are your young artist’s #1 cheerleader. With consistent support, you can provide your child with a fulfilling outlet, and enrichment to last for a lifetime.


ArtSteps Logo

At Art Steps, we provide:

A solid foundation in realistic, classical drawing and painting skills

A cheerful, caring studio community where people feel at ease

Step-by-step guidance and mentorship, inspiring students at every level to enjoy working toward their individual artistic goals

Helpful resources, encouraging artists to thrive!

ART STEPS Laguna Hills

24741 Alicia Pkwy, Suite G, Laguna Hills, CA 92653

Office Hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm

(949) 454-9555

Our wonderful team of kind, talented teachers is committed to excellence under the expert guidance of Studio Manager Gemma Magdaluyo. Together, they ensure the every single student receives individualized attention, mentorship and care.


ART STEPS Costa Mesa

1525 Mesa Verde Dr. E, #119 Costa Mesa, CA 92626  

Office Hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm

(714) 760-4042

Studio Manager and Head Teacher Robin Madsen teaches classical drawing and painting skills under the personal mentorship of Hilary Key, studio owner of 20 years. This caring, inclusive environment brings award-winning, personalized classical instruction to students from age 4 through teens and adults.


ART STEPS Mission Viejo

24000 Alicia Pkwy #31 Mission Viejo, CA 92691

Office Hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm

(949) 454-9555

Our wonderful team of kind, talented teachers is committed to excellence under the expert guidance of Studio Manager Gemma Magdaluyo. Together, they ensure the every single student receives individualized attention, mentorship and care. Students are invited to show a piece of art every year at Mission Viejo’s lively Arts Alive chalk festival, where the Art Steps booth has become a favorite attraction.


ART STEPS Yorba Linda

18212 Imperial Hwy. Yorba Linda, CA 92886

Office Hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm

(714) 524-2248

Studio Manager Halie Santillan carefully directs and supports our amazing staff, seeing to it that teachers provide outstanding, consistent instruction, and meet or exceed our high standards.



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