Kids’ artwork: how to reduce waste, but not creativity

I don’t know about you but I usually have little masterpieces coming out my ears. I love having children who love to create, but I often am amazed at much paper gets recycled.

A lot of our art gets given away or digitally preserved. But lately I’ve been thinking more and more about cutting down on the paper waste to begin with.

Here are a few ways I’m fighting the recycle bin.

Art books

I love the idea of an art book. To be able to document how a child’s abilities mature, and for the child to have something to look back upon, a notebook for drawing, coloring, stickering and even painting is great.

My daughter still prefers loose-leaf paper but I hope as she matures, she’ll come to rely more on her art book as her main canvas. This way there are a definitive number of papers and none of them end up in the recycle bin; they stay in the book, organized, contained and showcased.

Bare (blank) books

Taking the artbook a step further is the Bare Book. Simple blank books with various whimsical designs on front (they also come with blank covers), these books come in a variety of sizes and are very affordable.

This is my current go-to birthday gift for the younger child: a Bare book and a few crayons, wrapped up in one of Gigi’s drawings with a ribbon. I love that they can be filled with artwork using almost any medium.

Treetop Publishing makes a ton of different journals and books besides the Bare Books as well. Again, pages are contained, and a true masterpiece will be created in the end, rather than loose pages going in the bin.

Use what you have

Finally, the best way I keep fresh, white pages out of the recycle bin is by simply giving the kids what I have lying around. This means scratch paper that got partially printed on one side, old notebook paper, extra Post-its, ripped out of old college binders, leftover pages from old planners/DayTimers (these are Gigi’s favorite because they look so “official”), and hotel/conference stationary.

David and I recently cleaned out our office supplies and found a jackpot of things we didn’t need that we knew the kids would love. Other than a blank white sheet of paper, something “real” seems to be the next best thing for my kids to doodle on.

We still save nice, white (or sometimes colored) paper for gifts and special circumstances, but for the everyday creative instances (i.e. Gigi writing “Gigi Brody Hallee” a million times) we make do with alternatives.

As for preserving artwork, I previous told you I used Evernote to digitally store my kids’ work. Well, as I mentioned on Facebook last week, I recently found a great (currently free in the App store) iPhone app called ArtKive that I plan on trying out. It archives artwork and then will offer easy printing services for showcasing the masterpieces. I’ll let you now how I like it!

Do you find children’s artwork to multiply? How do you keep the paper waste reasonable?


Nicole lives near the beach in Southern California with her husband and three young kiddos. She writes a a lifestyle blog about creativity, family life, community, and all sorts of other fun stuff, and also keeps a homeschool journal called The Bennettar Academy. Her most recent (free!) ebook is about why and how to make more time for reading.

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  1. Yeah, my daughter goes through paper like it’s her job and she’s completely uninterested in a blank book of any sort – she wants loose paper. Thankfully she’ll write on scrap paper. We recently ran out of the very large stash we had going which is inspring me to go through our undergrad and grad school notebooks and find more scrap paper worthy material.

  2. Nicole, this is a huge ongoing dilemma at my house! We have 4 kids, 3 of whom are prolific producers of bulky art (and the other one just isn’t old enough yet. He’ll get there, I’m sure!)

    Thanks for the reminders and the resources. I’m downloading the Artkive app right now 🙂

  3. You are a life saver! I missed where you initially mentioned ArtKive, and I am so glad I saw it now. I have been trying to figure out what to do with all of my little Picasso’s work, this is great. Thanks!

  4. I love this idea, but I know it wouldn’t work for Isaac just yet. He’s turning four in a few weeks, and he is so uninterested in careful masterpieces. When I give him paint, I get a mess in five minutes flat. (and he loves it!) He’s just not into detailed art yet. I think he’d just rip pages out of the book and “wreck” it, with his gusto for mess and exploration with sensory stuff (like ripping). Maybe a few months/years down the road?? I hope so. I wonder if I could foster that in him. He does love to put his coloured pages up on the fridge. Anyway, sorry for the long and rambling comment…. I’ve just been pondering this whole art thing lately!

  5. My son loves bound books to color and write in but finding ones with blank pages and that don’t cost a ton has been hard – thanks for sharing about bare books – I can’t wait to try them out.

    And while he loves the bound books (which are great for church and traveling – lots of paper, but not all over the place) he hates to get rid of any of them. So, we have less paper around but a stack of notebooks full of doodles! But, I’m glad he enjoys them and this way, uses both sides of the paper and often will go back and add something to previously “finished” drawings.

    • Maybe you could print out some recent or favorite photos and he could glue them in his books over his artwork. Then they would serve a dual purpose of showcasing art and photos! I suppose he would have to be okay with covering his precious art, but maybe if he knew the photo albums would be *his* to enjoy he would go for it. 🙂

  6. I love the idea of the blank book and crayons for a birthday gift! I’m always trying to think of something good for birthday party gifts…where do you buy them?

  7. Thank you for the great ideas! Here are some more ideas for storing, displaying and making keepsakes from kids’ art.

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