Practical Matters: Paint Distribution


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When I was a new teacher I enrolled in a master’s program shortly after I began teaching. Towards the end I had to pick out a topic for a thesis. The topics were things I perceived as esoteric. Here I was during the day struggling with teaching a nonexistent curriculum with nonexistent supplies. I was struggling with how to come up with a way of organizing student work and portfolios. I am nothing if practical. I can appreciate an intellectual discourse on art education any day, but in year 1-5 of teaching these esoteric topics weren’t where my head was at. I was all about survival.

So, let us dive in to a question of immense practical concern, how do we get paint into the hands of students without incredible waste of paint? Or time. With minimal mess.  I mean, for gosh sake’s, some of us only have 40 minutes to teach children whose executive function skills are pretty challenged. Have you not watched a diminutive student struggle to pour paint from paint from a  gallon size jug? Nothing, Nothing, and then way too much? All the while a line forms behind them? Been there. Let’s not reinvent the wheel here.

Here are tired and true educator’s solution to this problem.

  1. Silicone Ice Cube Trays. Idea thanks to Kayla Koslow. While these are sold as ice cube trays and art teacher will look at this and see paint palette and storage. Paint stays wet for a long time in these. And when you decide you are done with the paint instead of washing it out, leave the lid off and let it dry and the paint literally POPs right out. So satisfying. You can buy these here.

  2. Condiment squeeze bottles seem to be a popular choice, like these at Amazon. Dollar stores tend to carry them as well, Easy to grab with one hand. Large spouts that are easy to unclog. Easy to squeeze even for a tiny middle schooler. Inexpensive. Similar in nature are these bottles. One teacher lavished prays on them saying, “I haven’t had any issue with paint spilling or making a mess or having to pack it up at the end of the day. They don’t clog or dry up and students just squeeze whatever they need onto their pallets. I love them! I just wanted to share for anyone looking for a good way to distribute paint.”

  3. Paint palettes with covers are another possible solution. Don’t do what I did an order just the covers and find they didn’t fit the pain palettes I already had. I like to look at reviews and one review suggests these may not hold up to the abuse of students. “The palette itself is fine. The cover is very thin plastic, much like the lid on a grocery store bakery coffee cake package. I imagine it will crack after two or three uses.” Have one you like to share? Write us at

  4. Laminated pieces of cardstock. Art teacher Brooke Richards shared her system. “I laminate a piece of card stock with directions. If you needed to you could add quarter sized circles on it to indicate how much they could get. This is only my second set in about 2 years. No mess no waste. I have a class set.” And check out our hack in this blog post for here for paper towels because you know how that goes!
    We’ve made a downloadable resource for you, right here.
  5. Training, it’s a teachable skill! Demo how much paint is needed to cover part of a painting. Explain that a dime size of paint can cover several inches of surface.
  6. Disposable condiment containers with lids. Hint: Blick sells them but as your cafeteria director if she can order them for you. I like this when I am doing certain projects, like this black and white project with no paint mixing.
  7. Let’s talk about paint pumps. Love’m or hate them. You see them in a catalogue and immediately you want them. Hold that click to purchase a moment to come to your senses. All paint clogs. Imagine, my friend, an impatient teenage (is there any other type?). Pump. Pump. Slams down the pump really hard and… paint squirts all over the expensive shirt or shoes as the clog is forcefully ejected. Right there, I’m out. But for those hardier than I there are some work arounds. Some clever teachers insert an unwound paper clip that keeps the channel clear. Another uses a pipe cleaner. And yet another, poster putty.
  8. Let’s talk paint palettes. Magazines are a go-to staple for some teachers as disposable pallets. Use it to place and mix paint and when you’re done, rip it off to reveal a new page. Butcher paper can also be a cost effective disposable palette as well.


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