Project examples using free supplies: brown grocery bag paper, colored paper scraps, cardboard, and yarn!

I love getting free stuff, especially when I get to give some away, too. If you send home a "wish list" the first few days of school, you might be surprised at some families' generosity! Teachers at my school also regularly give me stuff they can't use, such as odd sizes of paper, newspaper, fast food containers (I use them for plaster casting), and paint. Someone once told me, "Never say, 'No,' when folks in the community want to give you something." Accept it with gratitude, then you can chunk it later if you really can't use it. Better yet, give it to another art teacher! 

Here is a short list of things I ask parents to donate each year:

  • newspaper to cover tables during messy projects
  • magazines for printmaking or collages
  • yarn, buttons, fabric scraps
  • any paint, brushes, craft supplies, or tools they don't need
  • extra house paint
  • q-tips, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, Ziplock bags
  • paper towels, tissue, hand wipes

Check out these links for tons of ideas!

Get Art Supplies For Free With This Simple Tip, Jennifer Borel,

Tips To Stretch Your Art Room Budget, Jennifer Carlisle,

NAEIR is a resource that many art teachers swear by. After you become a member (teachers can join for free), there are tons of inexpensive supplies available. You just have to search the catalog. Click NAEIR to see how the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources works.

Below is Raquel Redmond's video - she has lots of ideas to create art with recycled objects: 


  • Sculpture From Scrap Cardboard, by Phyllis Levine Brown, There's A Dragon In My Art Room (elementary)
  • Chipboard Sculptures, by Clara Lieu, (middle and high school)
  • Amate bark "paintings" from Mexico (we used colored pencils on brown paper grocery sacks)
  •  Huichol Indian yarn "paintings" (on cardboard) 
  •  Paper mosaics based on Ancient Roman art. The paper mosaic project is a great way to recycle colored paper!

8th grade Amate bark "painting"

6th grade Huichol Indian yarn "painting"

8th grade paper mosaic based on Ancient Roman art


Caroline Trewhella, an elementary art teacher in Jefferson County, recently started an ingenious fund-raiser for her art program. She had her students make footprints (with shoes on) in clay, then she cut out pendants from the textured slabs. She is selling them for $5 apiece - brilliant! 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols



I ask for donations and I use just about every bit I receive - things like newspapers, magazines, papers of all kinds, toys, game pieces, fabric and wallpaper sample books, etc.

Helpful Hint: one thing I do to keep up with ordering supplies is a document stored on my laptop where I have all my classroom materials listed. When I am running low on something, I quickly pull up this purchase order table, highlight what I need, and then go back to work. When I have time to sit down and write a p.o., all the information is right there and my swiss cheese brain hasn't forgotten anything! I have the materials organized on the "table" by theme; Instructional (things like dry erase markers, printer inks and copy paper, etc.), paints, drawing media, sculpture, tools, etc.]

M.K., elementary, Jefferson Cty. said...

I teach an after school art club 12 times a year for Elementary students. I have to turn people down because this fills up in about 15-30 minutes! Here are the details:

I do a Fall (Oct, Nov, Dec) and Spring (Feb, March, Apr) session of 3 classes for Kindergarten-second grade AND third through fifth grade.

Art club meets from 2:45-4:15.

$25 per session per child (so $25 for 3 classes)

I allow around 20 students to sign up for each session.

My middle school art students sign up to help with art club.

This raises close to $2,000 each year.

Renee McNeil, high school, Baldwin County said...

*from a telephone conversation with Ms. McNeil, November 11, 2013
"I figured out a plan to get all my students to pay their art fees! When 100% of a classes fees were paid, we would have a pizza party! On the first day, I tell the students there is just no way they can do the class unless they pay their fees. I show them the expensive art supplies and examples of projects they could do. I tell them that if they do not pay their fee I will separate them from the rest of the class, seated at one table, and they will have to work in the textbook instead of the studio process. They will also not get to listen to their music because they are reading, not producing art with the rest of the class. I explain their art fee is actually only 22 cents per day and that I will provide all they need; paper, pencils, etc. I give them 5 weeks to pay and sometimes a counselor or another teacher will sponsor a poor student who can't pay, or the student will work an odd job to pay the fee.

Mrs. Shelly Bailey said...

Shelly, I seem to remember you got some corporate sponsors for your art program - could you write about that and about your art gala for the "Finances" page on the website?
"I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary here…I wrote nothing. I just literally cold called and made appointments or walked in from the street to various local businesses. I told them who I was. I had made some business cards on my computer at school and was able to give contact information to them and get names of who was in charge. The nice thing is, you are not asking for money, just support of your art program. However after I developed a relationship then I was able ask for financial help via food from McAlisters for my art Gala. I am about to write a letter to the bank corporate office to see if they will award an art scholarship. Let me know what specifically you’d like me to write up for this and I will do my best to accommodate you. 

Pamela Coffman, middle school said...

Projects that are not costly! I always seek out what resources I have available to the area in which I live. For example: I live next to the recycle center in the city of Mobile so I generated a 3-D sculpture project creating Cathedrals and dumios of Italy and Spain. We discussed the background history, viewed a power-point, researched with our MACs and Art History Books. We discussed famous Cathedrals, viewed a home video of myself on tour in Europe and I read the story of The Life of Antoni Gaudi, Building on Nature by Rachel Rodriguez and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Once I broke my leg and while recovering my doctor gave me some of the casting material and now I order this from our art supply resources and the doctor has made a donation before for me. Use masking tape after cleaning the plastic jugs and bottles to tape the structures and armature together first. I bought from the thrift store and some new plastic goblets for toppers and other interesting bottles. We then apply the casting keeping it smooth. Upon drying we paint with acrylic and use black and white copy images of old architecture gates, ornamentation, windows, doors, crosses etc. We guild and antique them with gold and silver metallic acrylic paint and complete with decoupage. They are gorgeous!! We even hot glue old jewelry and other ornamentation. I have done this project with a class of 39 & the kids love this! We used over 1,000 containers last spring. One student had over 22 in their structure.

I also live near Dauphin Island and go on weekends collecting natural materials. Another project: cheap driftwood pieces for weaving. We make cardboard looms and you can purchase these rather cheap and large plastic needles. Using yarn, create your colorful bright warm color weavings and use the driftwood to hang and display the weavings from. You may add butterflies, artificials, etc.

I create with the shells, too.

I create with long driftwood pieces. (Folk Art Unit on Snakes and Design.) Sand the sticks, create a papier mache’ head from newspaper, and attach with masking tape covering with layers of mache’. Paint and design, drill a hole at end for jingle bells for a rattler (interesting musical instrument.) A lot of cultural history from African, Early American, Aboriginal Art.

Buster Cannova, middle school said...

I give every student a hard-bound black sketchbook if they pay their art fee. I have found that parents will wait to pay other fees at the school and will pay their art fee first, just so their kid can have one of those sketchbooks! I actually order so many that I have gotten a past discount at the art supply store - thank you Pam at Alabama Art Supply!

Lindsay said...

If you haven't used tar paper yet, I encourage you to try it! You can get a huge roll at any Home Depot or Lowe's for $15 (in roofing section). It takes a bit of prep to cut it, but it is so awesome. Students can sketch in chalk, erase with wet towel or sponge...then they add underpainting with white acrylic and paint on top of that with acrylic. If you want you can varnish with simple acrylic varnish (I use liquitex). I have gotten more compliments on the tar projects I have done than any other project.

I also cut down old cardboard boxes to use as weaving looms and canvases for painting and mixed media collage encaustics.

Meat trays that have been washed thoroughly serve as blocks for carving for printmaking.

Anonymous said...

My advice is be flexible and proactive. Contact PTA for support of funding the art supplies. Get PTA to help with art fundraisers. Be flexible about schedule changes. Have more than one plan for projects in order to meet kids’ individual needs and abilities.
(Anonymous elementary teacher)

Amanda Neuwirth said...

Square 1 Art!! Students create artwork that can be put on products like jewelry, bags, keepsake boxes and iPad cases. It's super easy and you get 20%. I raised about $600 last year.