Plan a Fun, Inexpensive Pandemic Art Date: A Review of Crayola Color Sticks, Crayola Slick Stix, and King Art Tempera Paint Sticks!

by Michelle M. Johnson

Summer (at least in south Texas) is long and hot. And, usually we can break up that summer heat with refreshingly dark movie theatres, cool air conditioned malls, and brisk community pools.

This year, not so much.

Loads of traditional "summer fun" activities are off the schedule this year due to COVID19 and the our continued need for social distancing here in the United States.

But, just because we all have to stay close to home this summer doesn't mean that our "stay-cations" have to be dull and boring! A reduced travel and activity schedule also means there's loads more time for creative art play this summer - art play for EVERYONE (ever heard of an "art date?" )!

What follows below is a review and brief color charting video (my words aren't enough to describe two of these art supplies - you gotta see them in action for the full effect) of three unique, fun, inexpensive, crazy-cool art supplies that, IMHO, are perfect for helping to break up the monotony of the dog days of summer. You don't need to be an "Artist" or "Creative" to enjoy making paper messy with these coloring tools, and they are definitely fun for ALL ages!

Crayola Color Sticks

Looking like chalk, feeling like crayons in your hand, and laying down pigment like a colored pencil, Crayola Color Sticks are art supplies designed to put everyone's creativity through their paces! Every surface of these woodless colored pencils (actually, they are more akin to long, skinny, hexagonal building blocks of color) can be drawn or colored with! Crayola Color Sticks come in a 12 and 24 set, but I highly recommend splurging for the 24 set (the 12 set is the exact same colors as Crayola's traditional wood-bound colored pencils), which includes a surprising number interesting colors. 



Easy to grip and laying down color beautifully, Crayola Color Sticks do have one possible flaw for some folks: like all woodless colored pencils, these color sticks are on the fragile side. Should you drop a Color Stick on tile flooring or step on one, it will break. But, like I said, that might only be a flaw to some folks (parents of children under 3, perhaps - broken coloring tools become choking hazards easily). The way I perceived it when I discovered that the brown in my box of Color Sticks was broken was that I now had two browns rather than one, a win win situation!

Because Crayola Color Sticks are essentially colored pencils, you can create with them on any type of paper. And, while they lay down color quite easily, these pencils are not waxy, so if your creative self is feeling pulled towards mix media work with Crayola Color Sticks, go for it! I have drawn in India ink and colored in glitter pen over these woodless colored pencils with zero trouble, and I loved the way the combinations turned out!

Not being a traditional shape, finding a pencil sharpener to bring a fine point to Crayola Color Sticks may present a challenge (although not an impossible one - I gave this exact set to my 8 year old niece, and she has found a way to sharpen one end of her pencils), but it is for that reason I wanted to suggest them to y'all as a fun stay-cation activity! Making art with a brick is unpredictable, interesting, and chaotic; sitting down for an afternoon of drawing or coloring with Crayola Color Sticks would be a lovely, play-filled, low creative risk distraction from the pandemic daily grind.

Crayola Slick Stix

I have never colored with anything quite like Crayola Slick Sticks. Making art with them is a cross between using oil pastels on rough tooth paper and drawing on a mirror with a tube of lipstick! Running them across paper feels so unique and just a little bit like doing something against the rules (as a child, I desperately wanted to draw on walls and mirrors with my grandmother's brilliant shade of coral lipstick, something I knew instinctively would land me in huge trouble). They don't come in a wide range of colors, BUT they do come with silver and gold, both of which have a nice metallic sheen.


Crayola Slick Stix are completely encased in plastic (a la a Crayola Twistable Crayon), making them a very "low mess" art supply. But, if you do like getting a bit dirty when you partake in art play, Slick Stix do actually smear when you run a finger along the pigment. Every color does have a different level of smearability, though, which I find interesting as an artist; it is an adventure experimenting which colors can be laid down easily over each other and which one are more likely to blend.

While every art supplies I review in this blog post is perfect for kids 4 to 104, Slick Stix might be frustrating for a particular group of colorists: folks who have trouble with difficult caps. A Slick Stix cap is no joke--in the above video you see me struggle to open and close just about all of the 12 colors. If you hope to have young children entertained with them independently while you work, you may be interrupted to help with caps more than you'd like. And, if you have any hand joint or grip issues, getting these caps on and off may be quite difficult. 

Given their softness, I'm sure you can color with Crayola Slick Stix on almost anything (including furniture, walls, clothes...so keep that in mind with young children as well), but what I found is the thicker the paper, the better. I've enjoyed using them on tagboard, but Slick Stixs would probably also work really interestingly on traditional construction paper, bristol, or cardstock. Also, as Slick Stixs are a bit like oil pastels and lip stick, coloring or drawing over them in any wet medium will present challenges (if you intend to draw an ink line drawing over Slick Stix be prepared to have to lay down a lot of ink!) and possible magic (I haven't yet tried to watercolor over them, but I imagine that the Slick Stix will resist water, which could look really awesome!).

King Art Tempera Paint Sticks

I discovered both of the previous art supplies shopping online for unexpected art tools for my young nieces and nephews last year (yes, I'm *that* auntie), but my King Art Tempera Paint Sticks were a "TJ Maxx meandering moment" surprise find (what - you never randomly meandered TJ Maxx in your pre-pandemic life?). They look exactly like old school Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers lip gloss (the huge ones, remember?!) and their color core is forced up in the exact same way. They are even softer than Crayola Slick Sticks, leaving bright, thick marks on paper easily, and their caps are easy off, easy on.


While they are similar to Crayola Slick Stix in appearance and coloring-feel, King Art Tempera Paint Sticks are actually paint, so they lay down moist color (which doesn't have any paint-y odor), they won't smear once dry (they dry super fast), and can easily be layered over with other art supplies (I plan to doodle in permanent ink over a few of these mini paintings my partner, Steve, and I made on a recent stay-cation art date). Because of their unique properties, layering different colors of Paint Sticks over each other (like white on dark blue, for example) is a satisfying expressionism experience; every layer of paint adds to the opacity of the lighter colors and using darker colors over brighter colors creates a shadow-y effect in single color layers.

As I said, these Paint Sticks do start off a bit moist, so while you absolutely can create art with them on any type of paper, super thin paper (lined notebook paper, for example) might buckle just a bit. I've enjoyed playing with them using tagboard, but I imagine that whatever sort of paper you have on hand (ooh, card board would be a super cool surface to try King Art Paint Sticks on!) will work great.

How to plan a successful art date during the pandemic

Now, we all know that it is not enough to order some art supplies online and call that a relaxing and carefree mini-break. We have to put in a little elbow grease to help make the spaces we've been hanging out in and people we've been socializing with non-stop for months seem shiny and new! Here are my tried and true tips for making the most out of your pandemic art dates:

  • Have every member of your quarantine squad mark on their personal calendar (we are a household of three nerdy distance-working adults, so...yeah, we each have our own daily calendars) that at on this specific day and at this specific time we are ALL gonna have some art fun together, by golly! Even during a pandemic, life gets in the way of the best intentions if we don't nurture those ideas and make a specific plan ("just one more" episode on Netflix or getting back to "just one more" email is ALWAYS easier than making time for ourselves and our creativity). My family's most successful artsy "stay-cation" moments this summer have begun by the three of us setting a very specific intention to do a particular fun, playful thing. Everything else has just been a suggestion one of us had that never came to pass.
  • Around our house, stay-cation art dates include specialty cocktails or mocktails prepared in advance and enjoyed during the art-play. We do beverages when we three get artsy as we are not opposed to getting our hands messy with art supplies. But, if you are a member of a tidier crew, preparing special snacks to nibble on while you create would be just as fun.
  • A finely curated playlist is also a key ingredient to helping an artsy moment feel like a getaway. I recommend avoiding familiar tunes (don't use your workout playlist), and taking a creative risk on listening to music no one in your art party has any familiarity with (we love choosing old jazz and big band we've never heard of before or productions of classical music done by famous symphonies); music streaming services are helpful at making an "away" atmosphere in your very own home with their myriad of choices and free levels of service. A well chosen soundscape can add a whole new level to your creative experience. 
  • We also try not not plan art-play escapes after the sun goes down; tired eyes and minds have a harder time making playful art and suspending disbelief about the concerns of the pandemic.



Is a bit of fun with some crazy art supplies the same as a day at a water park, taking in the latest cinematic releases in luxury theatres, or spending the weekend at the mall? 

In a word, no.

But, for me personally, the effect on my overall well being of having a stay-cation art date with my family is exactly the same: I feel like I've gotten away for a bit, I've done something special that's out of our regular routine, and I've made room for fun in my life. In my book, that is the very definition of a summer break.

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