Sunday, September 21, 2008

portable art studio: a tutorial

I discovered this vintage book at my mother's barn and instantly read it from cover to cover. It turns out that this original copy is the very same one that my grandmother used in her nursery school. You can imagine how deliriously happy I was to hold it in my be able to use it with my children, and to share with all of you. Last week I left you with thoughts on creating art out in nature.

My new (vintage) book contains plans for constructing a portable table top easel out of an old box. How perfect for taking out to the picnic table...I couldn't wait to try it. I also wanted to design a recycled art caddy that could tuck into the easel for storage. I used a milk carton!

I'm so excited about the outcome and my resident artist confirmed that this traveling art studio is a hit. Both the easel and caddy can be assembled with minimal effort and supplies from your recycling bin. Wonderful for any age: three to adult!


-I modified the original plans. I'm sure you could make this in a larger size without having to do too much math. Start by copying my drawn image onto a piece of cardboard in pencil.
-Using an x-acto knife and straight edge, cut along the black lines and score along the dotted lines.
-Fold along all scored sides and tape securely...I love white duct tape. Here's the original picture...similar to what you will create.


1. Gather a clean and empty milk carton, duct tape, and scissors.
2. Open top of carton.
3. Detach spout (if there is one).
4. Fold top flat.

5. Turn carton on its side and tape around the entire bottom. Make sure to secure the opening first.
6. Cut out a center handle. This will be the first rough cut.
7. Leaving the handle intact, cut off the top portion of the carton to create the caddy. Shape your handle and trim any jagged edges.
8. Cover entire outside of carton in duct tape for increased stability and a uniform look.

To continue with our recycled theme, I used baby food jars for the paints and a small tin can for pencils.

This project combines some of my favorite things... upcycling, portability, and art. Hope you enjoy it too! Pin It


  1. That book looks like pure gold. I've got one similar & it's got the BEST projects in it. I love the easel & the caddy.

  2. Fabulous easel. We have a plastic one that my husband bought and I want to throw it away now ;) I won't of course, but we'll make your version too. And your Art's Art caddy is so sweet. Art adventures will abound, you'll probably find your little ones find a nook somewhere in the house that they'll carry their caddies to once the weather cools down.

  3. Brilliant tutorial and your little artist model is the cutest:)

  4. Oh, such memories! I had that book when I was a kid - so many projects and fun things.

  5. this looks wonderful. We'll have to try it. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. For my Scouts, I even built the picnic table out of a single sheet of plywood - found the plans here: - I don't have any affiliation with that site, but it complements your portable art studio quite well!

  7. That's fantastic. I've shown it to the man of the house - who is the painting and cardboard-and-duct-tape parent (I'm fabric, glitter and paste parent).

    We're both impressed by your artist's painting, too!! What a talent!

  8. Thanks everyone...the easel came out again today...I'm enjoying at much as my daughter.
    Julie- I'm hoping we can take it to sunny spots in the house when the temperatures drop.
    Margie- Thank you!
    Kirsty and Gayle- the books is so chock full...I love it!
    Dan- thanks for the cool link to the picnic table!
    Nikki- my artist could paint and draw all day without stopping if I didn't remind her to run around and play.
    Thanks everyone for your know I'd love to see pix if you give it a try!

  9. oh wow! so perfect...i used to love those kind of how-to books when i was little--thanks for taking me back...

  10. ooh fantastic - that's my next project!

  11. Your photos for these tutorials are so filled with light and color!! I love the vintage craft and how you've updated it for your needs! Love it, and have to make one!!

  12. Wow, what a great find!! And what great creations. I like those too!

  13. Ooh! I love this! Thank you for posting!

  14. Thanks for this great idea. My children will love making and using these.

  15. OMG my mom has this book! I have very distinct childhood memories of making things out of this book =) I hope you (and your kids) have lots of fun with it - it's the best! I'm lucky my mom still has *most* of it - the pages are starting to fall out and I think we're missing some...

  16. I had/still have this book! I think I made just about everything in it, although I don't remember this one. I'm off to get it out. This book spurred a lifetime obsession with how-to books and now I even create art based on how-to illustrations!

  17. That is just awesome. I love it!

  18. It's a brilliant idea. My 4-year-old artist will feel important ...

  19. Oh, my...that was my first craft book! I remembered looking at it every time I was in the toy store- and my mother telling me that I was too young for it....! I did receive it for Christmas and did use it for years and years. It is lovingly worn and tattered...but it is still on my craft shelf.
    Thanks for the memory and how exciting that you (and several of your readers!) love it now, too.

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  21. Thank you for sharing this! I have a big piece of cardboard will be perfect to make it out of, too.

  22. Wonderful idea, the easel and so quick to put together! Made it just today - here's the post:

    Thank you for the idea!

  23. Very cute and GREAT idea! I'll have to get some milk in a carton and try this one!

  24. Hi!

    I hope you don't mind I've linked to this post and your children's table and chairs in a Must Make Monday ode to cardboard tutorials list on my blog, The Handmade Experiment. So creative and inspiring!

    The Handmade Experiment

    Feel free to grab a button!

  25. This post is one of the many reasons why I think your blog is so awesome! Just posted about this on Craft Gossip...found via Pinterest by Shellie, the owner of Craft Gossip.

  26. What fab Ida's and what a lovely book to find. Love the way you can paint outside with this. Definitely one to try in 2012!

  27. I also had that book as a child, as well as the companion one called "Do it". I have since reaquired them from ebay, wonderful memories and still cute crafts.