What is an art tray and why you need to try it!

An art tray is a process art invitation for your kids. A chance to create and explore art materials with no specific outcome expected. Learn exactly how to set up your very own art tray below!

a pin image that reads how to set up art invitations with four images in the background. Each images shows a wooden divided tray sitting vertically on a black table. The trays are filled with a variety of art supplies

An art tray is not the Pinteresty crafts you see all over the internet…but it doesn’t have to be any less cute! 

Don’t get me wrong goal oriented crafts are also fun to do with your kids sometimes, and they are good skills for your kids to learn. The ability to follow a step-by-step process is a valuable skill, but most of the time, they’re fairly limiting when it comes to creative expression. 

What is Process art and why is it important?!

Process art is open-ended, unstructured, creation. It’s self-motivated, creative, and unique art that comes only from free access to supplies and the time in which to get creative. It focuses on the process, or the doing, rather than the outcome or final product.

a pin image that reads What's an Art Tray?! with a wooden divided tray sitting vertically on a black table. The tray is filled with a bright selection of art supplies

Process art is amazingly important for little brains and bodies. I can help develop cognitive skills like attention span, and problem solving. It can help develop fine motor and hand-eye coordination. It can help children learn new ways of expressing themselves or provide outlets for big feelings. There is so much more to process art that I haven’t even scratched the surface of it honestly!

An art tray offers the supplies and provides the opportunity for creativity. An art tray is process art waiting to happen. An art tray also provides a wonderful chance to practice skills like scissors or glue in a no-pressure situation, allowing the child time to explore and fine-tune their skills. I 100% attribute my kid’s scissor skills to our art tray!

Art trays are process art, but make it cute

Okay, you are on board with process art, but all you can think about is paint smeared together making muddy brown, or a jumble of random scribbles. I get it. That’s WHY I like art trays. They provide the opportunity but within limits.

My favorite way to set up an art tray is to pick a theme or color palette, usually seasonally or interest-based.

A limited color palette is what is going to save you from ending up with brown on brown on brown. The limited color palette also makes your fridge cuter when you’re displaying all their art tray creations!

three pictures of a brown wooden divided tray full of a variety of art supplies in each images. The Top says Process Art Invitation Back to School, then Process Art Invitation Halloween, lastly Process Art Invitation Fall
three pictures of a brown wooden divided tray full of a variety of art supplies in each images. The Top says Process Art Invitation Christmas, then Process Art Invitation Winter, lastly Process Art Invitation Valentines
three pictures of a brown wooden divided tray full of a variety of art supplies in each images. The Top says Process Art Invitation Vibrant, then Process Art Invitation Easter, lastly Process Art Invitation Spring
three pictures of a brown wooden divided tray full of a variety of art supplies in each images. The Top says Process Art Invitation Pastel, then Process Art Invitation Neon, lastly Process Art Invitation Rainbow

Art trays are for all ages

An art tray is a very easy thing to curate to your kid’s specific ages and interests.

If you have a younger toddler lean a bit more into dot markers, puffy stickers, and hole punches.

As you get more into the preschool crowd, this is a great way to expose them to art supplies they might not otherwise get like oil pastels, glitter glue, and stamps.

Best of all, an art tray is a perfect open-ended art activity for a multi-age setting. By providing a variety of art supplies, within limits, you can cater to a wide range of ages!

There will be a mess…

Don’t get me wrong. The more you provide materials the better they will get about using the materials but glitter is always a mess. By providing free access to materials, you are potentially inviting a mess, but you’re also providing experience to practice proper use and opportunities to reduce novelty.

a pin image that reads embraceart tray mess with two top down images of a messy table covered in art supplies


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How to set up an art tray

You’ll need a divided tray of some kind. You could work in. A hors d’oeuvres platter, a divided lazy season, or a silverware tray. You could work really in anything that has different sections for the different supplies. Our Art tray is a vintage monkey pod tray I found second hand.

Then you’ll need to decide what kind of art tray you want to provide. What skill set would you like the kids to work on? or What theme do you want to stick to? An art tray is only limited by your art supplies and your willingness to deal with the subsequent mess. 

Other supplies that are handy are mail organizers (I found a cuter one at the thrift store so check there too!) to hold papers, sticker sheets, and larger items. You can do a fancier one with small sections to hold glue and scissors. Then small containers with lids to hold small amounts of things like sequins or beads.

Okay, you are willing to try out an art Tray…but where do you start?! These are our favorite art tray supplies

I feel like we’re a bit of an art supply store anymore. I really value quality art supplies and novelty supplies are so fun to add to an art tray. As such we have amassed a decent collection over the years, but our tried and true supplies always seem to make it back on the art tray!



Mark Makers


a pin image that reads how to create your own art tray invitation with 9 square images in a grid below that. Each image shows a brown wooden divided tray vertically positioned on a black table. the contents of the tray is varied in each image.

Would you ever try an art tray? What’s the biggest mess your kids have made while making art? Leave your story down in the comments!

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