Sheer volume of artistic output

We have a paper problem in our house. My 5-year-old loves to draw and write and make maps. He likes nothing better than to write and illustrate stories (often resembling the Magic Treehouse series). But this requires paper. Volumes of paper. The paper then gets strewn about the house. Paper covering the kitchen table, the kitchen island, the floor, the coffee table in the living room. I tried asking, as he came into my office to retrieve what appeared to be a huge stack of printer paper, “don’t you already have some paper you could use?”

“But mommy,” he said, “I have to write a book.”

The Magic Treehouse books are, indeed, 70 pages, and that’s what he planned to use. I’ve been pondering my own initial reaction: stop wasting so much paper. I write for a living and yet I almost never print anything out. Paperless offices are nearly possible these days. I’ve learned to mostly edit on the screen, and even though I often can see something new when I print and use a pen for edits, it seems like a waste to print just for that reason. Better, I think, since I can tread lightly, to do so.

Thinking back, when I was my son’s age, I drew and wrote too. But since my father wrote many of his manuscripts in the days before ubiquitous personal computers, he had to type his work (i.e., on a typewriter). This produced copious scrap/scratch paper which was always there for the taking. I didn’t really know it was possible to draw on paper that didn’t have something in Hebrew, potentially related to the Book of Jubilees, on the back of it until I stopped drawing for fun. It seemed a strange idea: did other families actually buy paper for their kids to draw on?

I don’t produce scratch (scrap?) paper, so my son uses the printer paper we have. I’ve realized I shouldn’t make a big deal of it, as long as he fills the paper and draws on both sides. After all, there are thousands of printed copies of my various books out there, a level of dead tree usage that dwarfs the sheer volume of artistic output that’s covering my coffee table right now. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone (which will then, as in the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, be buried in the piles of paper around here).

Photo courtesy flickr user jepoirrier



10 Responses to Sheer volume of artistic output


  1. Cloud says:

    I produce lots of scrap paper at work, but most of it had proprietary information on the front, so can’t come home. We scored a bonanza when the printer malfunctioned and printed a bunch of nonsense, though! It came home and was colored and cut by my 3 year old.

  2. If your DH works for a company that doesn’t shred everything, maybe he can raid the recycle bin near the xerox machine for your kid.

    Alternatively, you can try buying him pads of paper that are post-consumer waste recycled.

    Or he can get his own electronic device to work on, either a tablet or he can learn to type. That may not be either cost-effective or environmentally friendly though.

  3. Mary Vanderkam says:

    Laura, Your father still has mounds of scrap paper available. It will be here for you ovef the holidays! We can carry on a family tradition–Jubilees and Hebrew script on one side; this time Jasper’s Tree House book on the other!

  4. Leslie H says:

    Many years ago now, my daughter went through a stage where she loved to trace everything. Entire coloring books were duplicated — stacks of traced pictures that I did not value as artwork and tried to dispose of…Precious to her, she could not part with any of them. And so we lived with piles of papers — but this stage only lasted for…okay, a year! Looking back, it just doesn’t seem like it was that long…

    • Laura says:

      @Leslie H – how funny. If my son has put a ton of work into a piece, colored it and filled the page and such, I’m happy to save it and I think that’s a good use of paper. I think what bugs me are the pages that have one word and like a circle on them.

  5. Cara Marcano says:

    mine won’t do artistic work on paper with writing on one side even thoughI said that is what diego would want… just thank god for him and for them and their health.. think how many people in the world, the infertile, the victims of violence, who would do anything to have their loved little ones strewing paper everywhere

  6. Sharon Glazer says:

    My son used to draw unending stories (often with friends as contributing artists) that literally stretched to 30 ft long! We used rolls of inexpensive paper (butcher paper). We hung them in his bedroom just under the crown molding, covering 1 wall, going around the corner and on to the next wall. When I moved recently, I found some of these “scrolls” and we unrolled them and recalled the stories and the friends.

    • Laura says:

      @Sharon – I will save some of them, but I’m just picturing us, 40 years from now, still with the piles and piles of paper…

  7. Anne Bogel says:

    Dealing with the “sheer volume of artistic output” is a big concern at my house, too. I have a young writer, too (your description of your son sounds so much like my own little one!) and the ones who don’t dream of being authors want to be artists, so there is paper, paper, everywhere. All. the. time.

    I don’t mind them using up the paper, even though I’m definitely an under buyer and a saver by nature. It’s dealing with the output that’s the trouble!

    At least I’m not the only one…

    • Laura says:

      @Anne- it does seem to multiply and go everywhere. And I know that volume is a good way to get lots of practice. But still. I signed the 5-year-old up for an art class starting in January, and we’ll see what kind of effect that has…