The Dangers of Shopping as an Art Teacher

I headed to the restaurant supply store, list in hand:

  • Flour
  • Cake pan
  • Paper plates

I left with:

  • 3-foot-tall whisk
  • Roll of butcher paper
  • 5000 coffee stirrers

Personally, I’ve never met a store as dangerous as a restaurant supply store…and I don’t cook. But the aisles are packed with containers and paper supplies perfect for making art!

Sound familiar? Here’s another example.

shopping carts

You walk down the aisle and see a Post-it Note in a size you don’t have. You just have to buy it. You tell yourself that this size is going to be the perfect thing for you next Post-it Note critique.

You turn the corner only to spot a sale on Sharpies. You try to walk away, but you can’t. You tell yourself you’ll just buy one pack, and by one pack, you mean you’re going to buy all of the packs. (You get a teacher discount.)

At this point, your cart is full, but you haven’t even gotten to the milk aisle, which is what you came for in the first place.

Then you see the rainbow-colored pants. You’re hoping that they aren’t in your size. BUT THEY ARE!

rainbow pants

To some, rainbow pants might not seem practical. To you, they’re perfection. No one will be able to tell when a student trips and spills paint all over you.


Just around the corner is the best display you’ve ever seen.

It is a giant Bob Ross painting tiny trees. You MUST have this. Off to find a manager to see if you can buy this beauty. (And by “buy,” you mean “have.” After all, you’re already buying ALL of the Sharpies.)

You pay, forgetting the milk completely.

One more stop before you head to your car.

You casually, as if that is possible with a cart full of Sharpies, rainbow pants, and a giant Bob Ross, walk past the dumpster.


You start by glancing. Then you see the tip of what looks like a magically large pencil peeking out. Thankfully, you have on your sneakers, as it looks like you may need to do some climbing.

You consider throwing your cell phone into the dumpster. That way, if someone stops you, you’ll have a good excuse.

You pull your hat low, put on your extra large paint palette shaped sunglasses, sneak to the back, and rescue the giant pencil cutout from the dumpster. YOU ARE A HERO.

As you head to your car, you remember you don’t drive a box truck and begin to question how everything will fit.

Crisis averted. You have straps (proof you’re a professional). You strap Bob and your pencil to the roof, load the car, and are ready to head home.


As you can see, shopping as an art teacher can be difficult and dangerous. Every aisle, no matter the store, is filled with ideas, inspiration, and potential. While you may get odd looks in the checkout line, just remember the looks on your students’ faces when they see what you’ve found.

Thanks to the anonymous members of the AOE team who inspired this fictional shopping trip with their real-life art teacher shopping confessions. Let’s face it; we’ve all been there. Feeling oddly excited about a pile of discarded cardboard. Or realizing that we have the same shopping list as a serial killer…duct tape, zip ties, garbage bags, X-ACTO knives…

So, tell us. What’s your best art teacher shopping confession? 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever bought for your classroom?

Amber Kane

AOE Admin

Amber Kane is a High School Art Teacher and textile designer in PA. Through questioning and a focus on the creative thought process, she strives to help her students uncover their personal voice and see how they can use art to create impact.


  • Sara Engel

    I feel so seen :)

  • Megan Kemper


  • Tammy Deyoung

    so, probably the weirdest was net shower cap bonnets, pink sponge curlers, and nubby plastic handled massagers, wide-toothed combs–all from the dollar tree, but not for my bathroom—for a lesson on painting textures! PLEASE TELL ME WHERE TO GET THE RAINBOW PANTS!!!!!!!!!!

  • Michelle Richards-Clermont

    Yeah I’ve been in that scenario. My most recent OMG bargain was last summer. I frequent a unique family owned second hand store in Richmond Hill. I was chatting about some mohair yarn I bought when the first opened 4 years ago (still waiting to be knitted….), Maggie said they had just cleared out a hoarders apartment and they had a bunch of tapestry yarn…. I immediately
    Thought PERFECT FOR SUMMER ART CAMP! well a bunch meant 5,000 skeins…a great price to take it all. The 10 giant boxes are now sharing my studio the space with my vast collection of art, drawing & painting supplies, surfaces waiting to be prainted and over 100 frames. Perhaps I should have clued in when they said Hoarder…. then there is my penchant for pencil crayons, markers and crayons…. life is fun with art!

  • Emily

    I’ve been feeling the opposite way about the desire to buy anything for my art program of ten years. Not because I’m cheap, but because I have become secretly stressed out by the amount of material stuff that cycles in and out of my art rooms yeah after year. Material, man made, pointless items make me feel upset because of the way they compete with the natural world. It’s just too much, you know? I mourn the loss of nature. I am becoming sensitive to the idea that we keep buying new stuff, and I’m just growing so tired of participating in this cycle. It feels like an internal struggle, and I don’t talk about it ever. Anyone else feeling this burden lately? I kind of wish I could just go live in the woods, but that would make me a quitter, so at least I can use these emotions to teach projects that connect to environmental issues. So with that being said, I buy as little as possible.

    One thing I bought in my second or third year teaching that I find quite funny though is six office tables from habitat for humanity. I was just checking the place out for the first time and I casually bought them, for only twenty bucks each. Seemed useful to me! I borrowed my father in laws truck and dropped them off at school like it was no big deal. Haha! I’d never make that kind of effort now! Today I struggled with having to stop at a store to buy my secret Santa at work a fifteen dollar gift! Which was tiny! And did not require a pick up truck! ?

    • Chelsea

      I get what you are saying. I often get overwhelmed with the amount of STUFF I have in my classroom and in my home studio, and have been minimizing, giving away and purging. But my gosh the tug when someone say “hey I have a bunch of (pretty much anything) do you think you can use it?” I almost always say yes, but I am coming up with ways to up-cycle and create with found objects. Beats having it all go in the dumpster. But every so often I get clutter anxiety and purge some anyway. I do give a lot of stuff away to kids at school, they will take anything and if it gets their creativity and imagination going, I say it’s a good way to go :).

    • Jodi Eckert Aker

      Repurposing is the new shopping!! I have all the teachers at my school bringing me all kinds of swag… we craft, sculpt, invent, explore, take apart and reassemble. I do consume vast amounts of paint to cover these strange art pieces. I work at being environmentally friendly. I hope I can balance art and environment.

    • Cat Straub

      YES. YES. YES.
      I do re-use a lot of stuff, especially food containers, to use for water and paint. I also remind students not to throw things out that can be reused. But I do feel so sad a lot of the time for the exact same reasons you do. I wish I had more people to talk to about it, or that more people seemed to feel the same way.

  • Kara Sabatella

    You just described me to a T….I usually feel compelled to tell the cashier and people behind me what crazy concocted art project I am about to do… like having 10 pool noodles to buy at the grocery store because they were on clearance and if you cut them apart … add battery powered toothbrushes ( I also get some strange looks at the dollar store with 30 of them on the conveyor belt ) these unlikely materials with markers taped to them make the BEST ART BOTS… Hooray for art teachers !!!!

  • GSV/fjO1ppP4yVDXOBAd7IvTzR7U8i

    For me, it was the hardware store asking of 5 feet of chain, non scratching rope, PVC pipe, two large metal wall hooks and a shovel… (building wall hangings, structures and burying our fears)… the look the guy in the store gave me was priceless.

  • Dennis W.

    Me: A 41 year old middle aged art teacher with a giant beard and a fondness for wearing dark clothes.

    What I bought: Pantyhose in bulk. (They were for a sculpture class project but only an utter fool would believe the true story)

  • Cat Straub

    The weirdest thing I have purchased for my classroom was probably the 45 cheap wooden doorknobs from home depot, especially because they didn’t really match (I wiped out their inventory of three sizes).