Physical Space

14 Outrageously Fun Must-Have Items Under $20 for the Art Teacher’s Desk

empty desk

It’s that time of year again. Summer is winding down, and we are shifting into “back to school” mode. We are excited to plan our curriculums, arrange our art rooms, and tackle anything the new school year can throw at us. In this crazy whirlwind, we often put our desk spaces on the back burner. It’s easy to prioritize organizing our closet or composing a welcoming bulletin board, but you shouldn’t feel guilty putting effort into your space. Make your desk a fun place where students want to visit you. Or, make it a calming place to recharge and recenter during your planning period.

empty desk

Keep scrolling for a roundup of 14 budget-friendly items you can add to your desk to bring a smile to your face.

1. Jumbo Pencil

Oversized art supplies are just plain fun! Bonus points if they actually work. This giant pencil is a functional pencil. It can be a silly decor item, an engaging demonstration prop, or a hilarious answer to that student who consistently asks, “Can I borrow a pencil?”

2. Huge Eraser

See a pattern here? This larger-than-normal tool makes it easy to keep track of your eraser. I have also found students are way less likely to destroy something special! You can find plain erasers or ones that say, “For BIG Mistakes!” If you go with the latter, take the opportunity to reinforce that mistakes are okay and a necessary part of artmaking.

3. Not Paint Water Mug

It’s a classic move—you go to wash your brush and realize you stuck it straight in your drink. This mug makes it easier to distinguish your beverage from your paint water. Or, if you already have your favorite drinking cup, this can be a humorous caddy for all your loose writing and drawing utensils.

4. Color Wheel Mouse Pad

Add a pop of color to your desk with a color wheel mouse pad! It also makes a handy prop when you need to reference a color wheel on the fly.

5. Magnetic Staple Remover

Did anyone else grow up using those staple removers that look like they have sharp teeth or claws? Check out this (much safer) staple remover. It slides right into your pen and pencil cup, and it has a rounded end. It also has a magnetic handle to “hold” all the loose staples! These removers come in a multipack of fun colors to share with your teacher friends or give to several student helpers.

staple remover

6. Jeff Koons-esque Desk Sculpture

This resin statue of a balloon dog is reminiscent of one of Jeff Koons’ creations. It is a whimsical way to bring a little shine or color to your desk!

7. Erasable Ink Pens

Hands down, these are my favorite grading pens. They glide smoothly across the paper, are retractable, so you don’t have a cap to lose, and come in a range of bright, easy-to-see colors. These pens are a must-have tool for grading and leaving feedback because they erase cleanly.

erasable pens

8. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Sticky Notes

I love my stacks of sticky notes in every possible rainbow color, but these painterly sticky notes are another neat option. Leave yourself reminders, write special notes of encouragement to students, or send messages to other teachers in art teacher style. You will get two popular historical artists and styles: Claude Monet (Impressionism) and Vincent van Gogh (Post-Impressionism).

9. Pencil Sharpener Pencil Holder

Are you tired of using teacher mugs or recycled food containers to corral your writing utensils? Why not try this stylish pencil holder shaped like a giant pencil sharpener? It would also make a great companion to the ginormous pencil and eraser from up above.

10. Salvador Dali Melting Clock

You’ll never have to guess the time at your desk again with this Surrealism-inspired  clock. You can place it on a bookshelf or windowsill anywhere in the classroom for yourself or all students to enjoy. It’s also a great learning opportunity to review how to read an analog clock!

11. Rainbow Tape and Cloud Dispenser

For those of you with a rainbow-themed art room, this product is for you! Use this whimsical tape as adhesive or to label your items.

12. Paper Plane Push Pins

Students of all ages are intrigued by origami, especially paper planes. Many art rooms even have an origami station for early finishers. These push pins are a fun way to display origami creations. They are also a tiny way to make boring school paperwork a little happier tacked up next to your desk!

paper plane push pins

13. Clip Push Pins

There are few things better than gifted artwork from a student. Display these precious pieces without punching holes in the artwork. Simply tack these push pins into a bulletin board and use the clips to swap artwork, keepsakes, or photos in and out as needed, hassle-free. You can also get colored clips for a vibrantly colored classroom or these classy studio-style clips.

14. Jumbo Sensory Stress Ball

I like having a stress ball on my desk for when I’m feeling anxious, need a break from lots of typing, or just restless during a meeting or long phone call. It also comes in handy for students who need a time-out. This jumbo sensory toy is super satisfying and therapeutic to use. You can also purchase a multipack of regular-size stress balls to share the zen.

desk with accessories

Our jobs as art teachers keep us busy. We need to be everywhere at once and we are always on the move. We are prepping paint and distributing paint, and all while covered in paint. We need to be instructing students, helping students, modeling for students, and facilitating students. Our hectic day often leaves little to no time at our desks, but this doesn’t mean you should neglect your space! Give yourself a place to reset and take a deep breath. Purchase one, two, or all of these budget-friendly items to bring yourself a little bit of joy or to make your life at school a little easier. Bonus points if they do both!

What is your favorite desk item that every art teacher should have? 

How are you going to prioritize your desk space this year?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Lindsey McGinnis

Lindsey McGinnis is AOEU’s Media Content Manager and a former high school art educator. She is passionately equipping art teachers to be successful in their classrooms and firmly believes that art is a safe place for students to explore and process the challenging topics and concepts around them.

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