Mess-Free Painting for Kids–Believe It!

 The Pencil Grip, Inc. sent us the Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors in exchange for this review. Also, this post contains affiliate links. The government says I have to tell you that stuff, because a free review and an affiliate link might make me biased, but honestly, the only thing I’m biased about is that they didn’t send us enough! More Thin Stix! More, more, more!

What you need to know about us:

Our loyal readers know this, but if you’re new to The Travel Bags, here’s the low-down. There are 10 of us in the family, and we live in a travel trailer full-time. That means 10 people in 250 square feet, give or take a couple inches.

Because we are a music missionary family, we travel all the time. That means we’re in one spot usually for a couple days, sometimes four or five, sometimes only one, before moving down the road.

We are also a family of musicians, writers, and artists…including all three of those things at the professional level. Also and rather obviously, we roadschool.

What does all this add up to? We need art supplies that take up minimal space, are portable, and are functional on many levels. Plus we need chocolate.

What are Thin Stix?

I’ve written about The Pencil Grip, Inc.’s product Kwix Stix before on my other blog, The Simple Homemaker. If you really really want to, you may go read that by clicking right here. What we’re talking about here, however, are Thin Stix, which are a little bit different, although they are close cousins.

Both types of Stix Cousins are compact tempera paint in a hand-held tube. Essentially, it’s like using a giant lip balm tube filled with thick, brilliantly colored paint. (Please don’t use this as lip balm. I don’t think it’s the look you’re going for. Experience talking.)

The Kwik Stix are the thicker, shorter cousin, while the Thin Stix got the tall genes in the family. They are longer and thinner.

The Stix Cousins allow you to paint without water and almost entirely without mess. They wash up easily and dry within 90 seconds. Yes, we timed them. Yes, we’re geeks. Thanks for noticing.

They come in many colors. We reviewed the Thin Stix six-pack this time around. Because our “review” process was more of a “Look what we got! Let’s paint!” process, the colors you will see in our project photos are from both the Thin Stix and the Kwik Stix.

What can you do with Thin Stix?

You can paint!

What can you paint?

You can paint just about anything. Paper, of course, but also wood, cardboard, and eggs.


We used them in place of dye for our Easter eggs this year. It was wonderful! Because they are non-toxic, I didn’t worry about absorption into the shell any more than with the traditional dye from the store. I really don’t want to eat either one. The dye, however, seeps through the shell and you have colored eggs sometimes. The paint did not do that.

If you ever had four children six and under and dyed eggs, you’re feeling some pain over those memories. Am I right? And if you’ve ever dyed eggs with eight kids in a travel trailer, you’re probably dead. I know I am.

I’m telling you, my 11-year-old chef/pastor-to-be boiled the eggs this year, and then he and his younger siblings–8, 5, and 1–dyed them with the Stix Cousins. There was no mess. Excuse me. I have to pass out from pleasure and relief for a minute. Okay, I’m back. No mess!

Another thing we’ve used the Stix for was a cardboard car, which I have no picture of, because we did these things for fun and only after it was demolished in the demolition derby and put up on blocks (aka thrown in the dumpster) did we think to shoot a photo.

Paper and cardboard, though, aren’t a surprise, really. What was really fun was this 99-cent wooden picture frame:

Yes, that is a picture of my five-year-old painting in the van while we’re driving down the road. Did you hear that? She was painting in the van! No mess! No screens! No tears!

Yes, the baby is using them, too! In the van!

Another fun thing my kids do is this:

They open a sketch pad (they each have their own, but for this they will often work in the same one). The older child will paint on one side and the younger will copy the work as closely as possible on the other side. It’s great practice on many levels. At the risk of sounding all technical and not fun, it helps develop the following:

  • art skills
  • fine motor development
  • observation skills
  • hand-eye coordination
  • sibling bonding
  • cool art (that wasn’t too technical, was it?)

Why do I need Thin Stix if I already snagged the Kwix Stix last time you gushed about them, Christy?

Great question. Technically, you don’t need anything but Jesus and some food and water…maybe clothes if you’ll be out in society. But let’s address that question as more of a want than a need issue.

I am throwing around the terms Kwik Stix and Thin Stix rather loosely here, aren’t I? Let me differentiate a little bit more so you can see the benefits of both.

For us, for example, on Ellie’s wooden frame that she painted in the van with no mess, she used the Kwix Stix for her base colors, more of a quick cover. Then she used the Thin Stix for her fine detail work. Because they dry so quickly, there is no need to wait long before decorating over the top of the Kwik Stix with the Thin Stix.

Both are wonderful, and your child would be happy with either. Both together are best, though. With the variation in sizes, there are more options for the more detailed projects–sky and grass are Kwik Stix, flower petals are Thin Stix. Also, if you use them in coloring books (they work in books!) the Thin Stix will be better for the detailed work…obviously. Both work for writing cards, letters, and signs, but there again, the lean mean Thin Stix are better for smaller letters and more detailed work.

I would say the Thin Stix are a little thinner than a stick of normal lib balm, but much longer. The Kwik Stix are about an inch in diameter. (I used a math word. Don’t freak out on me.)


Will my child become a famous artist with Thin Stix?

A harsh parental reality is that our kids probably won’t become famous artists even without Thin Stix. What your child will become, though, is creative and well-adjusted without Mom freaking out or resisting or saying, “Can’t you just play a video game?” whenever the poor kid asks to paint.

In total and complete seriousness (not that the last paragraph wasn’t totally and completely serious), the fact that you will let your kids paint more often, and they will not end up with a disappointing puddle of army green paper pulp when they are trying to paint a still life of Aunt Betty’s candy dish will make them more interested in the creative process and more likely to explore those options in the future as they grow less spill-prone.

As far as masterpieces, because Thin Stix dry really quickly, they don’t lend themselves to blending unless you do it immediately–my kids have successfully done this by adding the second color quickly or painting with two sticks at once, and it’s brilliant! (Every time you read the word “brilliant” on anything I’ve written, you have to say it in a British accent. ‘Kay? Kay.) The striations and swirls blend, but still maintain some of the original colors, so it’s quite fun.

Also, maybe the Stix Cousins will just help them become really fun parents who use Kwik Stix and Thin Stix themselves for, say, Easter signs.

Which reminds me…you can paint a rubber stamp (or a potato) with the Stix and stamp with the stamper if you do it immediately. It’s a little slower than the 90-second paper drying, but not much.

Is this parent-heavy?

We store our school/office/business supplies directly above our kitchen table, and our paper in the cupboard directly behind the kitchen table. When the trailer floor is covered with lava, I only have to step on one spot on the floor to reach all our supplies, and temporary lava immunity protects me. Translation: It takes seven seconds to get the supplies out–no lie. I counted. Geek, remember.

And that’s it. That’s all I “have” to do, and technically, they can do that themselves.

(Forgive the PJs and nudie–it’s laundry day.)

But when they’re finished, I have to clean for 30 minutes, right? Wrong! I do a cover check, because the only bad thing about the Thin Stix, besides the fact that we don’t have enough, is that if you leave them uncovered, they will dry out, and then you’re super sad because your sun has to be blue instead of yellow, and that’s way too alternate-universe and gives the five-year-old bad dreams. So I do a cap check. I also put the bucket back because of that whole lip balm disclaimer thing earlier.

(Yes, sometimes our five-year-old wears a name tag. It’s probably so I remember her name.)

The clean-up? My one-year-old has covered various sections of his body with the paint, and it wipes right off with a wipe.

Also, my kids make paper chains to count down to crucial life-changing events. (It’s only 58 days to my half-birthday! I’m going to extend a chain across our entire living space so it hits everyone in the head every time they go anywhere so nobody could possibly forget my half-birthday!)

We don’t carry construction paper (trailerites, remember), so they take scrap paper and use the Stix Cousins to totally transform it. Sometimes they put a piece of paper under their work, but sometimes they do it right on the table, and then the table looks like this:

For the sake of this review, I left that mess on there over night. It certainly wasn’t because I was really tired at the time and didn’t care about a painted table…which was then turned into a bed, slept on, and transformed back into a table. (Don’t be like me, people.) Next day, a few passes with a baby wipe cleaned that baby right up.

Usually we just do an immediate wipe-down with a wet paper towel. Easy as pie! Easier, actually, since pie takes a couple hours, and the entire set-up and clean-up experience with Thin Stix is about 30 seconds, including hunting under the table for lost covers. I know, because…ahem…I counted.

Additional thoughts for other frugal and/or large families:

All the kids use these, from the professional artist down to the one-year-old. (The professional uses it for fun projects or painting with younglings, not for her commissions.) Honestly, where many parents (including younger me) would pull their hair out on one of “those days” and turn on the television or hide in the bathroom with the chocolate chips (don’t you keep chocolate chips in your bathroom?), I now say, “Who wants to paint?!” It is that mess-free and captivating.

You know that battle you have inside you between Fun Mom and Mom Who Has to Clean Up After Fun Mom? You know you should let the kids paint. You know it’s good for building up their creativity neurons. You also know that you will have an extra load of laundry and three hours of  floor and wall scrubbing to do afterward, and the only results will be army green paper pulp you have to hang on the fridge for the obligatory seven days before it–oops–falls off and miraculously floats across the room into the garbage can under some raw chicken. Yup, that battle. It will be gone!

I know you’re tired of cleaning, Large Family Mom. I know you’re tired of hanging army green paper pulp on your refrigerator. (I’m really happy for you that you have a big magnetic refrigerator, by the way. Don’t take that for granted!) I am so serious here–this is the solution to the battle. Put it on your Christmas list…and on mine.

As far as frugality, if you keep them capped, they last a long time. Keep them capped! 

Additional thoughts for my fellow roadschoolers:

We ditched all our other painting supplies for the younger set. We do still have watercolor pencils, but we rarely get those out for the single digit painters. All their painting and most of their markering (every time you make up a word, a grammar nerd gets a piece of chocolate!) is now done with the Stix Cousins. This is how we store them:

You can fit a lot of Stix Cousins in that little container. I might someday bring back in a cheapo tray of watercolor paints, but I still have a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder to recover from before I can set out another tray of paint and bowls of water in this tiny space with a one-year-old and our psycho kitty.

You will notice that I keep regular paint brushes in there, too. Sometimes, I let the baby paint with water. He thinks it’s fun for four seconds before he’s like, “Hey, Milk Maid! This paint is totally not working on my sister’s hair. Bring on the Thin Stix!” True story. Plus the kids make paint out of chalk and paint parking lots, because I won’t let them Stixify concrete. (Another grammar nerd gets chocolate!)

Will it stay on the road with us?

Not only have Kwik Stix been on the road with us for over a year, we received a nice big set (including the sparkly ones–woo hoo! Sparkles!) for Christmas from my brother’s family! Christmas will see more Thin Stix joining the family also, especially since their color range has expanded so much.

Honestly, it’s something I intend to keep stocked, just like our crayons and colored pencils. Markers–not so much. The Stix Cousins wash out and can be wiped off the cloth upholstery and baby. Again…experience. Markers are nothing but trouble in the trailer. Even the kids that don’t marker sleeping siblings will leave them lying around for the opportunistic juvenile delinquent.

Stix colors are just as brilliant if not more than markers, and both dry out without covers, so Stix win!


I don’t really care if you get these for your children, but this is a shameless plea for our own restocking. Send us more Thin Stix!

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