10 Easy DIY Projects That Make Great Gifts for Grandparents, Family, and Friends

published Nov 19, 2021
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While my own house overflows with my kids’ latest creations (and messes), I love seeing what’s been saved, framed, and prominently displayed in relatives’ homes too. Coming across my kids’ old artwork during visits always feels like a tiny peek back to our family’s younger days. On one grandparents’ bookshelf, beside seashells and family photographs, sits a poem my son wrote six years ago about gathering close to the campfire with his Nana and Papa. On another is the canvas portrait my daughter made of her best buddy, my in-laws’ sweet dog, Daisy. 

These works are the gifts that keep on giving, for the doting recipients and the proud artists (and yes, their parents). Here, we’ve gathered projects for every age, stage, and attention span to give this holiday season. 

1. Geometric Modern Wall Art

For a brilliant project you can finish during a single naptime, cut out shapes from your child’s already finished preschool finger-paintings or watercolors to create modern wall art. This dreidel art glued to a shadow box frame makes a stunning Hanukkah gift, while triangles and hearts delight for all seasons. 

Tip: You’ll want to ask your child’s permission before cutting up their work and invite them to help place the cut-outs in the new design. 

See the full tutorial: Meri Cherry Art Studio (dreidels) and Lemon Thistle (triangles)

Credit: Plum Print

2. Custom Museum Poster Print 

The adorable title and artist biography in these professional-looking poster prints brings any kid creation to museum-quality status. I’m definitely ordering some of these for my walls (you know, just as soon as I sort through that box of quarantine art projects). If you’re crafty, you can also design your own museum print through Canva or another free service, then print it off at your local print shop and frame. 

Order custom prints at Plum Print ($20 for 11×17 Print, $100 for 11×17 Framed Print)

3. Framed Schoolwork, Poems or Notes

The weekend journals kids draw and write in at school often prompt them to describe special moments with loved ones. For an easy memento, you can frame a sweet note, a silly story, or a poem about a mutual interest, like this one entitled “Reading,” that would be perfect to present to your favorite bookworms.

Families celebrating Kwanzaa might enjoy working on this touching Kujichagulia (the Kwanzaa principle of self-determination) poem prompt from Hey Black Child: The Podcast, a podcast for kids by kids that celebrates Black history, excellence and contributions. 

See the poem prompts in Dr. Nicole M. Ausmer’s family guide to a joyous Kwanzaa at Hey Black Child: The Podcast’s blog

4. Painted Black and White Photography Portraits

Once you select and print a black-and-white, close-up photograph of your child, this project takes just minutes to paint and dry. Kids paint lightly over the black-and-white portrait, stamping their own personalities on each print. Toddlers can use their fingers or chunky brushes with watered down tempera paints, while older children may prefer finer brushes to accent features like hair and clothes. The neon paints provide a fun pop of color to complement even the most sophisticated of living rooms. 

Tip: Add a white border to your photograph for a cool mat effect before printing and remind kids to use just a bit of paint so their picture can peek through. You can find simple frames at Pottery Barn.

See the full tutorial: Homegrown Friends

Credit: Josie Lewis

5. Watercolor and Washi Trees

The Reggio Emilio art philosophy often utilizes an “invitation to play” by setting out materials ready for kids’ creative exploration. Josie Lewis’ mesmerizing watercolor stripe painting videos are an irresistible “invitation to play.” I shared the video with my 7-year-old with a bin of watercolor paper, thin washi tape, brushes, and paints at the ready. We were taping and painting our own variations in minutes — first heart shapes, then stars, and rainbows, trying to get our lines as close together as possible.

Watch Josie Lewis’s watercolor demonstration videos for the rainbow-striped tree and ombre triangles tree

Credit: Project Kid

6. Catch-all Jewelry Trays

These boldly colored trinket trays are made from polymer clay baked in the oven for just 15 minutes, then accented with a little touch of glam thanks to a gold leaf paint pen. You can help your artist roll the clay into a ball, flatten with a rolling pin to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out circles using a mason jar lid or cookie-cutter. For flat plates, place clay circles directly on a baking pan. To form bowl-shaped dishes that dip at the center, place on slightly smaller oven-safe bowls before baking.

Tip: The “SOFT” Fimo or Sculpey clay varieties are more pliable for little fingers. One brick of clay can make 4 trays.

See the tutorial: Project Kid

7. Abstract Tree Art

This beautiful project can be completed in a few simple steps with crayons, markers, or watercolors. First, create a stencil by cutting a triangle-shaped tree into smaller triangles. Then, lay out a few sheets of paper and guide your child to use one color and design element per page; for example, fill one page with turquoise stripes and another with gray splatter paint. Kids who love tangrams and puzzles will enjoy tracing the stencil pieces onto their design pages, then cutting them out and gluing the pieces together to form the tree. A shimmering dash of gold leaf paper — or in a pinch, bits of aluminum foil — and a coordinating frame make for a fancy finish.

Tip: Keep designs to a few colors, like the shades of blue pictured for a Hanukkah gift, shades of greens or reds for Christmas or red, black and green for Kwanzaa.

See the full tutorial: Nostalgie Cat

8. Abstract Art Scraper Project

An afternoon exploring this meditative art with your kids will be a gift for you both. Start with an oversized canvas or heavy paint paper, with a clean border of painter’s tape. Squeeze or drizzle thick tempera paint onto different sections of the canvas, then use the edges of plastic gift cards or expired credit cards to scrape and spread colors. This tutorial from the Small Hands Big Art children’s studio has excellent guidance to coach artists to consider color, overlapping, and how to create design in different directions. 

See the full tutorial: Small Hands Big Art

9.  Clock Art

While many craft stores sell rustic wooden clock kits, we’ve made our own DIY version by taking apart an inexpensive wall clock (you can get them from second hand stores too), designing our own clock face, and putting the parts back together. I used the pencil transfer method to duplicate the clock face and the markings onto watercolor paper. I helped my son write in the numbers and the second marks. Then, he painted the face in his favorite watercolor shades. Our homemade clock has been ticking for years; it’s a special keepsake to give as the new year begins, perhaps for loved ones finally returning to the office.

Tip: Take photos as you disassemble the clock to make it easier to put back together

Visit Home Made Lovely for instructions on the pencil-transfer method and look for the wooden framed wall clock like ours at Target.

10. Yayoi Kusama-Inspired Polka-Dotted Snowscape

My second-grader introduced me to artist Yayoi Kusama, known as the Princess of Polka Dots, after an art class inspired by Kusama’s famous patterned pumpkins. We crafted along with this delightful 7-minute visual tutorial video from Art by Trista to make these adorable snowscapes, only pausing a few times to complete each step. First, we cut out trees and a snowy horizon line from construction paper, then glued the pieces onto a blue background. We added rows of dots using the tips of three different sized dowels dipped into white paint — Q-tips, pencil erasers, and paintbrushes will also work for making dots. Finally, we scattered dots across the sky for snowflakes, let dry, and popped our work into white frames. 

Tip: Making so many polka dots takes practice and patience. Trying to count the dots as we stamped them made us giggle and helped pass the time.

See the YouTube tutorial by Art with Trista and check out artist Yayoi Kusama.

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