stephmodo: Art Party

Art Party

• 30 January 2013

If you've ever taken a peek at the birthday parties I've planned for my kiddos, you'd notice a few subtle (and perhaps not-so-subtle) similarities:

1. Back-to-back winter birthdays (December, January, February).  What can I say?  Springtime is often a magical time of year!

2.  We always have themes that celebrate something in which my child is interested (i.e, boatsouter space), or that means a lot to them (matryoshka dolls from her cousin, Paris).  They choose their own themes, with me chiming in with a few suggestions only if they are stumped on ideas.  Some are more challenging to pull off than others (this year my youngest daughter asked for a Hello Kitty party...yikes!), but they are all fun in their own way.  

3.  The party budget maximum is $125 (usually hovering around $100) and includes food, drinks, treats, decor, favors, activities, invitations, etc.  We will not go broke over our children's birthdays and the dollar aisle is our friend!  I reuse a simple, white tablecloth over and over, which makes for a neutral palette and less expense.  Sometimes I spend more on special details (Babar party), and then spend less in other areas.  I do my best to put to use what I already have on hand (which is why you sometimes see repeats in some of the basic details like dishes, glassware, etc.).  Somehow it all evens out!

Most recently, my oldest daughter asked for an Art Party.  She is very creative and enjoys making all sorts of things when she can tear herself away from reading :)  This has been the case her entire life thus far, and we were happy to celebrate this part of her personality.  The art history major in me was secretly thrilled, I confess.   

I'll never forget a particular morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts about 9 years ago.  I took my daughter, then 2, to Harvard's Fogg Museum.  I strolled her through the galleries, pausing every now and again to admire a certain piece.  I remember being wrapped up in a particular work momentarily, only to be interrupted by my toddler shouting "van Gogh, van Gogh!".  Astonished, I looked in the direction she was pointing and saw one of Vincent van Gogh's self portraits two rooms down.  I beamed (remember the art history gig?!) as all first-time mothers do when their child surprises them with a tidbit of knowledge.  Who knew that bargain book from Barnes and Noble sitting on the coffee table resonated?  

Since her birthday is only a week and a half into the new year, I find it always catches me off guard (didn't I just take down the Christmas decorations?).  There have been years when I planned ahead, but this was not one of them.  I had just a week to plan her Art Party, so everything else sort of went on the back burner while I worked on the details.  One thing I've learned about planning kids' birthday parties on a reasonable budget is that spending less means more work for the party planner.  But it's fun work, to be sure, and very satisfying as well.  We had a great time planning the details together along the way; although I did leave a few things as a surprise until the end, which was really fun!    

Invitations had to be simple, but special. I purchased pre-cut, flat cards and envelopes at Paper Source; as well as a paint brush stamp at a local rubber stamp shop in Seattle.  I am not a computer whizz in any sense, but I somehow managed to pull something together in Word; which means anyone can do this :)  In my dreams I navigate Illustrator and Photoshop smoothly; it's probably time for one of Alma's classes...

My daughter is officially a "tween" now (I need a support group for this!), which is an interesting time for all of us.  She is still a child, but also wants to spread her wings and feel grownup.  I am not sure if she will continue letting me plan these parties for her, so I am savoring the moments while I can.

This year, I knew that she and her friends would appreciate a nice lunch, so I served them one of my daughter's favorite soups (a hearty corn chowder), some crusty bread and lemonade; with lemon pudding cakes as appetizers.  One could say we reinvented the four food groups that morning--dessert 1, dessert 2, carbs and sugary drinks (we certainly set the day apart!).  With Taylor Swift on Pandora in the background, the girls giggled and chatted throughout the meal.

Afterwards, my friend Sarah, who is also a professional painter, was kind enough to give the girls a basic art lesson with some beautiful oil pastels, gifted to my daughter.  It was fun to watch some of them really dig in and take the experience seriously.  When it became clear that some had lost interest, we switched things up and moved into singing, cupcakes, macarons and the opening of gifts (made silly by her father's antics).  Before we knew it, time was up and we still hadn't finished so we frantically made phone calls and texts to parents asking for a slightly later pick up time.  I learned that this is the age they can handle the excitement of a party more than an hour and a half long (new territory for us).  Two hours for tweens seemed perfect.

Undoubtedly, the favorite detail was the macaron paint palette.  The girls kept commenting on it the throughout the party (what are macarons?  what flavor is that?  when can we eat them?  I call the pink one!).  This focal point was put together by propping a wooden paint palette (purchased from a local artists supply shop for $6) atop a ceramic pedastal from an old cake stand of mine.  I adhered the macarons to the palette with a dollop of cupcake frosting, to avoid a slip 'n' slide effect.

In order to achieve the look of a true paint palette, I knew it needed different shades.  With my youngest daughter in tow, we visited two bakeries in Seattle that carry macarons--one that consistenly creates pastel macarons and one that typically makes more intensely-colored macarons.  Together they made a great combination.  My friend Jenny, also a professional painter, lent me a paint brush from her studio, to accompany the "paints".  She also allowed me to use one of her retired paint palettes, which ended up as a tray for the cupcakes.  I raised it up a little from the table by using a large ramekin.  Clearly we were all about improvisation!

The party favors at E's Art Party were quite simple--small, pillow boxes adorned with vintage Mary Cassatt postage stamps.  Inside we placed modeling clay in hues that matched those on Jenny's paint palette.  I found the hues from Cernit more preferable, but the name "Sculpey" awfully endearing :)

I picked up these loose cards and envelopes at a major discount at a local stationer's sale I found out about through paper guru, Lyndsey.  I think the set was only a dollar or two; which meant there was a little left over for vintage art-related stamps on ebay (Calder and Albers--a snazzy duo, yes?).  Together they created the perfect thank-you notes for my daughter's art party.  In order to make sure I remembered this last detail to give thanks, I assembled these ahead of time so my daughter could easily mail them out after the party.

My daughter had a great time at her Art Party and is already mulling over next year's theme.  I am simply grateful she is interested in another homespun party!  These parties end up being such a fun memory for us both and I am excited to create more with all of my children.  Until next time...

all images by Stephanie Brubaker for stephmodo


  1. Such a wonderful party! So innovative! Even at my age I'd love a party like this for myself! Definitely pinning for later inspiration, I too lovete macaron palette!

  2. I rarely make comments, but this posting is the tipping point -- your blog is simply sublime. Your environment and your aesthetic are so beautifully curated, so very soulful. Your authenticity shines in every post.

  3. Really beautiful party. Even more beautiful girl!!

  4. ekk Steph, my last memory of E was her skipping along next to her dad after church in Cambridge chatting in French - stop growing already!!

  5. Simple, beautiful and thoughtful. Your children are so lucky to have you!

  6. Beautiful and so sweet. I'm having a lot of fun with at-home birthday parties for my boys, too. So far I'm the only one here who does it! It can be a lot of work, but I truly believe it's worth it. These are memories they will cherish forever.

  7. So sweet! I love all the thoughtful touches and how your daughter was so involved! I especially love those adorable boxes with the Mary Cassatt stamp. So pretty.

  8. This is my favorite party post of yours yet! I love all the details you gave. And the "keeping it real" factor, too - ie: Taylor Swift playing in the background (all kids are just kids!), the $ amount, improvising. This is why I love your blog so much. So authentic.

  9. Beautiful post. I am not a mom yet, but I love the fact that you put a limit on the amount spent. I see so many young moms trying to out do one another for the best birthday parties. They end up spending so much money and all the kids want to do is have fun. I am tucking this post in a safe place and coming back to it when I have my babies. Thanks

  10. Wow, this is such a creative party idea. I would have loved to do something like this at that age. The macaron display is adorable too! My favorite part. :)

  11. this party turned out adorable!! e is lucky to have a mom like you. and i'm glad you found a good use for the bargain stationery ;)

  12. What an adorable party. I see an art history study abroad in her future. Happy birthday E!

  13. Starr, thank you! I love that you are usually #1 to comment :) I look forward to your words from across the Pond!

    Yelle and Amy, I definitely think this could be adapted for an adult. A few on Instagram today mentioned the same thing!

    Vic, what a thoughtful comment. Thank you for leaving that for me to read and I hope to hear more from you!

    Abby & Kristen, thank you!

    Marian, I love that you remember that! I'll tell my husband and E...he will get a kick out of that! Life is moving so quickly...I miss our days in Cambridge! Did you know that Leslie moved to the town where I grew up? Super super crazy.

    Mary, keep at it! Totally worth it.

    Lynne / Tracy Plein Air Artists, I love me a little Cassatt too :)

    Rik, thank you for appreciating those things!

    Anon, thank you for chiming in-I totally agree with you. Gotta keep things in perspective, yes?

    Lauren, I only hope she has a pal like you someday if she does. Good times...

    Lyndsey, don't expect any of these details on Saturday LOL :)

  14. Beautiful party, beautiful details, beautifully documented! I love the bottles used for the lemonade? Are the re-purposed? If so, what from? Love that detail.

    Random... I have been a blog follower for many years (thanks for all the great content) and my good friend Holly moved to Seattle a while back and I was so tickled to hear that she moved near you and had met you. Isn't she great?! And now we are moving to Seattle as well. I now have a renewed interest in all your Seattle posts. Hip hip for the PacNW!! Thanks for all the inspiration for beauty and simplicity.

  15. This is simply lovely and such a wonderful memory for your daughter. We also have always done home parties and I don't think my children would have it any other way! Yet...fingers crossed! I love how you kept it simple and beautiful yet attainable and realistic. Thank you for sharing!


  16. Such beautiful, yet always simple details Steph. I just love the way you think and execute things. What a dream too to have a daughter of that age not asking for a justin beiber party or something not quite up your alley;) I love it all!

  17. You did all of that for around $100? What an inspiration you are! And how creative! I love the repurposed painters palette as the cupcake tray and who doesn't love macaroons. Turned all of my nieces and nephews onto them this past summer, while in Seattle.

    Thanks for the great post!

  18. Such a fun idea! Love the macaroon palette.

  19. So beautiful, Steph! You and I both have reason to be proud! I can't wait to see where this interest leads! Love you both so much.

  20. the macaron paint palette, so lovely stephanie.

  21. Oh my goodness, I am in love with this party idea! Crossing my fingers that my now-two-year old girl will some day ask for one. Perhaps I can plant inspiration early:)

  22. So lovely. And I really like the use of those awesome French yogurt cups. :-) V. clever!

  23. Just incredible. Everything you do is divine.

  24. So many great ideas! And really, the macaron palette is perfection.

  25. What a beautiful party. I am glad you mentioned your budget. Just because I see these parties and always think they must cost a fortune.


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