In our home, the purpose of art is for creativity and self-expression. Sometimes it's about healing or processing the day's events. I have found free art can bring a sense of calm to the child. Great things happen spontaneously when children are free from judgement and where there are no expectations. The way to achieve this has been to provide free access to age appropriate art materials. The children have over time earned trust with the materials and are able to access the materials as they wish and to create as they wish. While our art area is in a fully open and supervised area, they can work without anyone hovering, they don't have to ask for permission or explain their work to anyone. It provides a freedom that can't be obtained when a child is dependent on an adult.
I have previously written about our art area and have shown it's evolution over time here. For a younger child (such a toddler) we have presented relatively low mess art materials on trays as shown here. We apply the same principles to art that we apply to toys and other materials. We rotate, keeping out the favourites and most used while occasionally introducing new and exciting materials. Otis (pictured here) is really interested in thick, gloopy paint. He wants to use it in copious amounts, he wants to put his fingers in it and fingerpaint, smudge and push it around. Here he has freely chosen some natural materials including flowers to make prints.
Our art area is in a tiled area, it is next to our outdoor deck (second story) which also has a child size clothes line which is now solely used for hanging art, and a bucket that we fill with warm water with lavender soap whenever the children are painting (for hand washing). Since having children I have lived in three houses in different climates and assure you, in some way, it is possible to create a freely accessible art area for your child, it may be small, it may be limited, but it is possible.
There are times where we have used permanent dyes and this has been the exception, where close supervision and permission is required, there are always going to be exceptions. We observe our children and see what they are capable of, we put trust in their abilities and empower them, we provide them with daily opportunities to develop, to reach their potential, we support and we challenge them. We do this with art as much as any other area in their life.
(If you are local I highly recommend paint by Educational Colours. All of their paint is made and tested in Australia and it's economical.)