Gift Ideas for Every Budget
Here’s the problem I have with every single artist gift guide I’ve come across this year: none of them are very helpful.
The majority seem to be designed for the sole purpose of pushing somebody-or-other’s wares. (There are no affiliate links in this post!)
Very few seem to be written by actual artists and some are so bad I’m not sure they’ve even met an artist.
Fortunately, I’ve got you covered! I love oils, pastels, and watercolors which means I can recommend numerous gifts that will suit the majority of visual artists out there. Score!
[bctt tweet=”Artists have a very expensive habit! Why not feed their need?”]
Now I’ll be honest, this is somewhat of a wish list (hint hint, Mike) so I can’t say I’ve tried every single gift recommendation here. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want them, it just means that some additional research on your part is going to be required.
You can never go wrong with getting an artist a sketchbook. It is a staple in any artist’s arsenal. A good artist is always toying around with ideas and toting a sketchbook where ever they go (and just for that reason, an artist will appreciate sketchbooks of varying sizes).
I should warn you that not just any old sketchbook will do. I can be very picky about my sketchbooks and here are a few details I look for.
- Heavyweight pages. Not only do I like pages that I can use several media on (from pens to watercolor), I also like paper than can stand up to a little abuse. Look for acid-free in case a sketch turns into a masterpiece or better yet someone wants to buy it.
- Binding. The binding has become one of the first things I look at when considering a new sketchbook. I’ve personally become a big fan of spiral bound books. It makes the opening, curling up with, and drawing from various angles so much easier. The only caveat is that the pages are easier to accidentally tear out. But not to worry, this is much less of an issue if you choose the heavy-weight paper.
- Texture. I like to feel the texture of the paper grab my pen or pencil and those silky lines pour out onto the page. Mmmmm. Sometimes I’ll doodle just for the feel of it.
2. Pens and Pencils
I’ve recently fallen in love with graphite pencils. As their name implies, they’re made of solid graphite. The outer surface is covering in a shell of paint to protect your fingers from getting covered in the graphite, but it can be sharpened like any ordinary pencil. Beyond that, any set would be nice as pencils can be used up fast.
As for pens, ultra-fine point Sharpies are great, but real artist pens are even better. My go-to brand? Pigma Microns by Sakura. I’ve been using them for years. In fact, I have some that were lost in a drawer for over ten years and they’re still going strong.
Confirming what I already knew, here’s a clip from their product description:
Unlike dye-based ink found in most pens and markers, Pigma ink will not feather or bleed, even through the thinnest paper. Pigma ink is derived from a single pigment to ensure color consistency and is fadeproof against sunlight or UV light. Pigma inks will not clog or dry out like most mechanical pens.
Did you catch that last part? They don’t dry out. . . and I have the proof!
Easels are another essential, but here is where my information is going to be a little dodgy. I’ve only tested out one, and it’s not perfect. But I also don’t know how I got along without one.
Here are some things that make a great easel:
- It can be used for plein aire.
- The legs fold so I can be used on a tabletop.
- It has a drawer for storing supplies.
- It is portable and like I said above, it can transport supplies).
- It is sturdy.
- It’s heavy so it doesn’t slide around when I apply pressure to my canvas.
Here are some problems to look out for:
- It can be heavy (a pro and con) especially loaded up with all of my gear.
- It’s terrible for holding smaller pieces of work (you see the tape I’m having to use here).
So choose wisely here. You may need to snoop through your artist’s stuff and see what kind of work they do then do your research. Dick Blick is a great place to look at reviews. Here’s a link to one of their easels that solves the size problem.
Ah, lighting, the unsung hero of the studio, laboring in the background, helping color appear true and brilliant. A good lamp is crucial not only because artists are so often prone to creative spurts in the wee hours (or because of aging eyes like mine) but because light has color. That color tinges everything around it. It affects how paint is mixed, applied, and how it is seen by a viewer.
I still don’t have color balanced lights in my studio and numerous paintings have suffered. Skins tones especially appear dull and gray.
That’s why you can’t pick up any old light or light bulb and call it good. It’s not that easy and it’s certainly not that cheap. Rather that go into the complexities of why, let me just send you over to Dick Blick again and their page of lights so you can make your own comparisons. If you do want the hairy explanation of lighting for artists, you can find it here.
This is one gift I would absolutely appreciate.
Maybe it’s just me, but I am in love with brushes: the more the merrier! I have brushes that are as old as dirt. I have brushes that are new and shiny. I have brushes I like to baby and I have brushes I beat the heck out of. You really can’t go wrong here as long as you choose one that is appropriate for your favorite artist’s medium whether it is oil, acrylic, watercolor or more.
Right now my favorite brushes are the Zen series by Royal & Langnickel. They are beautiful, long-handled, responsive, and a great price.
To find them, go online. I hear you can find them locally at Michael’s, but I haven’t checked personally.
Need a cheap gift? Erasers to the rescue. I added this nifty item to the list for the sweet child on a tight budget.
Here are a few erasers that are a must:
- White erasers. White is the best color of eraser for artists. You can even choose different softness for different delicacies of paper.
- Kneadable erasers. These little workhorses are fantastic because they are gentle and can be shaped for fine detail. Because they dirty as they do the erasing, kneadable erasers need to be replaced frequently.
- Electric erasers. I haven’t tried one, but some artists swear by ’em, and I would not be disappointed if I received one as a present.
- Dry cleaning pads. What’s that, you say? (Not to be confused with dry-cleaning pads.) I was only recently introduced to these beauties. They can be used to carefully clean dirt, dust, and fingerprints from artwork and clean tools. I think I need one!
I appreciate fresh, clean erasers so they would be a good simple gift. (Although you may get into your artist’s good graces more if one were paired with some beautiful new pencils, pastels, or charcoal!)
7. Canvas, Paper, Board
Having a stack of working surfaces nearby makes the creative process so much smoother. Again, you’re going to have to dig around your artist’s work space and see what they prefer.
Right now, for oils and acrylics I am really digging cradled Gessobord. It’s a hardboard mounted on a cradle so the finished piece doesn’t need to be framed. Hobby Lobby has a modest selection; online is much better.
For pastels, charcoal, and pencil I love . . . love . . . love heavyweight BFK Rives Printmaking paper. It’s a velvety mould-made paper that can really take a beating. I hate to sound like a broken record, but Dick Blick is the only source I use. The one downside (depending on how you look at it) is they have to be ordered in very large unwieldy sheets.
Good artists produce a ton of work. That’s how they get so good. But eventually that work begins to fill the walls, cover every surface, and get stacked in every corner. For storage here’s what you need to know:
- Paper works need to be stored flat.
- Paintings need to be stored vertically.
I have not found affordable solutions for either of these although I did make my own vertical storage system for under $50. (If you’d like to get notified when I post the tutorial, I highly recommend subscribing to my newsletter.)
For the former, you need to find something with large thin drawers. I am not recommending this specific one per se, but something similar. I saw some cardboard ones, but I really don’t recommend that route as a gift. (My dream one would be wood and a rich brown.)
9. A Gallery System
Normally frequent changing of artwork leaves behind a plethora of irritating nail holes. I employ Command strips where I can, but these can only go so far and they’re not as easy to change out as you might think. A gallery system spares your walls from the abuse with a rail and cables that is easy to change out and customize.
These set-ups are a bit pricey so it’s a luxury that makes a great gift. Here’s a starter kit that I wouldn’t mind having, but can also do some research on Amazon for similar products.
10. Digital Drawing Pad
A digital drawing pad is a complete splurge. The idea of owning these has been percolating in my mind for years, but I’ve always talked myself out of it because it’s not something I need. But that’s what makes it such a great gift; it’s something an artist wouldn’t necessarily buy for themselves.
I can only imagine how great digital editing and creating would be on one of these pads. It would certainly be easier than the fidgety imprecise manipulations by a mouse or touch-pad.
The word on the street is that Wacom is the gold standard in digital pads, but Monoprice is gaining a great reputation while offering much better prices. My daughter has a Ugee that we picked up off of amazon for dirt cheap and she loves it.
I hope I’ve given you a great selection of gifts that suit any budget. If I’ve overlooked any fantastic ideas, I’ve love to hear about it.