The Many Uses of Gloss Medium

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

I’ve written a few general posts on acrylic mediums, but today I’d like to focus on Gloss Medium in particular. In my opinion it’s one of the most useful of the acrylic medium family. What is it, and what does it do?

Gloss Medium with Acrylic Paint

Firstly, let’s look at its characteristics:

  • This is a transparent medium
  • The lustre is shiny (no prizes if you guessed that!)
  • It’s a thick liquid, so it will not hold peaks, but will show the bristle marks from individual brushstrokes. Gloss Gel is a slightly thicker version.
  • Milky in appearance when wet, but dries clear
  • May be applied with brush or knife
  • May be stencilled
  • Available in various quantities: 100ml to 5 litres. I find it’s more cost effective to buy in bulk and then decant into a smaller bottle for convenience.

This is an ideal medium when you want your colours to shine without being textured. Being clear, it’s perfect for increasing the transparency of your colours. In that way it’s similar to Glaze Medium but, as you’ll see as we continue, it’s more versatile.

Gloss medium over black mountboard

Apply Gloss Medium over a coloured surface and the colour will appear deeper and more saturated.

This image shows Gloss Medium applied to black mountboard with brush, silicon shaper and knife.

Gold wash over Gloss Medium

When overlaid with a thin layer of colour, Gloss Medium acts as a resist, retaining the original colour.

A thin layer of gold acrylic ink gives a subtle sparkle to the background and contrasts with the Gloss Medium.

Like other mediums, Gloss Medium is compatible with all other acrylic products. When mixed with Heavy Body acrylic it will thin the paint. Mixed with acrylic ink, it will thicken the ink.

Gloss medium applied with stencil

Gloss medium may be stencilled. Here I cut a stencil from thin card and passed the medium over with a painting knife.

The stencil needs to be greetings card weight; about 350gsm. Make sure you hold the stencil down firmly, or the medium will seep under the stencil. That will also happen if the stencil is too flimsy.

Gloss Medium as an Adhesive

Anyone who had used Gloss Medium knows that it is sticky. Thus it’s great as an adhesive, as it sticks well to most surfaces, and it also sticks particularly well to itself. Any sticky acrylic medium (e.g. String Gel, Gloss Gel, Heavy Gel) will be superb at joining two pieces of acrylic together without introducing a non-acrylic adhesive.

A good example of this is when I add texture to my work by using marble dust mixed to a thick paste with Gloss Medium. Applying the paste straight onto the support is problematic, as it tends not to adhere. Painting a layer of Gloss Medium first, and then applying the paste while the medium is still wet, solves the problem.

Gloss medium as an adhesive is particularly useful for collage, as it will easily stick scraps of paper, fabric, sand, wood chips and many other materials to a canvas or board.

If sticking something particularly challenging, I would apply a layer of the medium to one surface and let that dry. Then I’d apply a layer of medium to my second surface and place the first on top (medium side down). Once dry the two surfaces will be firmly stuck together.

Gloss Medium as a Varnish

Gloss Medium is often sold as Gloss Medium and Varnish. Thus far I haven’t used it as a varnish, but obviously it’s possible to do so. Why won’t I use it for varnishing?

  • Once dry it’s permanent. I prefer a removeable varnish in case or problems or if the varnish needs to be removed at a later date.
  • It holds the brushstrokes. If I choose to varnish – and I don’t varnish every painting – I want a smooth finish to my work.
  • The lustre is shiny. I prefer a satin finish.
  • It’s a multi-purpose product. I’d rather use a varnish that was developed solely for that purpose.

Of course it’s up to the individual to make their own choice of varnish type, but those are my reasons. I do think that Gloss Medium would make an excellent choice if you want a strong, shiny and protective finish to a textured piece of work.

For more information on varnishing your work see my previous post here.

Cleaning up

However you choose to use Gloss Medium, remember to wash your brush promptly, or you risk ruining it for ever. A knife may be wiped on scrap paper, kitchen roll or a cloth. If the medium has started to dry, brief immersion in water should soften it enough to be removed easily.

Top tip: if you’ve poured the medium, wipe the top of the container before replacing the lid. Otherwise the lid and container will weld to each other. If that does happen, running the lid under a hot tap for a short time will usually soften the seal.

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Don’t Neglect Your Support

Alternative supports

Today we’re focusing on painting supports. (For anyone new to art: a support is the base you choose for your painting, usually paper, canvas or panel, but sometimes more unusual materials such as glass or metal.)

This time I’m turning my thoughts not to the material you paint on, but the shape. We tend to think of painting on a square or rectangle as the default, as it’s easily available and simple to frame.

Yet there are plenty of other options out there. Circles are commonplace, and I’ve even seen triangular or hexagonal canvases. Why stop there? Who says that a painting has to fit a neat geometric shape? An organic subject may better suit an organic shape.

Obviously some shapes are harder to frame than others, but a good framer will usually be able to suggest a suitable method. Alternatively, you don’t have to frame your work. As long as the edge is neat, a frame is not imperative. Either paint the edge a single colour, or continue the painting from the front over the sides.

Circular supports

Lately circular canvases and panels have become very popular with paint-pouring artists. That might seem relatively new, but circular supports have been used for traditional art for centuries.

People viewing Michelangelo's "Doni Tondo".

One of the more famous examples of a circular painting is the Doni Tondo, painted by Michelangelo c.1503.

Tondo refers to the round shape, being derived from rotondo in Italian. It was a popular shape in Renaissance art.

Ravenna mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Sometimes artists used a circular shape to fit with the architecture of a building.

Mosaic artists commonly fitted their art to an arch or reflected the circular shape of a dome in the circular art beneath.

Ancient Egyptian tomb painting.

As smaller tombs often had a curved roof, ancient Egyptian artists were well acquainted with having to fit their design to a curved space.

So use of a non-rectangular shape for art is traditional, dating back to at least ancient Egyptian times. We don’t need to work on the scale of an architectural piece, but using a non-rectangular shape provides interesting compositional challenges and takes you out of your comfort zone.

Take a leaf out of the Roman mosaicist’s book, and try mixing patterned borders with images. There’s plenty of potential to make a striking image that’s unique to you.

In the past I’ve worked on circular supports for portraits, life drawing, mosaics and landscapes, and I’ve always found curiosity, enjoyment, and discovery inherent in the challenge.

I’m currently working on a circular seascape. While thinking of sea motifs – portholes, water drops, buoys etc – the circular shape just seemed more appropriate than a rectangle.

Circular shapes lend themselves to abstracts too.

To encourage you to give non-rectangular shaped supports a try yourselves, I’m sharing the details of one of my new suppliers with you. I’ve sourced wooden circles from a few different companies and this one is my favourite.

The company’s brand name is Infinite, they’re based in Somerset, UK and they supply craft materials. While I don’t need most of their products, I’m a big fan of their pre-cut wooden shapes.

You can choose from Birch ply, Marine ply or MDF, and most shapes are available in a range of sizes and thicknesses. They also supply shapes in acrylic, but I’ve yet to try those.

Geometric shapes include circles, semi-circles, triangles, pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, octagons and decagons. If you’re feeling bold, you could even try shields, hearts, stars, letters or numerous other motifs.

I’m not affiliated to the company in any way, but I have bought Birch ply circles from them several times, so I’m happy to recommend them. Here are the plus points:

  • Products are excellent quality. There’s a warning on the website that some light sanding may be necessary, but so far I haven’t needed to do that
  • Better range of sizes and shapes than online art suppliers
  • Bespoke shapes by arrangement
  • Shapes can be ordered plain or with drilled holes e.g to fit a clock mechanism or for hanging
  • Prices are extremely competitive – significantly lower than my usual art materials suppliers – and there are discounts available for larger orders.
  • Delivery time is about a week after ordering. So far my orders have arrived on the delivery date specified in the confirmation email.
  • Delivery on orders over £20 is free.

My only quibble is that I wish they’d get someone to proof-read their website. I fully accept that typos can slip through now and then, but there really are too many. I’m trying to tell myself it’s funny rather than teeth-curling.

Aside from that, I’m very pleased with my orders so far, and I’m sure I’ll be ordering again soon.

I hope that the idea of working on a non-rectangular support has given you food for thought. A rectangular support may indeed be the best option, but I suggest it should be the result of a decision rather than just being the default.

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Goodbye 2021, Hello 2022

Photo by Anna-Louise on Pexels.com

Happy New Year!

I adore the transition from one year to the next. It feels to me like everything is possible and the world is full of promise and excitement. A chance to look forward instead of back.

I don’t do resolutions – it’s too much pressure and feels like setting oneself up to fail. Instead I choose a theme for the year, such as health or wellbeing, and use that as a watchword for all my activities throughout the year.

After all the challenges that 2020 and 2021 brought us, I’ve decided on Fun and Laughter as my theme for 2022. I’m not sure how much laughter will fit with my art practice, but I’m certain that fun will play a big part.

So I’d like to wish all my readers not just a happy New Year, but also a year of exciting possibilities, of fun and laughter.

I trust that 2022 will be good to you, and I look forward to blogging for you in the coming year.

Welcome 2022, and let the fun begin!

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Season’s Greetings

On Monday it was lovely to be part of an Angel sketching Zoom event with my friends at Art Safari holidays. Many of the tutors took part, demonstrating methods of drawing and painting a range of “angels”. The word was interpreted very loosely…basically anything that could fly, was Christmassy or was named “Angel”.

Here’s my Bling Angel, inspired by the Regent St (London) Christmas lights (above). It’s a little more shiny/sparkly in real life than in the photo.

The Regent Street Angels hold a special place in my heart, as they were part of a coach tour to view Christmas lights that guests were treated to en route from my sister’s wedding to reception a few years ago.

Here’s how I created my angel:

Background: Acrylic ink (Rowney Blue, Turquoise Deep, Pearlescent Black) and Airbrush Medium, applied very wet so the colours run together.

Angel: neat Iridescent Medium base, then layers built up of Iridescent Medium mixed with blue or gold acrylic ink. Outlines in Iridescent Gold acrylic ink.

Figure: Iridescent Gold acrylic ink mixed with Pearlescent White.

Sparkle: Derivan Matisse Mica Flakes sprinkled over Gloss Medium. NB the flakes are much more sparkly if sprinkled over the wet medium rather than mixed with it.

A lot of fun to do, and great to see how the other demonstrators interpreted their subjects. Awesome that so many in the audience took part too. Check out the Art Safari website and Facebook pages for more details about their workshops, holidays and speed sketching sessions on Zoom.

To all my blog’s visitors: I wish you a wonderful Christmas, full of surprise and delight. If Christmas isn’t a holiday you celebrate, I hope life will bring you other reasons to feel blessed and celebratory.

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White is Right

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

A quick post this week, as I’m sure we all have items on our To Do lists that have priority over reading looooong blog posts. Unless you’re either not celebrating this particular holiday, or one of those super-organised people who always has Christmas bought, paid for, wrapped, and with a bow on top by July. Suffice to say, I am not one of those people.

More about monochrome

I’m carrying on from my last post (thanks for the likes btw) by highlighting another method of monochrome.

I was looking back through some old sketchbooks, and came across these two drawings, made with white and grey drawing pencils and some grey paper from the Two Rivers paper company.

White and graphite pencil drawing on grey paper.

The technique is to use a mid-tone paper to represent the medium tones of the subject, and the graphite for the darker tones. A white pencil is used for the highlights.

My paper is a mauvy-grey (slightly less mauve than it appears here in my scan), but any colour will work.

Why will any colour work? Because tones matter more than colours. Would the image work if I swapped the light tones for dark ones, and vice versa? No: the whole lighting scheme would change and look very odd. Would it still work if I changed the mauve for green? Yes, because the tones remain the same, even though the colour is different.

See what I mean?

Previous drawing with Left: tones transposed and Right: green instead of mauve background.

Always remember: tone matters more than colour.

It’s an interesting technique to try, because while you’re drawing as accustomed with the graphite pencil, the white one requires more pressure to create lighter tones – exactly the opposite of traditional graphite. So it really makes you think, and is a good exercise if you want to practise your drawing skills while mixing things up a little.

Smew drawing with white and graphite pencils on grey paper.

Here’s another example of the technique, based on one of the images from my sketchbook.

I like the subtlety of the style, though you could be more dramatic by using back and white ink or paint instead of pencils.

Which white pencil?

A quick word on white pencils. While I haven’t tried many different brands, I have tried Derwent’s Drawing, Caran d’Ache Supracolour I & II and Faber Castell’s Polychromos. This is one occasion when you need a high level of pigment, so do go with a good quality brand.

My preferred brand is Derwent’s Chinese White from their Drawing range, as it gives a brighter white than the others. That said, the brightness of any white does vary with the type of paper you choose, so do experiment to see which gives the best result, before embarking on a major drawing.

Do leave a comment if you have any experience of other brands’ white pencils, good or bad.

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Monochrome Magic

The advantages of a single colour

I wonder how often you work in monochrome? It’s easy to be seduced by colour when painting, but today I’m suggesting that we should sometimes limit ourselves to a single colour, in order to.explore the strength and subtleties.

The obvious choice is to pick monochrome when working with a particular medium, such as charcoal, or when working on a black and/or white subject.

Yet there are far more possibilities to be considered, both in medium and subject.

Some years ago I was asked to contribute some images to the glorious Birds of Gloucestershire book

Officially, all the drawings were planned to be graphite, but I wasn’t too enthused by that. I suggested I use watercolour instead. It would look like pencil but would give me the flexibility of watercolour techniques.

There were a number of contributors, working in a variety of styles, so a change of medium wouldn’t look out of place. Happily the editor agreed.

(Looking back, if he hadn’t agreed, I could have used watersoluble graphite instead, but I’m not sure I’d discovered its possibilities at the time.)

I chose to use Daler Rowney’s Paynes Grey. I realise that Paynes Grey is a colour that some artists loathe, but I find it useful, so it’s a valued component of my paintbox. I selected the Daler Rowney version because it’s not so dominant a colour as some of the other brands. The Winsor and Newton version, for example, is much more of an intense blue.

Note: do compare colours from different brands when you get the opportunity, as they can vary wildly. Next time you’re at an art group or withy arty friends, take a quick poll of which brands people are using. Then pass a paper around and get everyone to add a splodge of a particular colour, jotting down which brand it is. You’ll be amazed at the variety of the “same” colour.

That doesn’t make any of them bad; they’re just different. I keep two brands of Raw Umber in my paintbox, as they’re both useful colours. Brand loyalty is all very well, but none of them will be optimal for every colour.

But I digress. Let’s get back to monochrome….

Working with the varied tones of a single colour has many advantages. Your painting can be incredibly subtle, if that’s what is needed, or it can be bold and dynamic.

A watercolour wash was perfect for the hint of distant clouds behind this soaring Red Kite.

It also allowed for strong, graduated darks on the primary feathers.

Monochrome is particularly effective for rendering white subjects. The form shadows create interesting shapes and the highlights sparkle against darker tones.

So I was glad this Little Egret was part of my allocation.

Carefully controlling the tones allows the artist to create layers, with pale tones becoming a backdrop to the stronger tones in the foreground. Such a technique can be especially useful when creating an illustration when several concepts need to be shown.

In this image it was important to include the habitat was well as the species, as one of the county’s nature reserves is managed to encourage the breeding of Pied Flycatchers. Fitting a small bird into its habitat can be a challenge in a painting, as the bird may look tiny. This technique solves that issue.

Another advantage of monochrome is that it’s easy to create interesting negative shapes (the spaces between and around an object), making your painting more appealing.

A single colour background really helps your subject to stand out.

Adding colour

Once you’ve created the image, it’s easy to change the colour digitally with editing software, as I’ve shown here. I don’t think it works particularly well with realistic work like this, but could be exciting with a more stylised image.

If your Photoshop skills are better than mine – and most people’s are – there’s plenty of opportunity for creativity. You could add a single spot of colour, which would really sing if the rest of the image is monochrome. (Remember the power of the black and white image with the little girl in a red coat, in the film Schindler’s List?) Or make a montage of monochrome and coloured work. Or flip, rotate and repeat part of an image to exploit the pattern. The possibilities are endless.

Adjusting an image to make it more suited to a greetings card design, for example, could certainly pay dividends.

I hope this post has provided food for thought. It’s a subject well worth exploring.

Remember, you can see a round-up of this blog’s content here.

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(Christmas) Gifts for Artists – 10 Gifts To Avoid

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I was amused to see in my original series that this post gained far more attention than the others. I’m not sure if people are genuinely fearful of buying the wrong thing, or if they just wanted to see what I would rant about.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to get gift-giving right. No one wants to waste money on a gift that will languish in obscurity in the back of a cupboard. And certainly no one wants to elicit this reaction to their gift.

So here are 10 gifts that will turn your artist’s expression from gratitude to dismay when they try to use the product. If you’re guilty of giving any of these, hang your head in shame and return to the beginning of my gift guide to find something more suitable.

The wrong medium for your artist

If you’ve boobed by giving this gift you only have yourself to blame, because you didn’t find out about the recipient’s art before purchasing.

These gifts aren’t bad products, but just wrong for the recipient. It sounds obvious, but don’t give a pad of oil or acrylic paper to a watercolourist, a palette knife to a pastellist or a paint marker to a miniaturist, unless their main joy is for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. And yes, it does happen.

watercolour paper

These gifts are good products, but they’re just wrong for the recipient.

It sounds obvious, but don’t give a pad of oil or acrylic paper to a watercolourist, a palette knife to a pastellist or a paint marker to a miniaturist, unless their main joy is for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

If you don’t know if something is suitable, bring out your inner detective and take a sneaky look at their workspace, enquire of the art shop sales assistant, or ask their arty friends.

Ultra-cheap watercolour paper

Let’s just accept that some things are expensive or they don’t work. Watercolour paper falls in to this category. Beautiful paper is a joy to use; cheap paper sabotages the artist.

No one will thank you for the gift of cheap watercolour paper, unless it’s through gritted teeth as they try to be polite.

One of my students once had some particularly nasty cheap watercolour paper, the surface of which appeared to be made of regularly spaced tiny dimples, obviously formed on a machine. The paint collected in the dents, giving an unpleasant spotted look to the painting. Ugh! I defy anyone, even an expert watercolourist, to achieve a decent result with such a horrible product.

Much as I’d like to name names, I probably shouldn’t, so let’s just say it was a High Street discount shop with an art section. Cheap doesn’t mean good, though to be fair I bought some portfolios from there which were excellent and have given years of service.

We all like a bargain, but if you choosing cheap, use some discernment over which products are worth buying… and definitely avoid the watercolour paper.

If you need to de-mystify the zillion different types of watercolour paper out there, read my explanation here.

Pearlescent Black acrylic ink

Regular readers will know that I love acrylic inks, and would hate to be without the Pearlescent range.

That said, I found Pearlescent Black to be deeply disappointing – barely any difference from the standard black. I wasn’t too thrilled with the Pearlescent White either, though it’s better than the black. I was hoping they’d have a significantly different lustre, but they don’t.

Maybe I was unlucky with my choice and other brands are better. Or standard ink mixed with iridescent medium may give a better result.

If you want to gift pearlescent acrylic inks – and they make a great present – choose wonderful colours, like Daler Rowney’s Sky Blue or Birdwing Copper instead.

This one appeared earlier this week in my suggestions of what to buy, so why is it here too?

Browsers are hugely useful, but there’s one you should avoid. It’s the budget range one from a very well-known art store. It’s just badly designed, so there’s a gap that allows the artwork to slip through to the floor, probably damaging whichever corner it lands on in the process.

The browser is fixable with a piece of MDF or thick card placed under the prints to block the gap, but trust me, no one wants to have to do DIY to make their present functional. Less still, have to remember to take the extra piece to their exhibition or event. (You can’t fix the MDF in place permanently, or the browser won’t close.)

Don’t buy this one; choose the Mabef version instead.

The 50 “Artist’s” brushes for £10 set

No, the rock-bottom quality set is not a bargain, whatever the retailer would have you believe. The bristles will stick out in the wrong directions before falling out. Possibly useful for creosote, glue or DIY – and even that’s debateable – but not for Art. Tuck your payment card back into your wallet and DO NOT BUY.

Remember: as a rule with art materials you get what you pay for, and ultra-cheap products tend to look cheap and perform badly.

Choose something wonderful from a good brand instead. Two of my favourites are Rosemary and Co and Winsor and Newton.

Anyway, you’d rather be associated with something wonderful, wouldn’t you, instead of being thought of as a cheapskate?

Supermarket art supplies

A step up from my previous dishonorable mention, this is the large set of something from a shop that doesn’t predominantly sell art supplies e.g.supermarket or stationery shop. It’s either an obscure make that no one has ever heard of, or the shop’s own brand.

You know the kind of product I mean – it isn’t awful but it isn’t great either. It’s the kind of product that people buy because they’re not sure if they’ll like it, and they don’t want to waste money. Or someone buys it as a well-meaning gift, but if they knew anything about art materials they’d buy something better.

It is a waste, because the recipient invariably ends up being disappointed with the poor quality and buys something better later. Or they give up because the product has put them off. If the set is used at all the useful colours are soon finished, with the obscure colours eventually becoming unusable because they’ve either dried up or the pigment has separated from the binder.

Unfortunately, this kind of product is aimed at beginners. Worse still, the recipients are often children or students. But if adults struggle to use such a product, why do we think novices can use it successfully?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating giving best quality art materials to pre-schoolers. Yet once a child has shown an aptitude for art, and is of an age where they can appreciate better quality materials, let’s value their burgeoning talent. When I was given art materials as a child, I cherished them, I looked after them and my art benefitted.

Give something good, even if your budget dictates that it’s small. How much better would it be to receive a small selection of wonderful paints, rather than a huge set that are scratchy and horrid? Exactly.

It’s a matter of respect, for the subject, the product and the recipient.

Fabric brush case

A borderline “avoid”, as brush cases can be very useful, especially if you often transport your kit to other venues.

But in my experience brush cases need to be of a rigid material. Otherwise the top can bend over in your art bag and then the tips of the brushes bend too.

It’s difficult to paint with a brush whose bristles stick out at right angles to the handle, and truly heartbreaking if it was your very best brush.

Some brush cases make great presents, so see my post on brush cases before you buy.

Any product with the “Made Easy” tag

e.g. the Watercolour-Made-Easy book/ the Painting-Skies-Made-Easy DVD/ the brush claimed to make painting trees easy…

Sorry, it’s not easy unless you’re either so ultra-talented you find everything easy, or you just want a quick hack that will achieve a basic result with minimal effort. No. Buy good quality kit and learn to do it properly. Rant over.

A hardback sketchbook with perforated pages

I fell in to this trap with my Falklands sketchbook. It seemed like such a good idea, as I’d be able to removed selected pages as necessary. In reality all the unselected pages fell out after a short time too. A spiral bound book would be a better bet; pages can be removed easily but those that should stay put do so.

A painting

Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve just suggested you shouldn’t buy a painting.

I may be shooting myself in the foot here, and I can already feel the glares from any artist reading this. But before you start sticking pins in my effigy, please let me explain.

What I mean is, art taste is a very individual thing, so it isn’t easy to find the perfect piece for someone else. We usually buy art because a piece “speaks to us”, and that quality is very apparent to the buyer but may be less so to others.

So while paintings do make great gifts, the one you bought on a whim because you like it and you think the recipient might too is probably not your finest idea.

But DO BUY if you know for certain that any of these are true:

  • the recipient already loves work by that artist
  • you know their current taste perfectly, and are absolutely certain this is a winner
  • they’ve already expressed an interest in that particular piece
  • they collect art on a particular theme and this one fills a gap in their collection
  • it perfectly depicts a place with which they have a strong emotional connection, BUT only buy if the style suits the recipient’s taste
  • it’s solely for investment purposes and will spend its life in a vault, so doesn’t matter if they love to look at it or not

Remember: if you’re buying because you don’t have any other ideas and you’re just guessing that they may like it… that’s probably not the best plan. Instead, explain to your loved one that you’d like to gift them a painting or sculpture, and let them share the fun of perusing the galleries and choosing the perfect piece.

So that’s it for my 2021 (Christmas) Gifts for Artists guide. Now you’re all ready to hit the shops or the web and receive plaudits for being so organised. And as this is Black Friday week, you may find some particularly good deals.

The next step though is up to you. Share this guide with those who are likely to be buying for artists. Use it to start a discussion with friends and family about what arty gifts you’d really like, or simply pick out your favourite items and add them to your wishlist.

I’m sure you’ll agree and disagree with some of my suggestions so don’t be afraid to add your comments and suggestions to these posts. We owe it to artists everywhere to get the word out there about what artists really want for Christmas.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series. I’ll leave you with two video clips on gift giving, from one of my favourite sitcoms.

This is when you get it wrong. So very wrong.
Or get it right, but a little too much.

Here’s to choosing the perfect gift!

If you missed the earlier parts of this series, catch up here:

And remember, you can see a round up of previous posts on this blog here.

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(Christmas) Gifts for Artists – Secret Santa/ Stocking Fillers

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Today’s suggestions are dedicated to the pocket money price items. Perhaps you need to buy a Secret Santa gift or maybe you’ve agreed with your friends to limit the budget. Perhaps you’re looking for a series of small items for stocking fillers. Here are ten ideas, all costing £10 or less, plus a further bonus idea especially for those with time but without money. Check back over my last three posts too, as some of those ideas start below the £10 level.

Silicon shaper tools

I love silicon shaper tools for applying acrylic paint. There are a range of shapes available, so the user can spread, mark, score and cut swathes through wet paint to their heart’s content. Choose from small pointed shapes to straight, flat blades

Acrylic paint doesn’t adhere to silicon, so it can simply be peeled off when dry. You can even use the acrylic peelings for adding texture and interest to mixed media work.

I especially like these Princeton Catalyst tools. The Wedges are flexible silicon, the Contours are rigid nylon, and the Blades are long-handled, flexible and available in two sizes.

The fringed, wavy, zigzag and notched shapes create channels when pulled through wet paint. If your artist loves expressive texture, they’ll love these.

Prices start from £5.

Clutch Pencil

Useful for carrying in a bag or pocket with a small sketchbook when you’re on the go, because they’re always ready to draw – no sharpening required. Various thicknesses and grades of leads are available.

Water Brush

Perfect for line and wash, water-soluble pencils (coloured or graphite), watercolours, ink…water brushes are especially good for an artist sketching outdoors. They’re a lot of fun to use and save having to carry numerous brushes and water pot when you’re on the go.

Simply unscrew the handle/ reservoir, fill with water, paint or ink, and they’re ready to use. Available in small, medium and large, £6.40 each, or if you have a larger budget: £18.90 for a set of three.

Swordliner or fan brush

fan brush

Both brushes are fun to use and perfect for expressive mark-making. I find the hogs hair fan brushes are far superior to the synthetic versions and can be used for oils, watercolours or acrylics.

My ideal Sword-liner is from Rosemary and Co, particularly their Golden Synthetic range.

See my previous posts on Sword Liners or Fan brushes.

Paint nozzles

If your artist loves Sennelier Abstract acrylics, they’ll have fun using these paint nozzles. Just unscrew the paint top and replace with the chosen nozzle. Squeeze the paint pouch until the paint is extruded through the nozzle.

Treasure Gold

My new favourite product. Treasure Gold is a cream wax. They’re available in metallic colours (the usual gold and silver, plus pewter, brass etc), which can be mixed to form the perfect shade. Non-tarnishing and can be polished to a shine. Great for highlighting texture and adding sparkle in mixed media work, or for reinvigorating an old frame. Price £8.60 per pot.

A good present for: mixed media artists, upcyclers, or those likely to experiment with a variety of materials.
Less suitable for: traditional or hyper-realist painters

Brush pen and fine-liners

I’ve used Uni Pin fine-liner pens for years, but have just discovered their Brush Pen. It’s a great tool for sketching, as it makes fine or thick lines depending on how much pressure the artist applies.

The brush pen is only available in black, the fine-liners in black, light and dark grey and sepia. Price £1.80 per pen, or available in sets.

Painting knife

There are so many different shapes and sizes available you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Each make different marks so even if your artist already has a selection of knives new versions or even duplicates won’t go amiss.

I prefer the wooden handled type for robustness and longevity,

A good present for: artists who use acrylics or oils
Less suitable for: artists who use watercolours or gouache

Postcard book

Why send commercial postcards you can paint your own? And how much nicer to receive a hand-painted card.

Watercolour postcards

Books of blank postcards made of watercolour paper are ready for the artist’s touch. The back of the postcard is printed with the traditional layout of writing space, address and stamp.

Even if the cards are never sent, this is still a handy little book of watercolour paper, perfect for a quick sketch of a favoured scene.

A good present for: holiday makers and plein-air artists

Charcoal

Willow charcoal is available in sticks ranging from matchstick size to inch-thick chunks, so it’s great for fine details to bold, expressive mark-making.

Coloured charcoal is available as individual sticks, pencils, or a tin of colours.

Compressed charcoal is similar to pastels and ideal for anyone who does regular life drawing. Available as sticks of black or a graduated set from white to black.

See my guide to charcoal here.

A good present for: students, life-drawing enthusiasts, or those likely to experiment with a variety of materials.
Less suitable for: anyone with chest complaints for whom dust could be an irritant, or anyone who doesn’t like messiness of charcoal.

And finally…

if you have plenty of time but no money – and a lot of people are in that situation these days – why not create a tailor-made art experience on a memory stick or in a sketchpad or scrapbook? Exactly what you include will depend on the artist you’re giving to, but the more effort you put in and the more it’s tailored to the individual the better. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • 2022 major exhibitions including their venues, dates and booking details
  • Funny or fantastic facts about famous artists
  • Round up of up-coming art competitions
  • A monthly art challenge
  • Product reviews
  • List of venues they could visit to inspire their art
  • Inspirational art quotes
  • Top ten places to see works by their favourite artist
  • Suggested reading list with reviews
  • Great Facebook art groups
  • Doodling or painting website
  • Art venues within a certain radius of their home town (according to their preferred method of transport)
  • The best art websites
  • Arty people to follow on social media platforms
  • Links to painting techniques videos on YouTube
  • Links to free online art publications
  • The best arty blogs
  • Virtual gallery tours

This gift is limited only by your time and imagination.

So that’s my series on what gifts to give artists this Christmas. My next post shares five things NOT to give, unless you want the recipient to really mean the words “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”.

And remember, you can see a round up of previous posts on this blog here.

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(Christmas) Gifts for Artists – Not Art Materials

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

Today’s batch of ideas are aimed at you if you want to give something arty but don’t want to go down the obvious “art materials” route. Maybe your friend or loved one is arty but not a practising artist.

These products are either available from art shops or a quick internet search will show suppliers.

Arty advent/ countdown calendar

Who says advent calendars should be limited to Advent? If you have plenty of time and are really feeling inspired, how about creating a custom made calendar that counts down to the Big Day, whether the Big Day is Christmas, birthday or anniversary? The traditional calendar has 24 gifts, but a shorter countdown could last a week or ten days.

Empty advent calendars you fill yourself are commercially available – try Hobbycraft or Amazon. Or make your own with small boxes or gift bags. Buy plain and have fun decorating them, if you’re arty too.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Gifts could be art materials or not, or mix and match. You could include key rings, erasers, note pads, exhibition tickets, pencil sharpeners, coasters, small paint tubes, jewellery, gift card, stamps, pastel sticks… This gift is only limited by your imagination, your wallet and the size of the containers.

A day of inspiration

Instead of focusing on your artist’s media, why not plan a day to boost their creative inspiration?

Suppose you’re buying for a botanical artist. You could arrange a day at a botanical garden or arboretum. For a wildlife artist, try a nature reserve, wildlife park or falconry centre. Railway fan? A special steam train event.

The more you can tailor it to your artist’s interests the better, but do aim to go beyond venues they usually frequent.

Add in transport and a nice lunch, and that’s a gift any artist would love.

Practice your Photoshop skills by creating a suitable page outlining the day, snuggle it into a greetings card or gift box, and you’re good to go.

Art magazine subscription

Not the most original gift, but one that will give a whole year of pleasure and widened horizons.

  • Leisure Painter is aimed at beginners and hobby painter,
  • The Artist is LP’s sister publication, aimed at more experienced artists
  • Artists & Illustrators is for all artist levels, and contains features, profiles, technical advice and How To guides
  • International Artist showcases artists from around the world, featuring their inspirations and working methods
  • Art Monthly covers the contemporary art market.
  • Professional Artist  provides independent visual artists with the insights, encouragement, and strategies they need to make a living with their artwork
  • The Art Newspaper is based in London and New York and covers the visual arts, relating to politics, economics, law, environment etc

An internet search will suggest many other titles suited to particular experience and interests.

If your arty friend loves to visit exhibitions, gallery membership could be just the ticket (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Obviously there’s the National Gallery, the Tate or RA, but there are numerous museums and galleries throughout the country, so do look beyond the obvious.

Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

The National Art Pass would be a great choice, as it gives access to exhibitions and events throughout the UK, plus 50% off major exhibitions. Members receive free or reduced entry to over 700 venues, a magazine and a guidebook. There’s a range of membership options available.

Even better, the Art Pass helps to support museums and galleries, so you’re not only treating a loved one, you’re helping safeguard the nation’s cultural heritage. What’s not to love?

A good present for: all artists

Workshop voucher

Expanding knowledge or skills is always advantageous. Consider what your arty friend might enjoy the most – something to build on existing skills or something entirely new to open up a new seam of creativity.

You don’t have to stick to a traditional art workshop – consider 1:1 tuition with one of their art heroes, website design, business training, picture framing, digital art….

There’s something to suit every taste out there.

Mug and tray set

Quirky, fun Mondrian mug with matching tray. There are so many artist themed mugs available. Do a little research and you’re bound to be able to find something to suit your loved one.

Expand this gift by making up a hamper with your loved one’s favourite beverages and some delicious biscuits. Perfect for a cosy afternoon with the latest issue of their favourite art magazine.

Art books

Obviously there’s the art history route here, but also think about the options that suit your artist’s interests. I loved this book on the history of colour – sumptuous images and intriguing nuggets of information.

Or there are plenty of other options relating to techniques for textiles, sculpture, printmaking, calligraphy….

Maybe your arty recipient would like something more political? LGBTQ+, eco, BLM, feminism etc. There’s a wealth of books available on every subject, so a little internet or book store research should pay dividends here.

I like the look of this one for women and this one aimed at girls aged 9-11. Women are under represented in art, except as life models, so anything that helps redress the balance gets my vote.

A good present for: any artist who loves to read

Jewellery/ accessories

Jewellery can be anything from funky, fashion items to elegantly expensive, custom made pieces. While at Art in Action some years ago I saw necklaces and bracelets made from real pencil stubs. Colourful, quirky and fun. At the other end of the spectrum, I was given a gift of a specially commissioned pair of gold “artist palette” earrings for my 30th birthday.

Most of the big museums sell scarves, T-shirts, cufflinks, hair clips, tote bags etc often based on items from famous art works or unique items in their own collection. Proceeds from museum and gallery shops help fund their organisation, so you’re helping support the venue when you buy.

You don’t need to go down the obvious Monet Waterlilies or Van Gogh Sunflowers. Look a little deeper for more unusual items. I once found a gorgeous wool silk wrap, based on a Tiffany vase, in The Met, New York. It was art-inspired, but not obviously based on a work of art, so the recipient didn’t feel like a walking advertisement.

If you’re looking for something really special for someone really special, why not consider commissioning something? It may not be as expensive as you think, and you’ll be supporting an artist or craftsperson as well as giving a truly unique gift.

If jewellery isn’t suitable what about carvings, calligraphy, enamels, glass sculptures… Do some detective work to discover the recipient’s favourite makers.  NB if you want to commission something, do it now, not the week before the Big Day. Prices £10-£1000s

A good present for: anyone who likes unusual gifts and/ or those who like to support the creative industries.

Tickets for the next blockbuster art exhibition

Van Gogh self portraits, Surrealism, Hogarth, Twombly, Sickert, Raphael, Cezanne, Freud… just some of the mouthwatering exhibitions coming our way for 2022. There’s certainly something to suit every taste.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Check out the forthcoming exhibitions from the RA, Tate (in all its venues), National Gallery, Courthald etc and treat your artist to the most suitable. We all love a day out that someone else has planned and organised for us. Ticket prices start from free, but add value by gifting the recipient the exhibition catalogue too.

Expand this gift by adding in transport to and from the exhibition, a meal afterwards or even go the whole way and create an arty weekend break.

A good present for: all artists

Custom gift

If you are creative, a gift made by your own fair hand is likely to be valued more than any commercial item.

Example: years ago I made a range of name plaques for children’s bedrooms – the full name of the child along the top, then the Christian name with each letter intertwined with a bird or animal. Underneath was their date of birth or Christening day. Framed as a gift, they were a unique and attractive keepsake, both at the time and into the future.

If you are as arty as the recipient, a handmade item may be perfect.

Charity Donation

We all have that person in our lives… the one who has everything. When you ask them what they’d like, they say, “Oh, nothing.”

Very helpful. Not.

This isn’t a gift suited to everyone, but if your arty loved-one is keen on philanthropy, this could be perfect. Supporting a project in your local community, in the name of your loved one, helps others and may encourage artists of the future.

These days many couples request donations to their favourite charity in lieu of wedding gifts. The same principle can apply to any gift, not limited to weddings.

Support doesn’t just have to be a donation that goes into general funds, though it could be. You could fund an item of equipment, or pay for an artist to run a workshop. Organise a visit to an exhibition. Perhaps you can work with your artist to buy a piece of their artwork for donation to school or museum.

Here are a few charity ideas to get you started:

  • Arts Emergency. A brilliant charity that mentors and supports disadvantaged young people, giving them opportunity to succeed in the creative industries
  • Your local school. Art has largely been squeezed from the curriculum, so working with the school to provide better art opportunities for pupils (or teacher training) would be greatly appreciated by arty staff and pupils
  • Your local Art Club would certainly appreciate a talk, demonstration or workshop
  • Your local gallery or museum. Covid has decimated many museums or gallery budgets, especially those of independent organisations who don’t receive government or council funding.

Tomorrow’s post covers pocket money priced items, ideal for Secret Santa or stocking filler gifts. Don’t forget to check back, and remember to share these posts with others.

And remember, you can see a round up of previous posts on this blog here.

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(Christmas) Gifts for Artists – Studio Equipment

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here.

Photo by Lucie Liz on Pexels.com

Welcome to the second part of my (Christmas) Gifts for Artists series. Here are the next suggestions; not art materials this time, but items for the studio. Tomorrow we’ll look at other types of gifts, for arty people who aren’t necessarily practising artists.

So on to today’s suggestions:

The gift of tidiness

In my experience, art materials expand to fill every available space, and then threaten to take over the rest of the property too. Give the gift of organisation, with a storage cart. Make sure it’s robust enough, and ideally is on wheels for easy movement around the studio. I like this one, £25 and available in a range of colours.

Alternatively, go for a storage box. I was given this Art Bin about four decades ago, and it’s still in use and looking good today.

Cutting mat

A self-healing cutting mat is invaluable for artists who need to cut paper, card, mounts, fabric, stencils, labels…

Available from A4 – A0, with prices starting at around £4. The recipient may find the smallest a little limiting, so I’d suggest A2 as a useful size. Most mats are marked with a grid – either imperial or metric, or occasionally double sided with imperial on one side and metric on the other.

Make sure whichever one you buy is robust. You don’t want the blade to cut through the mat after a few passes.

Proportional dividers

Any artist who needs to scale drawings up or down will find love proportional dividers. I bought my Ecobra pair while I was doing precision work in the 1980s. They were obscenely expensive at the time, and today’s equivalent is about £150!! That said, those for artists don’t need to be as accurate to fractions of millimetres as those for engineers, so there are perfectly good ones available for around £20.

Set the dial along the scale and it’s easy to halve, double, third, triple or quadruple measurements.

A good case will protect the dividers and look great as a gift.

A good present for: anyone who needs to accurately enlarge or reduce measurements.

Daylight lamp

I wouldn’t be without my daylight-balanced lamps. I’m not sure I’d have the presence of mind to save them in a fire, but I’d certainly regret it if I didn’t!

At around £100, this certainly isn’t a budget option, but an angle-poise lamp that matches natural daylight, will clamp to a drawing board or table and allows accurate colour mixing is well worth the money.

There are cheaper options on the market, but I’m recommending this one as it’s from The Daylight Company, the same as mine. Years of great service, without any problems. The only difference is that mine takes fluorescent tubes, which have now been superseded by dimmable LEDs.

Brush Case

The past few suggestions can be a little pricy, so how about a brush case instead? These are available from about £5, so affordable even if you’re on a tight budget.

See my previous post on the best options here.

A good present for: any painter, and especially those regularly transporting their brushes.

Portfolio/ Carrying Case

Whether they are art students or a seasoned professionals, artists need to transport or store their work, and there’s plenty of gift choice here according to your budget.

At the lower end of the range there’s the transparent plastic wallet with a rigid handle (A4-A1, prices from £1.60). Rock bottom end of the range, but robust enough for general use – mine went all round the Falklands with me for a month and still gets pressed in to service from time to time.

At the other end of the scale, artcare folders are steel spined, heavy duty ring binders in a sturdy zip up, leather look case (A4-A1, prices £15+, transparent portfolio sleeves start at 60p each). Retailers will advise on the most suitable folio for particular usage.

Sturdy plastic tubes for carrying large, rolled-up drawings are ideal for anyone who is likely to transport large drawings to and from art classes. The tubes are extendable to suit a range of drawing sizes. Prices start from about £5, though I think the wider diameter ones are more useful.

A good present for: art students and those regularly transporting work. Anyone wanting to store work.

A browser makes a great present for anyone who exhibits regularly or opens their studio, even if they already own one (I have three!). So far I’m not impressed by the economy versions as either they’re made of elm rather than beech or there’s a gap that unframed work can slide through. My preferred make is Mabef.

The smaller ones will comfortably hold A2-size work, and a little bigger if necessary. Prices start from about £40.

The larger ones take up a lot of space, so don’t buy a massive one unless your artist regularly works on a large scale and has space to accommodate it.

A good present for: more experienced artists, who are likely to organise their own exhibitions or take part in Open Studios.
Less suitable for: beginners or leisure painters who don’t exhibit or anyone with very limited storage space.

Easel

Useful both for holding a painting in progress and for displaying finished work. Easels for watercolours hold the painting at a shallow angle, easels for oils, acrylics and pastels hold the work upright.

Easels don’t have to be hugely expensive – starting prices for a table top easel are £25, wooden radial easel £80 – though there are super-duper versions available for £thousands if your budget stretches that far. In my experience of budget wooden easels: beech is better than elm. For sketching easels: metal is better than wood.

Before buying, make sure you read my thoughts on the different styles of easels here.

Expand this gift by adding an accessory such as a clip-on daylight balanced lamp for indoor work or a carrying case for an outdoor easel.

A good present for: all artists

The gift of promotion

If your artist takes part in their local Open Studios, or displays their work at fetes and festivals, they’ll need to display promotional materials. Think business card or leaflet holders, or menu-type card holders.

Another alternative for the professional artist (or an add-on) could be a gift card for the brilliant Moo printing company (prices from £10). They offer a range of promotional materials for creatives – flyers, business cards and holders, stickers, notecards etc – that will ensure your artist stands out in a crowd.

I’ve used Moo business cards for years. The company is efficient and fun, products are great quality and orders have a speedy turnaround. Highly recommended.

A good present for: professional and semi-professional artists
Less suitable for: hobby painters

Gift voucher

If none of the aforementioned ideas takes your fancy, remember there’s still the old faithful, the gift voucher.

Not ideal if you want to keep the value of the gift secret, but particularly good if your artist is on a strict budget. Being given money and knowing you HAVE to spend it in an art shop is the artistic equivalent of being let loose in a sweet shop.

The beauty of a voucher is that the recipient can either spend it on something wonderful that they wouldn’t normally afford or use it to supplement existing supplies. Personally, I always have a few items on my artistic wish list, so vouchers are always a real treat.

You can always specify that the voucher should be spent on paints/pastels/paper/ studio equipment and let the recipient choose their own favoured style or brand. After all, wouldn’t you rather the gift was in constant use and appreciated than languished in the back of a drawer forever because it wasn’t quite right?

Remember too that you can give gift vouchers for art classes, entry to inspirational venues or for use at their favourite picture framers.

If you’d really like to give an object then why not link a voucher with a product e.g. an empty watercolour box that they’ll open to reveal a gift voucher for them to choose their own colours. Do some detective work first to ascertain the favoured brand and whether the artist in question uses watercolour pans or tubes. Empty tins start at £10.

A word of warning: some vouchers have an expiry date, though some last indefinitely. Do check, and warn the recipient if there’s a time limit.

A good present for: all artists

That’s it for Day 2 of the series. Remember to check back tomorrow, or sign up so you don’t miss out on the rest of this series.

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