Have you ever experienced that awful moment when you open an arty gift and exclaim “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”? It’s awful because you really do wish they hadn’t – it’s the wrong medium, wrong for your level of experience or wrong because it duplicates something you already possess. You feel even worse because you know the giver chose it with the best of intentions and wants to see you light up with excitement.
This week’s gift guide hopefully reduces the chance of that happening this Christmas. I’ve chosen a selection of gift ideas and, where appropriate, given suggestions of related products that could be added if the buyer has a larger budget.
Where I’ve recommended specific makes of products, it’s because I have used them and believe them to be good. I have no affiliation to art materials companies so if I recommend a product it’s because I’ve found from experience that it works and is good value for money, not because I have to promote a particular company.
Where I’ve mentioned prices, those refer to the online prices so you can see the likely lowest price. It may be possible to find cheaper prices if there are special offers from particular retailers or by shopping around. Online isn’t always the best option – you can read my thoughts about online vs high street art shops here:
To increase your chance of a successful gift it helps to do some detective work. Sneak a look at your artist’s painting area or website to ascertain if their preference is for a single medium or several. Think back to recent conversations – are they planning a painting holiday, an exhibition or likely to sign up for an art class? If the artist you’re buying for isn’t part of your immediate family enlist the help and advice of their nearest and dearest before making a final decision.
Here are my first five suggestions (I’ll post five more tomorrow):
A fabulous paintbrush, the best you can afford. A top quality brush is a joy to use and a revelation for those used to lower quality brushes. (I remember one of my students remarking “Ooh, it goes where you want it to!” when using a top quality brush for the first time.) There’s something for every budget here – prices range from £5 to over £200. For watercolours you can’t beat Winsor & Newton Series 7 sables. Other good makes for oils and acrylics: Isabey, da Vinci, Raphael.
A good present for: all painters.
Less suitable for: anyone unlikely to look after their brushes.
A sketchbook or art journal. We all use sketchpads so a good present could be the artist’s favourite type but perhaps in a unusual shape – square, panorama or landscape format. Or choose something wonderful that the recipient would not have chosen. I was given a beautiful cloth bound sketchbook with the pages interleaved with tissue. I love it but I’d never have bought something so spectacular for myself. An art journal could be another good choice. This is a pocket-sized book with a fastening to stop the pages from damage whilst in a handbag or pocket. Expand this gift by adding related products such as sketching pens/retractable brushes/watercolour travel set/art book about the country they’ll be visiting. You could even add a CD giving websites of the country’s art galleries & museums, links to artists’ images of that country etc. Cost: £5+
A good present for: all artists, especially those who like to travel.
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 £15, metal sketching easel £30, wooden radial easel £80. In my experience of budget wooden easels: beech is better than elm. For sketching easels: metal is better than wood. 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
Pastels. Pastels are the only medium when I think you can’t have too many colours, and where a mixture of brands can be advantageous. (My favourite brands are Sennelier and Unison). There are some wonderful sets available in addition to the traditional “landscape” or “portrait” – how about the “Special Collection” or the “Dark Jewel Set”? Sets are made even more impressive by the impact of the colours as you open the box. Sets range from a ten stick starter set to a case of over 500. For pocket money prices or stocking fillers try 3 shades of the same colour or two complementary colours. Prices start at £1.30 for individual colours and rise to about £1000 for the biggest and best sets. Expand this gift by adding pastel papers/blenders/fixative/storage box. NB check whether the recipient uses soft pastels or oil pastels before purchasing – the two are not interchangeable.
A good present for: pastellists, mixed media artists, or those likely to experiment with a variety of materials.
Less suitable for: anyone with chest complaints for whom pastel dust could be an irritant, or anyone who doesn’t like messiness of pastels.
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 Poly-carrier, a transparent plastic wallet with a rigid handle (A4-A1, price less than £5). Rock bottom end of the range, but robust enough for general use – mine went all round the Falklands with me 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 £25-£70, transparent portfolio sleeves start at 50p each). Retailers will advise on the most suitable folio for particular usage.
A good present for: art students and those regularly transporting work. Anyone wanting to store work.
Check back for five more suggestions tomorrow.