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Gifts For Artists: Part One

Gifts for the young creatives or artists

As you probably know, my husband is an architect and landscape architect and I – well, let’s not talk about me. Our 15 y-o. is quite artistic and creative (she serves as VP of National Arts Honors Society at her HS). So, we often are asked about art gifts that WE would like to give or receive.

In a nutshell, between the three of us, we have enough art supplies to create an art studio without purchasing anything. We also have a vintage collections of our art supplies from back in the day, from the remnants of my set of color pencils from when I was 7-8 years old, to a few booklets of Kodak pigment ‘paper’ that Uma’s photographer grandfather gave him when he first started Architecture school and then art supplies from when both Uma and I went to landscape architecture school. First as students on a toothpick budget, and later having a creative child - we have tried all the typical trappings of art-store discounts, and know how frustrating it can be to find the right gift for a budding artist, especially during the holidays.

In this and the next post, I will share our strategies for art-based gifting. These posts do not include any notes on other forms of art like – photography, sculpture, jewelry making, pottery, resin art, yarn based art, needlepoint, quilting, origami, gem-work, wire art… we have done these and many others as well. So, lets just stick to some of the basics.

How & when to shop

For each birthday for many years now, our daughter has asked for gift cards to any art store. She has learned to be a smart shopper - stretching her dollar – and will wait until Black Friday sales, Christmas/post-Christmas deals to find the best deals on art supplies that she wants. I recommend this wholeheartedly, because we reduce impulse buys. So, if you are utterly challenged for time or inspiration get a gift card to an art store.

Best art stores

Of all of the stores, Blick employees are often most knowledgeable when it comes to art supplies, because they hire artists and students, and I would recommend them solely for that especially if you are starting from square one. I genuinely like their staff and selection (and this is not a sponsored post). If you have a store loyalty card (free), you can get discounts off your purchases, which price matches most other stores in products, but their selection is loads better.

I have shopped at Binders, Ulrichs, Sam Flax and such others are also great, but these are more for the pocket-book heavy folks. I don’t shop at Learning Express anymore because we have long outgrown their selection, and they are often filled with ‘looks pretty’ items, although many people like them. But we shop at four of the local haunts within a 5-mile radius. Sometimes an item is ordered via Ammijaan (translates into honorable mother, but I’m referring to the big A).

Best gifts

I find it most useful to gauge a young artists interest before loading them with a gift that they will stash away or worse, regift. This applies to If you know the artist well, they may already know what they want. But if they don’t – here are some ideas.

There is NOTHING worse than starting art with a bad set of supplies, or a poorly thought out set.

I prefer to give a ‘set’ of something – with even the most essential pieces to start them off on. You won’t ever find a ‘good’ pre-assembled kit, but you can make a great art basket with a little creativity.

Pencil based:

  • A 'watercolor pencil' set or 12/24 pack of color pencil sets are always a great idea. Staedler and Prismacolor are good brands for art supplies, mid-range w.r.t. affordable. Con: Pastel stick sets and charcoal sets are great too, but for a neat child. It is not even funny how wrong it can go, and I would not recommend it for a work area / desk room that is carpeted. Or white. Or both. We learned the hard way.

Pen Based:

  • Calligraphy set: One year we gave her a starter calligraphy set with a journal for her birthday and ended up with a request for a calligraphy themed birthday party (that I hosted for her 6 friends). There are some decent starter sets on the market – pair it with readily available, pre-filled ink cartridges, and a nice sketch journal or blank art-cards. Con: Cursive writing is hard and requires patience. Start with pre-printed sheets to help them get a feel for it. Ink spills are contained with pre-filled cartridges but unavoidable.

  • Marker sets: Prismacolor makes fantastic marker sets that must be paired with a sketchbook that has paper of appropriate weights (it will say so on the cover, more in the next post). Con: These are typically alcohol based inks. Use with caution, and although not harmful, long exposures to the inks are not recommended.

Brush based artist:

  • Watercolor sets are a great way to loosen up the wrist and creativity, and get young artists to see art as a fluid medium of expression. Colton, Windsor Newton make good paint palettes and some stores have a decent selection of brush sets. Paint sets that come as a palette or cakes are great for beginners, tubes are better for those who have a little more experience.

  • Essential brushes, if they are starting from the nothing include at least 5 sizes of brushes (from sizes 0-12). Brushes with natural fibers are a pinch more expensive but they are better than the ones with synthetic fibers. Con? Well, you can go crazy with brush sizes and often there is little difference between a size 0 brush and a size 1 brush. A variety is good. Brushes vary by medium.

  • Oil or Acrylic? Water-based acrylic paints are great for starting off, as oils get a little complicated with the number of tools and mediums one needs.

Con: This applies to ALL gifts for a brush-based artist.

  • Choose only if you know that the artist is careful enough, old enough and can manage a spill without you having to rush across the house like a maniac to prevent them.

  • Any brush-based set with the pre-drawn shapes and little paint buckets are a terrible waste of money. If that appears attractive, honestly choose something else – because the paints dry out and it can be frustrating. These are not for the creative types, but more like busy work for those who need to occupy the kids with something to do. Seriously.

I hope this gets you started. The next post will cover some details about art-surfaces & books, and other ways to explore art.

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Nandita Godbole
Once: botanist & landscape architect.
Now: personal chef, author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger, poet & potter!
Always: dreamer.

Loves fresh brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 
Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 
Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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