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Figuring out what to buy the creative souls in your orbit isn’t always easy, especially if you aren’t an expert on their craft. But we’ve got winning gift ideas for painters, photographers, illustrators, casual makers, and everyone in between. Whether your recipient is a master watercolorist or someone who picked up sewing during the pandemic, we’ve got you covered.
FOR PEN FREAKS AND JOURNALERS
A fancy (and hefty) rollerball pen
Ideal for anyone who approaches writing as an art, this new pen from Faber-Castell is a true keepsake (although we’d recommend it for those with larger hands). Users can load it with either a fast-drying cartridge or a fineliner cartridge—either way, the nib glides across the page like a dream. And it comes gift ready, presented in a nice box.
Purchase: Hexo Rollerball Pen, $37 on Faber-Castell
A slimmer rollerball pen
For a sleeker writing alternative, we’re partial to Faber-Castell’s super-slim refillable Essentio pen. Skip resistant, perfectly weighted, and good-looking, this carbon-barreled workhorse will please any pen addict. Like the Hexo, it comes nicely boxed. Purchase: Essentio Carbon Rollerball Pen, $45 on Faber-Castell
A journal that inspires
If you know your notebooks, you know that Rhodia’s have a cult following—and for good reason. They are bound with high-quality, smooth European paper that is ideal for taking fountain pen ink. The legacy brand, in business since 1934, offers options in a wide range of formats and sizes, including this hardcover journal, available in 14 bright colors.
Purchase: Rhodia Rhodiarama Notebooks, $17.96 on Atlas Stationers
A DIY journal
If your recipient loves to write and craft, why not pick a gift that marries both activities? This kit includes everything necessary to make a custom journal, including two binder boards, two dozen sheets of high-quality writing paper, and gorgeous decorative paper for a cover. This option is especially economical if you know many journalers: The more you buy, the lower the cost.
Purchase: Book Journal Kit, $17.50 and up on Talas
FOR ARTISTS AND MAKERS
An easel for digital art If you want to get something super nice for an artist who’s inseparable from their iPad, consider splurging on this artist-approved drawing surface. Designed to seamlessly cradle and support more than 30 Apple tablet models (minus the iPad Mini), it offers an expanded work surface with collapsible legs so users can draw virtually anywhere with convenience.
Purchase: Sketchboard Pro for iPad, $119 on Sketchboard Pro
We love both the look and the performance of these Japanese watercolors, which are dried in convenient pans. Surprise a budding or established painter with a set of slightly unconventional colors—perfect for adding subtle shimmer to everything from sketches to special cards.
Purchase: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors in Pearl or Starry, Set of 6, $19.60 on Blick
A handmade drawing board
Don’t underestimate the value of a trusty drawing board. In fact, a surprising number of artists told us that this was on their holiday wish lists! A plain, lightweight board with a super-smooth surface is a useful present, and you can make it extra special by gifting a handmade or custom board. You can find them in a range of prices on Etsy.
Purchase: Louden Custom Art Board, $295 on Etsy or PalumbaCamdenRose 18 x 24″ Birch Plywood Board, $44.99 on Etsy
Japanese paper for printmaking
Don’t sell short the potential of a beautiful roll of paper, either. This option, manufactured from gampi fibers, can be used for printmaking, drawing, and calligraphy. Pick up a roll for yourself at the same time and get your potato print (or lino-block) game on—it’s not too late to make DIY wrapping paper.
Purchase: WashiArts Roll of Classic Kitakata Japanese Paper, $59.50 on Etsy
A sumptuous gouache paint set
This set of paint tubes is pure luxury—and expensive! But gouache is an underrated medium that combines watercolor’s intimacy and paint’s density. It might just be perfect for capturing this uncanny period of our lives.
Purchase: Schmincke Horadam Artist Gouache, Set of 10, $189.99 on Blick
Elegant synthetic watercolor brushes
No animals were harmed in the making of our very favorite watercolor brushes, which are springy, sturdy, and excellent for watercolors and gouache. Pick up this set of four assorted sizes for the painter in your life who deserves an upgrade.
Purchase: Da Vinci Cosmotop Watercolor Brushes, Set of 4, $63.18 on Blick
A new carry-all
For the artist on the go, we recommend this nylon messenger bag, which can hold a plethora of art supplies. It offers plenty of compartments, including dedicated space for 30 brushes or pens, large sketch pads, and a laptop. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to carry for long periods.
Purchase: Martin Universal Design Just Stow-It Messenger Bag, $53.62 on Blick
FOR THE HOUSE AND STUDIO
A nearly fail-proof gift for just about anyone, a jigsaw puzzle is particularly useful for whiling away the days during these plague times. For art lovers, we recommend this thousand-piece mind bender printed with a painting by Alma Thomas (1891–1978), from popular brand Pomegranate. Even the most seasoned puzzle solver will enjoy the challenge of piecing together this African American abstractionist’s radiant concentric design.
Purchase: Alma Thomas: The Eclipse 1000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle, $19.95 on Amazon
A top-notch pair of all-purpose scissors
Japanese scissors are supposed to be the best (thanks to the country’s long tradition of blade making), and Kai’s are ultrasharp and beautifully balanced. Plus, they’re comfortable to hold and come in versions for both right- and left-handed users.
Purchase: Kai 5210 Dressmaker Shears, $14.38 on Amazon (and here for lefties)
Literally glow up
For creatives who started vlogging during the pandemic, pick up this ring light with tripod stand. It can be used alone or with a smartphone, and it offers three color temperatures plus 10 brightness levels. It’s also a great gift for that friend or family member who’s always hidden in shadows during your video chats.
Purchase: TRIGYN 10″ Ring Light with Smartphone Holder and Desktop Tripod Stand, $39.95 on B&H
An affordable light box
A light box is an essential studio tool for many artists, and you can snag this reliable one for under $30. Fully portable, it is USB-powered yet super bright: You can use it to illuminate a range of materials, from film negatives to dark fabric pieces.
Purchase: Tiktecklab Ultra-Thin Portable Light Box, $27.27 on Amazon
Versatile and exceptionally exquisite bowls
Before everything was made of plastic, there were glass mixing bowls. Made in the USA, these pretty blue vessels (they also come in a jadeite-like green) won’t scratch like plastic ones—and they can be appreciated just as much in the studio as they will in the kitchen.
Purchase: Mosser Glass Robin’s Egg Mixing Bowls, set of 3, $79 on Whisk
A Pop art beach towel
For more than a decade, the Art Production Fund has been collaborating with artists to sell limited-edition towels that are indubitably much cooler looking than your typical bath towel. Now 50 percent off, there’s no excuse not to pick one up for your beach-loving and/or gallery-hopping loved one. We’re partial to the late James Rosenquist’s contribution, which features an Americana tale in three acts.
Purchase: James Rosenquist Towel, $47.50 on Art Production Fund
A useful tape measure
Pretty much anything from KIOSK makes a great gift. Check out the long-running artist project’s holiday curation of “life’s essentials and not so essentials,” which includes super-limited batches of tchotchkes like a Danish dish brush and a perfectly utilitarian ice cream scoop. Ideal for home and studio use is the Hoechstmass Rollfix tape measure, featuring centimeters on one side and inches on the other, of which there are 20 or so available.
Purchase: Rollfix tape measure, $13 on Kiosk
A cookbook that gives back
Though many artists are fabulous cooks, some of us need a useful book of basic recipes to get us though. This book by food writer Kristin Tice Studeman and Bon Appétit designer Bryan Fountain covers 45 “easy, pantry-friendly” recipes from beloved New York City restaurants. The hard copy is sold out, but you can buy a digital copy for $20.00. All proceeds support restaurant workers in the city.
Purchase: Serving New York: For All the People Who Make NYC Dining Unforgettable, $20 on Serving New York
A kid-friendly standing desk
Children need their own space, now more than ever. Here is an excellent desk from Fully, which specializes in sustainably manufactured, ergonomic furniture. You can adjust its height so kids can either sit or stand while using it, and the birch plywood structure offers a sophisticated, grown-up look that easily integrates into any home interior.
Purchase: Jaswig My First Standup Desk, $245 on Fully
If you’re seeking a gift for restless kids and teens that isn’t screen based, consider this felting kit, which promises a good challenge and a satisfying result. This one comes with clear, easy-to-follow instructions for making adorable critters, from a fox to a hippo.
Purchase: Woolbuddy Needle Felting Kit, $15 on Amazon
A craft kit subscription service
Why not give a gift that continues to surprise long after Christmas? KiwiCo will send your recipient monthly arts-and-crafts kits filled with activities for young makers, from a punch needle project to a stained-glass painting session. Simply indicate the recipient’s age and interests, and pick your subscription plan.
Purchase: KiwiCo Crates, $24.95 and up on KiwiCo
A tiny movie camera
This fun little device—just 3 by 4 inches in size—allows you to shoot a mini silent movie on 35mm film. Perfect for budding experimental filmmakers who can carry the compact cam everywhere they go.
Purchase: LomoKino, $49.90 on B&H
An all-inclusive art kit for children
Encourage kids to freely express themselves by gifting this portable studio from Faber-Castell. The handsome wooden case opens to reveal colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolor pencils, papers, and dozens of other instruments. We’re impressed by the high quality of the tools, especially given the budget-friendly price tag of this set.
Purchase: Faber-Castell Young Artists’ Essentials Gift Set, $26.25 on Blick
…And pair it with a mixed-media paper pad
When it comes to art paper, Strathmore’s is a reliable and affordable option. This pad of thick, uniformly textured sheets can withstand ink, acrylic, and loads of other wet and dry mediums.
Purchase: Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Pads, $2.78–$18.83 on Blick
The newest pièce de résistance of cameras
A Leica camera is probably on every single photographer’s wish list. Treat the special one in your life with the newest model—just released in November. It boasts a 47.3MP CMOS sensor dedicated entirely to monochrome capture, and at just under $6K, it’s honestly a steal.
Purchase: Leica Q2 Monochrom, $5995.00 on B&H
A low-tech stocking stuffer
A great gift for both photography enthusiasts and the photo-curious, this DIY kit takes you through the steps of making and using a paper pinhole camera. It includes nearly everything you need—just throw in a roll or two of 35mm film so it’s ready to use once constructed.
Purchase: Kikkerland Pinhole Camera Solargraphy Kit, $20.00 on Amazon
A vintage (and spruced up) Polaroid
For a gift that will undoubtedly stun, pick up a piece of cherished Polaroid history. Cashing in on the craze for instant cameras, the storied brand is selling refurbished originals so your loved one can channel their inner Andy.
Purchase: SX-70 and 600 Vintage Polaroid Cameras, $389.99 and up on Polaroid
This LED panel is an excellent gift for photographers who can benefit from a portable but powerful light source. It’s lightweight, small, and versatile, allowing users to adjust its color temperature and brightness.
Purchase: Lumecube Panel Mini, $69.95 on Amazon
Gloves for adventurous photographers
A thoughtful gift for photography lovers that they’ll never see coming: a pair of heavy-duty gloves they can wear while shooting outdoors in extreme conditions. These nylon gloves will keep users warm during the winter, and they feature rubberized palms and touchscreen-compatible fingertips. Also included are a double-layered beanie and a neck warmer.
Purchase: RucPac Photographer’s Winter Apparel Package, $72.97 on B&H
A Sol LeWitt-inspired scarf
One of the best-selling scarves from LA textile studio Block Shop, this earth-toned scarf is a sophisticated and eyecatching gender neutral accessory. The designs are blockprinted by hand by fifth-generation Indian master printers, making it truly a work of art on its own.
Purchase: Block Shop Temple Scarf, $120 on Block Shop Textiles.
Everyday overalls that can take a splatter
Jumpsuits continue to be fashionable, but you wouldn’t want to paint in them. Carhartt’s work attire has become trendy (for better or for worse), but the company’s overalls remain undeniable classic attire for the studio.
Purchase: Carhartt R01 Duck Bib Overalls, $69.99-$74.99 on Carhartt
A warm quilted vest
This beautiful vest makes a memorable gift for the friend with a cold studio. Available in sizes XXS to 2X, it is sold in four distinctive textiles and comes with roomy pockets to hold all kinds of tools. Your recipient can play with layers to their heart’s desire.
Purchase: Ace & Jig Wilbur Vest, $295 on Ace & Jig
A classic cold-weather item, slipper socks can make long winter hours in a studio feel a touch more cozy. This popular pair features a memory foam footbed for maximum comfort and leather outsoles for a reliable grip. Even NASA astronauts on the space shuttle have worn them.
Purchase: Acorn Slipper Sock, $50.00 on Acorn
An easy all-day apron
Beloved by professional chefs, this is a kitchen item that might end up migrating to the studio. It isn’t waxed, like real shop aprons often are, but it’s heavy enough to protect clothing from tomato sauce, glue, and anything else that might head its way. Plus, the crossback style is super comfortable, shifting weight from your neck and evenly distributing it to the shoulders and back.
Purchase: The All Day Crossback Apron, $95 on Hedley & Bennett
A boon to the spirit
Delight just about anyone with B. Wurtz’s iconic “pan paintings”—radiant acrylic works that use aluminum baking pans and takeout containers as their canvases. This 104-page book compiles three decades’ worth of these metamorphosed vessels and includes an essay by art historian and curator Erica Cooke.
Purchase: B. Wurtz: Pan Paintings, $32.48 on Amazon
A refreshing perspective on modernism
Last year the Art Institute of Chicago mounted an extraordinary exhibition examining the influence of Mexico on six women artists and designers. Among them: Ruth Asawa, Anni Albers, and Clara Porset, who all visited between the 1940s and 1970s. The accompanying catalogue is a must for anyone interested in modernism, offering some serious art historical scholarship combined with gorgeous book design.
Purchase: In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury, $159.99 on Amazon
A groundbreaking look at women photographers
Focusing on the many ways women have influenced and informed modern photography, this survey of work by 120 photographers is a richly illustrated corrective to the art historical canon. Get it before it’s gone.
Purchase: The New Woman Behind the Camera, $48.98 on Amazon
A visual history of Black Power
This important catalog documents one of the best shows of the last few years. Soul of a Nation, which was mounted at six major museums including the Tate Modern and the Brooklyn Museum, celebrates Black artists working in the crucial, politically charged years of 1963 to 1983. The tome gathers powerful, passionate works by titans like Howardena Pindell and Charles White—many of whom are only just now getting their due.
Purchase: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, $39.95 on Amazon
A subscription to expertly curated literature
Since 2006 the small press Primary Information has been releasing some of the most engaging and clever artists’ books. Send its subscription service to your favorite bookish friend, who will receive at least 11 forthcoming publications, including a collection of writings by Dara Birnbaum and an anthology on the radical Asian-American arts collective Godzilla. Act fast: The first 100 to sign up before December 31 can snag this at a discounted price of $100.
Purchase: Primary Information 2021 Subscription, $100 on Primary Information