2022 Gift Guide for Young Artists
Looking for the perfect gift for your budding young artist? Here's my list of favorite affordable products for the artist in your life! I’ve included pictures with links if you want to order straight from Amazon. This has been a labor of love which has arisen out of my teaching at St. Michael High School this past quarter. It has made me realize how blessed I was to have artists in my family who were able to guide me and gift me with wonderful art materials from a young age. This was created as a “gift” to my current art students as I have come to love them so much and am going to be sad to say goodbye! But my hope is that it will be helpful to others as well and can be something I point people to when I get asked about what art materials I recommend!
First and foremost, I always recommend encouraging your kids to draw from life as much as possible. I’ll set out a piece of fruit for my 7 year old and tell her to try to draw it as she SEES it and not what she THINKS it looks like. Learning to observe and draw from life are such important skills, but as a child, I drew from magazine pictures and other photos all the time as well. The main thing is to DRAW, DRAW, DRAW. It can be done anywhere and is a much better distraction than a device when you are on the go. So if your child is not a confident artist yet, I would encourage them to work on their drawing skills first!
1. DRAWING PENCILS
All pencils are not created equal. This is a brand I know and trust. While I’m sure there are other great sets, I am recommending products that I use. For pencil sets, they typically have a grading system based on the softness or hardness of the graphite. Harder is labeled H and softer are labeled B. The higher the number in front of the B, the softer the lead. So 6B is softer (and thus creates darker more smudgeable lines/shading) than an H or 2B.
I also love these Prismacolor Soft Graphite Pencils for teaching smudge shading. They are so soft and smudge to create all gradations of soft gray to dark black and are also great for transferring images to a new piece of paper.
2. COLORED PENCILS
Similarly, all colored pencils are not created equal either. Prismacolors have beautiful pigments without requiring a lot of pressure. They can be layered beautifully and create a variety of shades in each color just based on the pressure applied. These are a beautiful way for young artists to add color to create realistic pencil drawings.
36 Pencil Set:
72 Pencil Set:
Any will do, but I love a sketchbook with a hard cover and spiral binding like the larger one below. It just makes it easy to flip the cover all the way around to the back to get it out of the way and creates a hard surface to draw on at the same time! I also love a smaller sketchbook for travel like this “landscape” sized journal, that is made for that specifically!
4. KNEADED ERASER
Hands down the best erasers for artists, young or old.
In terms of painting supplies, I will start with watercolor, as it is such a great medium for young people (even really young students). My own children (ages 7-13) love using them, and as a parent I love them because the clean up is so EASY. For those interested in exploring watercolor, these are the tools I recommend for getting started:
1. WATERCOLOR SETS
I love that these are small enough to take on the go, but the pigments in both are such a high quality I use them in my own artwork. My children each have these sets. The Koi set is great because there is a palette for mixing colors included, which nests in the set when it is closed. The fan set is great because of the way the colors are grouped by hue, so when young artists need a shade, they can open to the fan that they need and it is so compact when closed. I love both of these palettes myself!
2. TRAVEL WATERCOLOR BRUSH SET
I love being able to take my watercolor brushes with me on the go. But I also use my travel brushes at home, too! The covers are great for protecting the bristles (always good) but the fine tips are great for detail work and creating loose watercolor sketches on the go.
3. WATERCOLOR PAPER
High quality paper is essential to creating beautiful watercolor paintings. Your artist will notice a difference when painting on high quality 100% cotton paper. 140 lb is great for new watercolorists, but does buckle more than 300 lb paper, which is my preference because it allows me to use more water and saturate the paper for those watery effects.
140 lb pad (9x12)
300 lb pad (9x12)
4. WATERCOLOR PAPER POSTCARDS
These are just too fun to pass up! My children and I have had so much fun painting quick postcards to send to friends and family at different holidays! They are such a fun way to reach out and say “I love you!” And the small size makes these easy to complete in one sitting! These are great for EVERY age - even my 7 year old loves to use these!
5. MASKING FLUID (AND ERASER) FOR WATERCOLOR PAINTING
Many students did not know about masking fluid, but for creating truly rich watercolors, I think it is essential. This is my favorite brand, but there are others! Basically, your young artist will paint this into the brightest areas of their painting and the natural latex sticks to the paper so that once painted over, the watercolor does not penetrate the paper where the masking fluid has been applied. Once dry, the masking fluid is removed with a rubber eraser and reveals the white of the paper, which has been preserved despite painting all around it. Great for creating highlights, lines of definition and other fine details, which can be hard to preserve on their own. My students know I believe the key to really beautiful watercolor is “preserving your whites” before you start painting!
Masking Fluid Eraser (removes fluid when dry without damaging painting)
My older art students were able to try their first oil painting and did such a beautiful job! I am going to list the basics for getting started in oil here for them!
1. OIL BRUSHES
For oil painting, a stiffer bristle brush is desirable. This is set is a great starter set with a variety of size and shaped brushes. And the best advice I have for young artists is to take care of your brushes by cleaning them in mineral spirits first (wiping as much paint off on paper towels as possible, then rinsing brush in mineral spirits and wiping on paper towels until brush comes clean). I usually use a brush cleaner after just to keep my brush bristles in good shape.
2. MINERAL SPIRITS
I have researched this and truly only recommend Gamsol for this category. It has the lowest evaporation rate and thus causes the least inhalation of toxic fumes. It is an “odorless mineral spirits,” but just because mineral spirits are labeled odorless does not mean they are non-toxic. All odorless mineral spirits should be stored in a container that can be closed when not in use and used with proper ventilation. I recommend old jelly jars with lids or stainless steel canisters made for this purpose. Mineral spirits can be preserved and used over and over. It should never be poured down the drain.
3. SOLVENT FREE MEDIUMS
There are lots of mediums available, but for myself and my students I only recommend two. They are both solvent free so are much safer than other products which include solvents and those are toxic to some degree. My upperclassmen were able to try both products and accomplished a great degree of flow and texture with both products so I can say with confidence that these are great, even for beginners!
Gel medium for maintaining the body of the paint while also adding flow:
Fluid medium when body is not necessarily important:
4. OIL PAINTS
Oil paints come in varying qualities, but I think starting with a small set of quality colors is a great way to start. I always recommend buying a larger tube of white if you find that you like painting in oil because it is always the first color to run out. But you do not need to buy large tubes at first because oil paints are slow drying and will last for a while on your palette (so do not get wasted as much as fast-drying acrylics).
5. DISPOSABLE PALETTE PAD
These just make clean up so easy for young artists who may not be painting every day. If oil paints do dry out on their palette, they can simply tear away the top page and start fresh next time. These are great for acrylic paints too!
6. BRUSH CLEANER & PRESERVER
7. BRUSH RESTORER
Dried paint ruins brushes! Or it used to until I discovered this product. Soak hardened brushes (whether acrylic or oil) in this and watch the bristles soften and come back to life! You don’t necessarily need this from the outset, but at some point you will leave a brush drying with paint still on it (on accident) if you are like me, and it is so nice to have an option to just throwing it away!