I’ve learned so much this year about art products, through both research and trial-and-error, and I have developed definite ideas about which supplies I love (or hate). I’m hoping some of this information will be helpful to you, and you won’t need to try as many different things as I did, or spend as much time researching.
If you have an artist or aspiring artist in your life, some of these may be good gift ideas for them. (Heck, I’d swoon at receiving any of them! And I already have them.) Or.. maybe you need a little pick-me-up yourself? No judgement here… a good artist quality supply can turn my day around. You are treating everyone else this holiday. Treat yourself a little, too.
(I get a few cents if you purchase the item through these links (the Amazon ones), without it increasing your cost at all… but look around a little anyway. I typically find my best prices through Amazon, but occasionally purchase from Jacksons or Cheap Joes or Wet Paint Art… I’ve tried to link the lowest price I can find, and listed it, but prices change daily.)
Everything is click-linked for you. Let me know if you have questions, or comments about any products you’ve tried!
To be honest, I think any mechanical pencil works great for me, but I’ll list several I enjoy.
My first choice:
Sakura SumoGrip .7mm pencil This is a fat pencil that I had to get used to. Now it is my go-to pencil …in part because I have misplaced my Pentel… but also it is listed here because it feels good in my hand and has a large twist up eraser, no cap to remove… is only $4.98 right now on Amazon. 🙂 It is available in .5mm, .7mm, or .9mm lead.
Pentel Graphgear 800 Love this one, too. This shiny black and silver pencil has a serious appearance, and feels nice, heavy and solid. And rubber grips. ($8.79 right now.) .5 lead, eraser under the cap.
Alvin Draft/Matic .9mm pencil ($9.40). Kind of a “putty” colored barrel (they call it burgundy), eraser under the cap, and you can purchase it in .3mm, .5mm, .7mm, or .9mm, all at nearly the same price. This pencil does a great job. I’m not a pencil artist, so really one or two sizes is plenty for me. (there’s only 1 left at this writing, with this seller, so move quickly if you want this one)
Staedtler Mars 780 Technico 2mm pencil I had to mention this slim blue pencil, because it is cool. It has a 2mm lead, with a sharpener in the cap. No eraser. I know sharpening a mechanical pencil seems ridiculous, but it is necessary for this fat lead. I don’t NEED this pencil. But it’s fun. And it feels so professional and REAL. $8.90.
**My recommendations? The Sakura or Pentel. Or any old mechanical pencil you have sitting around.
Uniball Deluxe Rollerball Pen, Micro Point, Graphite barrel, .5mm $7.19 for 3. I started using this pen after watching Peter Sheeler use it in his watercolor demos. I LOVE this pen. Who knew you could use a ball point pen for beautiful art?? Not me. I use these for art, AND for every day writing. I keep them all over the house. Archival, waterproof ink, no skipping, great inexpensive pen. This is a pretty good price, and though I feel like I have seen them for less occasionally, generally anywhere from $6-$8 for 3 is pretty good. You can also get this in a 7mm if you prefer lines a little thicker.
Pentel Portable Pocket Brush Pen, Medium point. With 2 refills. ($8.29) I ADORE this real brush pen. (not a felt tip) The ink is archival and waterproof once dry. I use it mostly for lettering in my journal, but some drawing as well, and can paint over it without trouble. The Copic brush pen is a bit less expensive, and good, too, but this one writes better for me than the Copic brand. This comes with 2 refills, and you can purchase more refills separately.
Darice Studio 71 Alcohol markers ($59.99) I finally found alcohol markers WITH A BRUSH TIP that I was willing to pay for! When I ordered them, they were $46 for a 48 piece set. The price is elevated now, either because they’ve become more popular, or just for Christmas, so might be worth waiting till January just to see what happens? But even at $60, I feel like these are a bargain. Chisel on one end, brush on the other…. It is crazy hard to find an inexpensive brush tip alcohol marker. The ink color matches the marker end pretty well. Pens have a rounded triangular barrel so they don’t roll, chisel end is labelled with a band so you can easily tell which is which. The set came with a blender, and other sets are available as well. Copics are better for a true marker artist, but these are great for me. I just need a little plop of color now and then. $1-$2 a marker instead of $5-$8? Yes, thank you. These babies took me two years to find.
Darice grey set, $10.99 (I love having a set of grey pens, and this is a good way to try the markers out if you aren’t sure)
Now. For the Fun Stuff.
I’m addicted. I keep hunting for things I can use, like that dish pictured above from Grove Collective, made to hold soaps or hand towels. (Check thrift stores for a white deviled egg dish! Look for white ceramic, with wells all around, and a flat space in the middle. You may find a deal!)
I think every watercolorist should try a ceramic/porcelain palette, and for the amateur artist this doesn’t need to be a huge investment. There are some gorgeous very expensive palette dishes out there, for holding and mixing colors, but let’s start small, with mixing space only, and leave the monsters for next year.
American metal craft tray with sauce cups, 13″x6″ ($14.40) This is actually a sushi plate, and my favorite palette dish. There’s a larger version I hope to purchase later next year. This has a nice shallow lip, and a large flat space for mixing PLUS two small separated cups, so I can mix all in one space and also have an area I can keep paint separated. Plus it is pretty. One palette? This is it. I don’t need the others. Necessarily. But, don’t touch them.
Atworth News Ceramic rectangle artist palette ($13.99) This says it may not arrive by Christmas (although mine arrived much more quickly than expected, took only about two weeks) This is a rectangular palette with 9 rather deep wells… 6 small, 2 medium, 1 large. The whole palette is quite small, 4″x7″. A good palette if you want small defined spaces. I bought this palette as a gift, I haven’t used it myself, although I’m tempted to keep it. 🙂
Mini Square porcelain plate, 3″ ($22.99 for a set of 10) Do I need ten tiny palettes? NO! BUT, these are perfect for taking along in my travel paint bag (everything is mini) I love these. And I also included them in some small travel watercolor kits I made as gifts. I keep a couple on my table and one in my travel bag. If you could find someone to split this set with you it might be a valid expense.
Porcelain Soap Dish, 2 pack ($11.95) These are nice because they are small (maybe 3×4? I could include one in my travel bag, and they take limited space on my table) and have a nice shallow lip. I couldn’t find anything cheaper, with a flat white surface (I didn’t want wells) but you might! Any white flat ceramic dish will work. You can go to the dollar store and find a plate.
I really love trying paper. It all makes such a difference. I have tried LOADS, and I won’t list them all here, but there are lots of good papers out there. 100% cotton does make a difference, but pulp paper is great for swatching and messing around. Most papers come in hot press (very smooth) or cold press (rougher texture), and in various sizes. Some come very white or less white. Some come in sheets, pads, or blocks.
Strathmore 5″x7″ individual sheets 25 sheets, 100% cotton, 140 lb, cold press. This is nice paper at a decent price. ($7.72)
Bee paper, 100% cotton rag, 6″x9″, 50 sheets 140 lb, cold press, ($14.80, about the same price right now as strathmore, but I’ve seen it cheaper)
Fabriano white 100% cotton 5″x7″ block 140 lb cold press 25 sheets ($15.86)… comes in larger sizes, too. I’m not an expert, but I prefer Fabriano to Arches right now. (Arches seems to be everyone’s favorite) This paper is glued around the edges… you paint, and peel the sheet off by slipping a palette knife (or anything flat) between the sheets. The block keeps the paper from curling up with the application of water, and I love it, even though I don’t always use a lot of water. Getting the same paper in a pad instead of a block will save you a lot of money, but a block is fun to try if your budding artist hasn’t already started with one.
There are a lot of great watercolor journals out there… search Amazon… Field, Pentalic, Strathmore, I love them all. You can find soft or hard covers, spiral or book bound… However my current choice:
Stillman & Birn Beta softcover sketchbook 5.5″x8.5″, 180lb paper, cold press, (but with limited texture), white paper. ($13.52) These pages can’t be removed, but I love the feel of this book for my daily watercolor journal.
Reflexions watercolor journal by creative mark.. ($19.97) 140lb cold pressed paper. 5.5″x5.5″. I recently purchased one of these and haven’t painted in it yet, but I like the feel of it. The interesting part of this book is that the pages are perforated so can be removed. (I paid less for this one on my trip to Jeyrrys artarama, so maybe shop around) I probably will never remove a page, but I thought it was a nice feature.
Canson Watercolor ArtBoards Cold Press (lightly textured) 8″x10″, different sizes available ($13.93) 10 boards, attached kind of like a watercolor block. This is an interesting paper I hadn’t tried until recently. These boards are great for plein air painting, because the paper is permanently attached to a board. No taping, and it won’t get rumpled on the way home.
I only have two, but I LOVE them.
Draw Your Day: An Inspiring Guide to Keeping a Sketch Journal by Samantha Dion-Baker ($14.40 paperback)
The Joy Of Watercolor: 40 Happy Lessons For Painting the World Around You by Emma Block ($12.23 hardcover)
Both of these artists really match my style and I’m having a lot of fun going through their books.
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
I have WAY too many types of paint. I try them all. But my very bad addiction might save you some money. You can definitely find less expensive paints for a beginner. But if there is ANY chance they will stick with it, and you can afford it, get the good stuff. It makes a huge difference. And there’s no reason for them to have a student set AND professional set… or more. Here I list my very favorites…
Schmincke Horadam Artist Watercolor Trial Selection #1 ($28.07, six tubes) This is a good starter set of colors. Admittedly, if you give someone these paints you may be fueling a long and expensive addiction. But if you love them, give them the best. Schmincke uses the same formula for their pans and tubes, so these tubes can easily be added to pan sets, which are easier to find (bur costly). I like Daniel Smith paints better, MAYBE, but something about Schmincke (besides the obvious quality) has captured my heart and simply won’t let go. If you purchase tubes, they are going to need some type of palette, or tin with pans.
Schmincke Horadam Artist Watercolor Trial Set Selection #2 ($38.74, six tubes) A great set of secondary colors.
Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essential Introductory watercolor set ($32.07, 6 tubes) This is a better set for being able to mix pretty much anything than the Schmincke color choice. And with Daniel Smith you are definitely setting your loved one on the path to potential financial ruin. There are a TON of colors, more than any other brand, and while at first your artist will know that they only need 6, or 12, or 18 colors… at some point they may look at their paint smeared fingertips and their 116 tubes and think What in the world happened??? I have tried not to fall prey to them, but Daniel Smith has some drop dead gorgeous fun colors to paint with. Do you NEED them? No. But my oh my the granulation you can find, and the unique colors… especially in the primatek line. And as for lightfast ratings, these paints can’t be beaten.
Daniel Smith has just come out with several PAN sets, for the first time ever. The artist world chatter is that the paints are great but the palette pan itself isn’t particularly well thought out. Check http://www.wetpaintart.com or Amazon. There are several sets with 6 colors, and 9 empty pans to fill yourself, all between $54 and $60, and one set with 15 filled half pans for $101.88. This is a very good starter set… particularly for someone who doesn’t know what colors they’d want, or what palette etc… The Schmincke pan sets come with a nice metal palette.
Golden Qor Mini Half Pan set of 12 colors ($69.35) Some artists don’t care for QoR paints, but I love them. The do work a little differently than other brands.. more flow, less lifting ability…. but basically they are just fun to use. Not my first go-to paint, but I wouldn’t ditch them for the world. And the tin is nicer, in my opinion, than the daniel smith palette pan. QoR offers tubes as well.
(Also, I just found a 6 tube introductory set of QoR watercolor paint tubes on sale at wetpaintart.com for $20.99!)
Foldable paint set, 42 colors ($14.99) Quality lightfast paint? probably not. But I gotta say, this unique little set is perfect for a small financial investment with big fun return. Lots of colors to try, and travels well. It has its problems.. some colors are more difficult to reach, and the swatches don’t match the colors AT ALL. (I remade mine and glued them in place) But this set is cheap, interesting, and fun. For the price of one tube of artist quality paints, you are done, and you get a water brush, too. A good call for someone just starting out, or as a fun addition for someone further along, but these will probably not be their dream paints. Go back to Daniel Smith or Schmincke for those.
EEM Handmade Watercolor paints I love these hand made watercolors. She doesn’t have many available, and they sell out quickly, but it is worth the time spent watching to see when she adds paint. Right now theres a pink, blue, and sienna I know that are still available, all of which I like very much. And she has some sample sheets with large sample dots. They travel from Germany so leave lots of shipping time. I think any watercolorist would enjoy receiving some of these!
There are loads of other sites with good handmade watercolors. Pfeiffer is one brand that comes to mind. Check Etsy if you are looking for more!
ZEM Brush set, Kolinsky sable ($27, set of four, #1, #3, #5, #8) These brushes surprised me. I bought them as a gift and can’t say how long they might last, but so far they have performed well. This might be a nice starter set of brushes for someone wanting to try sable, but unwilling/able to spend hundreds of dollars doing it. I really hope they last well!
Winsor 7 Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Brushes These brushes are expensive but are my very favorite, when I can find a deal. The size 4 here is $25.34, a great price, and the 6 (4 and 6 are sizes I use constantly) is $55. A week ago it was $41 and I was so excited to share that price with you. 😦 I’m sorry I waited! Anyway, it is still better than what it costs at Jerry’s.
Natural hair bristles are by far my favorites over synthetic. Except this one:
Raphael SoftAqua Synthetic Quill Brush #4 ($24.02) I have the mini travel version of this (super short handle, by the way… a great brush but I don’t recommend it because of its size) and was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the bristles. I thought it was squirrel or other natural hair!
Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Introductory Set of 12 ($36.02, a great price!!!) There are 3 or 4 different color sets. These watercolor pencils are TOPS. You can find MUCH cheaper pencils, but you will not find something that feels like this. I’m not even suggesting other brands.
Faber-Castell Polychromos set of 24 ($37.20 (incl shipping) for a tin of 24. These pencils are so creamy-dreamy. Caran d’Ache makes a Luminesse pencil which I imagine rivals it, but I haven’t tried it myself so can’t recommend it yet. I don’t use pencils often, but adore these buttery creamy gems. I’ll admit I was anti-colored-pencil for decades until I found some artist grade colors to try. These are not your grade school pencils.
GOUACHE: (think “opaque thick watercolor”)
Caran d’Ache Studio Gouche tin 14 colors in pans, a tube of white, a brush, in a tin. ($32.78) Pretty cool. You can get a set of 8 as well, for $18.73.
I don’t use gouache much (yet?) but have found this to be the only pan set. I enjoy using a couple of M Graham gouache tubes I have, and I have a big set of Arteza that’s fine for starting out, too, and gives you lots of colors. (Arteza makes inexpensive students materials, but generally I’d rather spend a bit more and get higher quality materials, so I haven’t tested most of their products.)
Faber-Castell Dust Free Eraser ($8.44) This is a set of four, so the price is good. But to be honest, if you can get to Jerrys Artarama, or another art supply store, You can purchase just one or two at a time. By the way, this does leave a bit of eraser behind, but not lots of tiny dust. A firm white eraser.
Vanish 4-in-1 eraser ($6.99) DON’T pay seven bucks for this if you can help it. I got mine from Jerrys Artarama, right by the register, for a dollar, I think. Look for a better price. This is a good soft eraser. Mine does leave lots of shreddy mess behind, but don’t most erasers? It doesn’t damage my paper and erasers everything. I don’t know what the 4-in-1 refers to.
Ranger mini mister 3 pack ($5.96) ANY mini-mister will do, it doesn’t have to be Ranger… these are great for spritzing your pan paints or spraying on the painted page for effect.
Mijello Martin Airtight Plastic Watercolor Palette 18 wells ($9.24) PICTURED ABOVE. I tried all kinds of inexpensive palettes, and this is still one of my favorites for using tube paints. The drawback… you can’t rearrange your palette easily. However, the wells hold a lot of paint, and theres a lot of mixing area. It is plastic, but performs better than most plastic palettes. (Hit it with a mr clean magic scrubber if the paint beads too much) There is a clear palette tray that fits at the top. I painted a swatch card following the shapes of the well area and stored it behind that tray., so I can always see it but also can still use the area for mixing.
Meeden metal palette case with 12 full sized pans ($13.99) If you want a relatively inexpensive metal paint palette, to both hold your half or full pans and to use a mixing area, look no further. Meeden is pretty good. Schmincke and Whiskey Painter are BETTER empty palettes, but considerably more expensive. And not THAT much better. You can get this in several sizes, empty, with empty half pans, or with empty full (sized) pans. Go shopping!
6x1mm neodymium magnets (200 for $24.99) I had trouble finding exactly the thickness I wanted in these super strong magnets, 1 mm. (don’t let small pets or children play with these, you don’t want these ingested!) While creating this list, I didn’t find the set I purchased, which had 100, only this 200 count set. I glue 2 of these onto the bottom of each plastic watercolor pan… then I can use them in the metal palettes (like Meeden, above) OR in any little tin that I reuse as a travel paint palette. I use a lot of these.
100 pieces plastic full sized watercolor pans ($11.99) I make watercolor pans pretty often so end up using a lot of these, but there’s a set of 24 for $5.99 that normal people may like better. Theres also This Set of 64 half pans with strip magnets for $9.99… the magnets aren’t as strong, but if you can’t find a smaller number of the 1mm neodymium magnets or don’t feel like gluing, these work fine. I prefer full pans, but have lots of half pans, too.
Etchr Slate Satchel Bag ($139 on sale at wetpaintart, but oh so cool if someone likes to paint outside their home!) Ok, I don’t have this yet. But how can it not be cool? Also, take a look around the wetpaintart.com sale site while you are there.
So, these are a lot of the favorites I’ve found over the past two years. I hope you found something in here helpful. Happy shopping!