Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers
If finding a gift for the artist in your life seems like a tall order, we totally understand. Artists are known for having very good and particular taste, which usually requires a bit more thought than shopping for your aunt who will appreciate a handy new electric tea kettle or your teen brother who explicitly told you he wants AirPods. And if you want to buy an artist a gift they will actually use, you’ll probably have to be pretty familiar with their practice to know what supplies to get. To help keep you from wandering the aisles of Blick deliberating between that $80 tube of Michael Harding lapis lazuli and a Kolinsky sable brush, we reached out to several artists — including sculptors, painters, photographers, textile designers, and multimedia artists — about what sorts of gifts they’d like to receive. Below, their suggestions, which include something for practically every artist, whether they’re hoping for supplies, an activity, or cannabis-infused snacks to inspire the creative process.
A set of specialized colored pencils would make a nice gift for any artist, and these are especially useful for someone who works in multiple media: they can write on metal, glazed ceramics, and glass. They’re a favorite of artist Peter Shire: “I use these for normal pencil-type things like taking notes. But they really come in handy when I’m making stuff,” he says.
While not every artist is a painter, many enjoy experimenting with watercolors from time to time. So unless watercolor is their specialty (in which case they may already have preferred brands and palettes), a set like this one, recommended by artist Ashley Longshore, is sure to be a hit. “It has one of the widest ranges of colors and the best pigmentation,” Longshore says.
While there are plenty of luxe artist pads you could give, sometimes buying a bunch of something much more practical is the way to go. “Graph paper is such an important part of my creative process since I create predominantly geometric motifs,” says textile designer Aelfie Oudghiri. Whether you’re giving this affordable pad as part of a larger gift or splurging on a year’s supply, it will surely be appreciated.
Another practical, game-changing gift: Teflon-coated scissors. Artist Daniele Frazier got them as a gift a few years ago: “I love them because not only do they look really beautiful but they’re extremely sharp, and the Teflon coating allows you to cut tape, even gummy tape like duct tape, without the scissors getting sticky over time,” she says. Plus, “nobody really buys herself fancy scissors,” so these will be a welcome upgrade. These are made in Japan and built to last, meaning their recipient can hold on to them for a while.
Regardless of their medium of choice, they are sure to be inspired by a set of rubber stamps like these from Areaware’s collaboration with illustrator and designer Rilla Alexander. The simple, abstract shapes and five different-colored inks add up to endless creative possibilities.
We included this portable light box in our list of the best art supplies to give to artists. Folks who draw for a living, or as an essential part of their art practice, will often use a Porta-Trace to refine drawings from sketch to final artwork. It’s also a handy tool for photographers, who can use it to look at their negatives.
“People always ask me which pens I use, [and I tell them] I’ve been using Krink for years,” says artist Shantell Martin. “They’re really smooth, the quality of their ink is amazing, and you can use them on anything from clothing and leather to walls for larger murals.” Krink paint markers also happen to be on the desk of Sant Ambroeus creative director Alireza Niroomand, who likes them in blue.
One of our favorite gift-wrapping supplies, the Pentel Fude pen is also a great gift for any artist who wants to give their labels and lists extra flourish. Its brush tip is similar to a calligraphy marker, and is “the most user-friendly version of that type of pen,” says stationery expert Caroline Weaver. “They make anyone’s handwriting instantly look fancier.”
No matter their medium, they can find a use for a good black ink. This bottle from Yasutomo is Strategist senior writer (and illustrator) Liza Corsillo’s favorite: “It doesn’t fade over time, and it’s waterproof, so once it’s dry you can go over it in watercolor and it won’t bleed,” she says.
“Every artist always has a piece or two that needs to be framed,” says artist Kent Monkman. He recommends picking up a gift card to a local framing shop; you could also try Framebridge, a framing company that we tested and found to be one of the best online framing services out there.
An artist working in any medium would enjoy Josef Albers’s Interactions of Color, either the new anniversary edition or as a luxe, cloth-bound two-book set. Sara Berks, the designer behind homeware company Minna, told us she’s had the book since color-theory class in art school and still references it frequently.
Museum-exhibition catalogues are a classic artist gift — if they weren’t able to visit a show in person, the catalogue allows them to still see the works, and if they saw the show IRL and loved it, it can serve as both a memento and guide for future reference. (For gift ideas, get your artist talking about the best shows they’ve seen in the last few years, then look up the catalogue online.) This one is from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s exhibit “Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories,” which traces the rich history of quilt-making in America and would make a great gift for an artist who works with textiles.
“As an artist, you spend a great deal of your day in isolation, with a lot of time to consider your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions — for me, the unholiest trinity!” says artist Janie Korn. She suggests gifting this guidebook by illustrator Jordan Sondler, which contains advice for navigating loneliness, career, and self-love. “Reading this book has helped me feel mentally healthier and better equipped to create meaningful art,” says Korn. “Beyond the self-improvement part, it’s a really stunning, visually compelling book that you will want to read in a sitting.”
If you want to inspire your friend to experiment with a new form, artist Bernie Kaminski suggests 1970s crafting and drawing books by the Taplinger Publishing Company. “They can all be found for a few bucks online,” he says. Kaminski suggests their guide to making tote bags; the publishing company also put out a calligraphy guide and a guide to drawing cats.
Graphic novels offer a wealth of inspiration to visual artists. Painter and illustrator Nasir Young especially recommends volume one from the Akira series: “Simply looking at how the pages are inked helps inform how to build value even if you’re not drawing comics,” he says.
If they’re a holiday-card sender, they’ll love this cheeky set printed with Cindy Sherman’s Untitled (Mrs. Claus).
You could also give them the gift of a new soundtrack for working. Kaminski suggests any of the albums released by Patience Records in the last few years. “All are great to put on while working, reading, or doing whatever,” he says. “Leo James’s Infinity was in high rotation during a project I was working on last spring, especially the hypnotic second side.”
Photo: Courtesy of vendor
Or gift them a limited-edition green vinyl of Plantasia, Mort Garson’s beloved album of synthesizer music for plants.
Art-making is often a physically taxing endeavor — just ask anyone who draws, paints, or works in sculpture. So giving an artist something to soothe their aching muscles is always a thoughtful gesture. This S-shaped back-massage tool comes recommended to us by writer Ottessa Moshfegh, who, like any other kind of artist, spends a lot of time bent over her work. “I would do it all day if I didn’t have to use my hands,” she says.
Ceramicist Helen Levi gives these little composite keychains as gifts “all the time” and recommends them especially as stocking-stuffers. They’re made by “my old studio mates Chen Chen and Kai Williams,” she says: “Each one is completely different, and I love integrating a piece of art into the banal everyday.” CCKW also makes stylish pens, bottle openers, and candleholders that would all make reasonably priced gifts for a design-minded recipient.
If the artist you are shopping for works in a medium that involves getting their hands dirty, they’ll appreciate an extra-rich cream. “In the past, I’ve been to people’s studios and I’m like, Oh shit, that feels really good. What’s that lotion? Weleda Skin Food is really popular,” says Josephine Heilpern, a ceramist and founder of the Bed-Stuy-based Recreation Center.
Artist, filmmaker, and poet Himali Singh Soin told us that she regularly gives friends compasses and hourglasses as gifts. “The compass is for space, the hourglass is for time,” she says. “These are the two fundamental qualities that any artist will encounter along the way.” Soin loves these objects because they are “curious in their shape and form” and can be a reminder to artists that time is arbitrary. “Whole worlds may form in the span of one round of sand spilling in an hourglass — sometimes the compass can leave us asunder and in fact the spleen or the stars, our natural navigators, can point us in the right direction,” she says. Soin suggests looking for these items at vintage markets (or on Etsy), but there are plenty of affordable ones online, too.
Puzzles can be a fun way to spend extra time with an artwork, noticing details or brushwork you’d missed before. The puzzle above of Jackson Pollock’s Convergence is known for being a challenge: “The Springbok puzzle company billed this as the most difficult puzzle in the world when it was released in 1964,” says Kaminski. “My wife managed to complete it, but it took a while.” I’m also a big fan of The Garden of Earthly Delights as a puzzle, which I first learned about from stylist Sissy Chacon: “To be up close and personal with each piece gave me a new interpretation of it as being quite joyous and innocent,” she writes.
If you want to give them a gift that helps set a creative mood, try a scented candle. “Ambience is super important to a productive working environment,” says Korn. “I’m always burning or misting something (stale air equals stale thoughts).” This Keys candle is our favorite overall for sensitive noses with an impressive 65-hour burn time and the clarifying scent of sage.
And if you want to give a candle with a bit more drama, consider beeswax tapers. These candles, made in Athens for the Greek Orthodox Church, are a favorite of furniture, object, and interior designer F. Taylor Colantonio. “They are inexpensive yet special, and above all, useful,” he says. “And they give the most seductive scent of honey.”
For artists who share their studio space or make work from home, the best gift you can give is sound insulation. This pair of noise-cancelling headphones comes recommended by Strategist tech writer Jordan McMahon: “Nobody nails the mix of sound quality and noise-cancellation quite like Sony,” he says. They have a transparency mode, which reduces volume when you start talking, useful if your giftee has a studio mate.
For something more interactive, Martin suggests this portable synthesizer, which will let curious artists noodle around in a new medium. “Teenage Engineering is creating amazing products that are super-modern but also strike some great emotional nostalgia chords,” Martin says.
“Artists really need cash or art supplies, but besides that, I recommend Utopia Cannabis’s macaroons,” says artist and poet Samuel Jablon. The macaroons are non-GMO, vegan, paleo, and gluten-free, and would be a much-appreciated way to help your artist friend chill out before an event or an opening. “These are delicious and a great way to cut through stress.”
The artist in your life has probably gotten sucked into a project before and emerged six hours later hungry and exhausted. This Spanish jamón ibérico provides easy, delicious protein — and they won’t need to stop what they’re doing to snack on it.
If your artist friend is also creative in the kitchen, give them something that will inspire new courses both sweet and savory. Lindsay Collins, host and creator of Effin B Radio, recommends this “delicate, floral, and ultranuanced honey” that she discovered while working at Per Se. Though you can use it in a million different ways, she suggests drizzling it on fancy blue cheese or a bowl of fresh figs.
And if you really want to splurge, take a note from Ebecho Muslimova: “While exposure and ideas are the best gifts you can give to an artist, I would also settle for a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti la Tâche,” she says.
Artists love getting art as a gift; it’s beautiful and it supports other artists. This subscription for limited-edition, artist-made postcards from Summertime Gallery in Brooklyn, a nonprofit space for artists with and without intellectual disabilities, showcases a different artist each month. Proceeds go both to the artist and toward the gallery’s operations. “It’s the perfect way to say hello to loved ones and learn about an artist you might not have known,” says Paige Wery, director of Tierra del Sol Gallery in Los Angeles.
Sometimes the best gift is one you get to pick out for yourself via a gift card to a local bookstore, ideally one with a good stock of art books. If they’re in New York, Kaminski suggests giving a gift card to Aeon Bookstore in Two Bridges, which has a consistent, reasonably priced selection of art and design books, magazines, and hard-to-find records. (For a directory of local bookstores across the U.S., check out this map on Bookshop.com.)
I’m a massive fan of the Criterion Channel — I have joked that they should team up with Letterboxd on a film-nerd dating service — and a subscription to the platform would make a great gift. Painter Cassi Namoda (who also gave us some tips about the best white button-downs) told us that she would gift another artist a subscription to the Criterion Collection’s streaming service. “I recently got it for my household,” she says. “It just opened another world for me. I watched Several Friends by Charles Burnett and it inspired me so profoundly.”
For artists who love learning new techniques, Baker recommends a membership to the online learning platform Craftsy. “You can buy classes on how to paint a portrait, cook a soufflé, or make a vase on a wheel,” she says. Craftsy classes are mostly taught by other artists, so there’s a community feel.
Another great option is a yearlong museum membership to a museum in their area, which will give them access to expanded hours, previews, and other perks (often, a discount at the gift store). For New York–based artists, “my pick would be the Met,” says artist Jeanette Hayes. If they’re in the Philadelphia area and work with textiles, consider the Fabric Workshop and Museum — they have rotating exhibitions and frequent classes.
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