shopping for the perfect gift for a watercolor lover is a humbling experience...
If you're not a painter or a crafter, this isn't the kind of stuff you're used to buying.
And art stores? That's beyond intimidating! Shelves full of mystery goo and brushes and paper and well, who knows what all it's used for.
And forget about shopping online, because again- if you don't know what you're looking at in an art store, how are you supposed to weed through even more stuff on the internet?
Relax. Sometimes all you need is a little advice from another watercolor lover.
I started watercoloring around the time my first child was born (he's in college now). I started it as a stress reduction thing (yes son, you drove me to paint). Later, I started getting more serious about it when I realized that loose watercolor painting was helping to improve my artistry in other mediums. I love watercolor and I love sharing it with my students.
I'm also brutally frank, so if I think something is overpriced, useless, or downright stupid, I'll tell you not to buy it.
updated for 2019!
I regularly use these products and highly recommend them. For more information on recommended supplies, see our page dedicated to Amy’s Favorite Things here:
here are 10 (well loved, not useless) gift ideas for your watercolor lover:
(Warning: the following article contains Amazon Affiliate where applicable. Links to other stores or websites are not part of any affiliate program)
#1 - Black Velvet Brushes
Here's my suggestion for a mid-grade set. I teach with Black Velvet brushes made by the Silver Brush Company. They're not kolinsky but they sure come close!
These brushes feel great in the hand, they're not too long nor too short.
The bristles are a blend of squirrel and a synthetic. The squirrel helps hold water, the synthetic keeps its shape and provides a springy feel. Best of all, the point on these brushes is rather durable. With brushes, they all come nice and pointy but very few keep that point beyond a few uses. Kolinsky brushes stay pointed for a long time and you pay a premium price for that. Black Velvets come pretty darned close.
Beginner watercolorists tend to be hard on their brushes, especially when they use dry cake pan watercolor. Black Velvets can withstand quite a bit of abuse before they splay and get feathery.
This is a good assortment of useful sizes. The 12 for backgrounds, the 8 for general duty, and the 4 for detail.
#2 - Tube Sets
Very few watercolorists today use only one brand of paint. We all hunt for the best versions of our favorite colors over several brands.
Watercolor sets are a good way to explore a group of colors that all have similar characteristics.
A Quinacridone assortments allows you to play with quin based reds and golds, learning how they behave. A Cobalt assortment helps you learn the features of cobalt colors. A Primatek set lets you play with sediment naturals. This kind of compare/contrast learning doesn't happen when you usually work with just your one favorite red or blue.
If you’re looking for an introductory set, I highly recommend the QoR set of 12 or 24. QoR is synthetic and formulated to be both vibrant and easy.
(Click to view product on Amazon)
#3 - Lamy Safari Fountain Pen & Noodler's Waterproof Ink
I enjoy laying down an illustration in pen and ink before I add watercolor. This is a method that's growing in popularity, there are lots of journal sketchers who use pen first and watercolor to add small pops of color.
But even if your watercolor lover doesn't draw, maybe working from digital stamps or traced images, adding ink can spark new creative channels.
I've tried dip pens (I have them for calligraphy) but I actually prefer fountain inks for watercolor. That meant finding a fountain pen that was durable enough to rattle around in my backpack and one that didn't cost a fortune.
I have two favorite waterproof inks, one for general sketching and one for botanicals.
Black ink is fine but I often feel like it overwhelms delicate watercolor colors. Noodler's Lexington Gray is my compromise for general purpose sketches.
When I draw botanicals, I switch to Noodler's La Reine Mauve. It's a lovely warm violet which looks great around flower petals but it really sings underneath green watercolor leaves.
Click the link to see the Safari Pen but also run a search. Safaris come in lots of different body colors! I have a purple Safari Pen that's loaded with La Reine and a charcoal Safari Pen for the Lexington. That eliminates the "awww, darn it!" moments.
#4 - Inktense Pencils
Many watercolor lovers either start out with watercolor pencils or they quickly buy a set just for fun.
Inktense are something different. I use them in conjunction with my tube watercolors.
Inktense are not watercolor pencils (even though they look like them). Inktense are watersoluable ink in pencil form. The difference is that they're permanent; once they dry, the color will not rehydrate or lift.
That's why I use them in many of my botanicals. If I have an area like a twig or branch that I don't want to lighten or lift, I paint it on a base of Inktense.
This is the set of 24 but they go up to sets of 75. I have the set of 36 and I've never felt myself lacking. Bigger sets aren't always better and most artists find themselves using a core of about a dozen colors. Collecting them all doesn't improve the quality of one's work.
I'd stick to the set of 24 unless your special person intends to work in Inktense exclusively.
#5 - Watercolor Notebook
There are lots of watercolor notebooks on the market but you can't tell when they're sitting in the store whether they'll be any good to paint on.
Note: there are a lot of BAD watercolor notebooks on the market.
Journal paper quality issues are so bad that I used to make my own notebooks. By hand. Then a friend showed me this notebook from Global Art Materials and I was fairly impressed.
The paper is pretty good quality and it doesn't wrinkle or buckle much. I've ironed a few pages but that's normal with 140 pound paper.
Best of all (for me at least) is the wire binding. Most watercolor journals are book bound. Glued or sewn binding books like to close on their own, so painters tend to hold them open with binder clips. That eventually breaks the spine and the signatures or individual sheets can fall like rain from a broken spine.
Book bindings are also hard on left handed painters, we essentially have to flip the book upside down and start working from the back of the book towards the front in order to paint ergonomically. Wire binding looks less glamorous but the ability to flip the front pages over and behind the current page is a godsend. Wire binding allows lefties a freedom usually reserved for the right handed world.
#6 Sphere Easel
If there's ever a house fire, this will be my Dolly Madison moment:
Damn the kids and dog, I'm grabbing my sphere easel.
(Just kidding kids. Well, kinda kidding...)
I love my sphere easel. I use it for watercolor and colored pencil projects, but especially watercolor.
A desk easel gets the project up and off the table surface. That elevated feel is important, it keeps you from developing hunch back by leaning over and into the project.
The reason I went with a sphere easel over a standard desk easel is the range of adjustments possible on a sphere. I don't usually work with more than a tiny tilt to my project. The sphere allows infinite micro adjustments.
This is one of those hidden gems in the art world, many people don't even know they exist. You'll get extra street cred by gifting someone with something totally new and incredibly useful!
Chances are, your watercolor lover paints on paper.
Because it's watercolor and watercolor only sticks to paper, right?
Ampersand Aquabord is quickly becoming one of my favorite surfaces to paint on. It's particle board that has been given a fine coating of... well... I'm not sure what the coating is. It looks like paper but acts a little like clay. I'm sure it's not totally clay though because Ampersand also makes something called Claybord and this is slightly different.
Anyway, Aquabord has a magical coating made from real fairy dust which absorbs watercolor quite nicely. The colors stay slightly more vibrant on Aquabord, plus the hard backing means absolutely no buckling or warping. Ever.
I love using the 6" x 6" panels, they make a nice Goldilocks sized painting - not big enough to be overwhelming but not small enough to be called tiny.
#8 - Ruling Pen
So here's one of those old-school tools that only crones like me know about.
A Ruling Pen is how we make super straight lines using watercolor paint. And it's how we sign our names legibly.
Lots of youngsters try making straight lines with brushes... ha! You can't do that, nor can you write very well with a brush! Newbies!
I deliberately showed you the pen from the side view. You dip the Ruling Pen into a small puddle of watercolor paint and the paint is held in the space between the two blades by the magical force of physics called adhesion (Yes, I paid attention in science class).
If you want a thin line you twist the screw to move the blades closer. A fatter line means twisting to separate the blades. From there on out, the pen works exactly like the quill dip pens that Thomas Jefferson once used. Dip and draw, dip and draw, dip and draw.
Shoot. I just gave away one of my top secrets. Now they're going to kick me out of the Grand Society of Ruling Pen Rulers. The things I do for you people...
#9 - Modern Flower Painter
If you've ever got a spare year or two, try searching for a good watercolor book on Amazon.
There are thousands of watercolor books on the market. It's a pretty popular subject.
Anna Mason has written a good one. The Modern Flower Painter is a must read for botanical enthusiasts but her methods also work for anyone into painting detailed watercolors.
Mason works large scale with tiny brushes. If your watercolor lover comes from the world of colored pencil and markers, they'll immediately appreciate her technique.
The other nice thing about the Modern Flower Painter is the work in progress shots. Actually, I should be praising Anna Mason just for including step-out photographs. It's amazing how many instructional books include only photos of finished work. Mason's book is very generous with process photos, her "Viola" project has 17 photographs!
#10 - Finetec metallics
I'll rank this as a "want" rather than a "need" but not all gifts have to be practical or useful, right?
Finetec Metallic watercolors are a collection of metallic and opalescent paints (think shimmer eyeshadow for painters).
Calligraphers use Finetec for gilded look lettering but they're perfect for adding a bit of gold or silver to a watercolor painting. They can also be mixed into paint blends to create custom watercolor colors.
This set gives your watercolor lover a chance to play and maybe even discover a new style or technique.
#11 - Digital Stamps... by me!
Okay, I know I was supposed to stop at 10 Gifts but I can't resist throwing in a bit of obvious self promotion...
I teach online Copic coloring classes for lovers of Copic marker, colored pencils, and watercolor.
Those three media types all have something unique in common, you can't use just any digital stamp. The coloring spaces need to be wide open with no texture marks and that's a rarity in the digital stamp world.
So because I got sick of searching for good stamps, I decided to start drawing them myself.
so there you have it!
Ten, no make that ELEVEN awesome and battle tested gift suggestions for the watercolor lover in your life.
Be sure to check out my other helpful gift suggestion lists for Copic, colored pencil, watercolor, and mixed media fans.
Questions? Suggestions? I'd love feedback in the comment section!
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