shopping for the perfect gift for a mixed media lover is confusing
Especially if you're not artsy-craftsy yourself.
Because as far as you know, "mixed media" basically means throwing lots of stuff onto oversized paper and writing on top of it.
Relax. Sometimes all you need is a little advice from an artist.
Mixed media is the fancy-pants trendy name. Back when I was in art school, we called it "using what you have on hand to get the job done". Whatever you want to call it, I noticed a few years ago that this art form holds a special appeal to crafters and they have a ton of supplies available to use... but very few people know how to effectively use the products they've purchased.
I teach a class showing crafters what their supplies are made of and how they work. So take a deep breath... even your mixed media lover feels lost about supplies sometimes.
I've seen a lot of products come and go and I won't hesitate to tell you when something isn't worth buying.
here are 10 (well loved, not useless) gift ideas for your mixed media lover:
(warning: the following article contains affiliate links out the wazoo...)
#1 - Nicholson's Peerless Watercolors
Peerless Watercolors are an old product dating back to the days before color photography. Photographers who wanted color in their photography had to add it after the film was processed, using Peerless color to spot color their photographs, adding color to hair & faces or scenery.
Those days are long gone but the formulas remain the same. Watercolorists and mixed media artists love Peerless colors because they're handy to use and they're fun because they're so strange.
The swatches you see in the photo above is transparent watercolor that has been embedded in little cards. The colors are bold and vibrant. All you have to do is rub a damp paintbrush over the swatch to pick up lots of color. I wouldn't paint a whole picture using peerless but when I need to add little touches of color, I immediately grab my Peerless kit.
Peerless colors are grouped into several sets and are sold directly from the Peerless Color lab. The "Bonus Pack- Small" makes a great starter set, especially when combined with a few nice watercolor brushes.
#2 - Absorbant or Watercolor Ground
Your mixed media lover is very familiar with gesso, it's a white base coat that he/she uses to prepare their paper, canvas, or other surface for painting.
Gesso is popular, but I've found that very few mixed media know about Absorbent Ground. A tub of "ground" makes a great gift as you will be introducing them to something truly magical!
Gesso seals the surface of the canvas, wood or panel before painting. It's essentially primer for artists. A seal coat is great if you're using an acrylic paint, but if you want to use watercolor or watercolor pencil, gessoing is the worst thing you can do. Any paint that has a lot of water in it's base (like watercolor) will roll right off of gesso. It won't stick because it can't.
Absorbent ground is the opposite of gesso. It prepares the surface for watercolor! I love this stuff with a fiery passion. I've used it to paint on wood, on melamine, I even use it to turn cheap journal paper into watercolor paper.
Warning: this stuff is addictive. Your special someone may start looking around for more stuff to paint... duck when they look at you with that "I wonder..." look.
#3 - Tim Holtz Stencil collections
Okay, your special person likely owns a few of these stencils already. But I'm going to suggest them anyway. Here's why:
Stencils are a basic ingredient in most mixed media projects. The problem is that your person likely collects them from tons of different brands and stencils are hard enough to store safely without worrying about all the different sizes from 12" x 12" all the way down to 2" x 2".
A few years ago, I gave up. I started buying a Tim Holtz mini stencils as replacements for each of my favorite awkwardly sized stencils. The Tim Holtz stencils are all a consistent size with a handy punch hole at the top. I pop them each onto one binder ring and hang that on a hook in my studio. Sooooooo much simpler than digging through a drawer or file cabinet to find the one I want.
Your mixed media person likley won't give up all their odd sized stencils (we do grow oddly attached to them) but they will appreciate being able to sub out some of their worn or worst to store stencils with a similar stencil. Because I use stencils for texture rather than pattern, this streamlining process greatly increased my efficiency with no emotional loss.
I purchased most of my mini stencils as singles but a short while back they started packaging them in groups of three. And now the threes are in groups of three. Perfect!
#4 - ARtBin Quick View Boxes
The worst thing about mixed media is that you tend to collect a lot of stuff.
Stuff is the technical term for "small little things that come in sets of 200 in a crummy blister pack."
Blister packs look great on the store shelf but then you get home and find that you now have to store it all somewhere... somewhere.... but where? If you shove it all in drawers, eventually you're going to loose track of what you own and what you don't own.
Which is why the average mixed media artist owns 14 white paint markers. Because they can't remember where they stored the first 13 pens.
ArtBin makes a lot of convenient storage solutions. And because ArtBin boxes are designed for heavy and possibly sharp or clunky supplies, ArtBins really do last longer than other plastic bins and tubs. The Quick View boxes are my favorite, they stack nicely, they're translucent so you can see into the box, and they're shallow so you never have stuff hiding out underneath layers of other stuff.
Get your special person a few ArtBin Quick View Boxes. Because they've got stuff.
#5 - FW Inks
Acrylic inks are the love-child of airbrush paints and calligraphy inks.
They're intense color in a super smooth consistency; they often dry with a pretty sheen that pops nicely from the other matte products we use.
Mixed media artists paint with acrylic inks, they stamp with them, and they let them ooze and drip all over. Everyday, somebody somewhere comes up with a new use for these inks, so they're always fresh and fun to work with.
FW Inks are made by Daler Rowney and I think they're amongst the best I've tried (and I've tried some pretty bad ones...). My favorite set is the Pearlescents shown above. They come in a cute little box which your mixed media person will rip open so that they can oogle the bottles like the little gemstones they are.
Seriously. I spent about 20 minutes shaking these inks and turning the bottles, just to watch them shimmer.
Oh, and they look good on paper too.
#6- Neo-color II Crayons
Don't let the name "crayon" turn you off. Crayon is simply French for "weird little stick of color".
Hey, if Leonardo Da Vinci loved crayons, ain't no shame in us usin' 'em.
Neocolor II crayons are watersoluable. That's what makes them amazing. They go on like oil pastels but can be melted and softened with water. The finished look can resemble pastel or opaque watercolor (gouache).
I mentioned oil pastels just now. If you talk to some crafters/artists they may recommend the new breed of oil pastels called "watersoluable oil pastels" in lieu of Neocolor IIs. I've tried them both and I greatly prefer the Neocolor II crayons.
By the way, that "II" at the end of Neocolor II is important. You want the second generation Neocolors with a TWO at the end. Neocolor I (one) are permanent oil pastels. They don't do the whole watery melty thing.
I'm directing you to a set of 30 here. They come in larger sets and they come in smaller. The larger sets are overkill for a beginner. The smaller sets are frustrating because they're missing some key colors. 30 is good.
#7- Glass Bead Gel
Mixed media lovers are suckers for gel medium.
This one is extra special. It's full of teensy tinsy glass beads.
I know. It looks like kindergarten paste, it smells funny, and this kind is lumpy and bumpy. What's the big deal?
Well, gel medium is magical stuff. It's a glue, it's a transfer medium, it can thin out the color of paint, it can thicken paint... it does everything but weather-proof your lawn furniture for the winter.
Actually, it can waterproof things, so scratch that... it can protect your lawn furniture.
Your special person will love playing and experimenting with the glass beaded version of gel medium. They can mound it up for 3D effects, spread it out smooth for a bit of grit, or let the little beads collect in corners for beautiful texture. Glass Bead Gel can be mixed with acrylic paint to colorize it or they can paint over it later.
#8 - Butcher Trays
Of everything in my studio, butcher trays are about the most humble yet handy things.
Butcher trays are aluminum coated with baked on enamel. They come in lots of sizes.
I originally purchased mine as paint palettes. They work great for watercolors but also for acrylics- both rinse right off and never stain the enamel.
What I didn't realize was that butcher trays would help me organize my projects in progress.
An 11x15 butcher tray can hold my watercolor block of paper, the paint brushes, the photo references, and anything else I'm using on the project all together and I can slide it on a shelf at the end of the day.
At any one time, I've got 3-8 class projects in progress and each has it's own tray. This not only simplifies my clean up process but it also keeps me from having to search around for supplies the next day.
A few butcher trays are a welcome addition to your special person's craft room.
#9 - Alternative Art Surfaces
If you've read my other gift suggestion lists, you know I'm not a fan of project based recipe books. Sure, it's fun to look at someone else's project but I have no desire to recreate what they've done... I'd rather take the inspiration and explore new directions on my own.
That same attitude is typical of mixed media lovers. The reason why they're in mixed media in the first place is because they love to play and experiment.
Alternative Art Surfaces by McElroy and Wilson is just our kind of book. Instead of presenting projects, the authors present different supply materials- like resin, nylon, spray foam, or sheet aluminum.
The entire book is essentially "Here's this thing you may want to use, here's a few pics of how others have used it, and here are some generalized basic techniques to get you started."
There's no step 1, step 2, step 3 going on in this book. Instead it skims over non-traditional materials and challenges you to learn on your own.
And I love that. Your mixed media lover will too.
#10 - Donna Downey's Inspiration Wednesday membership
Disclaimer here, I do not know Donna, I've never met her, and I'm in no way affiliated with her or her studios.
But I am a fan.
Mixed media people tend to be visual people (duh) and visual people learn best by doing. Physically getting their hands into a project and feeling the materials and gathering inspiration from the process.
Some days are pretty good days where the supplies sing and great stuff happens. Other days you might sit and stare at the blank page and the pots of paint... and nothing.
I teach expressive art journaling classes once a month, so that's one day out of 30 where a student is being challenged to "try this" or "mix this and that". As much as we love art-play, we do sometimes need a poke in the ribs to stop recreating the same thing in twelve different colors.
MM lovers are always happiest when they're doing something new, but novelty is sometimes hard to come by.
Inspiration Wednesday is membership based access to a weekly project blog and corresponding video by Donna Downey. She's very entertaining but she's also fearless. Personally, I don't recreate anything she does. Instead I watch and learn from her mistakes and successes. Later I can pick up her same ingredients and feel more comfortable with getting my materials to behave based on what I've watched Donna do. She's a gentle push into new directions that I usually haven't considered.
Donna does have other art journal workshops but Inspiration Wednesday is a reasonably priced foot in the door. I'd never recommend that you purchase a full workshop for someone else, instead consider this low-commitment, no obligation blog-course as an appetizer.
#11 - Digital Stamps... by me!
Okay, I know I was supposed to stop at 10 Gifts.
... but you read this far and so I might as well throw in a plug for my own products.
I teach expressive art journal techniques to students who want to move from simple coloring to art experimentation. We play with paint, stamps, stencils, and also DIGITAL STAMP IMAGES.
Sometimes we transfer digis to the page with gel medium. Other times we trace the image. No matter how we use them, I find that students love using well drawn artist quality images to add sophistication when their own drawing skills are lacking.
All of my digis are drawn with wide open spaces, perfect for students wishing to add their own personality to the image. I draw the guidelines and let the user's talent shine.
so there you have it!
Ten, no make that ELEVEN awesome and battle tested gift suggestions for the colored pencil lover in your life.
Be sure to check out my other helpful gift suggestion lists:
10 MORE Gift Ideas for a Mixed Media Lover (coming soon)
Questions? Suggestions? I'd love feedback in the comment section!