Shopping for the perfect gift for a watercolor lover is a humbling experience...
Because even if you have no art or craft experience, you still know that one can't find quality watercolor supplies at a normal store.
You have to go to an art store and those places are full of all kinds of weird bottles with strange labels and teeny tiny tubes of mystery goo that can cost more than dinner and a movie.
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.
here are 10 (well loved, not useless) gift ideas for your watercolor lover:
(warning: the following article contains affiliate links out the wazoo...)
#1 - Tiny Travel Kit
If you want to go cute, you can't beat miniature supplies!
Whiskey Palette Boxes have a long history of being top-of-the-line in the world of travel palettes. They're enamel coated, magnetic pans are removable, and you can choose to fill the center section with pans/half pans or leave it empty for a paintbrush.
Yes, it comes empty. I know that sounds strange to non-painters. Your watercolor lover can fill this box with paint from their favorite tubes or they can slide their preferred pans into the box. Very few watercolorists use just one brand of paint and of those who do, they hardly ever use the same exact selection that comes in the travel palettes sold by paint manufacturers. Trust me, an empty Whiskey box is not a let down. They'll love it!
The Escoda Travel Brush in a size 8 would be my bet for the most versatile size amongst the travel brushes. Escoda brushes have really sharp points on the tip which makes the brush more versatile and capable of painting small by using just the tip.
And to top off the tiny collection, a super cool wash bucket that I picked up from Hobby Lobby. It's made of brushed stainless steel so it won't stain or discolor. The rubber gasket and double clip closure means I've never had a leak- ever. Best of all, the handle is a nice length and it hangs quite nicely from a carabiner clip outside my supply bag and can be hooked over a travel easel or can be attached to a lap board with a binder clip.
And wait until you see this trio in person... they're so darned cute!
#2 - artists bridge
There's nothing worse than dragging your arm though wet paint but with watercolor, it's especially tragic. Some smears you can't recover from.
That's why I use an artist's bridge with every single watercolor project.
For years, I used a crummy mahl I made in art school, made from a wooden dowel with a raquet ball stuck on the end and wrapped in a chamois cloth. It was all held together with rubberbands and hot glue. Not glamorous.
But mahls are really for upright easel painting and not great for watercolorists who work on more level surfaces. So I broke down and ordered a nice acrylic bridge.
I swear, it was like the heavens opened up and a choir of halo guys started yodeling. I'm smacking myself for living this long without a bridge.
I'm an idiot. But I'm not the only one. It's entirely possible that your watercolor lover doesn't even know that acrylic bridges and mahls even exist. They're an old-school tool and only us geezers remember them.
They come in many lengths. Buy one that's slightly longer than the size they usually work. In other words, if they paint miniatures, they don't need a 24 incher. And if they work large, make sure the bridge is long enough to straddle the paper. A bridge doesn't sit on the paper, it straddles it.
Be a hero. Buy 'em a bridge. If it's for your spouse, you're going to get a lot of good lovin' out of this gift.
#3 - Tom Lynch ceramic palette
I used a plastic palette for years.
And my cat used to come along and swipe my palette off her favorite seat (my desk)... at least twice a week.
That doesn't happen anymore because I bought a 900 pound palette.
Even without a demonic cat, your watercolorist will love this beautiful Tom Lynch Ceramic Palette.
Ceramic palettes are cherished. They don't stain and the surface is ideal for mixing. They're sturdy and heavy (maybe not 900 pounds but it's close). This particular palette is set up in the Tom Lynch style (palette styles are often named after artists who ask for a particular layout) and has 19 wells and a long brush well. The single mixing surface is level and large. It also comes with a plastic lid.
I love this palette and I'm sure your watercolor person will too.
#4 - winsor & newton watercolor markers
Watercolor is pretty trendy in the craft world right now, so there's a glut of watery-colorish craft supplies out on the craft store shelves.
And the vast majority of them are absolutely, positively, not-not-not watercolor.
I know it says watercolor marker on the label but if they make it with dye or ink, it ain't really watercolor.
The Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers are an exception. There's real watercolor pigment in these markers.
I think they're a great travel supply, perfect for plein aire sketching but because it's paint in a non-traditional format, W&N WC markers are a way to play and experiment at home or to make a quick card.
Some folks use them straight to paper, I prefer to swish them on a tile and pick the color up with a wet brush. Either way works fine. I started with this zipper cased set and then subbed out a few of the standard colors with new colors that I was more likely to use.
The wash bucket went right into the trash, that thing is an accident waiting to happen.
#5 - rosemary brush Kolinsky set
Kolinsky watercolor brushes are not a brand, they're a style of brush.
A kolinsky is a mink from northern asia and their super soft hairs make amazing watercolor paintbrushes. The bristles hold a great point and they have a great springy quality, which means they don't get limp when wet. They're also nice and thirsty (they hold water well- both the amount of water and they're not excessively drippy).
Kolinsky brushes are investments- they're a luxury to work with but they're also an investment because they really do last longer.
That's why they make a great gift. If your watercolor lover works on a budget, they either covet the Kolinskys they own or they wish they had one. Either way, you're a hero for giving them a beautiful set of brushes.
WARNING: you will find lots of brushes that are mixes of kolinsky with cheaper hair (like squirrel); you'll also find 100% fake kolinsky brushes. And I don't have all day to describe the hair + nylon blends.
Rosemary & Co makes the absolute best brushes I've ever used. They're a reputable company with stringent quality standards.
Bonus points for this set being put together by one of my favorite watercolor artists, Shirley Trevena. I own the 8 and 6 so I can attest to how much I love them.
#6 air tight palette
Okay, I know I just recommended a mondo sized porcelain palette just a few seconds ago. No, I didn't forget.
I think your special person needs two kinds of palettes. One for home and one for going anywhere beyond their craft room door.
I teach classes, I take classes, so I travel with my palette. It took me years to find a decent travel palette. And what kills me is that it sat under my nose at a craft store the whole entire time. Yeah, sometimes I'm an idiot.
The problem with portable palettes is that they fold like books and 99.99% of the folding palettes have paint wells on both sides of the fold. That doesn't sound like a bad thing until you get the paint on both sides wet and full of water... and you can't fold it to go home without making a gigantic mess.
Of the few folding palettes that do have the paint all on one side, this is rare in that it has a rubber gasket around the lip. Frankly, I don't care two figs that the palette is "air tight", I want it to be WATER TIGHT so that I don't have Opera Rose leaking out all over my car seat as I drive home.
This palette fits the bill.
Oh, and Mijello makes a similar palette to this, one with all wells on one side and the mixing tray on the other. The only difference is that this one sacrifices a few wells for more mixing area. I'd much rather have the mixing space.
#7- creative girl
I don't usually appreciate lifestyle project books... you know the ones that are more like recipe books than informational?
But Creative Girl by Danielle Donaldson was a pleasant surprise. I bought it for my daughter but the book now sits in my studio.
Donaldson does a great job getting paper crafters to think about drawing on their own. That's a tough sell to many crafters who rely on stamps and printables. They want professional looking results and they think they can't draw...
I know from classroom experience, whenever I say "pull out a pencil and let's draw a quick little doodle here..." that I get a ton of groans.
The projects in this book are sneaky. Donaldson is teaching good solid techniques disguised underneath fluffy candy colors and cute character faces.
If your watercolorist is just starting out or if they're a long time papercrafter moving to art, this is a good book to own and refer back to. It's inspiration at a very accessible level. It's not "stuff I can paint some day", this is "stuff I can paint right now!"
#8 - Huion Light Box
Tracing is part of the watercolor process.
Few watercolorists draw their original drawings directly onto watercolor paper. It's hard to draw an object correctly the first time, every time (not to mention getting the composition right) and erasers can damage the sizing on watercolor paper.
Even if your person can draw perfectly on the first shot, the pencil itself damages the tooth of the paper.
So artists work out the drawing first on regular paper and then transfer the art to watercolor paper by tracing through a light box.
If your watercolorist doesn't draw well and prefers to use digital stamps or to trace photographs, they have no other option. A light box is essential because watercolor paper is too thick to feed through a home office printer/copy machine.
This Huion Light Box is my favorite light box of all time. (Hat tip to Lynne, a student who first brought this box to a class.)
It's super thin and very light weight so it stores very efficiently. The light is very bright and potent and because it's on a dimmer switch rather than a settings button, I can make micro adjustments at any level.
It's also LED lit so the light is cool in color and the box never heats up. My old light box had to be switched off every 10 minutes when it would begin to be uncomfortable to work on.
The Huion pad comes in several sizes so be sure to check them all out. If your colored pencil person makes cards, they'll prefer the smaller box. I have a larger size to accommodate my bigger scale projects.
#9 - watercolor artist magazine
If you've read my colored pencil lists, you'll see that I think a magazine subscription is a much better gift than a book.
A subscription to a good artist's magazine provides multiple techniques from many diverse sources over the span of a year. I can breeze through a book in just a few hours and a month later, I've forgotten that it even exists.
Watercolor Artist is my choice for watercolor magazines, it's the only subscription I never bat an eye over renewing.
You can't beat regular delivery of bite sized bits of technique, inspiration, and advertisements. Yes, advertisements are useful. You won't see ads for new art supplies on television- the only way to find out that some new products exist is to see them in magazines.
#10 - art bin brush box
When you see an artist's studio in the movies, they usually show a table or rolling cart covered in miscellaneous jars and vases all stuffed to the gills with paintbrushes.
Yeah, all artists wear berets and store their brushes in jars.
But back here in real life, artists love and treasure their paint brushes. They're not cheap and you can't work without 'em, so we tend to store them in boxes or drawers where they can't be damaged or gather dust.
Or have the bristles chewed down by a cat. True story.
The ArtBin Brush Box is nice for those just starting out. I have too many brushes to store here but I use this box for classes, so even if your watercolor lover is a brush horder, they'll still find a travel use for the box.
Unlike most travel brush holders, this one really protects the bristles. Tube carriers and roll up brush wallets all suffer from allowing the brushes to bang around or be smushed. The foam inserts in the ArtBin box keep the brushes away from the box and away from each other.
An ArtBin Brush Box plus a gift card for buying the brush of my choice? That's an awesome gift!
#11 - Digital Stamps... by me!
Okay, I know I was supposed to stop at 10 Gifts.
... but you read this far so I might as well throw in a little shameless self promotion...
I teach classes for lovers of Copic Marker, colored pencils, and watercolor.
Those three media 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 digi stamp world.
So because I got sick of searching for good stamps, I decided to start drawing them myself. Designed especially for colorists like your watercolor lover.
Take a stroll over to my Digital Stamp Shop and get your special someone a few files to watercolor. They'll love 'em!
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 Gift Ideas for an Art Journal Lover (coming soon)
Questions? Suggestions? I'd love feedback in the comment section!