Ten Gifts: Great Gifts for Watercolor Lovers (presents they'll actually use!)

10 Gift Ideas for a Watercolor Lover - Presents they'll actually use! | VanillaArts.com

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.

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)

And hey, don't miss my other great Gift Suggestion Lists here... Copic, colored pencil and mixed media.

#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 artists bridge with every single watercolor project.

Every time.

For years, I used a crummy mahl stick 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 mahl sticks 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 haloed 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 mahl sticks 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. I love this bridge and I'm sure your watercolor person will too.


#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. This set is a great way for your watercolorist to dive into watercolor markers!


#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.

This is the Mijello Air Tight Watercolor Palette and it'll save someone's car seat upholstery someday.

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.

I wish this WCA magazine came in a digital or app version but until it does, I look forward to Mr. Mailman delivering my every-other-month issue of Watercolor Artist.


#10 - ArtBin 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 hoarder, 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 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.

I designed my digital stamps with all three media in mind. They can be used for your special watercolor artist, marker artists and colored pencil artists alike!

Take a stroll over to my Digital Stamp Shop and get your special someone a few files to color. They'll love 'em!

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!

Happy Shopping!

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h2Oh! Botanical Watercolor Classes for Copic Colorers- Chinese Lanterns

"Chinese Lanterns" a watercolor class for intermediate marker colorers. Learning to use Copic skills with watercolor paint. | VanillaArts.com

Underpainting? With Watercolor?

"Chinese Lanterns (physalis)" a watercolor lesson for intermediate Copic colorers. Learning to use your marker skills with watercolor paint. | VanillaArts.com

Yes! Watercolor is beautiful but it has one major drawback.

You can mix the most vibrant watercolor colors imaginable on your palette. Gorgeous, wet, and amazing color! But once they go onto the paper and dry, the color will fade.

It's the nature of the beast. Watercolor looses its potency as it dries.

But there are ways to keep your paintings from washing out and looking pale. It's called underpainting. Join us for a great lesson on preserving vibrancy!

Wednesday, October 26th from 6 to 8:30pm

"Chinese Lanterns (physalis)" a watercolor lesson for intermediate Copic colorers. Learning to use your marker skills with watercolor paint. | VanillaArts.com

Remember When Scrapbooking is in Macomb Township, Michigan. Seats are limited so call to RSVP at 586.598.1810.

Watercolor Lesson: Underpainting & Basecoating

Color Theory Lesson: Wheel determined color palettes

Image: "Chinese Lanterns (physalis)" by Vanilla Arts Co.

No drawing skills required! 

Join us, we laugh while we learn. It's great fun.


Palette Detective: Watercolor Mixes for "Nasturtium" Botanical

In watercolor, it's not about the paint color, it's about the colors you mix. "Nasturtium" analysis. | VanillaArts.com

Colorers tend to use color names as a security blanket

What colors did you use on this project?

What's the marker list for that image?

What's your favorite red blending combination?

Admittedly, this has always been a hard thing for me to wrap my brain around.

I totally understand that using the same exact marker or pencil colors as the instructor increases the odds that a student will be able to duplicate the look of a class project... but it seems to me that holding the same supplies in your hand is only about 20% of the necessary information.

This is especially hard for crafters, people who are used to working with detailed supply lists and step by step tutorials. 

I get it. You want specifics, lots and lots and lots of specifics.

But I'm warning you. The next time I'm up in the bell tower ranting at the top of my voice, this is what I'll be yelling-

It's not the colors you use, it's how you use them!

It's not the name on the tube of paint that matters, it's what you do with it. | VanillaArts.com

Write that down and tack it on your craft room cork board. Tie a string around your finger to remember it. Tattoo it onto your dog's forehead so that you see it multiple times daily.

I can tell you every single color that I use on a project. I can list all minute details right down to the UPC code and link to the best price on the internet. And yet that tells you virtually nothing.

It's especially true with paint

Very few painters use color straight out of the tube.

For my watercolor classes, it's not enough for me to tell you what brands and what color paints I used. If you want to duplicate my look, you need to understand the mixes I make and their concentration levels.

I saw a photo on instagram a few weeks ago

The watercolorist had captioned it something along the lines of "Isn't my palette almost as pretty as the painting?"

And she was right. Her palette was absolutely beautiful. But the more I stared at it, the more I understood her painting. Her palette told me what colors she was mixing and I could trace the mixes on her palette right back to specific areas of her project.

Her palette was a road map to recreating her artwork.

And that idea has been brewing in the back of my mind for weeks now.

Here's "Nasturtium", the project for tonight's watercolor class:

"Nasturtium" a beginner watercolor project for H2Oh! class. Teaching marker students to apply their coloring skills to watercolor paints. | VanillaArts.com

And here's my palette, which was clean when I started:

Green watercolor mixes used in "Nasturtium". Teaching marker colorers to apply their skills to watercolor paints. | VanillaArts.com
Orange watercolor mixes used in "Nasturtium". Teaching marker colorers to apply their skills to watercolor paints. | VanillaArts.com

okay students, be a palette detective

The greens are mixes of:

  • OH Sap Green
  • DS Hansa Light
  • MG Prussian Blue

The oranges* are mixes of:

  • DS Hansa Light
  • DS Pyrrol Scarlet
  • DS Carbazole Violet
  • sometimes I instinctively grab bits of MG Quin Red or Rose to brighten things

* remember that I shade last, so some of these oranges have now been neutralized by the violet. They appear dirtier than they did when I made my original passes on the petals.

We can make palette shots a regular thing

If you think it helps.


Can't wait to paint with you tonight!!!


h2oh! Botanical Watercolor classes for Copic Colorers- Nasturtium

"Nasturtium" an H2Oh! Watercolor class for Sept 2016. Teaching Copic colorers to apply their skills to watercolors | VanillaArts.com

Orange paint? Save your money!

All year long we've been gradually working up to mixing our own custom colors.

That's something pretty foreign to Copic fans because when you need a specific color, you have to go out an buy it.

Not so with painters and using colors directly out of the tube is a sure fire way to kill off your unique voice.

Orange is one of the easiest colors to mix and no two persons will create the same orange or use it the same way. Join us as we learn the keys to finding an orange that reflects your style and taste.


Wednesday, September 28th from 6 to 8:30pm

Remember When Scrapbooking is in Macomb Township, Michigan. Seats are limited so call to RSVP at 586.598.1810.

Watercolor Lesson: Mixing Orange

Color Theory Lesson: Understanding Paint Ingredients for Mixing

Image: "Nasturtium" by Vanilla Arts Co.

No drawing skills required! 

Join us, we laugh while we learn. It's great fun.