Ideas

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

 
10 Gift Ideas for a Mixed Media Lover- presents they'll actually use! | VanillaArts.com
 
 

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've seen a lot of products come and go and I won't hesitate to tell you when something isn't worth buying.

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 mixed media 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 watercolor.

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#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. Peerless color were used 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 are 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 the complete edition 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 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 likely 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 hard 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 lose 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 of them.

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 - Daler-Rowney 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 ogle 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- Neocolor 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 II’s. 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 II (TWO) at the end. Neocolor I (one) are permanent oil pastels. They don't do the whole watery melty thing.

I'm recommending the set of 30. 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 compromise.

 

#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 - Kate Crane’s Journal Soup I Online Class

Disclaimer here, I do not know Kate, 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. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself 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.

Kate’s website The Kathryn Wheel is full of mixed media info. Kate’s introductory online course, Journal Soup I (found in her Etsy shop here) is an excellent introduction to her style and philosophy.

And don’t worry if your Mixed Media lover is not a beginner anymore. Introductory classes are always appreciated. Kate’s processes are not easy to figure out just by looking at them, so even a pro would need the introductory material!

From Kate’s class description: Lets climb out of the box and do some loose-leaf journaling! Free yourself from boundaries and restrictions, and enjoy the freedom of journaling outside of the journal.

Sounds like fun, eh?

Kate does have other classes and workshops but Journal Soup I is a reasonably priced foot in the door. I'd never recommend that you purchase a full workshop for someone else, who knows if they’ll like it?

Instead, Journal Soup is a low-commitment, no obligation blog-course. It’s the perfect appetizer. 

 

#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 mixed media artist, marker artists, colored pencil artists and watercolor 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 mixed media 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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Let's Talk: change the way you think about thinking

 

“How do you come up with these cool ideas?”

I get this question a lot.

Well, that and “Is this credit or debit?”  I hear that one a lot too.

But back to the creativity question, a lot of people are curious where ideas come from.

And I used to respond, “I don’t know, things just kinda come to me.”

Which helps absolutely no one.

A better answer is needed. A lot of people want to be more creative, inventive, and interesting. It’s an earnest question, a noble goal, and it deserves an authentic answer.

So, I’ve had about 44 years to think about where creativity comes from. Here’s my conclusion:

There’s nothing really unique about me, you can be creative too.

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Now we’ve all heard foofaraw like that before. Every single one of us grew up hearing that we could be an astronaut or the President of the United States. And even though we all believed it, very few of us are sporting a NASA jacket or have a cool Secret Service code name like “Big Tuna”.

But here’s what I’ve noticed about the self-described “uncreative” people in my life. They are pretty darned creative at things other than art.

That’s what sets humans apart from animals. Humans have this wild and boundless capacity to find clever solutions to problems. You were born to be creative the same way that a fish knows how to swim and that a spider knows how to freak the livin’ beejeebus out of me.

If you’re human and you’re breathing, you’re doing something creative. Right this very instant. The trick is to channel your natural creativity into something productive.

 

Creativity is in you, what are you using it for?

My husband is an engineer and a lab manager. He spends his day looking through an electron microscope. When he’s not doing that, he’s telling his employees to get back to looking through their electron microscopes.

It’s not a terribly creative job unless you look below the surface.

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No, he doesn’t get to paint or make wonderful messes with paper and string. But he’s not totally uncreative. He designed a better lab setup. He teaches interns and new employees how to run very technical machines. And most of all, he manages to get 30 somewhat anti-social lab geeks working in the same room without anyone killing anyone else with readily available radioactive materials.

That takes creativity.

Each of us is creative in our daily lives. It may not be the Leonardo Da Vinci type creativity, but it is creative. Maybe you’re an accountant who is able to calm stressed-out clients. Maybe you’re a real estate agent with never fail presentation skills or you’re a kindergarten teacher who has gone 40 days without a Play-Doh up-the-nose emergency. Almost everything you do in your daily life involves some sort of creativity.

So stop beating yourself up about not being creative like the artists on your favorite blogs. You have it in you, the trick is to tap into it for more than just work.

Everyone needs to do something they love, even if it’s just a hobby. If you’re not reading a few books or taking a few classes to explore things you enjoy, you are doing yourself an injustice. Tap into the creative spark that is waiting within you. It was there when they told you that you could be an astronaut and it’s still there today. Use it.

 

Creativity isn’t stagnant. It’s like water, it goes where you channel it.

If you look at my lifetime portfolio, there’s a big gap of absolutely no activity from about the year 2004 to 2007. I wasn’t in my studio very much, except maybe to mourn the fact that I wasn’t in my studio very much.

I was pregnant and spent 3 months on mandatory bedrest. Meanwhile, my five year old daughter discovered the power of “NO!” and used it on everything from Cheerios to debates about why we should always wear underwear. Then my son’s 2nd grade class deteriorated into chaos when a student began using the other kids as punching bags. And when I finally had the baby, he had a mild condition which required numerous visits to a clinic about 2 hours from our home.

So yeah, so I was pretty busy doing other stuff.

I quit all but one teaching job. And I didn’t do much arting.

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But here’s the weird thing. I did other stuff creatively. I taught myself to knit and made about 18 sweaters. I started writing quirky newsletters for a few area businesses. And I became known as the cookie mom. Because hey, if I’m going to bake cookies, I’m damned well going to make some freakishly artistic cookies.

I also convinced my daughter that the only way the Fairy King will ever make you a Butterfly Princess is if you’re wearing underwear when he visits. 10 years later and she’s still wearing underwear.

Creativity will find a way out.

But not if you’ve set up a mental or physical dam to prevent the flow.

If you fill your life with marathon television programing, if you do housework every night of the week or spend your weekends doing menial errands, if you fill your life up to the rim with constant chatter and activity and mindless busy-ness, artistic creativity has no place in your life to make an appearance.

The Art Muse needs a bit of quiet to germinate in your brain. You have to give her the time and space to peek out and say hello. And you have to give her some tools to play with.

 
 

 And here’s something else to chew on:

Maybe now is not the time to be creative

Perhaps it’s not an appropriate time in your life to be channeling the Art Muse.

I’m a studio artist and I teach art classes, that’s me. It’s what I do best and it’s what I love to do. But when I had three very young and needy kids, plus a ton of absolute crap going on in my life, it would have been highly inappropriate for me to lock myself in my studio and devote my life to art.

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Maybe today isn’t the day when you can tell your boss to shove it, move to the beach, and begin a new life assembling sea shells into frog sculptures. You might not be there now but what about a few years from now?

We all have creative and less creative points in our lives. Be smart and admit that this may not the right time to be totally immersed in a creative life.

Be patient but do not hesitate to seize the moment when it finally comes.

 

But just because you’re in a slow season doesn’t mean you should stagnate.

 

Do what you can, when you can.

This may require a bit of sacrifice. Maybe you forgo watching Project Runway this week. That’s an hour in which you could be card making or playing with clay or doing whatever it is that makes your Muse happy.

Maybe you say no to organizing the church picnic and use that time to attend open studio hours at the ceramics shop.

Or you buy a book on enameling techniques rather than a bodice ripper.

Or you actually use the new set of watercolor pencils that’s been collecting dust under your bed.

Your creative life will be reflected in the choices of how you spend your free time. Even just 5 minutes this week will improve your spirits. One step, no matter how small will get you a little bit closer to living a creative lifestyle.

 

 

Ultimately, please understand this:

Creativity doesn’t strike lucky people out of the blue like lightning bolts.

It’s pretty easy to sit back and say “Well, I could make stuff like that if I was creative.”

Nope. You are creative WHEN you make stuff like that.

Creativity is a practice.

I get my best ideas as I’m working on a previous idea. Thinking triggers more thoughts and making art gives birth to more art. It’s a groove that you get into.

Creativity is the product, not the source.

So if you’re sitting around waiting for the light bulb to appear over your head, you might just want to get comfy because you’re going to be stuck in the dark for a while.


In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about creativity, talent, inspiration, and living more artistic lives.

In the meantime, let's talk. Are you in a slump right now or are you in a creative period? If you’re coming off a low point, what was it that pulled you out?