Artistic Coloring: 10 Tools that Never Leave my Desk (Copic Marker & Colored Pencil)

Artistic Coloring: 10 Tools that Never Leave my Desk (Copic Marker & Colored Pencil)

“What do I need to buy for this class?” The supply lists for your average coloring class or free tutorial, whether it’s with Copic Marker or colored pencil… well, they’re always a little spartan. The list tells you exactly what you’ll need to complete the class project. Nothing more. Nothing less. Meanwhile in art classes, you’ll get a general supply list of things you sorta-kinda-maybe might need at some point. Today, let’s look at the top 10 tools I use every day, things that I grab so often, they never get put away. Some tools are borrowed from my work as an illustrator and may be new to you while others are common in the papercrafting world…

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


shopping for the perfect gift for a mixed media lover is confusing

Especially if you're not artsy-craftsy yourself.

From a distance, "mixed media" basically means buying a ton of paint looking stuff and letting it drip and run everywhere.

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.

#1 - Inktense Blocks

I recommended Derwent's Inktense Pencils in my list of gift ideas for watercolor lovers here.

Inktense Blocks are the rebels of the Inktense family.

Because they're naked.

Yep, once you strip away the wooden body of a colored pencil, you're left with nothing but blessed and glorious color. Inktense Blocks are still the same great dry-ink composition and when activated with water, they still make intense and permanent color.

Without the wood getting in the way, you're free to apply this color any way you want and that's great for mixed media lovers.

They can cover large areas by using the side of the stick instead of the end. Dab a wet paintbrush on them and pick up the color to paint with them as if they're watercolor (you can even break off small squares and keep them in 1/2 pan watercolor palettes). My favorite method is to use a craft knife to scrape off powdery flecks of Inktense right onto my journal page; spritz with water for instant starbursts.


#2 - Illustration Board

Mixed media lovers will work on all kinds of surfaces and they're always game for trying something new.

But how about giving them something old?

Illustration board has been around for forever. It's long been a favorite of commercial artists and technical illustrators (like me) but I can't think of anything better as a base for gesso, mediums, and the other goopy stuff that mixed media artists throw at their paper.

Illustration Board is just that, a thick paper board with a hot press surface. Because it's so darned thick, it can withstand a lot of abuse from wet media and it won't buckle or wilt.

Canson has a new line of different style boards in block (pad) format. I'm loving the ease of using small pages of illustration board rather than cutting down pages from gigantic sheets.

10 Gift Ideas for a Mixed Media Lover- Balzer Bits are the reverse of stencils and ever so much more useful to mixed media fans. |

#3 - Balzer Bits

Most paper crafters know of Julie Fei-Fan Balzer from her PBS television show Scrapbook Soup (now Make it Artsy) but mixed media lovers are fans of Julie for her amazing mixed media journals.

I've long had a weakness for The Crafter's Workshop stencils. Their bold texture and pattern stencils are very hard for me to resist.

So combine Julie with TCW? Uh, oh, I'm in trouble!

Balzer Bits are my favorite things in the stencil world! Ever wonder what happens to the shape that they remove from the acetate to make a stencil?

All that lovely goodness is now captured by Julie as a masking element.

So with stencils, you fill in the shape. With a Balzer Bit, you fill in the area around the shape. Genius and so much more useful to me!!!

The link here is for the two-layer flower shape that I love playing with but there are lots and lots and lots and lots of other Bits in the collection. Your mixed media person will cheer when they open a small collection of assorted Balzer Bits.


#4 - General's Sketch & Wash in a Slimline Case

I'm about to let you in on a secret. My secret weapon, actually.

General's Sketch & Wash is how I add depth and dimension to a lot of my journal images. I use the soft gray of this water-soluble charcoal pencil  to add shadows to lettering or objects, then I melt and soften it with water.

I also use them in life drawing classes, drawing figures with them in class, then softening and adding artistic touches later.

They're useful pencils but they're not expensive enough to be a whole present on their own, so I'd suggest tucking them into the same case I keep mine in. ArtBin Slim Line cases come in lots of colors so you can organize your supplies a bit. They're transparent and shallow which means you never have to dig through a pile of boxes, opening them all to find what you want.


#5 - Dr. Ph. Martin's Iridescent Calligraphy Colors

Mixed media types have a thing for ink, and if that ink is labeled for use by a rare sort of artist? WHOA! That only adds to it's street cred.

We love using unusual supplies against manufacturer's suggestion.

Dr. Ph Martin's Iridescent Color is a pigment ink that was formulated for calligraphers. The metal colors are to die for.

My favorites are the copper and nickel versions but you can be boring and go with gold. They're liquid metal and truly delicious.


#6- Sakura Solid Paint Markers

I've had a few folks ask me how I get thick crayon lines on the edges of my projects. Do I own a giant crayon?

Nope. It's a Sakura Solid Paint Marker.

Actually, it is now. Those distinctive marks used to come from a giant crayon that my husband had in his tool chest, something to mark on metal before welding.

But that ran out, so I had to go out and buy the artist version.

A solid paint marker leaves a crayon looking line-- broken, jagged, and organic looking. But 30 seconds after it goes down, it cures to an indelible mark that can be colored over or left in all it's glory.

Personally, I only use the white and black versions but they come in a dozen other colors including florescent.

I'd advise buying them for your mixed media lover because once they read this article, they're going to steal the sheet metal marker from YOUR tool kit!


#7- Golden High Flow Acrylics

I use Golden High Flow Acrylic Paints in all of my mixed media projects.

Seriously. I'm hard pressed to name one that doesn't use it somewhere. Either in the background, as random texture, or as the star of the show.

They can be used straight from the bottle or diluted slightly with water as a faux-watercolor. Spritz them with rubbing alcohol for amazing effects. 

My most used colors: Quinacridone Nickle Azo Gold, Cobalt Teal, Turquoise, Quinacridone Red, Buff Titanium, and Dioxazine Purple.

The small bottles in a kit are a great introduction to the product. Once your special person has become addicted, they can buy it in the large bottles a la carte.


#8 - Art Graf

Okay, this one wins the weird award. It's pure novelty.

And that's why it's the perfect unexpected gift. Your mixed media lover will smile as they try to imagine how to use it.

Imagine Play-Doh you can draw with.

Art Graf Watersoluable Graphite Clay is a squishy clay putty that can be molded and kneaded into any shape. Then you draw or color as desired.

We've had great fun with it in figure drawing class but I can totally see how a mixed media fan would fall in love with Art Graf. It's too much of an oddball not to be well loved.

As a matter of fact, I'd recommend gifting this to ANY kind of artist. This stuff rocks!


#9 - Drawing & Painting Beautiful Faces

I’ve taught observational drawing classes, so I'm not usually a proponent of formulaic drawing methods. Teaching someone to "draw a line here, then a line there, then do this, then that" usually starts out great but ends in heartache when the student finds that everything they produce looks the same.

But even me, set in the old ways as much as I am, even I can see the merits of teaching faces via formula.

Faces are intimidating, even to professional artists. No one wants to draw freaky looking portraits of their best friends.

So I'll lighten up enough to recommend Jane Davenport's Drawing & Painting Beautiful Faces. She shows readers exactly how she structures the features and then provide projects where the faces can be used. As a starter book, encouraging readers to draw and experiment, it's full of excellent information. I also love her advice to carry on and push through the ugly phases; "trust the mess" is pretty darned good drawing mantra.


#10 - Posca Paint Markers

There are a few materials everyone in mixed media owns.

Posca Paint Markers are one of them. Pretty much all of us have the white and the black one.

But few people have all 15 colors!

And if they do, they don't have all 15 in all the other sizes.

Posca Paint Markers come in Bold, Medium, Fine, & Extra Fine points.

While I'm a fan of the extra fine points, I would be touched to receive a full set of any other diameter. They're that good.


#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!

The top Blubird here was painted with a mixture of watercolor and gouache. The bottom bluebird is with Copic and colored pencil. Same stamp, perfect for both media mixes.

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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Art Supplies: Worthless if you never take them off the shelf


"Remember that you must die"

My daughter and I were digging through a box of art supplies the other day. She offered to throw away a bag of old tubes of paint she found.

Notice that I said "old tubes of paint" not "empty paint tubes".

That's because I own 15 tubes of worthless oil paint- completely full but totally dried out.


What's the story?

I purchased them back in art school. They cost me dearly.

Art school isn't cheap and scholarships were rare, especially for a private art college.

I worked two jobs. I lived way-way-way off campus. I drove a car that left engine parts in my wake, almost as if I'd need the broken bits of rusty muffler to find my way back home each night.

I probably ate a lot of Ramen noodles to purchase those paints.

the paints are dead but the lesson isn't- use your treasures before they die |

It was a big investment for me. I didn't buy a kit. Instead, I methodically chose smart, versatile colors. I didn't buy the small sizes because I had big plans. Nine foot long canvases kind of plans.

I kept my new paints in an open cigar box on my desk. Sometimes I unscrewed a lid, just to smell the linseed.

But people with a day job, a night job, and 16 credit hours do not have time to paint for fun. With each semester and every change of major, the paints moved further from my sight. First, they slid into the drawer, then into a supply tub, then into the closet.

But I knew they were there.

And I didn't want to touch them until I had the time to use them with passion.

The years passed, a husband, three kids, two houses, three careers...

By the time I could use the tubes with passion they were hard and crumbly. Oil leaked out and now the entire set is coated with the sticky sheen of pure regret.

But I won't throw them away.

Because they remind me that tomorrow never really comes.


We live in one big long today.

Unless we face a serious tragedy, there is no magical moment when life makes a 180 degree pivot. Most of us never have a grand demarcation point. The closest we often get to an instantaneous life alteration is watching it happen to others in books or movies.

And yet we all expect the John Williams anthem to build and for a fairy godmother to show up and sing "Now is your moment, now you are changed!"

But honestly, most of us just trudge along, day after day. Real change is a slow morph over spans of time. Our changes are so subtle and slow as to be hardly noticeable.

Tomorrow never really arrives because today always feels a little too much like yesterday.


But Real time is finite.

And art supplies do not last forever. 

Colors fade, solvents evaporate. It's lost money if you don't use paint or ink while it's fresh.

You can't treat paints and glazes and pastels as if they are too pretty to waste.

Even if it's something non-perishable, maybe a beautiful rice paper or a fabric that makes your soul sing... If you horde it in a box, waiting for the perfect project, there's a pretty good chance that by the time you get around to actually using it, your taste will have completely changed.


And here's the real tragedy: I may never paint with oils again.

I have no interest in oils anymore. There are other things to love now.

I am no longer the girl who wanted to paint gigantic slices of fruit on canvases too large for your living room. I have slowly morphed into a grown woman with a more mature approach to art.

And because I didn't use my paints while I was still that oil obsessed girl, the only record I have of her are color studies and class assignments.

I have cracked tubes of paint, not beautiful art.


Think about your own beautiful supplies. What are you saving for someday?

Stop waiting for the perfect project, the perfect idea, the perfect touch of inspiration.

There is no perfect... or at least there won't be a perfect anything until you sit down and start making something.

Time flies. "best if used by..." dates expire. Tastes change. We move on to other passions.

The pleasure doesn't come from setting up a shrine of colorful supplies. It comes from using wonderful tools to make beautiful art.


Use your treasures while you can

Memento Mori- remember that you must die.