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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. | VanillaArts.com

#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!

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for use to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.

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!

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for use to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.

Tool Time: Drawing Board- find the perfect surface for coloring

 

Quick question for you: are you wearing a bra right now?

Obviously, I'm asking the ladies amongst us. If you're a guy, I really don't want to know if the answer is yes.

If you're a regular bra-wearer, odds are that you are wearing one right now.

Why?

Well, for most of us, undergarments really matter. They make a difference in your comfort level and if it's a good brassiere, you look better in it. That whole lift and separate thing really helps.

I'm going to bet that most of us wouldn't dream of heading out in public sans-support.

 

Next question: what is your current coloring project mounted to?

Huh?

So let me get this straight- you firmly believe in the value of undergarments yet you don't take the same time and care with your artwork?

Honey, we definitely gotta talk. 

 

Coloring should always take place on an ideal and protective surface.

And no, I don't mean on top of a sheet of notebook paper sitting at your kitchen table.

I mean a drawing board. Mounting your projects is a really good habit to get into.

Drawing Boards Improve your coloring results | VanillaArts.com

What is a drawing board?

Here's a picture of a few of my drawing boards in action.

This is a project in progress and below are two more projects in varying states of completion. All are mounted to clip board style drawing boards.

This is the way I always work. Always. The only exception is when I'm teaching live. In classroom settings, a mounted project would be bulky for me to pass around to students. But I always feel a little naked working that way...

Think about it, you are investing several hours of your valuable time into every coloring project. Shouldn't you take care to insure that your work stays clean, unbent, and consistent from start to finish?

You can not guarantee the integrity of your project if you are working loose and willy-nilly on top of a  few sheets of scrap paper.

Things happen.

Art boards prevent many of those things.

 

We've all had one of those face-palm moments when you set your project down on a sticky or greasy table.

I'm a mom of two boys. I know sticky and man-oh-man, do I know greasy. 

Even when a table looks clean, you can still end up with goo on the backside of your project. If you're lucky, the stain stays on the back instead of leaching through. Nothing kills a piece of art faster than a little I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

If I'm going to place a wager on which surface in my house is completely booger-free, I'm going to bet on my drawing boards. No one ever sets their Twinkie down on my art boards.

So yeah, this part is easy to explain. Stay tidy by using a dedicated art board.

 

taping your project to a board prevents dog ears and creases.

I don't know about you, but my desk is a kill-zone for paper.

Here's a real time sampling of the first six pieces of paper from my stack o' stuff to do.

Every single sheet is bent, creased, or otherwise looks like I drove an Abram's tank over it.

If I didn't mount my art projects to a board, they'd all have a similar Velveteen Rabbit look to them.

Yeah, I do not trust me. Do you really trust you?

 

art boards help insure a consistent stroke quality throughout the entire project.

Line personality varies according to the surface you're using | VanillaArts.com

Do you realize that your marker and pencil strokes are physically different when you work on different surfaces?

Let's say you start out coloring at your crafting desk, then you set the project aside for a few days. When you resume coloring, you are in front of the television using a large atlas as a lap table. The next day, you finish your coloring out on the back deck at your patio table.

Each surface you encounter changes the quality of the lines you make. Check out this quick experiment, four lines each time with the same colored pencil:

Check out the skips that happened when I went over just a slight scratch in my dining room table. It's not even a noticeable scratch and yet my pencil sure found it! Tell me true, how many of you have found a gash in your table the hard way, like right in the middle of a Saturated Canary face after you spent four hours on the hair?

Ugh, just the thought of that makes me sick.

When you use an art board, you can work in the car, in the bedroom, or in the shower without the change of location being evident in your coloring.

 
 

Art boards are cheap and easy to find.

Large and small art boards | VanillaArts.com

Just about every art store carries them. Most craft stores have them too. I've even seen them at big box retailers like Target and Walmart.

They come in lots of sizes and styles. Some have clips, some have handles, they come thick and they come thin, and some even have travel sleeves for greater project protection.

My gray boards are 12 x 16 (I have five) and I use them for the vast majority of my Copic projects. They have a laminate surface so they can be easily cleaned of ink with rubbing alcohol.

For large scale portraits on 19 x 25 paper, I use easel or drafting boards. These are awesome raw wood surfaces with metal edges. They're nice and square so you can use a T-square to run quick guidelines. My big boards are 20 x 26.

Yes, you can use an actual clip board but standard clipboards are sized for office paper. There are benefits to having a larger board. Obviously, the larger the board, the larger the project you can mount to it. And larger boards are easier to use away from the table- they can be a lap desk or you can tilt your large board against the edge of a table for a more comfortable slant.

Large margins on your drawing board protect your art | VanillaArts.com

But here's the real benefit to using a board that is significantly larger than your paper: you will find that having a very wide, unused margin of board around your project gives you space to protect your art. We've all set a pencil down quickly to answer the phone; it is asking for trouble if you set tools on top of your art. With a large board, you will tend to rest items in the margin instead.

Here's that picture from above above again, I've got a dozen pencils conveniently sitting on the edge where they won't damage the art.

 

 

Why tape your project down? Why not just use the clippy thingamabob?

Mount your projects to a drawing board | VanillaArts.com

Ahhhh, young grasshopper. Things are not always what they seem.

Most art boards come with a clip but that clip is absolutely, positively, not, not, not for clipping your artwork!

Clips will damage your paper. They'll either dent it or you'll shift the paper and accidentally crease it against the clip.

So what's the clip for?

For your protective sheet, silly! Here's the correct set up, art is taped, protector sheet is clipped over the top.

I use layout bond-weight paper for the protective cover. It's cheap. It's also somewhat translucent which allows you to see what project is on the board with just a glance. I keep a sheet on each clip board and reuse them over and over.

If I'm travelling, I'll use a sheet of Bristol or illustration board as a cover sheet because it is a little sturdier.

Stack of protected projects | VanillaArts.com

Here's a stack of projects. I have a vertical pegged shelf area for my boards but just as often, they sit on my desk in a stack like this.

By the way, the tape here is NOT masking tape. This is "drafting tape" which holds more firmly than painters tape but less than masking. Like painters tape, it won't leave a residue. Drafting tape is manilla colored like masking tape but it's more translucent. And honestly, I've had some quality control issues with masking tape recently; it doesn't seem to rip cleanly anymore. Not so with drafting tape, cheaper manufacturing changes haven't hit the drafting tape world yet. I buy drafting tape that has ridges running the length of the tape so that I can tell it apart from masking tape on my giant dispenser.

Drafting tape is another one of those fun things which you'll find in the manly-man section of the art or craft store. It's in with the printing and drafting supplies. You know, that aisle with all the rulers and weird pencils that you usually skip. There is a lot of good stuff down that aisle, so give it a tour next time. I know you'll find something cool and useful there, it just won't have the same pretty packaging that crafters are used to. 

 

By the way:

I'm partnering with Dick Blick now. The featured product widget will help provide reference when I mention specific products. I don't know about you but I remember the art on labels much better than actual product names. This way you get to see the products I'm talking about.

I do most of my art shopping at Dick Blick. I think I've put Mr. Blick's grandkids and their neighbor's two dogs through college AND medical school AND law school with what I've spent there over two decades. So if it's listed in one of my product groupings, understand that it is a product that I both own and use.

 

Quick tip video coming next week!

I was going to include a tutorial about how to tape your project in today's post but it got way too long. You've got better stuff to do than read me all day!

Plus, a visual demonstration will be much clearer than a description.

So watch for a link to the video, maybe by Wednesday.

VanillaArts.com

Let's Talk: How Important is your Pencil Sharpener?

 

Three topics of conversation to avoid at your next dinner party- religion, politics, and the best way to sharpen a pencil

At least when dining with artists.

You think I'm joking, but I've seen a woman brought to tears over the subject. Not kidding. People have some seriously strong feelings about this.

And the rest of you are sitting there wondering what the heck I'm talking about...

Pencils are an important tool of the trade. Actually, "important" doesn't begin to cover it. Pencils are vital to art. And behind every good pencil, there's a pencil sharpener.

(Yes, even mechanical or wood-less pencil mavens shape their leads to a preferred point.)

 

There are three major schools of pencil sharpener philosophy:

Best pencil sharpening methods | VanillaArts.com

Top to bottom:

  1. Prismacolor sharpened with the Prismacolor brand HAND-HELD PRISM STYLE SHARPENER

  2. Prismacolor sharpened with an ELECTRIC, ROTATING SPIRAL BLADE SHARPENER

  3. Charcoal pencil HAND SHARPENED WITH A BLADE OR KNIFE

Where an artist comes down in the Great Sharpener Debate usually has a lot to do with their training. That drags emotional baggage into the discussion because we all secretly think we're the only ones to receive a proper education. After all, the rest of the field is filled with dithering idiots, right?

But this debate leaves the crafters of the world completely befuddled because they're surrounded by teachers, magazine tutorials, and craft show experts who are all dispensing completely contradictory information.

Use electrical! NO! Use a hand held! NO, THAT'S NOT RIGHT! You'll only get good results from a razor blade!

Because I work with beginners (and also a lot of derailed artists looking to get back into the groove), I get asked the pencil sharpener question. A lot.

And I always answer the question with a very firm...

Well, it kinda depends.

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 I know. My answer is complete mush. But hear me out, the correct answer depends entirely upon what you are trying to accomplish and what materials you are using.

I use the sharpener that works best for me. I've tried several methods and a ton of tools, and after 25 years, I know what works for the work I do.

There's really no point in jello wrestling over this. What sings for me on small scale items will not work for let's say, a muralist. And neither of our methods may be right for you.

So for you, it does no good to ask just any random artist "what's the best pencil sharpener?" You need to narrow your inquiries to only those artists working in your same medium and who are producing the same stroke quality you desire to imitate.

How did you sharpen your pencil to make this mark? And then point to the area you're interested in. That's the correct question

 

There is not one correct answer- Be willing to test new methods

My primary mentor hand-sharpened all his pencils with a box cutter blade and made us do the same. Hand sharpening has its place- the charcoal pencil shown above is the pencil I use every Wednesday for life drawing class and I always use a blade on it.

But that same blade method produces a completely awful point on Prismacolor pencils.. Why spend 3-5 minutes doing it old school if the tip is inferior to 20 seconds in an electric or hand sharpener? It is an improper use of my time to whittle colored pencil leads for my high detail projects

 

As a teacher, the best thing I can do is present to you the various methods that might work for your situation.

What kills me is when a student is clearly having problems and yet ignores my solution because a mentor sold them on a different pencil sharpener.

And I've had more than one student prance into class with their Michael's recommended, Prismacolor certified pencil sharpener- a sharpener that yields a blunt and soft tip that is completely inappropriate to the method I teach.

Yes, I understand that the word on the street is that the Prismacolor sharpener is the only one suitable for sharpening PC pencils- that it saves lead, money, and frustration. Everyone should own two and use them every darned day.

To which I say "pfffttt, maybe"

But if a student is looking to duplicate my stroke quality, they're never gonna get it with that sharpener. Never. Never, never, never. You'd have a better chance at mimicking me with a hand bladed pencil lead than using the Prismacolor sharpener.

 

Why I use what I use

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Let's stipulate my parameters first: I do large areas and backgrounds with Copic marker and I do the super-fine detail work with colored pencil. I use cross hatching to build up layers of visible strokes rather than soft-blending. I never use solvents.

Because of this, I require a super fine tip that retains a point for as long as possible. Blunt tips are pretty useless to me and my stroke quality noticeably degrades as the point disappears.

To get a fine point that lasts as long as possible, I use an electric sharpener that gives me a long narrow taper. I had a plug-in heavy duty Boston Electric desk model which my cat killed in April. Apparently, it was in the way during a nap emergency. I'm now researching a replacement plug-in model and it looks like Boston Electric was bought-out by X-acto which has poorer quality ratings.

Until I replace the desk version, I'm using the cheapo yet portable battery sharpener which I take to classes, an Omnitech model made for Staples Office Supply stores. I've had it about 6 years and it still sharpens just fine. It's loud and cheap and at a $7 price point, I'll be the quality control isn't great. But my little guy doesn't eat batteries too fast, and if I ignore the obnoxious color, it's really not too bad. 

Plus, the darned thing won't die. Best $7 investment, ever!

As you can see, the brand, price, and color are not my main focus when selecting a sharpener. I look for two features:

  • Long narrow taper on the point

  • Point-trigger feature that prevents oversharpening

The objection to electrical sharpeners is that you waste pencil lead. And while that may have once been true back in maybe 1962, it's not really a problem today. Even my cheapie has a trigger button inside that stops the blade from rotating after the pencil has been fully sharpened. You simply can't sharpen a pencil for 2 hours straight if it has that stop-button safety feature.

In fact, I had one student vehemently object to my not using a prism sharpener due to lead wastage. So I showed her my Omnitech which had about a weeks worth of shavings in it and we compared that to the pile of woodchips that she'd generated in 1 hour of class time... there was no comparison. I was clearly wasting less wood because my sharpener knew exactly when to quit.

 

My primary goal is a long, narrow tip

I'll use any sharpener that gives me that long length of pencil lead.

One, because I want to leave a fine line but two, I don't want to sharpen as often.

Here's an enlargement of my sharpened pencils. The left is my Omnitech cheapo and the right is the premium Prismacolor hand held.

Assume that we both take 10 strokes to wear down our leads to the orange line. Look at the difference in diameter! One can go longer between sharpenings with a long taper tip because it stays thinner longer.

Yes, I know. Prismacolor does tend to break more often with a long taper but here's the thing I've noticed: when it does break, there tends to be a sharp edge left that I can use for about a dozen strokes before I have to sharpen.

In my classes, most of the time when a student is having difficulty, it's in large part due to a dull lead. I've noticed that they make a stroke, it doesn't look quite right so they put a new stroke on top of it, and then another and another and another. If they'd just sharpen, they'd get the stroke right the first time instead of overworking the area.

Ultimately, what good is all that saved pencil lead if you never learn to do a technique properly? Even worse, you pay for it emotionally when your results don't match up with the teacher or your neighbor's. The cost of a colored pencil is minimal compared to the price you pay in confidence and self esteem.

 
 

Having said that, I still have a use for blunt tipped pencils

Sometimes the situation does call for a smoother blend with no visible strokes. Like backgrounds or on faces- places were I want to hide my lines.

Remember, different situations call for different techniques. Good artists are chameleons and will adjust their technique to get the best results.

What do I do when I need a soft blunt tip?

Peach is a color that I use for both soft and hard strokes. So I have two peach pencils, one usually has a fresh point on it and the other is dull. I have about 6 colors that I keep two versions of

  • peach

  • light peach

  • white

  • indigo

  • dark green

  • tuscan red

I'm not suggesting that you do a Noah and keep two of everything in the ark, but if you find yourself constantly scribbling on scrap paper to wear down a point, you might want to keep a second of that color handy and dull.

 

But let's say you're still worried about lead wastage

Want to know what really, really, really extends the life of your pencils, no matter what sharpener you own?

Pencil extenders. They come in all sorts of varieties (some are far more comfortable than others) but they all add about 4-5 inches of handle to short pencils.

I own fourteen.

They work best when the pencils are 2-3 inches long, longer than that and they try to bend under firm pressure.

I regularly use my pencils down to nubby stubs. My record is just under 1 inch long and I had to quit because there wasn't enough pencil to grip while sharpening.

That same student who chided me for wasting lead in an electric sharpener was throwing away all pencils shorter than 4 inches long.

Hmmm... who wastes lead???

 

It's never a cut & dried answer

You need to evaluate the way you use your pencil and choose the sharpener that gives you the desired point.

If you do soft circular strokes with your colored pencil, my long narrow point is not going to work. You're much better off with a sharp knife and an altoid tin to catch the shavings.

If you're afraid of blades, then try the shallow prism sharpeners.

The point is that anyone who emphatically insists that Brand X sharpener is the only sharpener for all of mankind is wrong.

And frankly, I'd question their judgement on more than just sharpeners.

 

Get a few recommendations from artists and crafters that you admire

What's the best sharpener for art pencils?

The winner of your tests. The best sharpener is the one that works for you.

 
 
VanillaArts.com
Imikas Sharpener.jpg

December 2017: I never did purchase a big electric plug-in sharpener.

That ugly Ominitech battery powered sharpener is still going strong. I'll use it until it dies.

I've also found the same sharpener in a tasteful black! 

Everything about the Imikas sharpener is the same as my trusty old ugly Omintech. EVERYTHING, right down to the lettering imprinted on the battery closure and the waffle grooves on the rubber feet.

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Now I have an ugly sharpener for home use and the sedate black one travels to classes with me.

February 2019: The Imikas sharpener from 2017 pictured at left is no longer reliably available on Amazon.

There is a newer version (see link below) that still gives great results. Use the sharpest setting to get the kind of point I recommend in this article.

Note: Neither of the Imikas versions nor the original Omnitech can be considered “luxury” sharpeners. They’re inexpensive BUT they still should work smoothly. I have one student who purchased the 2017 version which worked really slowly, despite fresh batteries. That is NOT normal! She returned the sharpener and the replacement is still working fine.

 

I also have a favorite hand-held sharpener-

Kum sharpener.jpg

The KUM AS2 Long Point sharpener goes with me everywhere. Like the Imikas, it's very reasonably priced (under $10 USD) which is cheap enough to own several.

I have one in my class supply bag. I have one in my watercolor travel kit. I have on in my colored pencil kit. I have two more in my desk drawer just waiting to go on an adventure. 

By the way, there are two similar sharpeners by KUM. The AS2M is blue instead of red and has a lead pointer on the side. I never use the pointer. It's the same exact sharpener otherwise. I would not pay more for the blue AS2M version.

The Palomino Blackwing edition of the KUM is an AS2 (red), this time you're paying more for black plastic to match your Blackwing pencils. Here's a crazy thought- buy the red sharpener and use the savings to purchase two Blackwing pencils!

Here's a link to the KUM at Amazon (affiliate link):

I will admit, I like the Imikas/Omnitech sharpener better than the KUM but the KUM is still spectacular and gets an A+ from me.

Why do I favor the Imikas? It's a minor thing. The KUM gives you a slightly longer point than the Imikas which might be too much of a good thing. The KUM point is just a smidgen too long for Prismacolor Premier pencils to handle. If I sharpen in the KUM, I inevitably break off a teeny-tiny bit of the point on the first stroke... but it's less than 1mm loss, nothing to cry over.

It's easy to solve the KUM problem by not sharpening to the extreme limit. But with the Imikas, I don't have to think and plan to pull out early. So a slight edge goes to the Imikas but not by much.