We wouldn’t blame you if finding a gift for the artist in your life seems like a tall order. Artists are known for having very good and particular taste, which usually requires a bit more thought than shopping for your L.A.–based aunt who will appreciate a culty back massager or your teen brother who explicitly told you he wants AirPods. And if you want to buy an artist a gift he will actually use, you’ll probably have to be pretty familiar with his practice to know what supplies to get. To help keep you from wandering the aisles of Blick deliberating between that $80 tube of Michael Harding lapiz lazuli and a Kolinsky sable brush, we reached out to 13 artists — including painters, photographers, textile designers, and multimedia artists — about what sorts of gifts they’d like to receive. Below, their 23 suggestions, which include something for practically every artist, whether she’s hoping for supplies, an activity, shoes, or cannabis-infused snacks to “inspire” her creative process.
Artist Daniele Frazier recommended a gift that she received last year and loved: Teflon-coated scissors. “I love them because not only do they look really beautiful but they’re extremely sharp, and the Teflon coating allows you to cut tape, even gummy tape like duct tape, without the scissors getting sticky over time,” she says. “Nobody really buys herself fancy scissors, but we all know the gross feeling of a pair of scissors that has been used too often on packing tape, which is what makes these a nice gift.” These scissors are made in Japan and built to last, meaning their recipient can hold on to them for a while. “I think giving someone something that will last a lifetime is not only thoughtful but responsible,” says Frazier.
“As a photographer, I’m always in need of photo paper to make tests and final prints with,” says Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., who names Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta as his favorite. “It comes in a variety of sizes, in both sheets and rolls,” he says. If you’re confused about what size paper to buy, we suggest looking at the dimensions of recipient’s past work as a starting point.
“People always ask me which pens I use, [and I tell them] I’ve been using Krink for years,” says Shantell Martin. “They’re really smooth, the quality of their ink is amazing, and you can use them on anything from clothing and leather to walls for larger murals.” Krink paint markers also happen to be on the desk of Sant Ambroeus creative director Alireza Niroomand, who likes them in blue and who told us that “when I want to scribble, I have one on me.”
Martin also suggested a Baron Fig notebook, a style we’re very familiar with after our big test of 100 notebooks. “I think Baron is doing a great job with both quality and a modern approach to the world of creative stationery,” she says. “Their journals and notebooks always make me want to plan, create, and succeed.” And if you need any further convincing, the Strategist also named Baron Fig notebooks as the best back in 2015, when it was a print-only operation.
“Every artist always has a piece or two that needs to be framed,” says Kent Monkman, whose work for the Met was recently featured on Vulture. “Find a good local shop and get them a gift certificate for framing services they wouldn’t spend themselves.” You could also try ordering through Framebridge, a framing company that we tested and found to be one of the best online framing services out there.
If you want to give your artist friend a gift that delves into the life of an artist of another era, Monkman recommends The Journal of Eugène Delacroix. “Delacroix’s personal journal offers an amazing insight into the artist’s life and is an incredible resource for any painter,” Monkman told us. “In his own words, Delacroix describes his insights on techniques such as color theory and his use of both live models and daguerreotypes as references.” He says the journal also offers a “juicy look” into the 19th-century painter’s personal life, recounting affairs, opinions of other artists, and what life was like in the 19th-century Parisian artistic scene. “I enjoy the moments where he offers his thoughts on art, like, ‘The things that are most real to me are the illusions which I create with my painting. Everything else is quicksand,’” says Monkman.
Monkman also told us about this exhibition catalogue by Sasha Suda and Kirk Nickel, which would make a great gift for Rubens fans and those interested in the Old Masters. “The catalogue contains examples of the beautiful Baroque imagery for which this master is known but is also a good resource for those wanting a more in-depth look at Rubens’s practice as an artist,” he says. “There are descriptions of the particulars of his studio practice, such as his workshop techniques and collaboration with other artists.” Monkman notes that the catalogue also offers insights into the artist’s business and shows how Ruben created a brand for himself and branched out commercially. “It’s fascinating to compare Rubens’s historical precedent to modern artistic practices,” he adds.
“Recently I fell in love with the design of American Origami by Andres Gonzalez,” says Brown. “At first, it appears to operate like a traditionally bound book, but at some point towards the middle I noticed that each of the pages folds back and out to reveal a different combination of information.” Brown notes that the material used for the pages is similar to that of stationery folders and collapses into a pile the way a perforated tax document would. It’s a serious gift: “The book itself is a compilation of information on various school shootings, which I learned when looking up the information for the book,” Brown says. But for an artist, its appeal might lie in the construction of the book as an object: “It’s a fairly thick book, so when I first picked it up, I sought to experience the design and would engage content later,” he says.
Trinkets and gadgets
“A fun stocking stuffer that I give as a gift all the time are these little nuggets made by my old studio mates Chen Chen and Kai Williams,” says ceramicist Helen Levi. “Each one is completely different, and I love integrating a piece of art into the banal everyday.” CCKW also makes stylish pens, bottle openers, and candleholders that would all make reasonably priced gifts for a design-minded recipient. You could try the stacked porcelain planter the pair designed that has since been licensed to and manufactured by Areaware — and named the next status planter by us.
Artist, filmmaker, and poet Himali Singh Soin told us that she regularly gives friends compasses and hourglasses as gifts. “The compass is for space, the hourglass is for time,” she says. “These are the two fundamental qualities that any artist will encounter along the way.” Soin loves these objects because they are “curious in their shape and form” and can be a reminder to artists that time is arbitrary. “Whole worlds may form in the span of one round of sand spilling in an hourglass — sometimes the compass can leave us asunder and in fact the spleen or the stars, our natural navigators, can point us in the right direction,” she says. Soin suggests looking for these items at vintage markets (or on Etsy), but there are plenty of affordable ones online, too.
For something more interactive, Martin suggests this portable synthesizer, which will let curious artists noodle around in a new medium. “I love how the team at Teenage Engineering is creating amazing products that are super-modern but also strike some great emotional nostalgia chords,” Martin says. “As an artist I love exploring other mediums that I can create my work with and venturing into music has been really fun for me, especially with my OP1.”
Clothing and accessories
“I would say the best gift for an artist would be a pair of Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes and a handbag,” says fashion designer and artist Susan Cianciolo (who often models for the designer). “Since all her shoes, bags, and makeup are so colorful and a very original color range, they remind me of an artist’s palette and [the time I spend] painting in my studio.”
Cianciolo also told us about the makeup palette the designer created with MAKE, which includes powder-blue and lemon-yellow shades that the artist calls “fantastic.”
Amna Asghar also suggests giving an artist art in the form of something that can be worn or admired every day. Asghar told us that she’s had her eye on this hand-painted silk scarf by artist Olivia Wendel. “Wendel has a series of collections — Flora and Fauna being my favorite,” she says. “They are vibrant and lush, dense with imagery from edge to edge. A great gift for an artist that can be worn in multiple ways as well as hung on the wall to live with every day.” Wendel also makes blankets and pillows, should your artist be more into home goods than scarves.
“Artists really need cash or art supplies, but besides that, I recommend Utopia Cannabis’s macaroons,” says artist and poet Samuel Jablon. The macaroons are non-GMO, vegan, paleo, and gluten-free, and according to Jablon would be a much-appreciated way to help your artist friend chill out before a show. “There’s a lot of unknowns preparing for shows that have no guarantees, everything is always on the line, you just have to live off belief and hard work,” he says. “It’s an amazing life, but these are delicious and a great way to cut through stress.”
Painter Cassi Namoda (who also gave us some tips about the best white button-downs) told us that she would gift another artist a subscription to the Criterion Collection’s streaming service. “I recently got it for my household,” she says. “My partner and I are both artists, and it just opened another world for me. I watched Several Friends by Charles Burnett and it inspired me so profoundly.”
If the artist lives in New York, you can follow Jeanette Hayes’s advice and gift them a membership or gift card to a theater. “I believe that a huge part of being an artist is researching and learning and studying all forms of art,” Hayes told us. “That being said, there are loads of fun gifts that any artist would appreciate. If you’re in New York, a gift card to the Metrograph theater is a treat anyone would love, but especially an artist. Whether someone uses it to see some great films or uses it in the book shop, it’s a win-win.”
If your artist friend is interested in a more hands-on film experience, artist Yto Barrada suggests gifting a workshop session at Mono No Aware, which she calls one of her “treasured places” in New York. “Mono No Aware in Brooklyn is one of the rare places left in the world to learn analogue moving-image techniques,” she says.
Another great option for New York–based artists is a yearlong museum membership. “My pick would be the Met,” says Hayes. “The Met is still pay whatever you like for New York residents, but when you’re a member, you get to go during members-only hours, and that’s pretty fun. And quiet! Any artist would appreciate this.” If you’re buying the membership for an artist who doesn’t live in New York and you really like them, Hayes has a another suggestion: “Consider buying them a ticket to New York City.” Should you go this route, you might want to direct them toward a highly rated but affordable hotel — we dove into some of the best in Brooklyn.
“My mother usually gives me a gift certificate for a massage around the holidays since the lead-up to Christmas is so crazy busy in my line of work,” says Levi, who told us she looks forward to the massage gift card all year. Her favorite place to go locally is Melt in Fort Greene, but if you’re buying for someone who lives farther afield and aren’t sure about where to send them, Zeel’s service allows you to book at-home massages no matter where you live.
If you’re looking for a truly personal experiential gift, artist Stewart Uoo suggests the one he says he’s been giving recently. “Lately I’ve been really into hiring celebrities to send unexpected personal messages to people on Cameo.com. I like to give gifts that are moments that don’t last forever.” This one could make a fun gift for just about anyone — for $100, you can send your friend a personalized greeting from Heidi Montag or, for a cool $52, Perez Hilton.
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