holiday gifts 2022

The Best Gifts for Artists, According to Artists

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailers

If finding a gift for the artist in your life seems like a tall order, we totally understand. Artists are known for having very good and particular taste, which usually requires a bit more thought than shopping for your aunt who will appreciate a handy new electric tea kettle or your teen brother who explicitly told you he wants AirPods. And if you want to buy an artist a gift they will actually use, you’ll probably have to be pretty familiar with their 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 lapis lazuli and a Kolinsky sable brush, we reached out to several artists — including sculptors, painters, photographers, textile designers, and multimedia artists — about what sorts of gifts they’d like to receive. Below, their suggestions, which include something for practically every artist, whether they’re hoping for supplies, an activity, or cannabis-infused snacks to inspire the creative process.

Art supplies

A set of specialized colored pencils would make a nice gift for any artist, and artist Peter Shire told us these ones are his favorite. “I use these for normal pencil-type things like taking notes. But they really come in handy when I’m making stuff,” he says. Shire uses them to mark metal, glazed ceramics, and even glass because, miraculously, they write on anything.

While not every artist is a painter, many enjoy experimenting with watercolors from time to time. So unless watercolor is their specialty, a set like this one, recommended by artist Ashley Longshore, is sure to be a hit. “It has one of the widest ranges of colors and the best pigmentation,” Longshore says of her favorite watercolor palette.

While there are plenty of luxe artist pads you could give, sometimes buying a bunch of something much more practical is the way to go.Graph paper is such an important part of my creative process since I create predominantly geometric motifs,” says textile designer Aelfie Oudghiri. Whether you’re giving this affordable pad as part of a larger gift or splurging on a year’s supply, it will surely be appreciated.

“Every artist always has a piece or two that needs to be framed,” says Kent Monkman, whose work for the Met has been 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.

Artist Daniele Frazier recommended a gift that she received a few years ago 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 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.

Regardless of their medium of choice, they are sure to be inspired by a set of rubber stamps like these from Areaware’s collaboration with illustrator and designer Rilla Alexander. The simple, abstract shapes and five different-colored inks add up to endless creative possibilities.

We included this portable light box in our list of the best art supplies to give to artists. Folks who draw for a living, or as an essential part of their art practice, will often use a Porta-Trace to refine drawings from sketch to final artwork. It’s also a handy tool for photographers, who can use it to look at their negatives.

“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.”

“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.

Books

Sara Berks, the designer behind Minna, told us she always keeps this book handy within her ever-growing collection of art books. “I reference Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers, a lot,” she says, noting that she’s had the book since color-theory class in art school. If they don’t have it already, the book would make a wonderful gift for artists of all kinds.

Photo: Publisher

It’s impossible to see every exhibit at every museum across the country. But flipping through the accompanying catalogue from exhibitions you couldn’t visit in person is the next best thing. This one is from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s exhibit Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories,” which traces the rich history of quilt-making in America. It would make an inspiring gift for any artist, no matter their media.

“As an artist, you spend a great deal of your day in isolation, with a lot of time to consider your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions — for me, the unholiest trinity!” says artist Janie Korn. She suggests gifting this guidebook by illustrator Jordan Sondler, which contains advice for navigating loneliness, career, and self-love. “Reading this book has helped me feel mentally healthier and better equipped to create meaningful art,” says Korn. “Beyond the self-improvement part, it’s a really stunning, visually compelling book that you will want to read in a sitting.”

Photo: retailer

If you want to gift a book that might inspire your friend to experiment with a new form, artist Bernie Kaminski suggests crafting books from the 1970s, published by the Taplinger Publishing Company. “They can all be found for a few bucks online,” he says. “They don’t have very detailed instructions, but the photos have provided inspiration for a number of projects.” Kaminski suggests this guide to making “designer totes,” as well as ones on making paper costumes, and masks. He’s made a few, he says, and was “happy with how they turned out”.

$19

Painter and Illustrator Nasir Young says that, as a visual learner, art books help him gain insight into his own work and understand why he makes art in the first place. He recommends volume one from the Akira series for illustrators and painters. “Seeing different ways stories are told is interesting to me, but also simply looking at how the pages are inked helps inform how to build value even if you’re not drawing comics,” he says.

Trinkets, tech, and tools for self-care

Art-making is often an extremely physical endeavor — just ask anyone who draws, paints, or works in sculpture. So giving an artist something to soothe their aching muscles is always a thoughtful gesture. This S-shaped back-massage tool comes recommended to us by writer Ottessa Moshfegh, who, like any other kind of artist, spends a lot of time bent over her work. “I would do it all day if I didn’t have to use my hands,” she says of the relief it provides.

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 also 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.

If the artist you are shopping for works with clay, both Josephine Heilpern, a ceramist and founder of the Bed-Stuy-based Recreation Center, and Jordan Baker, a painter and sculptor in Catskill, New York, recommend a heavy-duty hand cream to keep their hands from drying out and cracking. “In the past, I’ve been to people’s studios and I’m like, Oh shit, that feels really good. What’s that lotion? Weleda Skin Food is really popular. A lot of people agree that it’s the best,” says Heilpern.

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.

If your artist friend finds peace in puzzles, consider giving them one that’s known for being a challenge: “The Springbok puzzle company billed this as the most difficult puzzle in the world when it was released in 1964,” says Kaminski. “My wife managed to complete it, but it took a while.” The latest edition of the puzzle (pictured above) has 1,000 pieces — but Kaminski says “you can always find the original 340-piece version on eBay, and it comes in a much nicer box.”

If you want to give them a gift that helps set a creative mood, Korn suggests a lovely scented candle. “Ambience is super important to a productive working environment,” she says. “I’m always burning or misting something (stale air equals stale thoughts).” Korn says that lately she’s been loving this candle from Burnin’ for You, which is technically orange-blossom-and-jasmine-scented, but she says just smells “transportive,” and adds, compellingly, “it will make you nostalgic for a sexy life you haven’t yet lived.”

And if you want to give a candle with a bit more drama, consider taking furniture, object, and interior designer F. Taylor Colantonio’s advice. “I like to give friends an extravagant quantity of beeswax candle tapers,” he says. “They can keep a house glowing with warmth for months.” These tapers, which are made in Athens for the Greek Orthodox Church, are Colantonio’s favorites. “They are inexpensive yet special, and above all, useful,” he says. “And they give the most seductive scent of honey.”

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.”

For artists who share their studio space or make work from home, Baker recommends good-quality headphones. She uses these wireless ones from Jabra. “Listening to music helps with my concentration, but it has to be lyric-free or I’ll get distracted,” she says. Her go-to playlists include Spotify Electronic Focus and Almost Classical playlists, as well as Christopher O’Riley covering Radiohead.

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.

Fancy provisions

“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.”

And if you really want to splurge, take a note from Ebecho Muslimova: “While exposure and ideas are the best gifts you can give to an artist, I would also settle for a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti la Tâche,” she says.

$38

This nice-looking bottle of Ghia — which we included on our list of things to stock an alcohol-free bar cart is far less expensive and will give artists who don’t drink a tasty base for refreshing mocktails.

If your artist friend is also creative in the kitchen, give them something that will inspire new courses both sweet and savory. Lindsay Collins, host and creator of Effin B Radio, recommends this “delicate, floral, and ultranuanced honey” that she discovered while working at Per Se. Though you can use it in a million different ways, she suggests drizzling it on fancy blue cheese or a bowl of fresh figs.

Experiential gifts

Artists love getting art as a gift because it’s beautiful and it supports other artists. This subscription for limited-edition, artist-made postcards from Summertime Gallery in Brooklyn, a nonprofit space for artists with and without intellectual disabilities, showcases a different artist each month. Proceeds go both to the artist and toward the gallery’s operations. “It’s the perfect way to say hello to loved ones and learn about an artist you might not have known. I first signed up for the monthly postcards to support a great cause, but I’ve since gifted them again when I saw how excited my auntie gets when they arrive,” says Paige Wery, director of Tierra del Sol Gallery in Los Angeles.

For artists who love learning new techniques, Baker recommends a membership to the online learning platform Craftsy. “You can buy classes on how to paint a portrait, cook a soufflé, or make a vase on a wheel,” she says. Craftsy classes are mostly taught by other artists, so there’s a community feel, something that has been a necessary pandemic-coping tool for many of us.

Photo: retailer

You could also give them the gift of a new soundtrack for working. Kaminski suggests any of the albums released by Patience Records in the last few years. “All are great to put on while working, reading or doing whatever,” he says. “Leo James’s Infinity was in high rotation during a project I was working on last spring, especially the hypnotic second side.”

Photo: Retailer

Sometimes the best gift is one you get to pick out for yourself. Kaminski suggests giving a gift card to Aeon Bookstore, which is sure to appeal to your artist friend for its “terrific selection of art and design books.” He says that the store has “a great fiction section and reasonably priced, hard to find records,” and is constantly getting new stock in. “I’m always finding things I’ve been searching for or didn’t know about there,” says Kaminski. “The other day, they had a collection of East Village Eye issues from the 80s.”

Artist Maia Ruth Lee recommends giving the gift of MasterClass: “I love learning new things, especially from the wise and experienced,” she says. “As an artist it’s easy to get stuck in our own thing, and this type of accessible MasterClass can be inspiring and bring about new ideas.” Lee suggests starting with a class from Neil deGrasse Tyson. “He’s an incredible genius in his own field, and sheds light onto the mystery of life,” she says.

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.”

Another great option for New York–based artists is a yearlong museum membership. “My pick would be the Met,” says artist Jeanette Hayes. In addition to open access to permanent collections, membership gives visitors access to morning hours and exhibition previews, when they’re sure to get some one-on-one time with their favorite pieces.

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The Best Gifts for Artists, According to Artists