Watercolor – Wine at Mandola Rosa – and Gift Ideas for Artists

A man sipping wine in late afternoon sunlight on a couch in an olive green room with art and sculpture around him
Study for Wine at Mandola Rosa 5×7 watercolor on paper (sold)

Best Gifts for Artists

If you are adamantly *not* an artist, but you have a creative friend or family member that would love an art-related gift, I’m here to help!  My own family is sprinkled with engineers, mechanical wizards, construction titans, internet security bosses, firefighters and nutrition and fitness gurus. If I set them loose in a Dick Blick art supply store, and said “Please buy me an art-flavored gift?”, they’d be utterly perplexed. They all love art, and they’re totally supportive of my artistic endeavors, but that would be akin to sending a art historian out to buy buy circuit board assembly parts.  A little direction would be peachy. If you’ve got an artsy friend or family member on your gift list who plays with watercolor, here are a few  ideas to inspire your gift-giving mojo. (A printmaking gift list is over here.)

How to assemble a basic watercolor travel kit
In my watercolor travel kit: a zippered pouch with water soluble graphite pencils, water proof micron pens, retractable precision eraser, a ruler, capped paint brushes, a small watercolor palette, a watercolor-paper sketchbook and a shallow plastic rinse cup.  That’s everything you’d need to paint on the go, or on the couch. 🙂 Slip it all into a tote bag, and you’re Good to Go!


If your Artist Likes to Sketch and Paint in Watercolor

The thing about sketching and painting in watercolor is that you “consume” your tools. You fill sketchbooks, wear down pencils, and rub off erasers. Brushes fray and shed. Watercolor pans empty, and it’s always fun to test new colors you don’t have on your palette to see if they work with your painting subjects. The good news for gift-givers is that even if your artist has some of the items in these suggestions, they’ll use them up and need more soon, so you’re either gifting them a first, or supplying them with back up when they run out.

A Good Watercolor Sketchbook

One of my favorite square format watercolor sketchbooks is this Global Arts Travelogue Watercolor Sketchbook. The paper is good quality, the binding is a nice linen covered board, and the format allows either single page square sketches, or a double spread horizontal layout. Like this.

A Handy, Adjustable Viewfinder

The Artist’s Viewcatcher is always in my art supply tote bag, especially if I’m sketching or painting a landscape. It helps simplify the expanse of the scene I’m looking at by cropping the parts that will translate well as a sketch or a painting. The gray frame also represents the edges of my sketchbook page, so I can see where a break in the composition or the shape of a tree touches the sides or top and bottom of the View Catcher, and that helps me place those shapes accordingly on my paper. “Does that branch terminate off the middle of the left edge, or the upper third of the left edge?”

Lightweight Proportional Divider

The Accurasee Proportional Divider is more compact than traditional calipers, and I like that they fit in my tote bag, and they feel balanced and light in my hand. I use these to measure distance between edges on my reference photos, and then my drawing, to ensure I’m not making hands bigger then a head in a figure drawing, or a bowl in a still life set up crooked and cattywampus. Which is almost always what happens if I don’t use tools like this, combined with the grid method of drawing.

Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting

This wonderful book still garners glowing reviews that are are well-founded four years after it’s release. If anyone you know is looking to get better at painting, or they’re stuck and not making art at all, this book could be a heap of encouragement to Get Back in the Saddle. Inspiring imagery, simple directions, and encouraging words make these chapters a cup of tea on a cold day. Really, this is a great book. (Note: I’ve known Carol for a few years but our friendship hasn’t cultured my bias; I read a lot of art books, and I believe this one will be dog-eared with post it notes and curled pages from repeated referencing in many artists’ libraries, forever.)

Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are a great gift for people who like to draw, but find watercolor a little too loosey-juicey to control. With this set, and a block of watercolor paper, little colored drawings can be coaxed [slowly] into watercolor paintings with water and some brushes. (I used watercolor pencils to start this portrait.) For bigger, bolder color, give water soluble oil pastels a try.


Art Huddled in the Periphery of the Studio: Business

Most artist have a very hard time imagining selling their work, talking about it at an exhibit, writing something about it for juried show applications, or a blog entry. Painters aren’t usually wordsmiths. But that’s no reason to avoid writing an amazing description of a fresh piece of art. It’s sad to skip out on submitting a tantalizing proposal to a library for an art show curated by your artist and their friends, right? There’s a flurry of great books out there to help write better as an artist, price and sell better as an artist, and exhibit like a pro.  The knowledge is available, and easily digestible from artists who’ve gone before us, so read, read, read!

Travel Brushes for Watercolor and Acrylic

I just bought this brush set, and I love it. If someone on your gift list paints watercolors or pen and ink outdoors, or while traveling, these cap-able brushes are wonderful. The set is varied in shape and size, the bristles are soft and hold a lot of pigment, and when assembled, they feel nicely balanced in-hand. The (faux) leather case fits easily in a side pocket of a backpack or suitcase. Mine have been banging around in the bottom of my art supply tote bag, and they’re good as new.

Tiny Watercolor Palette

If you know someone who’s just starting to paint watercolor outdoors, or they’d like to have a compact palette to take on hikes, or weekend getaways, this Winsor Newton Cotman set is a nice, small format choice. The watercolors are good quality, without being as pricey as professional grade, and the set is very petite for tucking into a backpack pocket, while still offering 12 colors.  I’ve used this palette while sitting on long flights without any trouble from TSA screenings too, so they’re an excellent gift (with a block of postcard watercolor paper) for someone who travels a lot, and wants a way to make the time pass quickly on flights.

The watercolor above, in process: watercolor paper, held in place by masking tape on a piece of black foam core as a support.

Testing New Colors

I also use the Van Gogh Pocket Painting Palette. I picked it up in Europe, and I love the size and format. You can also buy half pans of your favorite colors to replace the stock colors in this, or any other palette set.  You can create your own palette from scratch too. Either buy pan-refills of color to build your own, or use your existing tubes watercolors and squeeze out your favorite shades in empty pans, in the same color arrangement you use on your studio palette.  If you or your artist is still trying to figure out favorite colors, this Daniel Smith Watercolor sampler pack could be a fun adventure of discovery. 

Books on Color and Light

James Gurney’s Color and Light is a treasure trove of tips, instruction, inspiration and common sense – some of it very advanced, but absorbable, and there are whole chapters full of concepts that are intuitive to a visual person, but often remain submerged till they’re spelled out in words. It’s chock full of little Ahh-hah’s.  James Gurney is a fantastic illustrator with a rock solid work ethic. He takes his art-making seriously, but divulges his methods with humor, and a palpable sense of wonder for the basic tenets of color, light and value; one of (I think) the most challenging buckets of skill for artists to master. In this book, each element is presented in clear and concise ways.  The chapters are organized in such a way, that you can flip to a section if you’re struggling, and inject fresh inspiration and guidance into your art-making day. Read the reviews on amazon

Scout would like a hammock in the window, with an automated petting hand for face-love on command. Is that in art supply stores?

Go Forth & Conquer

Well, I hope that gets you started on your gift giving strategies (or gift lists for yourselves!) Sometimes, artists just need a new toy to rekindle a lost spark for making.  I hope your artist is actively pursuing creative adventures with enthusiasm and an open heart.

If you have any questions about the goodies I’ve listed here, feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. You can subscribe to get each new post via email as soon as it’s published by signing up here.

Art Quote

In watercolor, it’s fun to experiment with different kinds of black: bone black, lamp black, Mars black. The pigment called “ivory black” used to be made from elephant ivory. Since that is now unavailable, some paint makers create ivory black by burning and grinding up fragments of mammoth ivory from Russia, which is legal to use. Each kind of black has different qualities of texture and chroma. If you get a couple of different blacks, you can play with them and compare them by painting them in a thin glaze, tinting them with white, and mixing them with other colors.
~James Gurney

how to title your art
Click the paintbrushes to sign up for this online class. Take the course at your leisure, from the comfort of your home, with tea, in your jammies!

5 thoughts on “Watercolor – Wine at Mandola Rosa – and Gift Ideas for Artists”

  1. Pingback: How to Add Two Hours of Art to Every Week - Belinda Del Pesco

  2. Thanks for the great suggestions! I had already bought some of the items from the last time we talked, but the rest went on my Christmas wish list. It used to be hard to create a wish list—not anymore!

    1. Hahahahah! I *LOVE* that I might have just added to your Christmas list! And maybe even an afternoon of art time with your daughter? Watercolor and jewelry creation? 🙂 I hope the tools listed here are helpful, and your year ahead is filled to the brim with everything new and exciting in the world of watercolors!

  3. Speaking of gift-giving: as mentioned some time ago, my time has been diverted away from art-making to focus on music-making…but now, as Christmas approaches, my gift-giving consists of small paintings for my children and (grown) grandkids. So my keyboard jealously moved over to make space for a small makeshift studio. Feels awkward donning my artist hat – took me two days to decide on a palette set-up, ease into the feel of the brush, just go at it and forget what I think I don’t know (yes…an oxymoron!). What I love about music is that there is no complicated set-up – no clean-up – no failures to store out of sight – all the practice just dissipates into the ether. But when a friend suggested that this year, I make a home-made recording of songs for the family……yikes! that’s when I realized that art is definitely more suited to gift-giving, especially if it depicts meaningful subject matter (not everyone loves the same type of music). Reading your blogs has kept my art muse alive, though I’d locked her away in some dark cranial cavern. For that, I thank you! I’m sure some of your folks will enjoy your artwork this Christmas. All the best in your gift giving and receiving!

    1. Hi Gayle! So, you’re creatively ambidextrous! Like a switch hitter, you’re moving deftly between music and art-making. Good for you. I hope your gift-making sessions are pleasant and your gift recipients are delighted!:)

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