It’s incredibly intimidating buying a gift for an artist — not only will they have strong preferences in all materials they use, it’s likely they also have very particular tastes in everything else. Plus, there’s that lingering desire to impress them with your own refined aesthetic choices and tastes, to prove to them that, yes, you know of colour theory and who Yves Klein was. We’ve reached out to several artists — from sculptors, painters, illustrators, and even a curator — to help you choose the perfect gift. From the best practical gifts (such as the sturdiest phone holder for those who like to record their process or a posture-saving drawing board that’ll last a decade) to the most inspiring art books to some less-expected items, too — you’ll definitely find something to impress and delight your creative friends.
The best art supplies to gift
Jules Scheele, an illustrator and comic artist, loves practical gifts — particularly this sturdy drawing board. As all artists who spend their days hunched over a drawing tablet or their canvases, it will eventually take a toll on your back and wrists. This board is a great way of helping ease that pressure. “I learned too late that I needed to take better care of my back and wrists, and many other illustrators I know have the same problem — believe me when I say it’s essential to take care of yourself physically, even if you are young and feel invincible,” says Scheele. This board might be a little more expensive than other options, but you’ll get your money’s worth — Scheele has had theirs for ten years and counting. It works great for digital artists too: “I use it for my iPad instead of sticking bits of paper to it, and I can decorate it with stickers designed by artists I like.”
Illustrator and designer Jasmin Sehra swears by this phone holder, a seemingly unassuming gift but a deeply underrated and underestimated one. “I’ve been through so many phone holders and I’ve found that the previous ones I’ve had aren’t great at holding the weight of my iPhone. This one, however, has been fantastic! It’s been so helpful as an artist when filming or shooting content, and I’ve even used this on video calls and live workshops. It’s really easy to manipulate exactly where you want the clamp to go and it’s super-sturdy.” It’s a little pricier than some options but still very affordable, and is the sort of thing that your giftee will never realise they needed until they have one.
Textile artist Camille Auclair recommends this not only as a practical and thoughtful gift, but also as an entire memorable experience. “Instead of having a shop for you to visit, you just go to their warehouse in South London, which is an experience in itself with all the mountains of their beautiful paper everywhere. The sketchbooks have beautiful sewn edges, heavy, elegant covers, no branding (which I like), and are available in different weights of 100 percent cotton paper, watercolour paper (my favourite), and cartridge paper.” The price varies depending on the options you choose, but a large A2 sketchbook costs around £40.
This unusual gift lies somewhere between supply and an artwork itself. A collaboration between artist Lucy Mayes and ceramicist Katie Kirk, these inks make for an unforgettable gift. Camille Auclair told us that she would love to be gifted anything by London Pigment. “Lucy Mayes is an artist who collects ‘London grit’ (sludge from the Thames, bits scratched off the surface of an old rusty moped…) and then makes gorgeous inks and pigments out of them. I love that Lucy is turning to the mundane, often-overlooked parts of grey London and turning them into something so special and personal.” You can also have custom colours made for any set in London Pigment’s range.
The best art books to gift
Sculptor Megan Dingwall thinks there is no better gift for an artist than a proper art book, and the Portrait of a City series is an endless source of inspiration. “On a purely visual basis, the mix of portraits, scenic shots, etc. can be great for source material, but I am mostly drawn to the visual storytelling, which is something that motivates my own work. These books help inspire my practice by providing endless thoughts and ideas.” And when they’re not using the book for inspiration, it’s the perfect coffee-table book: “It’s visually stunning and a great talking point.”
This collection of graphic short stories by cartoonist Eleanor Davies is a favourite of Scheele. “It’s just a beautifully written and illustrated book, subtle and poignant and sad all at once. Finding an artist’s work that makes me feel happy about what I do and aspire to be a better illustrator is priceless to me.”
Painter Shona McAndrew recommends this bold and important collection of works from over 50 artists and art workers from marginalised communities. “A lot of my peers are in this book, and it’s a beautiful group of artists that represent a very important time both in art, and for POC in the world.”
This book is the perfect gift for any visual artist whose work primarily focuses on colour and form. “Any kind of artist would appreciate this book, but as a textile artist who hand-dyes materials and whose focus is on colour and natural forms, it is perfect,” saus Camille Auclair. “It is a catalogue of thousands of colours all explained and presented through flowers, vegetables, animals, minerals — anything we find in the natural world. It has everything I love and am inspired by and is both educational and visually luscious.”
Photographer Nicole Ngai recommends this gorgeous photography book for anyone interested in eroticism, sexuality, surrealism, and nature. Ren Hang was a Chinese photographer who quickly gained respect in the art world for his stunning images of his friends that he took during his short six-year career. “He was a much loved artist — such a visionary and someone I looked up to as an Asian photographer,” says Ngai.
The best miscellaneous items to gift
This gorgeous tapestry blanket is a showstopping gift and the perfect opportunity to show off not only your excellent taste but your support of independent artists and business, too. McAndrew has gifted several to her friends. “She is incredible. She makes all her patterns herself by turning her watercolour paintings into blankets, pillows and scarves. Her drawings are so full of character, quirky and free.” [Editor’s note: This price has been converted from USD, and does not include shipping and taxes.]
Of course, everyone loves Diptyque candles. McAndrew was given one by her best friend, and she says it was the perfect gift. “I was born and raised in Paris and lived by the original first store. I walked by it almost daily and grew up smelling their floral products, almost like it was my own little secret garden in the middle of Paris. Their smells are both delicate and strong, they are floral and deeply memorable.”
Curator and writer Bianca Manu recommends tickets to Malindadzimu, a witty and poignant play by Mufaro Makubika. “It’s a story about motherland and maternal instinct, set in Zimbabwe. The director, Monique Touko, is a brilliant up-and-coming artist. Definitely one to watch, so get in early and see her first major production at Hampstead Theatre.” This is the perfect gift for the friend who values experiences over things, explains Manu. “Theatre’s a great gift, because it’s both escape, inspiration, and entertainment. More importantly, it can be shared, but it’s still intimate.” The run ends on the 30th October, but you can also buy theatre tokens (which are like book tokens, and can be used at theatres nationwide).
Manu loves this luxurious multipurpose butter from the small Hackney-based brand Earth to Roots. “They create holistic and natural skin and hair-care products. Anna Nina Koduah, the founder, grew up in Dalston Market, and learned the trade from her father, who’s had a successful stall in Dalston market for almost 30 years. This body butter genuinely smells like decadent dark chocolate without being overpowering.”
This gorgeous, luxury notebook is the perfect gift if you really want to indulge your artist friend. Multidisciplinary digital artist Lucy Hardcastle received the notebook as a gift and cherishes it, because “it’s something that just makes life more pleasurable.” The difference of quality is felt in the details, “like the quality of the paper and the tactile elements of the leather cover and gilded edges.”
Last Christmas, Ngai received this money tree, which she named Jeff-tree. It turned out to be a wonderful gift and not just because it’s such a low-maintenance plant to keep alive: “Jeff-tree has really flourished, despite my lack of commitment to plant parenting. In addition to that, money trees are meant to bring prosperity and good fortune — best placed in the southeastern corner of a room. So I’m sure Jeff-tree has been responsible for at least a few of my commissions.”
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