Gifts at every price point for the artist in your life (even if that’s you).
Mabef field painting easel M27: Non-artists often buy painters French easels, but please don’t do that. They’re heavy and tough to set up. Instead, choose a smaller, lighter, more efficient easel—the Mabef field painting easel M27. The pivot head makes it useful for both oils and watercolor. It comes with extension arms on which you can set a palette. I’ve had an earlier version of this for two decades. It’s my number one choice for watercolor, and I’m constantly loaning it to new painters. But a word of caution—the cheaper knock-offs of this easel don’t work well. Mabef has been making easels since 1948, and the quality is good.
Want a larger easel? Jerry’s sells a version of a Gloucester easel called the Beauport. Ken DeWaard uses one, as do I. It’s the best easel for large canvases in a stiff wind.
Testrite #500 studio easel: This is the teaching easel I use in my studio. Aluminum is light, easy to move, and easy to stow. Want a larger version? Try its big brother, the Testrite #700. I’ve had one for twenty years without trouble.
Princeton brushes: Over the years, Princeton has provided great value for money, but many professional painters eventually gravitate to something else. Sadly, I can no longer recommend Robert Simmons, because my last two orders have contained defective brushes. I’ve been given so many Princeton SNAP! in goodie bags this year that inevitably one made it into my painting kit. I was pleasantly surprised. Series 9700 is a natural bristle brush made for oil-painting. Series 9800 is a synthetic for oils. Series 9650 is made for watercolor and acrylic.
Despite having a quiver full of upscale watercolor brushes, I’m just as likely to grab my Princeton Neptunes when working in watercolor.
If you really want to surprise someone with your inside knowledge and impeccable taste, choose Rosemary & Co. brushes for watercolor or oil, or New York Central for oil painting brushes.
QoR watercolor kit: QoR (pronounced “core”) is a product of Golden Artist Colors of New Berlin, NY, so you can be assured that they’re a quality product. Golden has created a new binder for a higher-pigment paint that can rival oils and acrylics for vibrance. I use QoR myself, and for my workshops aboard schooner American Eagle, but you can easily buy ready-made sets of 6-12 pigments from any large paint dealer online. For acrylics, I’d recommend a Golden starter set hands down. For oils, buy Robert Gamblin or Winsor & Newton. It’s harder to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for pastels, but anything sold by Dakota Art Pastels is a good product.
If your artist has all the paints he thinks he needs, why not surprise him with some gouache? I have some Turner Design Gouache that I trot out whenever I’m thinking through ideas, but there are many fine brands.
In every case, less is more. The artist typically needs no more than a dozen colors, and it’s better to get a better brand with fewer pigments than a large assortment of bad paint.
Sketchbooks: I buy Strathmore 300 series Visual Journals and consume them like candy. They’re Bristol, so you can draw or paint on them. For fast outdoor sketching, I like the Strathmore 400 watercolor series. They’re so affordable, I have no worries about wasting paper.
Palamino Blackwing Pencil: I use mechanical pencils myself, but this was recommended to me by writer Tim Wendel. I’m dying to know what makes a pencil worth slightly more than $2, so I’m asking for it for Christmas.
A workshop: I can’t finish this without a plug for my own workshops. They allow the artist the chance to work with a group of like-minded people, without distractions, in settings of unparalleled beauty.
In 2020, we offer two all-inclusive trips aboard Schooner American Eagle, where I’ll teach the fundamentals of watercolor on the fly (and you get to sail, too). And there’s my annual intensive workshop, Sea & Sky at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park. Register by January 1 and get an early-bird discount on any or all of them!