Which art materials should I buy for a child who loves art? We have been asked this question many, many times. When you walk into an art or stationary shop the choice can be overwhelming and the vast array of varying prices, quality and products is bemusing to the shopper who just wants to pick up a nice art gift for a nephew who loves to draw and paint. As prolific gift shoppers ourselves (we have our own kids, godchildren, nephews and nieces galore!) what we are both looking for when we buy an art gift is something that children will actually use, not something to sit in a cupboard. So here are our top picks:
For drawing we would always use a 2B. For us it is the workhorse of pencils. For older children who are starting to blend and to draw tonally we would add in a 4B and a 6B. This gives a choice of strength when wanting to go a bit darker. If you really want to push the boat out you could throw in a chunky graphite stick, it gives you a great extra tool when you are shading large areas.
Every artist needs a sketchbook, whether they are 5 or 95. The sketchbook is the place to try new things, to make mistakes and to grow and develop as an artist. Sometimes going fancy is not the best way forward with sketchbooks. The key is to feel comfortable enough to make marks on the pages, something not always easy on a leather bound, Italian sketchbook, hand-stitched with antique paper! Our key when looking at sketchbooks is paper quality. We select sketchbook for our studios, online adult course and our shop by the feel of the paper. You can’t go wrong with a lovely bit of cartridge paper in a solid but inexpensive sketchbook.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty! The artist standing before a stand of paints is like a small sugar-mad youngster in the proverbial sweet shop.
For the shopper who is looking for a usable set of paints, it is a bewildering mass. Here are our top picks:
These are a BRILLIANT option for children. You colour with the pencils in the same way as you would use ordinary colouring pencils, but then when you use a damp brush on your marks on the paper it turns to paint. Again, there are stacks of videos showing how to use these with a huge choice of subjects, from Minecraft to a Frog, over on our YouTube Channel.
If you are buying for older artists then acrylics are a good option. We start using acrylics with our students from about age 11 onwards. They can be messy with younger children, which is all very well when you are unleashing your inner artist at age 6, but not so great for parents stuck trying to scrub the stuff off school uniforms! There is a vast array of colours, but a set is a good idea with the basic primary colours, a black and a white.
We LOVE pastels at the Little Art School but we do have to overcome a prejudice built up over years of using poor quality chalks at school. Chalk pastels need a high pigment ratio to give them vibrancy. They can be a nice gift if kids know how to use them but otherwise they might just sit on the shelf.
We start using oils with our students from about age 14. They are a wonderful medium if you are looking to buy for young person who is really passionate about developing their art skills but we would avoid with young children (this stuff will never wash out of anything!). We use water soluble oils, Winsor and Newton, and are enthusiastic advocates for ditching turps but keeping the buttery glory of the slow drying oils
- Paper, Canvas, Boards
Once you have picked which paints you are buying it is important that you get the right support to paint ON. Watercolours need watercolour paper. You can buy it in books or packs but look for a high GSM. We always use a 350GSM for all our classes and it is the key to getting good results from watercolour, just as important as getting the right paints. Pastels need pastel paper, which is manufactured with a special ‘tooth’ that grips the pigments of the chalks. For acrylics you can paint on pretty much anything but we find our watercolour paper works a treat. Oils need a board or canvas which has been primed. If a child has the paints but nothing to paint on then they won’t be able to paint, or will lose heart when their work doesn’t look right. Our advice: don’t scrimp on getting the right paper or board!
- Our sets
We have spent 7 years testing out paints, paper, pencils and everything else so that our students, children in the studios and adults on our online courses, use really good quality materials. We have tried to take away the pain of gift buying by putting sets together so that you can find everything you need all in one pack; watercolour pencils, palettes etc. We also sell materials individually but our feeling is that a pack gives you everything you or the child you are buying for needs to sit down and start painting and drawing, secure in the knowledge that the quality will be spot on.