Holiday Gift Guide for Artists 2020 - Art Supplies from Beginner to Ad – Marianne Vander Dussen

Holiday Gift Guide for Artists 2020 - Art Supplies from Beginner to Advanced

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

I absolutely love Christmas. I love carols, twinkling lights, and the food. But like so many families this year, my husband and I find ourselves in a precarious position. We are fortunate enough to live in a green zone. Half of our extended family resides in a grey lockdown zone, which means there is a good chance we won't be able to be with them for Christmas. It's particularly heartbreaking because my little boys are two and a half, and their grandparents miss them dearly. 

That being said, we are figuring out ways of coping. I've been playing around with watercolours more, and I'd like to start sketching again in acrylics, just for fun. I may even do another challenge in the Art Incubator free Facebook Group for January. I've noticed quite a few people are also turning to art as a means of expression and catharsis. Regardless of the reason, integrating art into your life is always a good idea, so I'm excited to share with you my Holiday Gift Guide for 2020!

I'm going to break down a few of my top picks, but you can see the entirety of my curated choices by visiting my Amazon storefront. If you can, support a local business. I know that for many, depending on where you live, this may not be an option, so Amazon it is. But if you have to choose between saving a few bucks by shopping online, or buying your supplies from a local vendor, please support the local vendor. 


I find it so interesting that so many people are drawn to watercolours because they think it will be easy, only to discover that they require a great deal of patience! Watercolours may seem easy, but one of the challenges is the paint's desire to go where it wants to go, and the necessary breaks for dry time. 

If you're interested in watercolour sets, I strongly recommend going with Winsor & Newton. They have both professional and intermediate grade paints, but I really like the Cotman set

The set above is definitely good for someone just starting their watercolour journey. For someone who is already somewhat immersed in their practice and wants to expand their palette, below is a great set. I can't lie, I'd really like it myself, as I only have the small one right now. 

Both of these have "half pans," which lasts an extraordinarily long time. I always recommend pans over tubes. The pans are better for travel, and last longer, as you only use what you need. Once you've squeezed paint out of a tube, it's basically game over. With the pans, you can just wet the brush and get right to work. If the pans get dirty I just wipe them off with a wet cloth. 

Of course, these are nothing without brushes. I have this set myself and quite like them. I prefer round brushes for watercolours, since you can use the tips in a calligraphic manner (push for thicker strokes, use only the tip for details). 

When it comes to paper, you can basically use any brand, but my recommendation is to only use 140lbs+. I'll sometimes use 130lbs if I'm in a pinch, but 140lbs is the standard weight. Anything less will almost guarantee to buckle. The 140lbs will also buckle under heavy use (unless you stretch the paper), but is less likely to do so. 
A notebook like this is great because you can use it for drawing and painting. It's 138lbs, but will definitely do the job. 

Acrylic Painting

Before we go any further, I'd like you to ask: are you (or your recipient) serious about improving your skills in the craft? Or are you looking at painting as more of a dabbler or casual hobbyist? 

There is no right or wrong answer here, but it is an important question to ask. This is because the quality of paint that I would recommend for you is completely different based on your intended use. 

If you're a dabbler of hobbyist, interested in following along with a few online tutorials but not taking it past that level, my suggestion would be this painting kit that I put together. Liquitex Basics is still used by many prominent artists, including Toronto's Erin Rothstein, so while the quality is "student grade" it's still very good. I like to use the following colours in my limited palette: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White, and Burnt Umber. If you want, you can throw Mars Black in there too. I can paint pretty much anything with just those colours. Don't believe me? The painting below was painted in acrylics using only the first five colours that I listed, and no black. 

This painting is the final piece in my upcoming Introduction to Acrylic Painting course, which we are still in the editing process for. 

For students in this course, I am recommending artist grade paint, which is what I personally use. If I have the choice between Golden and Liquitex Professional, I will usually choose Golden. However, Amazon doesn't sell this brand, so I usually purchase it through my local art supply distributor or Curry's. That being said, the Liquitex Professionals tubes are great. They have a more mousse-like, buttery consistency, and fantastic pigmentation. 

You will 100% notice the difference between student and artist grade paint. It is night and day. However, this is why I ask about the seriousness of the recipient's intent. These tubes of paint are more expensive, and colours like Cadmium Yellow tend to be very expensive, because they have real cadmium. So if you're just a dabbler, I wouldn't touch this. However, if you're serious about improving your skills as a painter, the sooner you are able to upgrade the quality of your materials, the better. 

Here is a link to my list of artist grade supplies. Once again, I have recommended a limited palette, because there is so much you can do with it. 

Lastly, I hands down recommend Painting in Acrylics by Lorena Kloosterboer. I'm not kidding when I say this is the book that taught me to paint. I am predominantly self-taught; aside from two weeks of an in person workshop with a professional painter in Toronto, I have zero formal training. I went through this book obsessively. It's how I learned about the magic of limited palettes, glazing, varnishing, and more. 

Miscellaneous Gifts

I have included a section in my storefront dedicated to miscellaneous gifts, but some of the biggest questions I get pertain directly to the business side of art. I've included links to many of my favourite books that are about the lifestyle of being an artist, but if I could only choose one about the business side of things, it'd be this:

Art Inc. by Lisa Congdon is excellent, especially for those just starting in the business. Through practical tips, diverse interviews, and sound advice, Lisa Congdon walks you through the world of marketing, prints, and more. 

The Takeaway

Having worked with a range of art supplies, I always recommend going with the highest quality set of materials that your budget allows. The quality difference can sometimes be staggering. That being said, do not overextend yourself. The last thing I want to do is encourage people to stretch their financial bounds. If I had to choose, I'd purchase fewer supplies of a higher quality than more supplies of a lower quality. That being said, a cheap watercolour set could be exactly what the doctor ordered. 

I personally use every item in this list, so I stand behind them being of a high enough calibre for your practice. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to reach out! 

Good luck with your shopping, and have fun playing! 

- Marianne

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