So you are lucky enough to be able to shop for at least one artist this year, but you’re not sure how you could possibly add to their creative brilliance. Well the holidays were made for inspiration and the best gifts are the one’s that will further allow your artist the chance to express themself or the ones most likely to inspire them. Before you buy, you should know there are many different mediums upon which your creative may use to create their masterpieces.

For the traditional painter we would suggest top of the line brushes, unusual paints, gesso and canvases.


Artists can never have too many; they get lost, broken or damaged and often need replacing. They also act like a magic wand and they add to the aesthetics of any art studio setting.

Oil, Ink, Watercolor, Tempera….Mongoose, Ox, Camel, Squirrel, and Bristle…There are just as many different mediums for painters as there are brushes to go with them, so before you shop find out what your artist’s medium may be or get them a different brush than what they are used to – it most likely will inspire them.

Oil and watercolor painters love a good weasel…meaning ….Red Sable
Red Sable is brush hair from the weasel family. The finest soft brush hair is known to be from the hair of the Kolinsky, an animal found in cold regions of Russia and China. Each Kolinsky hair has a fine point, and its overall structure ensures that the hairs cling closely together when wet. These hairs, unsurpassed for spring and strength, are the standard by which all other soft hairs (synthetic or natural) are judged.  It’s most important that the brush be able to hold liquid and because of their strength, absorbent, high-quality red sable brushes are considered to be the best for watercolor, which requires that a brush hold liquid the longest and retain a fine point when wet.

Synthetic brushes…acrylic paint.

It’s really up to the artist, but synthetic hair brushes made of nylon and other fancy compounds provide a smoother stroke than a natural bristle and their synthetic makeup retains its stiffness longer as they are just more durable, where natural bristle brushes tend to lose their stiffness after repeated washings from harsh detergents, solvents, bugs, or paints. A synthetic brush is usually less expensive, and may have longer handles that allow the artist to work at a distance. The good thing about acrylic brushes is that you can use them with most mediums such as gouache, ink and tempera while other natural hair brushes fit better with more natural mediums such as oil, or water color…and then there are hybrids…

Natural and synthetic hairs are also being used in combination. There are brushes favored that use natural squirrel and goat hair combined with synthetic filament. The natural hair increases the softness and absorbance, while the synthetic hair lends to the spring and point of fine natural hair and keeps the price down. This combination of qualities makes this brush especially desirable for watercolors.

Ink brushes – Over 2000 years of “Ancient Chinese Secrets” are utilized with every ink brush, together with the ink stone, ink stick and Xuan paper, the four writing implements that form the Four Treasures of the Study in East Asian calligraphic traditions. The stalk can be made from normal bamboo, but throughout history has been known to be from gold, silver, jade, ivory, red sandalwood or spotted bamboo. All stalks caressing the hairs of goat, Siberian weasel, pig, mouse, buffalo, wolf, rabbit hair, or maybe even tiger. There have also been Chinese Ink brushes made of fowl, deer and even human hair from a baby’s first haircut, said to bring good fortune. Synthetic hair is NOT used.


Yes, unusual paints …There are plenty of different paints that vary in price, quality and history, so be sure to know what you’re getting yourself into…

Take tempera for instance…Yes, that good old paint from kindergarten used to paint those undeveloped rainbows over chimney-stacked houses, goes back even further than that. Tempera paint last a very long time with examples from the 1st century A.D. that STILL exist and many of the Fayum mummy portrait artists of Egypt used tempera.

Tempera is created by hand-grinding dry powdered pigments (some historically toxic) with egg, plant gums, glue, honey, water, oil, or milk.

Tempera techniques have also been used in ancient and early medieval paintings including several found in caves and in the rock-cut temples of India. In Medieval and early renaissance Europe, egg tempera painting was the primary panel painting medium for nearly every painter including every surviving panel painting by Michelangelo…it’s egg tempera. No shrimp.

Tempera painting starts with placing a powdered pigment onto a palette, a few drops of distilled water are added; then goo, the binder (egg emulsion), in small increments to the desired transparency. The more egg emulsion, the more transparent the paint.  Wouldn’t it be awesome for your artist to truly begin the process of creating something amazing from almost nothing, just like they used to do hundreds of years ago? Either way, you can purchase the gift of tempera pre-made or buy your artist a manual and get Medieval with it!

NOTE, when getting Medieval with it: Most artists today use modern synthetic pigments, which are less toxic than the cinnabar and the lead whites of days of old. Even so, many modern pigments are still dangerous unless certain precautions are taken; these include keeping pigments wet in storage to avoid breathing their dust. On the other hand, tempera colors do not change over time, whereas oil paints darken, yellow, and become transparent with age.


Practically anything a can become a canvas. Old wood, street signs, skin, the studio wall. To an artist the whole world is a canvas. But when it comes time to sell, it’s best to have something that can be easily transported.

One of the earliest surviving paintings on canvas is a French Madonna with angels from around 1410 in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. However, panel painting remained more common until the 16th century in Italy and in the 17th century of Northern Europe until Mantegna and Venetian artists led the way to change; partially because of their regions Venetian sail canvases that were readily available and regarded as the best quality.

Early canvas was made of linen, from the flaxseed, a sturdy brownish fabric of considerable strength. Linen is particularly suitable for the use of natural paints. In the early 20th century, cotton canvas, also called  “cotton duck,” became more popular because it stretched more fully with its even mechanical weave, and offered a more economical alternative.

To Gesso or Not To Gesso?..that is the question.

Take a Gesso!

Well….Canvas has become the most common support medium for natural painting, replacing wooden panels but the necessity of priming the canvas whether it be fabric or wood is still among us. Throughout history gesso has been used to prevent paint from coming into direct contact with the canvas fibers, which will eventually cause the canvas to decay.

Renaissance masters took extreme measures to ensure that none of the texture of the canvas came through. This required a painstaking, months-long process of layering the raw canvas with gesso (usually) a lead-white paint, followed by polishing the surface, and then repeating. The final product had little resemblance to fabric, but instead had a glossy, enamel-like finish. This flat surface was crucial in attaining photographic realism.

With a properly prepared canvas, the painter will find that each subsequent layer of color glides on in a “buttery” manner, and that with the proper consistency of application (fat over lean technique), a painting entirely devoid of brushstrokes can be achieved. Still do some research, while modern-day canvases may come with gesso,  some artist don’t even bother using gesso, and some still mix and prime their own gesso with at least a few coats, making gesso a valuable gift idea.

In modern-day, you can purchase a ready-made canvas typically stretched across a wooden frame called a stretcher, and then coated with a pre-made gesso before it is to be used.

One of the most outstanding differences between modern painting techniques and those of our ancient masters is in the preparation of the canvas. Not only do modern techniques come with modern chemicals, they also allow painters to take advantage of both the canvas texture as well as those of the paint itself as part of the aesthetics in the finished works. With a properly prepared canvas, the painter will find that each subsequent layer of color glides on in a “buttery” manner, and that with the proper consistency of application (fat over lean technique), a painting entirely devoid of brushstrokes can be achieved.

Still do some research, while modern-day canvases may come with gesso,  some artist don’t even bother using gesso, and some still mix and prime their own gesso with at least a few coats, making gesso a valuable gift idea,

What ever you decide to surprise your artist with this Holiday season is sure to give them more opportunity to create those thought-provoking conversation pieces and add to their own creative experience. Look around their studio, ask questions about their mediums when you’re admiring their works. This will give you a better idea about what gifts can enhance or inspire them as you present them with a Holiday gift you’re sure they will love.

Coming in part 2:

Journals, Sketch Pads, Chalks and Colored Pencils