Alan’s 2021 artist gift guide

I have a strong lean toward art materials that deliver a lot for a little. Expensive materials are a double-edged sword. They can be inspiring. You want to use that expensive new toy. But also, they can be intimidating. I’m afraid to draw in that fancy new sketchbook. What if I ruin it with a bad drawing? So below are some of my favorite supplies that also deliver great value. Any of them would make a great gift for the artist in your life.


Urban Sketching Handbooks $10.99 each paperback

This is a very useful series of seven small books that cover all aspects of sketching on location. I have four of the books and I always keep them in my sketch bag.


Windsor & Newton Field Box set $68.25

Amazing little travel set that fits in the palm of your hand. Contains fold-out palettes, water cup, and travel brush. The price is a bit high because these are premium pigments with excellent lightfastness, meaning that they won’t fade over time like cheaper watercolors will.

Sakura Koi Watercolor Sketch Box Travel Pan Sets – Set of 24 colors $21.84


Elegant box with a really nice choice of colors. It even comes with a waterbrush. Not as pricey as the W&N set but very popular with many serious sketchers.

Kuretake water brushes $15.99

Fill the body of the brush with water. Give it a gentle squeeze and water flows through the bristles. These are a convenient way to apply watercolor to a field sketch without the mess of a full water color set. 

Apple Pencil $99.00

Your loved one has an iPad? Consider one of these. They work beautifully. I know many serious artists who do amazing things with the Apple Pencil paired with $9.99 Procreate painting software. Just check the specifications to make sure that their iPad is compatible.

TWSBI Eco fountain pen $32.99

Fantastic fountain pen that resists clogging. It’s the most reliable one I have. I have the extra-fine nib which has a little bit of flex to it. Only thing I don’t like is that the smooth plastic grip can feel a little slippery.

LAMY Safari Fountain Pen $29.60

I highly recommend this as a starter pen to anyone who hasn’t used a fountain pen before. Note the triangular grip. I love this because I can feel the proper orientation of the pen in my hand without looking at it. And you want to watch your subject, not your pen. However, for people with a non-standard grip style, this can be awkward. The TWSBI might be a better choice for those people. Very popular with both writers and sketchers. NOTE: if you want to use the inks below, you will also need a $6 converter.

Goulet Pen Co. ink samples $1.50-$2.75

You need ink for a fountain pen. For just a few bucks per sample, you can try any of their 800+ inks. I like to apply watercolor over my inks so I recommend De Atramentis Document inks. They are the most water-proof inks I’ve used.

Pentel Graph Gear mechanical pencil $5.70

My favorite mechanical pencil. I prefer the 0.9mm version. Just holding it in my hand makes me want to draw. Don’t forget to buy leads for it.

Watercolor postcard pad $8.92

Make a nice watercolor, address it, stamp it, and send it home. Ta-da! You just became a much more interesting traveler.

Stillman & Birn Archival Sketchbooks Epsilon Series – 5-1/2” x 3-1/2”, Soft Cover $10.36

The Epsilon series is great for pen and ink because of the plate finish. The nib glides over it without catching. I like this little pocket size because it’s so easy to take anywhere. And because of the small size, it gives me permission to make smaller, simpler drawings. Easy to crank out a simple sketch over lunch. For pencil sketching, consider going with a rougher paper, like the Alpha or Gamma series. Note that this review totally contradicts what I say at the top of the page about being afraid a nice sketchbook. This one does make me tense up a bit. For everyday experimenting, I use the simple $4 sketchbooks from Target. I don’t care if I ruin them with a few bad sketches.

Condor pocket pouch $18.99

Great pouch that will fit the Stillman and Birn sketchbook above, along with a pencil, pen, and a water brush perhaps.


Canvas brush roll-up $8.59

Another soft, simple way to carry brushes, pencils and pens. I like this because its not rigid like a pencil box. It just squishes into my bag where it will fit. It’s also better than a box because brushes and pencils can’t rattle around. Bristles don’t get bent and pencil points aren’t broken.

Speedball Water-Based Block Printing Starter Set $24.12

When I’m not sketching in the wild, I love linocut printing. This simple starter set is what I first used and it works great. I even made a tutorial video on how to use it.


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