Great Christmas Gifts for Artists and Illustrators

Do you have an artist in your life, but you’re stumped on gift ideas? Well, I’m here to give you some ideas based on art supplies I find really useful. First you need to know some basic information like which medium or style art they like to do. Do they like to draw in pencil or paint in acrylic? Do they draw comics or paint landscapes? Since I’m a watercolor fantasy artist I’ll talk about my favorites. Luckily there are some things everyone will like as well.

Drawing Tools

Caran D’Ache fix pencil and leads
Drawing with these pencils feels smooth and buttery. It’s a thick lead, but can be sharpened with a tiny sharpener at the end of the pencil or get a pencil pointer.

Caran D’Ache Water Soluble Graphite Pencils

You’ve probably heard of watercolor pencils but these are graphite pencils that can be blended with water. I used them for an underdrawing on Queen of Wands tarot painting.

Kum Automatic Break Pencil Sharpener

This is honestly the best pencil sharper I’ve had. It comes with two sharpeners. The first one sharpens the wood casing and the 2nd one points the lead. It’s specially built to avoid over sharpening and breaking the lead.

Water Soluble Graphite pencil

Water Soluble Graphite pencil

Ink Artists

Dinky Dips from Paper and Ink Arts

Tiny little ink bottles for artists who draw with dip pens. It’s a simple idea, but the size of each bottle is just right to add ink to the nib without getting any on the pen handle or fingers.

Finetec Metallic Watercolors

These little pans are fun for adding shiny details to watercolors or inks and come in sets of gold and colors. You can see some color swatches and paintings I created with them from my blog article on metallic watercolors.

Jet Pens brush Pen Samplers

Kuretake brush pen sampler or Tombow brush pen sampler are a great way to try a variety of pens.

J Herbin 1798 Inks
Limited edition fountain pen inks containing silver flecks

Artbin Pen and Nib Box

Perfect storage for pen holder all those nibs laying around.

Watercolor Artists

M Graham Watercolor Sets

These sets come in collections like Quinacridone colors, Cobalts, Jewel Tones, Marine paintings, and landscape colors. M Graham colors are highly pigmented and made with honey. They don’t completely dry out in a palette, which I like (some people don’t).

Daniel Smith PrimaTek Watercolor Set

These paints are made of actual gemstones. How cool is that?

Niji Waterbrushes

Brushes filled with water in a squeezable handle can be used for travel painting or just blending paint with clean water while painting.

Watercolor Paper Sample Sets

Most professional artists probably already have a favorite paper but it’s fun to experiment with different textures and brands. Cheap Joes sells various sets for different uses. The Quarter Sheet set is probably your best bet.

Mijello Airtight Watercolor Palettes

Leakproof palettes are great for travel. I used them for my every day palette for years.

Porcelain Watercolor Palettes

I love using these easily washable dishes for mixing colors. I have several and use for different color schemes.

Huion Lightpad

I have this large 23 inch led light pad and it gets lots of use transferring sketches from one paper to another to paint on. Not just for watercolor artists at all! I have a blog post on that too.


Digital Artists

Palm Rejection Glove

If your artist friend uses a portable drawing tablet, a palm rejection glove is a great thing. It’s not a happy surprise when you find marks you accidentally made with the side of your hand.

Imagine FX Subscription

Imagine FX features lots of digital art articles and how tos on and fantasy art and animation.

Print Making

Ink Sampler Sets

Akua Intaglio Inks

A sample set of soy based non toxic inks.

Speedball Printing Press

A small block printing press that’s great for beginners.

It’s cold outside!

Fingerless Gloves

It can be cold in my studio and every year I buy a pair of fingerless gloves to wear while working. Pro-tip: shorter gloves that don’t go past the base of the fingers are best for small hands and not getting in the way of holding pencils. Etsy is full of beautiful handmade gloves.

Tea or Coffee Mug Warmer

I love being able to keep my drink warm while spending long hours drawing in the winter. It really works!


Color and Light by James Gurney

Everything you need to know about painting color and light by master artist James Gurney.

Books by Andrew Loomis Figure Drawing for all It’s Worth or Drawing the Head and Hands, and Creative Illustration

Framed Ink - A guide to visual storytelling based on the author’s experience in comics.

It’s Fun to Draw People by Seiichi Nakamura is a great simplified figure drawing book that is somewhere between manga and more realistic art.

Still not sure?

Gift Certificates for Art Supplies
I don’t know many artists who wouldn’t love a gift certificate for any of the popular art supply sites like Blick Art Materials, Cheap Joes, Jerry’s Artarama, Artist and Craftsman, or Jet Pens.

Some other ideas:

Comparing Metallic Gold and Silver Watercolors

Comparing Metallic Watercolors

Yasutomo, Kremer Star-Gold and Finetec)

Yasutomo, Kremer Star-Gold and Finetec)

I like the look of gold leaf, but don’t have the patience to use it. I like the control I get by using a brush better. Many of artists must feel the same because this subject comes up very often. Luckily there are many metallic watercolors available. I’m going to start chronologically with what I’ve tried.

Holbein Irodori

This may have been the first metallic gold paint I tried that wasn’t acrylic or enamel, so obviously it worked better with watercolors. Holbein Irodori Antique watercolors are designed as a palette for Chinese and Japanese painting. Most of them are more opaque than western watercolors.

Paint qualities: Antique Gold has a very nice shimmering quality. It works well as a transparent shimmer over other colors, but compared to other choices it’s not great for building up an opaque coverage.

As with most of these paints, reproduction requires some photography tricks. Some paints show up better in scans than others.

Where to find: Blick Art Materials, Artist and Craftsman Supply


Yasutomo on black

Yasutomo on black

Yasutomo Ceramic Pans

Japanese watercolors made for use in Sumi-e painting. These come in individual round ceramic dishes and are available in Reddish Gold, Gold, and Silver. They are also available as part of a set of 6 with red, white and black colors.

Paint qualities: Very opaque but easily diluted as well. Making solid opaque lines is easy. The paint is not as shimmering as other paints, and has more of a dull finish except when turned towards a light source.

Fun techniques: After rinsing your brush the rinsed paint will float on top of the water. It’s possible to lay a sheet of paper on top and pick up the paint flecks.

Calligraphy: Yes!

Where to find: Oriental Art Supplies, Wet Paint Art

Yasutomo pans

Yasutomo pans

Kremer Colibri Star-Gold

Kremer Colibri Star-Gold

Kremer Pigments

 Kremer sells loose pigments as well as ready made watercolor in full and half pans. The metallic paints made of mica and watercolor medium are available in various shades of gold, silver, and bronze.

Paint qualities: The sparkle quality is high with these paints. Colibri Star-Gold (501108) quickly became my favorite. Compared to Colibri Gold (501008) which is slightly flatter, Star-Gold is has more shimmer. Paints are easy to make both very opaque or use as a diluted wash over other colors.

Fun techniques: In rinse water these pigments will sink to the bottom. Pour off extra water to use the remaining pigment or try pouring it off onto paper.

Kremer pans

Kremer pans

Calligraphy: Yes! I was excited to discover that this worked and looks raised when dry. Pick up some wet paint with a brush and add it to a pen nib to draw with.

Where to find:  Available at Kremer Pigments online shop(under ready-made watercolors) or at their shop in New York.

Kremer gold used in a pen nib

Kremer gold used in a pen nib


These seem very similar to Kremer’s paints and are also made with mica. The main things that interested me in these was seeing several artists use them with multiple shades of gold and silver in one painting. That’s easy since they come in a set of 6 (they also make colors but I haven’t tried those)

Paint qualities: Paints take a little more time working up a wet area in the pan to get an opaque color than Kremer. Otherwise they seem really similar to me and I like the variety of shades.

Fun techniques:
Try dripping onto wet watercolors for star-like effects.

In rinse water these pigments will sink to the bottom. Pour off extra water to use the remaining pigment or try pouring it off onto paper.

Calligraphy: Yes!

Where to find: Jet Pens, Paper & Ink Arts

Wet in wet with watercolors

Wet in wet with watercolors

Finetec golds on black

Finetec golds on black

Additional Paint Swatches

I made a little video so you can see how they look in motion

Various paints on white

Various paints on white

Kremer and Holbein on black

Kremer and Holbein on black

Metallic shine is more pronounced depending on the light source

Metallic shine is more pronounced depending on the light source







Lightbox Review: Artograph Vs Huion Comparison

The search for a better light box

(This blog was originally posted in 2015.)

Since I ink my drawings on watercolor paper I use a lightbox to transfer my drawings (See my finished art here)  This has a couple advantages: 1: My sketches can be as messy as I like or be done on several layers and 2: Too much erasing on watercolor paper can strip the sizing off.


My first lightboxes were a thick slanted design with a fluorescent bulb.The shape was awkward when turned to work on longer vertical drawings. Luckily I only broke and had to replace one lightbulb. A few years later when LED lightpads from Artograph came out I got a 9×12 size. I’ve been using that ever since. The main improvement was that was much thinner, flat and lightbulbs couldn’t be broken. The weight and thickness was still awkward to use with larger paper. I was eyeing the new revolving lightpad but the cost was pretty high and it wouldn’t be portable.

My studio has skylights high over my desk, which is great for painting but leaves me unable to use the lightbox during the day. When I read that Huion light pads were supposedly brighter I decided to get two sizes so I could take one to conventions and coffee shops. I was able to get both for a similar price as buying the larger Artograph.

What a difference in thickness!

What a difference in thickness!

Whereas the Artograph lightpad is heavy duty metal and the case can take a beating, the Huion has LEDs encased in plexiglass. As far as I can tell the A3 model is brighter than both the Artograph and the USB model, making a bit easier for me to use it during daylight. I would definitely recommend these to artist and illustrators!

Huion is slightly definitely brighter than the Artograph

Huion is slightly definitely brighter than the Artograph

23.5/A3 and 17.7/LS4 size

23.5/A3 and 17.7/LS4 size

L4S USB powered pad and the A3 pad difference in brightness.

L4S USB powered pad and the A3 pad difference in brightness.

Artograph 11.5×14.5 lightpad  [Artograph 12 inch by 9 inch Light Pad Light Box]

size: 9×12 working area

weight: About 5 pounds

brightness: I couldn’t find any record of this.

cord: Comes with a standard wall adapter. The socket on the lightpad had popped out and needed to be taped on after some use. After a few years my cord also came apart at the base and had to be replaced with something similar. Artograph doesn’t sell adapters separately.

pros: According to their youtube videos you can drop it off a roof or run a car over it.

cons: Very heavy, not as bright, and problems with the cord. It never fully fit in any of my book bags.

Huion A3 23.5 inch – [Huion 23.5 Inch Tatoo Tracing Light Table LED Light Box – A3]

size: 12×16

weight: 3.8 pounds

brightness: 4050 Lux

cord: Comes with a standard wall adapter. Huion sells replacement adapters should you break one.

pros: Lighter weight, Much larger working area and brighter adjustable lights.

cons: There’s just one button which you hold down to turn on and off and adjust brightness. Not as indestructible as the metal lightbox.

Huion L4S 17.7 inch – [Huion 17.7 Inch (Diagonal) LED Artcraft Tracing Light Pad Light Box (L4S)]

size: 8×12 inch work surface

weight: 1.3 lbs

thickness: 5.1mm

brightness: Adjustable brightness (below 1500 Lux)

cord: Comes with a USB cord to plug into a computer or battery instead an outlet. This resembles a wacom cord. I was able to connect it to my ipad cord and another I already had to plug into the wall.

pros: Very portable! Easily fits in my messenger bag with my sketchbooks. USB powered. (There is also a similar model with a built in battery)

cons: Not as bright as the A3 model. Needs a 3rd party adapter to plug into the wall.

[Addendum: This pad is thinner than the larger model. I’d like to add that if you lean on the area near the button or place reference books on top it can shut off with too much pressure]

Strength for 78 Tarot

Since our first deck was successful, 78 Tarot decided to do a second deck. This time the Nautical theme was voted on by the original kickstarter backers. My card this time is Strength. Strength doesn’t normally have any connection with what. I wanted to try to bring in the gold colors of the original Rider-Waite-Smith design, and find a sea creature that could take the place of a lion. Ultimately, I didn’t find a creature that inspired the same feelings of power and strength, so drew a lion-headed sea serpent.

Thumbnail sketch on toned paper and digital color sketch. These are about 2 inches tall.

Strength thumbnail sketches

Strength thumbnail sketches

Meaning: Strength, Courage, Compassion, Patience

Strength appears to be a quiet and gentle girl, but she uses her inner strength, patience and compassion to tame the sea serpent instead of physical power. She has the ability to harness the chaotic animal nature of the beast through calm persistence, understanding, and love. The serpent’s tail shows there is more than what appears on the surface, while the girl sits upon a solid foundation of stone.


Strength – Watercolor

Strength Tarot Card finished watercolor

Strength Tarot Card finished watercolor

10 of Coins finished!

78 Tarot – 10 Of Coins Finished!

And the card is finished!

(To see my work in progress read the previous posts on this card)

10 of Coins painted for 78 Tarot

10 of Coins painted for 78 Tarot

About The Deck:

78 Tarot is an exciting deck created by 78 different artists, each made in their own style. I have painted the “10 of Coins” card you see here. Other artists contributing include Jasmine Becket-Griffith, Larry Elmore, Natalia Pierandrei, Delphine Griffin, Tanya Bond, Tiffany Toland-Scott, Carrie Hawks, Jessica Douglas, and many more!

About My 10 Of Coins Card:

Here and some questions provided by 78 Tarot for more further information on my cardHow did you decide to use the symbolism you have?
Family inheritance, wealth and material abundance are meanings for this card. I wanted to coin to be a repeated motif that could also work as a family symbol or coat of arms. As a gold colored coin it is also a symbol of wealth by itself. The family has a solid stone home with decorative work and statues of ancestors from centuries earlier. Abundance is also reflected in their rich clothing.

How did you choose what to use to represent the pentacles (coins)?

Since the Pentacles is the earth suit I knew I wanted to use a lot of green and leaves in the background. 10 of coins is all about strong foundations, and security. I chose ivy leaves because I associate them with old buildings. It takes time for vines to grow over a wall, while the wall needs to be solid stone to stand up to the roots.

How did you go about choosing the story you would tell?

I looked at several versions of the card that had been published. I didn’t really really like any of them. I read as many descriptions of the meaning as I could and wrote down the main points that seemed important to me. Then I tried to think of what sort of scene could bring those together and still be something I enjoyed to paint. The mother passing her necklace to her daughter and the motif reflected in the architecture and her dress bring together the ideas of family, inherited wealth, tradition, and leaving behind something that lasts.

Why the maternal scene?

I didn’t really relate to the old man’s point of view in the Rider Waite card, but I still wanted a way to show generations of a family.

How long did the process take you?

I worked for about a month on it. It took a couple weeks to work out an idea from brainstorming and sketches to the final drawing.

78 Tarot Project – 10 Of Coins Step by Step Painting

78 Tarot is a group of 78 artists completing a tarot deck. Each artist will do one card in their own style. You can follow our progress at the 78 Tarot website or facebook page.

Rider-Waite-Smith 10 of Coins

Rider-Waite-Smith 10 of Coins

10 of Coins

10 of Coins is about family, inheritance, tradition, material abundance, a lasting foundation, security and comfort.

When I was asked to join the project there were not many card choices left. I thought I would do one of the Coin or Pentacle cards since the Earth-based suit interested me. I quickly glanced at my book and chose between 9 and 10. Once I started researching the card and meaning I found it was not very appealing to me as it was usually depicted in the Rider-Waite Tarot, and had second thoughts about choosing that card. I disliked the jumbled mix of narrative and scene and coins strewn over the picture. The scene was hard to read and crowded.

Thumbnail Sketches

I knew I wanted to simplify it by including fewer figures and making the coin symbols part of the scene itself. My first idea was to show a parent and child instead of a large family. The coin was to be a repeating symbol or coat of arms that could be used in the background to tie into the inherited wealth and tradition idea. The mother is passing a necklace to her daughter that she received from her mother.

In the second sketch I added a statue behind the mother and daughter meant to represent an ancestor. In this way I could show the coin symbol being passed between generations. I wasn’t sure about the background yet. Perhaps it would be an leafy arch with coins designs in it.


Further refining the thumbnails

My third thumbnail sketch became the basis for the final drawing. I brought the figures inside a solid stone arch and moved the statue to into the arch. A dog next to the mother represents fidelity.

Next I made sketches of the mother and daughter concentrating on their costumes. I chose to dress them in Italian Renaissance style dresses, which definitely bring to mind wealth and abundance.

Color Sketch

A quick digital color sketch of both compositions helped me to decide on which I wanted to continue with, and what the eventual color scheme would be.


Once I decided on the second composition, I worked on refining the pose of the two figures.

Laying out the background arch I decided to give it an organic Art Nouveau look to tie both nature and history together into a solid stone carving. A statue based on medieval cathedral door jamb figures will be on other side of the archway. These figures are dressed in costumes from centuries earlier.




Color Sketch

Once I have the basic layout of the entire picture drawn I did a second color sketch. I wanted to base the top section of the art on Art and Crafts period stained glass designs with muted green and gold. For the coins, instead of literal Pentacles I drew them as ivy leaves. The ivy motif will be repeated all over the painting. At this point while I’m figuring out the coloring of the background I get a better idea of how to will draw the floor and the stone wall, as well as a walled city the distance.

Final Drawing

To make the final pencil drawing I used my light box to draw over sketches of the various elements on separate sheets in order to adjust the placement. In the final pencil drawing I made the right statue a man facing forward to break up the symmetry and drew the stones in the floor in a leaf or petal shape.

10ofcupsdrawing_meredithdillman (1).jpg

On to painting…

Next I ink outlines on some of the main figures and archway and begin painting. After many days working…

almost done!