10 best Christmas gifts for artists to get the creative juices flowing

·14-min read
There’s both arts and crafts essentials and fun, unusual finds in our round-up   (The Independent/iStock)
There’s both arts and crafts essentials and fun, unusual finds in our round-up (The Independent/iStock)

Some of us find buying Christmas gifts a joy, others a chore. We’ve had a weird couple of years, with last Christmas “cancelled” for many, while this year we’re now faced with buying gifts for relatives, some of whom we may not have seen for a long time. If they’re anything like us they have probably accrued a few new hobbies and interests – a great place to start when looking for some Christmas present inspiration.

The world of arts and crafts was one we all dipped our toe into during lockdown. Passionate artists pre-Covid had an opportunity to explore and experiment, while novices had a variety of new and interesting skill sets to choose from. Brands popped up left, right and centre, providing us with every art kit you could think of, and craft centres like Hobbycraft were out of stock in everything from embroidery hoops to paint.

Our homes are now museums to the projects (both complete and incomplete) that we embarked on in those “stay indoors” months – a slightly askew knitted cushion cover, hand-molded clay plant pots and trinket trays. Not only are they a motley crew of tokens of how we got through, but also markers of where we started our artistic exploration.

A lot of us caught the artsy bug and are still going strong, so if you have a relative, friend or partner who is still creating, the gifts listed below will most likely be on their wish list.

How we tested

We tested all of the kits by following the instructions and advised techniques, and all tools and equipment were used as recommended. We considered quality, value for money and how much fun we had. Not only were products tried and tested, but masterpieces were made.

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The best Christmas gifts for artists are:

  • Best overall – Artful pastel starter box: £45, Ohhdeer.com

  • Best for embroiderers – Whole Punching autumnal punch needle kit for beginners: £45, Wholepunching.co.uk

  • Best for clay lovers – Sculpd x Bloom & Wild festive plant pot making kit: £15, Bloomandwild.com

  • Best for knitters – Relight easy knitting hat: £45, Woolandthegang.com

  • Best for type design – The Calligraphy Store ultimate beginners calligraphy kit: £45, Thecalligraphystore.com

  • Best for stamp printing – Labour and Wait stamp carving kit: £15, Labourandwait.co.uk

  • Best for illustrators – Winsor & Newton ProMarker, set of 48: £85.95, Cassart.co.uk

  • Best sketchbook – RA Shop mini paper pack: £9.50, Royalacademy.org.uk

  • Best pencils – Caran d’Ache supracolor water colour pencils limited edition paul smith, set of 8: £29, Cultpens.com

  • Best rebels – Culture Hustle black 3.0: £15.99, Culturehustle.com

Artful pastel starter box

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

Artful is a fantastic subscription service that allows you to try out all the artistic mediums. From watercolours and pastels to ink and lino printing, it will introduce you to a variety of different art materials, starting from the basics and increasing your skill level from there on a quarterly basis. But unlike a lot of subscriptions, there’s also the wonderful option of trying a single box. We tried the pastel starter box and were really impressed with the amount included and the quality of the product. The contents is worth £100, and consisted of a set of 24 pastels, six pastel pencils, putty rubber, a 4H pencil, 25 sheets of premium mixed media paper, blank greeting cards, a no.11 Filbert paint brush, three paper blending stumps, and a magazine full of step-by-step tutorials and inspiration. It’s fit to burst with everything you could possibly need. What we found really helpful was that the box is suitable for all skill levels. If you’ve never used pastels before, the tutorials are a great way to get started, but if you have, the magazine also contains interviews with a variety of different artists discussing their different styles and techniques. This is perfect if you want to freestyle and try something out of your comfort zone. Pay £45 for the individual starter box or £120 for a year subscription.

Buy now £45.00, Ohhdeer.com

Whole Punching autumnal punch needle kit for beginners

Best: For embroiderers

Rating: 7/10

The name “punch needle” doesn’t quite do service to the intricacy of this skill. While technically it is an apt description, it makes it seem a bit caveman, and if you’ve ever tried your hand at it you’ll know it’s anything but. You may have seen mesmerising videos on Instagram of artists creating graphic textiles by relentlessly poking a piece of cloth with a funny looking needle, and thinking “that looks easy”. While we would say it’s easier than embroidery as there’s only really one stitch to learn, that one stitch takes a fair bit of practice. You are essentially poking the needle in and out of the same hole, but with the right tension, you bring the needle back out, leaving a loop on the underside of the fabric, before you go onto the next hole, and it’s the tightness of those loops that keep your stitches in place. It does give you two texture options though – the smooth stitch side allows you to create smooth and more precise designs, while the looped side is more of a deeper texture – perfect for bold and graphic designs.

This kit will familiarise you with the first texture as you follow the instructions to create a Scandi-style floral image. The kit comes with all the equipment needed and the instructions are very clear and easy to follow. It took us a few attempts at getting the tension right, but once we did it was an incredibly therapeutic process that we got lost in. We would recommend this for all skillsets, whether your recipient is an avid embroiderer looking to expand their textile skills, someone who isn’t keen on embroidery and is looking for something simpler, or someone who has tried neither but has always wanted to give it a go. It’s a great starting place that can lead to a variety of different skills, but it’s also a nice, uncomplicated project to do the sofa on a Sunday.

Buy now £45.00, Wholepunching.co.uk

Sculpd x Bloom & Wild festive plant pot making kit

Best: For clay lovers

Rating: 8/10

Sculpd is one of those brands that popped up on everyone’s Insta feeds in lockdown and had many of us recreating Ghost scenes in our living rooms (minus the wheel and wet clay though, because its kits are actually super mess-free and doesn’t require the drama of a wheel).

This particular set is a brilliant collaboration between Bloom & Wild and Sculpd. Simply select a house plant from the Bloom & Wild website, and the plant pot kit will be available to purchase alongside. The kit contains 1.3kg of premium air dry clay, eggshell paint, waterproof gloss varnish, a paint brush and a gold acrylic pen, as well as instructions on how to build and decorate your pot. The air dry clay means you don’t have to worry about kilns or putting it in your oven. Just mold it into whatever shape you like and leave to dry for two to three days.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s nothing stopping you decorating it however you like. We chose the gorgeous pachira money tree and had a lot of fun creating a pot with our bare hands. It was actually really easy, and once you’ve got the hang of it, there’s nothing stopping you stocking up on more clay and making as many plant pots as you like. It doesn’t matter if you’re not particularly green-fingered either, as the kit also comes with a handy plant care guide, so you don’t have to worry about your new plant fading away before the New Year.

Buy now £15.00, Bloomandwild.com

Wool And The Gang relight easy knitting hat

Best: For knitters

Rating: 9/10

We have a penchant here for any brand that has a pun in their name, and Wool And The Gang is not only that, but also a one-stop shop for anyone looking to get stuck into a bit of knitting. It stocks hundreds of DIY knitting kits for every level. All kits are categorised as either beginner, easy, intermediate or advanced, and the variety is next level, with every knitted clothing item you can think of available as a kit, and they’re all incredibly on trend. You could essentially knit your entire wardrobe if you were so inclined. All kits come with the needles required, but if you’ve had a kit before and have kept the needles, there are options to order without. The kits also come with a comprehensive and thorough step-by-step tutorial booklet. We were pleasantly surprised with how well illustrated each of the steps were, but if you still need a bit of extra help the website also has some amazing video tutorials that talk you through every stage of your knit. We found the relight hat a really easy starting place. Once you get into the rhythm there’s no stopping you, and the stylish designs will inspire you to branch out on your own.

Buy now £45.00, Woolandthegang.com

The Calligraphy Store ultimate beginners calligraphy kit

Best: For type design

Rating: 9/10

Calligraphy as a skill has risen in popularity over the last few years with workshops and classes popping up all over the place. In 2019, Hobbycraft noticed a 40 per cent spike in calligraphy kits after Meghan Markle revealed it as one of her hobbies, and the Instagram videos of swirling fonts are pretty addictive. As well as being a great way to tighten up your handwriting (laptops and phones can be blamed for our sloppy penmanship), it is known to have great calming properties which can work wonders for mental health. It is also a great tool for any artist to have in their arsenal. Whether you want to add some text or font work to your pieces, or are interested in calligraphy as an art form on its own, this kit gives you what you need to get going.

If you are already a skilled calligrapher, The Calligraphy Store also does a calligraphy lovers kit which comes with several types of calligraphy nibs. For all kits you are able to choose your ink colours, and the beautiful hardback modern calligraphy and hand lettering book takes you over everything from small case and upper case lettering, joining letters and mixing inks as well as digitising your work and working on a variety of materials. It’s so extensive that it is included in all kits regardless of expertise, as it’s definitely something you’ll want to come back to.

The kit is also beautifully packaged and decorated in a lovely navy box with gold lettering, making it the perfect gift.

Buy now £45.00, Thecalligraphystore.com

Labour and Wait stamp carving kit

Best: For stamp printing

Rating: 7/10

Labour and Wait is all about the simple life and getting back to basics. A lot of its products are the kind where you think “they just don’t make them like that anymore.” Except they do, and this is where you can come to stock up. From Japanese kraft envelopes and natural twine, to rotary pencil sharpeners and cloth bound notebooks, this is heaven for fans of all things rustic. This kit contains everything you need to make and print your own rubber stamps: an ink pad, two carving tools, a handle, five blank stamps and a leaflet full of design ideas. There’s something very satisfying about making your own tools to create with, and getting creative in the process. The stamps are great for creating gift cards, personalising a letter or even print design, and we found the process of carving out the stamps very easy and satisfying. Just make sure you plan your design fully beforehand, unless you’re a super confident freestyler.

Buy now £15.00, Labourandwait.co.uk

Winsor & Newton promarker, set of 48

Best: For illustrators

Rating: 9/10

Everyone loved the feeling of getting a new set of colouring pens when they were younger, and artists of all ages will feel the exact same upon receiving this set. Winsor & Newton “promarkers” are renowned among artists for their versatility and ability to layer and build-up colour, creating a blended effect similar to that of watercolours. They’re fun for both simple doodles as well as big projects, and we loved the duo nibs. The wide nib is great for covering large spaces and blending, while the finer nib creates bold, graphic lines over the top without bleeding. Who knew colouring pens could bring so much joy, and with 48 of them, the possibilities are endless.

Buy now £85.95, Cassart.co.uk

RA Shop mini paper pack

Best: Sketchbook

Rating: 8/10

Khadi paper is the holy grail of artistic materials. Ask anyone who paints or draws and they will wax lyrical about it. It’s super absorbent with an uneven surface which is great for experimenting with depths of colour and soft washes, whether you’re using watercolours or inks. It’s made from 100 per cent long-fibred cotton rag which makes the paper strong and durable. This mini pack is great for mini artworks and tiny drawings, particularly if you know someone who loves to get artsy on the go. Due to the absorbent nature of the paper, you do have to be very sure of where you place your paint, and watercolours don’t need a lot of working, but once you’re used to how the paper responds to your paint you won’t want to use anything else.

Buy now £9.50, Royalacademy.org.uk

Caran d’Ache supracolor water colour pencils limited edition paul smith, set of 8

Best: Pencils

Ratings: 8/10

The Swiss are famous for making the best of the best – watches, cheese, chocolate, banks; whatever they make you can rest assured you’re getting a product that will deliver. As odd as it sounds, the same can be said for their pencils. Caran d’Ache is a Swiss manufacturing company of art materials and writing instruments and has been an expert in the field since 1915. This set of water soluble pencils are in collaboration with fashion designer Paul Smith, who has been a fan of the brand for over ten years. In fact, this is their third collaboration to date. Could there be a higher accolade than a fashion designer using your products to create and loving them so much they collaborate with you? When using them ourselves we understood immediately what all the hype was about. They’re soft and malleable to the touch and when dry, they apply smoothly; when wet they produce a strong wash with very little effort.

Buy now £29.00, Cultpens.com

Culture Hustle black 3.0

Best: For rebels

Rating: 9/10

Let us take you back to 2014. You may remember a UK-based industrial equipment supplier called Surrey NanoSystems developing the blackest material to ever exist. It was called vantablack, and it absorbs 99.96 per cent of light. To the annoyance of the creative community, sculptor Anish Kapoor took out an exclusive license that meant only he could use the paint (with exemptions for museums and research facilities). This is where Culture Hustle comes in. Founder and fellow artist Stuart Semple decided to work with over 1000 artists who decided they didn’t want painters to be denied access, so they worked together with funding through Kickstarter to create their own: black 3.0. It’s the blackest acrylic paint in existence, and is super affordable.

It’s non-toxic and can be used in a multitude of ways, just make sure it’s room temperature and allow it to dry between coats. It’s actually quite freaky to use if you haven’t tried it before. Even if you don’t have a particular project in mind, it’s pretty special to just paint a piece of paper in this stuff and stare into the blackest black, a product of true artistic rebellion.

Buy now £15.99, Culturehustle.com

The verdict: Christmas presents for artists

If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for an artsy someone, you really are spoilt for choice. The Artful subscription is the gift that keeps on giving, with four different art boxes arriving every three months, catering to anyone who likes to have a go at a bit of everything. You really do get your money’s worth, even if you just purchase an individual box. If you’re looking for something special, The Calligraphy Store’s kits are elegant and timeless while Culture Hustle’s black 3.0 has real wow factor.

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