Category Archives: Studio Tips

Gifts for your Artist

15 Ideas from the most used items and student favorites in my studio

Gift giving is a special opportunity to buy a treat for someone, and if that someone is an artist, there’s no better gift than art supplies. The more one creates, the faster those supplies run through our fingers. Here are 15 ideas that will spoil the artist in your life- from big to small budgets, there’s something for everyone here.

(This post contains affiliate links and I will earn slight commission on qualifying items when you use these links- it does not effect your cost at all and helps support me as an artist in today’s world!)

Arteza Watercolor Brush Pens are a favorite product for me and my students. When combined with traditional watercolors, they give extra color and control while still playing nicely with your regular paints. They are like brushes pre-loaded with paints, and you can dip in water and use seamlessly with your own paints or use on their own to save on the setup and mess.

Micron Pens are a great set of pens that can be used on their own or with watercolors without bleeding. I used these (along with a few other ink tools) to create my 100-page coloring book, and frequently use them with watercolors or the above listed Watercolor Brush Pens. High quality and long lasting, these pens will love you right back.

Sakura Pigma Micron Pens - Set of 6, Black, 08

Prang Watercolors are low-cost but quality watercolor that is a step above the base for a beginner. Easy to use and easy to clean, these are the watercolors I recommend for children. I use them too and i’m a grown up! (See the next item on the list if you’re looking to spoil a non-beginner.)

Prang Watercolor Pans - Square, Assorted, Set of 8 Colors

Windsor Newton Watercolor Travel Set
If you want to spoil them with nice watercolors, but don’t want to spend a ton, this is a great set. The bonus is it’s a travel set so they can take it any where- the park, their backyard, or work easily from their kitchen table without a huge set up. I have a set of these that I use for my primary watercolors, and they are very long lasting.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Set - Pocket Plus Travel Set of 12

Canson Watercolor Paper is a high quality yet affordable paper, and watercolor paper is a treat. It’s made to take all the watercolor-ness you can dish out, doesn’t warp/bubble as easy, and is maybe something that your artist doesn’t often have around. Since i’m listing watercolors and materials above, I can’t leave out this great and affordable paper that’s made for it! (Make sure to pair with the Pro-Art Tape at the end of the gift list)

Canson XL Watercolor Pad - 11'' x 15'', Euro Fold, 30 Sheets

Set of Synthetic brushes
If your artist is just starting out, a set of versatile brushes can compliment your gift and make sure they’re ready to create right now! This set can be used with watercolors or acrylics and has a variety of shapes to use and experiment yet. Even if you’re artist has been at it a while, brushes are a consumable material, and new brushes is usually a treat for any artist.

Liquitex Basics Brush Set - Set of 6

Arteza Wood Rounds are a favorite for me and for my students- these are fun to use to make gifts, ornaments, coasters- or just as a unique and different canvas for your art! These are a nice size for working, and everyone i’ve seen use them or receive the just loves them! Use with acrylics, paint markers, or even oils. I used these to create my Oil Painter Annie 2020 ornament

Arteza Metallic Acrylics
Talk about fun, these metallic paints add a little sparkle to your life. And what a treat- I received my set as a gift last Christmas and I love adding a little sparkle to my pieces. These are a unique material to spoil your artist.

Sharpie Paint Markers are another favorite product for myself and my students. These oil based paint markers can be used on so many surfaces: i’ve used them on metal, wood, rocks, plastic, my studio door, the wall! Oh and paper and canvas too. Really fun to use to get to decorate unusual surfaces, and great for all ages. I’ve had particular success with young artists with these paint markers.

Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Marker - Red, Fine Point

Box to keep Art stuff
I see my students carrying their materials in all kinds of containers- plastic bags, backpacks, boxes, or just loose and rolling around everywhere. Art Bin is like a Caboodle for your art stuff- so fun to keep it organized and easy to grab and carry out the door or to the kitchen table. Plus wouldn’t you love it if they’d stop leaving it all over the table when it’s dinner time? An Art Bin is a treat, even for me. And pair it with some of the materials listed above, and you have a really thoughtful and inspiring art gift.

ArtBin Sidekick Storage Bin - 15'' x 10'' x 7 3/4'', Translucent

Table Top Easel
A great gift for any artist- new or seasoned. I’ve noticed almost none of my students have one of their own, and they LOVE to use it during lessons. And for a seasoned artist, there’s never enough space for drying projects! A table top easel can be used to display pieces too. Foldable for storage- it’s a great addition to any artist’s studio equipment. (I have 3 and I could use 3 more at times!)

Blick Tabletop Easel - H-Frame, Natural

Prismacolor Colored Pencils
These are the good ones! So smooth and blendable- plus the more you use them, the more you need! Save your artist from those short stubby pencils they are clinging too and spoil them with a fresh set!

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils - Set of 36

Canson Mixed Media Paper
Very versatile paper and can be used for watercolor, acrylics, pen and ink, pastel or pencil. Sturdy and durable, this is a great paper for artists of any level. (Make sure to pair with the Pro-Art Tape at the end of the gift list)

Canson XL Watercolor Pad - 9'' x 12'', Wirebound, 30 Sheets

Canson Paper for Acrylics and Oils
If you have an artist who is primarily a painter, this is a great gift. I paint with oils on this paper and it can handle anything I dish out, and I dish out a lot! (Make sure to pair with the Pro-Art Tape at the end of the gift list)

Canson XL Oil and Acrylic Pad - 9'' x 12'', 24 Sheets

Pro-Art Tape
Seems basic, but I use this ALL THE TIME! It’s way better than the blue or green painters tape which always tears the paper! If you’re buying any of the papers listed here, this tape is a must! It won’t let paint bleed, but it also won’t tear the top layer of paper off when removed. An artist friend recommended this to me a few months ago and my life is better for it!

10 Watercolor Projects for all Ages and Stages

The top 10 watercolor projects from my studio- student favorites for all ages that adults and seasoned watercolor artist can also enjoy. These are really fun to do with a young artist too.

Watercolors are a student favorite in my studio, and a favorite of mine to be honest. I love their fluid freedom, vibrant colors, ease of experimentation, and–let’s be honest– the easy set up an clean up. Using basic household items like table salt and paper towels, you have nearly endless exploration possibilities.

(This post contains product links that are partnership links. This helps me continue to be a full time artist and does not effect your price at all.)

In no particular order, here are the top ten watercolor projects that keep me and my students endlessly busy in the studio:

1. Watercolor Rain Drops

I’ve done this art with kids as young as 5 because it’s easy, fun, and really draws you into the joy of creating. If you only had time or energy to do ONE of these projects, pick this one! This project is taken from Paint Lab for Kids by Stephanie Corfee.

To create the drops, you need to set your paper up vertically- I tape the sheet to a piece of cardboard and put it on an easel, but you could prop it up however it works. TIP: put a paper towel under the bottom edge to catch drips that run off the page. Create the drops by using a round brush with watery paint- tap at the top and watch them drip down! Have fun mixing two or more colors in one drip and watch them change as they drip down. The dripping action is “Super satisfying!” as one of my students says. After the watercolors are dry, we have painted clouds using acrylic paints over the top.

Variation idea: instead of creating rain drops, rotate your art piece a quarter turn on your easel at a time. This leads to a drip piece that starts to resemble a map or pipes. Limiting your colors to choices that blend well together to avoid making ‘mud’ colors.

3. Dream Room Illustrations

One of my favorites to do with a student. We created illustrations with pencil, outlined our drawings using Micron Pens, then painted them. In addition to watercolors, we used Arteza Real Brush Pens, Blick Studio Dual Tip Markers, and Prismacolor Dual Tip Markers to enhance shadows, add patterns and fine details. The result is a bright and cheery illustration- can be based on a real place or an imaginary one.

4. Inside/ Outside House

Using a simlar process to the dream rooms above, these are really fun way to learn a little perspective and use imagination. We drew the outline of the house first, then drew the rooms of the interior next. Then we cut out the house and drew the front- matching windows and doors from the interior to the exterior illustration. Again we then outlined with Micron Pens, painted, and added details with Arteza Real Brush Pens, and Blick Studio Dual Tip Markers.

2. Watercolor Resist Art

Easy for all ages- this art uses watercolors and either crayons or oil pastels. The oil pastels seem to work the best, so if you have those, use them! Draw your image using the pastels or crayons, then paint the entire image with watercolors. I like to use this especially to depict rain, and it’s fun to draw clouds and raindrops in white and watch them appear when you paint it.

There are plenty of variations- a spider web, butterfly wings, and even a full sunset! The only limit is your imagination. Add table salt to wet paint for a great feathering effect.

5. Paper Towel Watercolor Shapes

Another fun project from Paint Lab for Kids by Stephanie Corfee– this project uses paper towel pieces to create the butterfly wings. Tear desired shapes and lay on paper. Then use your brush to saturate the paper towel with paint. You then carefully remove the paper towel pieces to reveal the spongy color underneath. I did finishing with Micron Pens, Arteza Real Brush Pens, and Blick Studio Dual Tip Markers.

6. Color Wheel

A color wheel is fun and easy for all ages and has a great WOW factor. Why? Because you ONLY use the primary colors (Red, Blue and Yellow) to make the all the colors. Most kids and adults have the primary colors and what they make when combined memorized- and to put that knowledge into action is really fun. Draw a 6 piece “art pie” and do the primary colors in every other space. Then use the primary colors to make the combos:
Red+ Yellow= Orange
Red+ Blue= Purple
Blue + Yellow= Green

Making the secondary colors is super satisfying! Sprinkle salt on your wet paint to watch more science action unfold.

7. Primary/ Secondary Color Circles

Take the color wheel a step further: create a composition of overlapping circles. Fill in the circles with primary colors (Red, Blue, Yellow) only. Then, in the spots where they overlap create the color combinations. This is a great way to use the brain while painting- and if you have multiple circles overlaying in a spot- to discover what colors they create!

8. Stained Glass Art

Another student favorite is Stained Glass Watercolor art. Created you drawing in pencil, then go over the lines in black fabric paint. When the paint is dry, fill in the shapes with watercolors. This is fun because the dimensional paint creates walls. If you are doing this with a tiny person, they will need help applying the black lines. TIP: the bigger the shapes, the easier all around. Tiny lines and shapes are harder to outline and fill in.

This is yet another great project from Paint Lab for Kids by Stephanie Corfee.

9. Squares of Watercolor

Use tape to create smaller boxes on your paper. Challenge yourself to put a different pattern or drawing in each box with oil pastels. Then paint each box a different color. When the paint is dry, remove the tape and you have a wonderful composition of mini art!

10. Watercolor Leaves

Walk around your yard and find leaves (or other objects) to observe their colors. Trace the objects lightly and draw simple details like the veins of the leaves. Outline shapes and lines using Micron pens. Have fun mimicking the colors and patterns you observe on the objects.

Variation: overlay the leaves and draw the negative spaces only. Fill in the negative spaces with an ombre wash of color. Add spatters with a toothbrush dipped in watercolors!

Supply List:

Below are (partner) links to supplies that will make your projects run easier!

Canson Watercolor Paper

Pro Tape Art Tape

Paint Lab for Kids by Stephanie Corfee


Paper Towels

Water cup

Brushes- I recommend a good round brush or a set.

Tulip Dimensional Paint

Prang Watercolors

Micron Pens

Arteza Real Brush Pens

Blick Dual Tip Markers

Prismacolor Dual Tip Markers

Cray Pas Oil Pastels

Studio Tips and Creativity Boosters

How to make sure your space (small or large) is ready for you when you are.

Construction shot and current shot of my studio at my home in southern Iowa

I’ve been lucky enough to have an art space to call my own since May of 2012. At that time, my husband and took a leap and rented a studio in a co-op and rearranged our schedule for me to go there on a weekly basis. Before then, I had a variety of setups in our home, ranging from a tiny 2 x 2 coffee table to a whole spare room. I encourage you to make a dedicated creative space- in other words- if you have to keep clearing everything up off the kitchen table to eat dinner, the setup can be a barrier to your creativity. If it IS and MUST BE the kitchen table- how about a cart where you things are stored efficiently next to the table. Making setup and cleanup as easy as possible. Whatever the space you have or can carve out, these tips will help you make the most of your creative time and space.

Keep it Cleaned up

Nothing kills creativity faster than having a bunch of “chores” to do in your studio before you can create. We’ve all been there- you have an idea, ready to start making- but your space is cluttered, nothing is put away, you can’t find your materials, and on and on. Every night (I usually work in the evening/night) after I am done working, I spend 5-10 minutes cleaning everything up and putting things back in their place. Brushes cleaned, rags hung up, trash in the trash can and so on. Seems rudimentary, but if you can’t even find a space to set your sketch book down, it’s going to be hard to get to work! Speaking from experience- if I get lost in cleaning up, I tend to lose steam on my creative idea.

Keep your materials out where you can see them

I find it really helps spark ideas if I can see my materials. Now, this follows the first tip, because while I think you should have them out, I think they should be organized to be visually pleasing and also clear of the spot where you need to sit and work. For example: keep your brushes and paints in a container or cart where they are visible and easy to access. If you don’t have a lot of floor space, use storage that is clear plastic so you can see through them. I keep my canvases stacked safely where I can easily see what I have and their sizes. Keep your pencils and sketch book at the ready, and prioritize materials you use the most by making them the easiest to access. Having to move things around to get to what you want can kill that precious creative energy, not to mention waste time. It doesn’t have to be expensive- hit up the thrift store because let’s be honest, most of the stuff is going to get paint on it anyways, right? Most of my organizational materials and studio furniture is free or repurposed- I like the look of the wooden old boxes for storage, and I love things with wheels on them! Paint carts are my friend, and I can move them to where I need them at the moment. (The carts pictured- I think they are both from Ikea, but I have seen similar ones at Target and Michael’s.)

Make your space as functional as you can

Think of a carpenter’s workshop, where all the tools are hung nicely, ready to be grabbed. Take some time to look at each area of your space, and consider what you use it for most often. If you can, hang tools specific to that task around where you can grab them quickly and easily (and just as easily put them back when you’re done). This will make your time in your space more efficient because you won’t be looking for tools, and you won’t have to spend time dealing with clutter.

Make it comfortable and fill it with things that inspire you

Do you have to slump over your table because your chair is the wrong height? Is you space just too hot or too cold? Does it feel sterilized and controlled, or warm and welcoming? Consider these questions, and make adjustments- even slight adjustments can really make a difference. Add a rug to protect the floor and make it feel more welcoming, find a new stool that doesn’t hurt your back, move your table so the fan can blow on you without blowing your materials around, and so on. Then, add some inspiration: photos, ideas, images, notes, whatever inspires you.

The goal is to feel like you’re able to be transported- if even for a short time. Easy to jump in, get to work with inspiration and materials at your fingertips.