Guest Post- Heidi Black- Art Supply Gift Guide

Heidi's written a fantastic guest post that not only functions as a gift guide, but as a walkthrough.  Her colorful writing is just too fun to leave unillustrated, so photos have been sourced by me, with her permission.  

IN CASE YOU GUYS HAVEN'T HEARD, Heidi is currently running a Kickstarter for her art tutorial book "ElectricAbyss- The Art of Heidi Black".  With only a week left, she's just shy of her $2000 goal, and could really use the boost.  If you haven't donated, please consider, as she has several fantastic tiers full of amazing rewards.  If you've already donated, or can't afford to, please consider giving her campaign a much needed signal boost by retweeting, retumbling, or reblogging a link to her page.  

Art supplies are expensive.  Really expensive.  And if you're young, convincing someone to pay $4 for a pencil for you is pretty ludicrous.  I mean, you can get a whole pack of art supplies for $30, in a nice box even!

No matter how tempting this may look, the answer should be 'no'.  Just say 'no' to bad art supplies.  Source

We've all had these kits, and we've all had to fight for the money to buy good supplies.  Or what we think are good supplies.  So this year several of us decided to get together and make lists of “art supplies for under $100.”  While these are not the top of the line art supplies, they're very good student grade sets, and are actual art materials. 

Of course, depending on what you want as far as materials will temper what you get.  These are just suggestions for a wide variety of medias to try, and not all media are covered (I'm not big on either oil or acrylic, and while I like gouache, I don't recommend it unless you've got a decent handle on watercolors.  I also don't like really messy dry materials, like charcoal or pastels, BUT some people do.)

Brands/things to avoid:


Crayola, of course.  They are great for little kids, and I have nothing against them, but they're not what we're going for.  In this same vein, Roseart or other brands you find in the office supply or kids section of Target are probably not a good bet.


Reeves: Lets face it, we've all been tempted by those 18 color paint sets for $20 they make, but these really are not good paints.


Value pack:” anything that tells you you're getting a whole bunch for your money is not concerned about the quality of material, and knows that they'll sell because someone wants a good deal. 
Craft paint: I painted with these for years (no one told me any better!) and they're gummy, gunky, runny, and just overall not art material.  In fact, most things that say “craft” on them are probably not meant for the serious artist.

Brands to go with:


Winsor & Newton – they've always been good for me.  While their Cotman series of watercolor tubes isn't the top of the line, they are still decent, and I really like the watercolor brushes and cakes, and their Series 7 brushes are the absolute best for a wonderful brush (very expensive though – you have to know what you're doing to get one). 

Note:  The set shown above is only $17.99 from


Prismacolor: While they're not copics, prismacolor markers are not bad.  I learned on them, and used them pretty religiously for six years before I ever got my first copic, and really only knew how to use copics with any efficiency because I knew how to work my prisma markers, and in general how markers acted.  They are unfortunately, still kind of expensive, though they also have a student line which I have not tried.


This portable set comes with 14 half pans of watercolor.  Considering how far watercolors can go, plus you get a palette and brush with the set, this is quite a good purchase.

$17: As an alternate, the sketcher's pocket set is pretty much the same thing, though it only has 12 half-pans.

(to learn more about using watercolors, look for tutorials online, or I talk about them in my upcoming instructional art book, currently on Kickstarter)

Watercolor Papers

$6: Fluidwatercolor papers – I recently tried these, as they are a block paper alternative without being $50 a pack, and was very pleasantly surprised.  They are high quality, bound on two edges (blocks are bound on four) so they don't warp much.  Cold press at 140lb/300g, they are thick, well textured, and have just generally been a pleasure to use.


$3-10: The correct brushes for watercolors are important.  I have found these synthetic sable to be very good brushes, and I recommend a large brush such as a 10 round or 1” flat, as well as a smaller brush, such as a 2 or 4 round.  The pocket sets both come with a smaller brush.

Colored pencils:

$15 – Dick Blick brand 24 pencil set – I know we all want all of the colors, but getting a smaller sample of any medium to try them out before committing to a large set is always a good idea.  I would recommend a 24-48 color set to begin with, also because a limited palette helps one learn how to blend colors.  The Dick Blick brand of pencils are decent quality, and while they aren't their Caran d'Ache (another brand of colored pencil) counterparts, they certainly aren't Crayola either.

I use Dick Blick pencil colors for gesture sketches, and while they aren't as soft as Prismacolor Pencils or Caran d'Ache, they are very decent pencil colors and are available in sets and open stock at most Dick Blick retail stores.

$17 – For just a few dollars more, one can get the Prismacolor Scholar set.  While I have never used their scholar brand, I have used Prismas extensively for years, and am generally happy with them.  They do have a high wax content, and they work better sharp, but overall not a bad pencil.


$8 – Strathmore Visual Journal – these are actually very nice ways to get decent papers for a good price.  While they aren't the best around, and part of their appeal is that they have a fancy cover, they're also not bad, and you can get a variety of paper types.  For sketchbooks, a regular sketchbook will probably be good enough, but for bristol or watercolor papers, these are a nice alternative to more expensive options.


$20 – The Dick Blick brand markers are essentially Prismacolor markers, relabeled.  A 12-pack of greys or the 12 color pack, though it doesn't provide many options, is going to be a pretty good way to learn how to use the markers.  They also come in open stock, with six “basic greys.” Of these, I would recommend the basic greys and a selection of browns and peach/pink colors for sketching and shading.


While I have switched to inking with a brush, and never looking back, it isn't very portable, and is a hard tool to master.  For basic pens, I would recommend the following:

$3.30 –   The Pilot Hi-Tec pens are absolutely amazing.  I haven't had them clog on me, and they produce a very fine, even line.  Unfortunately, I can't find mine at the moment, so I can't tell you if they are marker safe, but I think that they are not.

They are, I often use these to sketch with Copics in my sketchbook.  As with all pens, make sure the ink is dry before you apply alcohol or water based media, and you should always test on an unobtrusive corner of the paper for compatibility, as the type of paper may change it's affect.  I've used this on sketchbook paper and on Plate Bristol, and I always let my inks dry overnight before markering.

$13 – Pentel Pocket Brush – I swear by this brush, but this may be a little expensive and a little bit advanced.  You can use a syringe to replace the ink with any other ink you like (I recommend Winsor and Newton Black India ink – make sure its the India ink, which is water and Copic safe) as the ink it comes with is a bit grey.  Once again, I don't know if its marker safe as I replaced the ink right away.

It is.  As previously recommended, make sure it's fully dry.

$10.50 – Copic Multiliner sets – The four-pen sets come in either broad or fine, and this is your choice depending on how heavy handed you are.  (when I started I used the fine points religiously for everything; now because of having to learn how to be more delicate to use a brush, I would probably choose the broad tips.)  The only reason I would recommend these over the Pilot pens is they are for sure marker safe.

$6 –Black Indiaink – if you do go with brushes or nibs, I like the black India ink.  It is water and Copic proof, though when I replace it in my pocket brush I water it down very slightly.  It is rich black and also is good for inkwash.  Any acrylic ink is also going to be water and Copic proof, but they can be gummy because of the acrylic binder.

Gouache – if you really REALLY want to try gouache (I find it easier than acrylics, but I've got a few years of working with watercolors under my feet as well) then...

$26.25 –Holbein Acryla Gouache study set – this set of 12 colors is pretty much the quintessential set of gouache.  I supplemented mine with jaune brilliant, burnt umber, and yellow ochre, but the set itself is probably fine on its own.

 Acrylic Gouache cannot be dried and reactivated using water like non acrylic gouache.

Acrylic paints -

I honestly don't use acrylics much, but I do know what brands are supposed to be good.  Getting an open stock of cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white, and burnt sienna will give you a huge amount of colors you can create, and I prefer them over the red-yellow-blue mixing set, because the colors just tend to be richer and more vibrant.

With any pigment based media, there are going to be colors you can't mix on your own using a basic set.  Greens and purples (like pthalo blue and dioxin violet) are a good choice to purcase, as they'll be used often and cannot be mixed easily.

Heavy body paints are also good, as you can mix them with various mediums or water them down and they go pretty far that way. 

Golden acrylics are generally very good.  I will default to Winsor and Newton paints because I like their product lines and so I generally assume everything they make is good.  It might not be true, but I've been happy so far.

Tablets -


A little bit different from everything else, the tablet is a gateway into the creative digital world.  While the (Wacom)  Cintiq is the idolized tablet, I've been very happy with my (Wacom) Intuos, and it doesn't have the problem of being a $2000 monitor with resolution issues.  Wacom is pretty much THE name in tablets, but I've heard good things about the Monoprice tablet. 

$36 – Monoprice 8x6” tablet – I actually prefer the widescreen tablet (10x6.25”) but this 6x8” tablet is a reasonable size that will allow good detail without having to move your hand to kingdom come.


$80 – Wacom Bamboo Splash– this pretty much blows the $100, but Wacom tablets (or at least last I knew) also come with photoshop elements.

Free! - Open Canvas – now that you have a tablet, you need a drawing program!  Programs like that are expensive, and even Sai Painter is about $70.  (Corel Painter, the student version, can be bought for $100)  Photoshop runs about $400 for the student version. While Open Canvas doesn't do a lot of the things these more expensive programs do, its still a good way to cut one's teeth on digital media.


  1. Just wanted to add that the Sakura Koi Watercolor Travel box is pretty nice and affordable as well
    The paints themselves are pretty high quality for student grade paints, and the case is just awesome. I'll probably be replacing the half-pans with Winsor & Newton tubes once they finally run out!

  2. Great guest post Heidi! Very helpful! I'm still a noob in terms of good art brands. lol I love Becca's little additional side notes that answers any uncertainties Heidi had. XD Great team work guys! LOL As always, thanks for sharing!


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