If you aren't familiar with watercolor, I recommend you read through the paper, brushes, and paints sections of my Watercolor Basics series for more detailed explanations behind my recommendations. If you still have questions or would like a customized recommendation based on your child and their needs, please email me.
If I haven't covered the age or experience level you're shopping for, please keep an eye out for more Holiday Gift Guides, coming soon!
This post is sponsored by my Patrons on Patreon, and all recommendations are my own, based on decades of experience and my own reviews. If you'd like to help support what I do, please purchase using my Affiliate links when feasible, and please considering joining my Artnerd community on Patreon. You can also tip me through my Ko-fi! For convenience, most items are sourced from Amazon, for easy one stop shopping.
Nattosoup's Holiday Gift Guide for Young Artists
This gift guide is designed for young, gifted and motivated artists from the ages of 9-13. For older artists, please keep an eye out for upcoming watercolor gift guides!
Dye vs Pigment
Most children's grade watercolors, such as Crayola, contain dye. These dyes are easier to wash out than pigments, hence 'washable' watercolors, but do not perform as well as pigment based watercolors. For an aspiring artist, dye based watercolors can be frustrating to use- so the recommendations I give in this post are for children's grade pigment based watercolors.
|Top Left to Right- Yarka Student Watercolors, Koi Field Set|
Bottom Left to Right- Lukas Aquarelle Studio, Kuretake Travel Watercolor Set
Yarka Rama Watercolors (distributed by Jack Richeson)
For the price, these are some of the best cheap watercolors I've reviewed, but even if you buy the largest set available, your child will still have to learn to mix colors. This makes for a stronger artist in the end, but not great for impatient kids who want all the colors now.
Sakura Koi Field Set
Perfect for kids who think they need ALL the colors. These colors are bright and brilliant, and you get a wide range, but care should be exercised when mixing and layering, as too many layers result in muddy paintings and lifting colors.
Keep in mind that watercolors aimed at older artists often use toxic substances such as cadmium, and should be used with caution and supervision.
For Serious Young Artists:
Lukas Studio Travel Set of 12
This pocket set is afforably priced and performs comparably with other adult-student grade watercolors- a bit better than Winsor and Newton's Cotman, in my experience. Colors are saturated and bright, but may present some of the same difficulties as the Sakura Koi set.
Kuretake Travel Set
I use this set on my travels too! This compact little set includes a waterproof pen and a waterbrush, in addition to a great collection of mixing colors.
Pans Vs Tubes
For younger artists, pans are low mess, low fuss, and are what I generally recommend.
Tubes are more economical than pans, and if you don't mind a little extra hassle (or have multiple artists in a household), are a good way to invest in a young artist's future.
Cadmium Red Hue
Cadmium Yellow Hue
Ultramarine Blue or Cobalt Blue
Inexpensive, Student Grade Tube Watercolors:
Blick Artist Watercolors
If you're buying tube watercolors, you're going to need half pans and a palette, or at the very least, a palette, to put them in.
|Top Left to right: Mijello, Honbay|
Welled Pallete, Flower Palette
I recommend the Martin Mijello 18 Well Airtight watercolor palette- its airtight, has a gasket seal, plenty of room to mix paint, and shatterproof.
The Honbay 12 Color Artist Palette is more like a traditional travel palette, and also a great choice. It comes with 12 empty pans to fill with tube watercolor.
Other Types of Palettes:
For beginner artists, I find working with welled palettes to be most intuitive and easiest to achieve the desired color mixes. Plastic palettes are quite affordable, and I have a few favorites for illustration and comic page painting.
10 Welled Round Palettes
Crayola Supertips, which are dye based, waterbased markers, can easily be used as waterbased markers! Check out this tutorial on how to do it!
Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils
I'm not a fan of watercolor pencils, but they can be really helpful for tightening up details or doing smaller illustrations. Watercolor pencils can be frustrating to use as your sole medium, so I recommend mixing them up with regular watercolors.
Sketchbooks just don't cut it when it comes to watercolor! You'll need something tougher, thicker, and designed to handle water- regular sketchbooks buckle, pill, and pool.
Great All Rounders:
Mixed Media Paper
Mixed Media paper is a great solution for artists who love to dabble with a variety of media. Markers, watercolor, inks- mixed media papers can handle them all!
Canson XL Mixed Media Paper
Available at Walmart, Michaels, and most art hobby stores. Canson XL Mixed Media paper has a bit of tooth, which makes it great for color pencils too.
Strathmore 300 Series Mixed Media Paper
Strathmore makes several grades of artist papers, from 100 (for young children) to 500 (very nice professional grade). The color of the cover often denotes the quality- the 300 series has a yellow cover,
Cellulose Vs Cotton Rag
Cellulose paper is made from woodpulp, and unless it's marked Acid Free, it will degrade over time (about ten years, less if displayed without protection). Cotton rag paper is generally considered artist quality and has properties that cellulose papers lack- more absorbent, often more forgiving. For young artists, cellulose paper is a great inexpensive start!
Cold Press Vs Hot Press
With cellulose papers, it really boils down to paper texture- smooth vs slightly textured. I find that for my work, slightly textured absorbs water better, and results in smoother washes and less streaking.
|Top Left to Right: Canson XL Watercolor, Strathmore Visual Journal in 140lb Watercolor|
Canson Montval Sketchbook, Fluid EZ Block watercolor
Canson XL Watercolor Paper
Great for practice, inexpensive, available just about anywhere, Canson XL Watercolor paper is great for practicing
Canson Montval Watercolor Sketchbook
Slightly higher quality paper while still affordable. I use Montval for my watercolor comic, 7" Kara.
Strathmore Visual Journal 140lb Watercolor
While Strathmore's watercolor papers are some of my least favorite for detailed paintings, they're great for sketching, doodling, and practicing.
Canson Montval Artboard
No need to stretch or remove from a block! Artboards provide plenty of internal support for your paintings- they should not buckle or warp from water. This is great if your child wants to paint something for display, or for a gift.
Fluid EZ Block Watercolor Paper
A watercolor block, such as the Fluid EZ block, holds your paper tightly in place while you paint- no need to stretch the paper!
Even a child watercolorist needs a handful of brushes to get the job done! There are several types of brushes available, some of the most commonly used in my studio are:
Synthetic Vs Natural
Synthetic brushes are usually made from nylon or Taklon, and can be white, black, or 'natural' colors.
Natural hair brushes materials include squirrel, goat, pony, and even boar bristles. The finest natural hair brushes are made from Kolinsky Sable, which can be quite expensive. Fortunately, if you're buying gifts for wee artists, this is many years in the future, and not something to worry about now.
Synthetics are much more affordable than most natural hair watercolor brushes, and are what I would recommend for most young artists. They're more durable than natural fibers, and can take wear and tear that would destroy a natural hair brush.
Size 4 Round
Size 10 Round
Size 2 Round (for details)
Size 0 Round (for the finest details)
3/4" Flat (for washes)
16mm 5/8 Mop (for washes)
Natural Hair Brushes:
|From Left to Right: Blick Sumi Brushes, Yasutomo Student Hake Brushes, Blick Pointed Scholastic Round, Blick Master Squirrel|
Sumi brushes are a very affordable way to purchase natural hair brushes in larger sizes. Sumi brushes are often sheep's wool surrounded by pony hair, and hold A LOT of water. These can be great for small artists who like to paint big.
Blick Bamboo Brushes- Sizes 2, 4, 6
Perfect for laying down washes and covering large areas fast. Soft natural fibers make this perfect for glazing, and hake brushes are very affordable.
Blick Hake Brushes
Yasutomo Student Hake Brushes
Traditional Western Watercolor Brushes:
One of the cheapest natural hairs used for watercolor, often included in children's watercolor sets. Camel hair brushes do not draw to a fine point, and may be frustrating to use.
Blick Scholastic Camel Hair Brush
A much better option, squirrel hair is pricier than camel, but will last for years with proper care and storage. Squirrel hair brushes hold plenty of water/paint, come to a fine point, and if well cared for, create lines both thin and thick.
Blick Master Pure Squirrel Round Brush
Technically a type of squirrel. For young artists, these are not necessary, as synthetics, sumi, camel, and squirrel will get the job done nicely.
If you must:
Princeton 7050 Siberian Kolinsky
Creative Mark Rhapsody
Mixed Hair Brushes:
Often have the best properties of higher quality furs at a lower price point, and a great buy for beginner artists.
Blick Pointed Scholastic Round
|From Top Left to Right: Princeton Snap! Synthetic Brushes, Princeton Neptun Synthetic Brushes|
From Bottom Left to Right: Mimik Synthetic Brushes, Waterbrushes
When purchasing synthetic brushes, make sure you buy brushes for watercolor! Synthetics are made for oils and acrylics as well, and each type has different properties best suited to the media you're working with.
Synthetics are perfect for larger brushes- large rounds (8 and up), your mops, filberts, and flats.
Cotman Watercolor Brushes
Princeton Watercolor Brushes
Mimik Synthetic Brushes
To the uninitiated, waterbrushes, which are self-contained watercolor brushes, are very tempting. Waterbrushes can be a great addition to your art supply collection, but are not a replacement for traditional brushes.
Waterbrushes are great for travel or quick watercolor sketches, but are not necessarily suitable for more detailed or layered illustrations.
Most brands perform fairly equally, so there's no point in busting the budget for nice waterbrushes. There are decent knockoffs of popular styles available that will get the job done.
Meeden 6 Piece Waterbrush Set
Trasfit 6 Piece Waterbrush Set
Arteza 4 Piece Waterbrush Set
Cups- Any type will do
Paper Towels- Whatever is on hand is usually fine
Masking Tape- I prefer blue painters tape, but regularly white masking tape works fine. This is used to secure paper that is liable to buckling- either through stretching, taping the edges down on the pad, or just taping it to a support.
Clear Wax Crayons (or clear candles)
Useful for wax resist techniques
Useful for wax resist techniques
|Top to Bottom: Copic Multiliners, Sakura Microns, Sakura Pigma Brushpens|
These are available at Michael's and most hobby art supply stores in the art and scrapbooking sections
Sakura Pigma FB, MB, BB
These three brushpens provide a variety of lineweights and are alcohol marker and waterproof. I use these in many of my videos!
Pens for Watercolor and Markers at HobbyLobby
A free watercolor course designed for illustrators and comic artists- and you already know the teacher!
Designed to accompany my Watercolor Basics course, I demonstrate materials and techniques on camera to provide real time instruction
Care and Basics:
Prepping Watercolor Brushes For First Use
Watercolor Basics Stretching Demonstration
Watercolor Marker Workshop with Nattosoup
Brusho Background Mini Tutorial
Winter Satsumas in Clean Color Real Brush
My Favorite Watercolor Techniques
Top Techniques for Watercolor
Watercolor Basics: Step by Step: Glazes
Easy Blends and Fades
Detailed Chibi Watercolor Tutorial
Over the Garden Wall Watercolor Tutorial
Watercolor over Fountain Pen P1
Watercolor over Fountain Pen P2
Delightful Cosplay Couple From Start to Finish
Dots for Eyes Chibi Watercolor Tutorial
Planning Your Watercolor Illustration
Step by Step Illustration Walkthrough:
Watercolor Basics Pencils
Watercolor Basics Stretching Demonstration
Blocking In Color
Refining Your Image
Planning Your Watercolor Illustration
Panels and Workshops
MTAC Intro to Watercolor