Stuck for what to get the illustrator in your life this Christmas? We've rounded up some of the best arty gifts around. There are super-cool gifts at under £20/$25, presents over £100/£125 for if you really want to splash out, and everything in-between. Use the jump links opposite to find the section you want.
We picked out some great books – including no-nonsense self-help for people who hate self-help, a guide to all the newest and weirdest art terms, and an art history book by one of the greatest artists in history. We've got pencils, pencil wraps, and personalised sketchbooks. And we take a look at an advent calendar that replaces chocolate with naked people, for a different kind of treat. Let's get started!
Gifts for illustrators under £20/$25
People are always making up new names for old stuff – especially in art. From Abject Art and Black Mountain College to the Worpswede Group and Zero, this is the first ever single book devoted to "the key terms involved in the appreciation of modern art". Made by Tate, every term, theme, medium, and movement is defined using simple language, with over a hundred illustrations to go with them, in this new and expanded edition. A good reference book for any modern artist.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has produced a range of calendars featuring art from various cities around the world. This 16-month New York calendar shows Central Park, skyscrapers, and other New York City landmarks, with paintings created by artists Georgia O’Keeffe, Florine Stettheimer, Childe Hassam, John Marin and others.
The novelist Steven Pressfield writes self-help books for people who absolutely hate self-help books. He's no-nonsense. His whole philosophy comes down to this: you need to work really, really hard, harder than you've ever worked before, then good stuff will happen. The War of Art is a must-read. This, his newest book, gives straightforward, practical advice on how to make the stuff you've always wanted to make. Great for artists and writers, but a good, firm kick up the backside whatever line of work you're in.
Many illustrators rely on a coffee or tea to kick-start their morning – but as soon as their creative juices start flowing, it can be easy to forget all about it. This mug cosy will their caffeine hit hotter for longer. Choose from six different colours (to match the recipient's studio aesthetic) and add a personalised tag to keep it safe from mug thieves.
This book's been done a hundred times, but never by David Hockney. The British artist says a picture is the only way we can really communicate what we see. In a A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen, he works with critic Martin Gayford to show how artists have drawn, coded, carved, painted, and scratched representations of the world around them. It includes hundreds of images, from 40,000-year-old cave paintings to recent movie stills.
Gifts for illustrators under £50/$75
Choc On Choc makes all different kinds of novelty chocolates, like this set of paintbrushes. The difference between the British brand's chocolate and your average novelty confectionary is that this stuff actually tastes good. It's handmade using white and dark Belgian chocolate. This box contains three chocolate paintbrushes decorated with edible dyes and silver dusting. "Our chocolate paintbrushes are true works of art," says Choc On Choc.
These leather pencil cases are handmade using buffalo leather – a tough, good-looking leather that gets better with age. Unroll it and there's space for 18 pencils or pens. Roll it back up and tie it with a leather strap. The personalised bit is available in gold, silver, or blind debossed (no colour). These are made by Paper High, a company that sources Fair Trade products from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Not On The High Street can be a bit of black hole when it comes to ethical, handmade, personalised, leather-bound stuff. Trust us. We spent hours lost in it ourselves. This, we reckon, is the best all-round sketchbook for the artists in your life: decent price, nicely designed, recycled leather, comes in different colours. You can choose a couple of lines of personalised text and the colour of the foil used for the embossing.
Blackwing makes some of the very best pencils around. The Blackwing range is what Moleskine is to notebooks: it's a bit of a cult thing. People who use them tend to really love them. Famous fans include writer John Steinbeck, composer Leonard Bernstein, and Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones. These are the classics, but if you want to try something different, the Blackwing Pearl pencil is the most recent edition to the range. Both are great for sketching and laying down lines. Plus, they look dead cool.
Mr Bingo's advent calendar is a Christmas tradition in the same way excessive drinking, family arguments, and abysmal hangovers are Christmas traditions. Bingo writes: 'Where's the fucking chocolate? Chocolate is for idiots.' This calendar, set in pub, is illustrated with naked people, their nudity covered with removable opaque gold ink ('in layman's terms – that stuff you get on scratch cards'). Scratch and reveal a new nude every day in the run up to Christmas. You can watch a video about the making of the calendar here.
- Buy: £39.50
For illustrators looking for a way to increase their drawing and stippling speed, the Cuttlelola electric pen is ideal. This pen can be used on a variety of different papers and comes with a rechargeable lithium battery. You can plug the pen into a laptop or work with it on battery power, which usually lasts about an hour.
Some artists don't like to draw with mechanical pencils, but the ones that do will love this set. These pencils are comfortable to hold, durable, and come with coloured pads, making it easy to distinguish the different lead sizes. Both the lead and the erasers are refillable, but each one comes pre-loaded with super Hi-Polymer HB lead.
Gifts for illustrators under £100/$125
ImagineFX is the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists. Each issue is packed with an eclectic mixture of in-depth workshops from the world's best fantasy and sci-fi artists, plus galleries and interviews, community news and product reviews. If you're after a gift for a professional artist, art student or hobbyist, a subscription is a great option.
This one's ideal for friends that have the latest iPad 9.7 or an iPad Pro for drawing, but haven't got round to picking up an Apple Pencil to go with it (and it's a little cheaper than just gifting the whole iPad Pro). While you can certainly get some cool things done with just your finger, the Apple Pencil takes your work to the next level. It is highly responsive, and it works well with almost all of the art programs on the App Store – although ideally you want to check out these apps that come alive with the Apple Pencil.
Gifts for illustrators over £100/$125
Wacom is the go-to tablet for most digital artists, but the best cheap drawing tablet around (for our money) is the XP-Pen Artist 15.6. It has a good screen, a decent-sized drawing area, and comes with a comfortable pen with plenty of sensitivity. For an artist looking for their first tablet, or an upgrade that doesn't break the bank, this XP-Pen is the one to go for.
Paired with the Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro is great for drawing, painting, and sketching on-the-go – or better yet, in the living room. We liked it so much we gave it five stars in our review. We like the 12.9-inch, but it's also worth checking out the 10.5-inch model, if the recipient would prefer something more compact. And of course, there are also the 2018 models if you're feeling especially generous.
While you're filling your Apple stocking, why not grab the Smart Keyboard too. The full-size keyboard makes the perfect companion hardware to the iPad Pro. Users can just hook it to the Smart Connector and get to work! Then when they're all done, they can fold it up and take it with them, because it also doubles as a lightweight case. Useful.
The Wacom Intuos Pro Paper Edition combines a digital workflow with paper. Users can clip their favourite drawing paper onto this device and sketch right on top using the Finetip Pen (or optional Ballpoint Pen). They don't need to even be connected to a computer at the time. When they're ready, they can import the sketch into their chosen drawing app, and continue to work on it there with the Wacom Pro Pen 2. It's really the best of both worlds.