I have a nine-year-old daughter who loves stationery. As a kid I loved stationery too, and now I am an illustrator. These days, if I’m buying for a young artist I give great gifts. (A #lessersuperpower?) I love buying art supplies almost as much as I love using them.
Reason for this post: Stationery is never-ending in variation and as a consumable nothing lasts forever, yet I have been asked for suggestions on what to buy my stationery loving kid as a gift. It’s a fair question: Young artists living in rich countries with robust gift-giving cultures probably have an oversupply of pencils and markers.
Here are some gift ideas for young artists which are slightly off the beaten track. You won’t find these in big box stores, but you can find them easily online. I won’t add vendor links though. (Most readers of this blog don’t live where I live.)
1. Skin Tone Pencils
Most young artists have a proliferation of pencils already, because pencils don’t wear down as fast as pencils are gifted. But! They may not have a curated selection of dedicated skin tone pencils.
I like a box set because they encourage White kids to consider a wider spectrum of skin colour and incorporate diversity into their drawings. This is a long way from earlier childhoods, where the ‘flesh colour’ was peach. (Crayola have since changed the name.)
From a colour theory point of view, this set of pencils from Derwent is also good for encouraging young artists to think about all the different tones underlying skin. Who would naturally think that blue is a skin colour? Yet professional artists make use of blue to build up colour. Most coloured pencil manufacturers release a skin tone set — it doesn’t have to be Derwent.
In Western cultures at least, little kids first learn to draw with a blue or (black for night-time) sky, and a yellow orb for the sun. In reality, sky can be many different colours (and the sun is white, but that’s a different blog post).
Changing the colour of the sky is a great way to significantly alter the mood of an illustration. A blue sky is cheerful, a stormy sky foreboding, an orange sky indicates evening, or early morning, and a purple sky might convety a fantastical or magic world.
What if you change the colour of the sky after the rest of the artwork has been done? I read a hint lately in a digital art manual which suggested filling a top layer with the colour of your sky, then setting it to multiply blend mode. This will tint the landscape/cityscape or whatever to the appropriate hue, since the colour of the landscape is influenced by the colour of the sky above. I haven’t had a chance to put this to use, but I did try it out anyway on an illustration I’d already done, and I do believe it would be a good way to get the sky matching the landscape, if you end up with a hue which draws attention to itself, or in which the sky looks somehow separate from the land.
Artists who work on canvas often recommend a large mirror in the studio, because when you see your work-in-progress in reverse, any flaws you didn’t see previously become immediately apparent. When working digitally there is often a keystroke you can use to flip the canvas both horizontally and vertically, and I am trying to get into the habit of doing this more frequently.
Have you ever been to the When You See It website? It’s possible to waste hours at websites like those. This one displays seemingly harmless pictures, until you keep looking and find something very odd in it.
I came across this picture this morning and honestly I couldn’t tell what was wrong with it. Can you?
Yet when the image is flipped, it becomes immediately apparent what’s wrong.
In case you’re not on a mobile device right now, here’s the same image upside down:
This sort of thing is unlikely to happen in a digital painting (compared to all the ways in which it’s possible to stuff up with Photoshop), but flipping comes in handy nonetheless.
In Artrage, press ‘h’ to flip horizontally and ‘v’ to flip vertically. The image stays that way for only as long as you’re holding your finger on the key, so it’s very easy and very handy.