Merion Art Blog
In our increasingly digital world, it’s important (especially for kids) to take time to make things by hand and indulge creativity. The holidays are a great time to supply the kids in your life with all the things they need to make art and explore their capacity as makers. Our kid’s section contains a multitude of kits and supplies for our creative kids. Crayola products are a no-brainer for good kid gifts, but here are a few less-known brands that deserve your attention when shopping for quality gifts for artistic children.
Eeboo offers traditional kids art supplies with cute, colorful illustrated covers- get oil pastels, drawing pads, watercolors, scissors, and more, decorated with birds, robots, butterflies, dinosaurs, ballerinas and woodland creatures. Try metallic, double-sided, or color swirl “mixies” colored pencils! These supplies are great for kids who are confident in their own creativity and enjoy drawing and painting out of their own imaginations. No step by step instructions here, just lots of inspiring sets for open-ended and unstructured artistic creation!
Djeco offers interesting and unique project kits that even young kids can do, like sand painting, silk painting and felt marker kits. They come in attractive sturdy boxes, perfect for holiday gift wrapping. Their beautiful and unusual designs are fun for kids tired of the same ol’ same ol’- from skeleton pirates, to colorful animals, to masks of the world, you won’t get bored! Their European flair adds a certain je n’ais se quoi to your average kids art kit!
Klutz Press has been making books that teach kids to make paper airplanes, cats cradle, friendship bracelets since the late 1970’s- many of our staff members still fondly remembers their favorite Klutz books from childhood! The Klutz credo is: “Create wonderful things, be good, have fun”. Klutz’s instructional books cover everything from juggling to Lego’s to fashion drawing. Their step by step guides tend to teach kids in a way that still sticks when the included supplies have run out- get new thread, beads, paper, paint, etc, and your kid is back in business! If you’re looking to teach your kid a skill they’ll remember for years, Klutz is your best bet.
Creativity for Kids
Creativity for Kids has loads of small crafts, like cardboard race cars, opti-art jewelry, shrinky dinks, and more! Their small sets are the perfect size to round out a fully stuffed stocking! Their larger craft kits are great for older kids who want to make cool out of the ordinary stuff like patches and pins, fashion designs, and even glowing terrariums! They also make a few amazing holiday themed crafts, like elf on the shelf displays, snowglobes, and illuminated stars, so if you’re looking for a way to keep kids busy in the leadup to Christmas, their ornament and craft kits will add to the festive décor.
Other Really Cool Kid Stuff
Definitely consider getting a lucky little kid in your life a Marker Fan. These awesome sets come in an easy to carry plastic fan container with a handle, and they include 100 COLORS of thin markers. A hundred colors is a LOT of colors. Think of how excited you were as a kid to get the Crayola 64 set of crayons w/ built in sharpener- and then pretty much double that excitement. It’s an impressive set for any kid who likes coloring books, illustration, sketching, manga, or basically anything else. Imagine your kid strolling up to arts-and-crafts time with one of these, like it’s the worlds most beautiful briefcase. You know that some serious creativity is about to happen. These fans are a lot of fun!
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and is a perfect stocking-stuffer for kids and adults alike. They’re made locally in Narberth PA, and between kits that let you mix your own goo, magnetic putty, and tiny, shiny containers of holiday themed colors, you’ll find something cool for everyone in the family!
Wondering what to get for someone just starting to get into art? It’s a great feeling to be able to assemble the necessities for an intrigued beginner- everything is so full of possibilities! Here’s our advice for buying gifts for beginners, students, teenagers, retirees, hobbyists, and other interested amateurs.
Try Dry Media
Because they’re held like pencils and don’t require water or brushes, dry media are some of the best art supplies for artists who are just starting out. Beginners will have more control over dry media like charcoal, graphite, chalk pastels, oil pastels, and Conte sticks. Try a set of one of these for instant results and easy cleanup! They’re relatively inexpensive, and can be used on regular sketch or drawing paper. Charcoal in particular is easy to use and erase, and gives a dramatic and artistic effect whether you’re drawing portraits, landscapes, or still-lifes. Dry media are easy to transport, and good for sketching on the go. Make sure to include a cool eraser. Both kneaded erasers and click erasers are great for all kinds of dry media.
Get Started With Paints
Pick a set of oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, or assemble your own from open stock. Make sure to buy primary red, yellow, and blue, plus black and white for easy mixing. Pro tip: in addition to primaries, buy their favorite color so they can use it straight from the tube- specific shades of green, pink, purple, or brown can be hard to mix right. Throw in a color wheel or mixing guide to aid in understanding beginner color theory.
Custom oil painting sets are easy to assemble from our Gamblin 1980’s open stock. We have a number of amazing watercolor sets, both pan colors and liquid watercolors, including plein air kits that are fantastic for artistic wandering and outdoor painting in the warmer months. For acrylics, our Merion private label sets are a budget friendly way to get a big selection of acrylic colors- add a palette and some canvas and you’re all set.
Don’t Forget To Accessorize
Remember to get everything they’ll need for the medium you’re introducing them to. That includes paints, brushes, palettes, canvases/panels and solvents or something to clean brushes. Don’t leave out tools that could be the difference between really getting the hang of the new medium or giving up in despair and confusion!
Think about things like brush rolls, cases, containers, gesso, brush soaps, paint knives, as well as erasers, smudge sticks, chamois, and sharpeners for dry media. Definitely consider adding varnish or fixative for finished work!
Consider getting them a variety of mediums for oil or acrylic. Different oil mediums can affect the dry times, glossiness, longevity, and consistency of the oil paints. Acrylic mediums can change the qualities of the surfaces that you paint on, as well as adding body, texture, gloss, matte-ness, and special drying effects when mixed with the paints themselves.
Get a Merion Grab Bag
If you’re looking for pre-assembled kits, we’ve got you covered. We’ve been selling our Merion Grab Bags for months now, but we’ve put together some special Holiday Grab Bags to make your gift shopping extra easy. Every Grab Bag is curated by one of our on-staff artists to be a unique collection of supplies for a specific medium. Each Holiday Grab Bag costs a flat $50, and the products inside are up to 50% off list price! All Grab Bags are in a plastic case or bag, for easy transport and storage.
Sets, Sets, Sets!
This is the best time of year to get a beginner the supplies they need! Every art supply company puts a little more effort into designing sets for the holidays. You get good color assortments, great accessories, and excellent carrying cases (fact: artists LOVE boxes, cases, and carriers). Check out Cretacolor’s Ultimo Drawing Set, to the right: all the high quality sketch tools you need, in a gorgeous carrying case, more than 40% off list price! Pentalic has a great combo set of oil and soft pastels, in a lightweight plastic case with sturdy clasps. Art Advantage has a beautiful acrylic beginner set that comes with a wood box table easel, so you can store your stuff and paint upright.
In the first week of our Holiday Gift Guide, we’re covering what to get for all the creative people in your life, from kids to hobbyists to crafters. This week, we’re going over what to buy the experienced or professional artist in your life who seems to have everything.
It can be daunting shopping for someone who seems to know everything about their art form, particularly if you’re not an artist yourself. Even if you are also an artist, it can be difficult to shop for someone who works in a different medium- maybe you’re a watercolor pro who hasn’t the slightest idea about pastels, or a seasoned sculptor who’s shopping for a painter. We’ll break it down for you and give you all kinds of ideas for what gifts to get for your own personal Picasso.
Quality > Quantity
When shopping for a pro artist, choose quality over quantity! Give them an upgrade to professional artists’s tools – every painter loves to get new brushes or fancy canvas. Good tools make a huge difference, especially brushes. Silverbrush Black Velvet and Escoda Kolinsky brushes are great choices. Masterpiece Canvas saves artists from having to stretch, without sacrificing quality. For paints and pastels, aim for high quality brands such as Golden Acrylics, Williamsburg Oils, Daniel Smith Watercolors or Sennelier Pastels. For sculptors, Xiem tools offer durability and control. When buying gifts for an experienced artist, quality really matters!
Go Basic- But Not Too Basic
An established Artist will have most of what they need. But most artists have something they use at a higher rate than their other supplies. Maybe your prospective giftee throws gesso like its their job, or is going through their Blue Period and uses Cerulean like its water. Maybe they buy Gel Medium like its going out of style. Buying them a large quantity of stuff they use heavily will show them you’re paying attention to their work and process, and it’ll save them another trip to resupply- win win! Plus, I think a gallon of gesso with a bow on it would look rather fetching.
Go Off-Script and Get Weird
To avoid getting them something they already have, get them something they’ve never tried! Broaden their artistic horizons with lesser-known acrylic mediums, like Golden Tar Gel or Fiber Paste. Try some unusual brush shapes, like cat’s tongue brushes for watercolor, fan brushes for acrylic or oil, or even catalyst wedges (silicone spatulas designed for innovative ways of applying color). Get an assortment of different spray coats and finishes like Krylon’s Gallery Series, which includes gloss, semigloss, and matte protective finishes for all kinds of paintings. Pick out some specialty paints outside the normal palette- think day-glo colors, metallics, glow in the dark paint, colors you’ve never heard of that make you say “Ooh!”. You’ll increase their options and maybe even inspire a new direction!
Take a Poll
Talk to the staff at Merion Art! We’re here to help you– and we’re exactly the kinds of picky professionals you’re worried about buying for. Just ask some of our on-staff artists what they’ve been drooling over- working here, we have a lot of time to window-shop our own products! For instance, a quick survey of staff says that our wishlists are full of lightboxes, large scale brushes, and big beautiful canvases. We’d love to talk to you and find the right gift for your artist friends and family!
Make Them Do Their Own Shopping
Of course Gift Cards are always a good idea- they’re the gift that keeps on giving, for the extremely picky artist! They won’t mind having to look around: art stores are to artists what candy stores are to kids. We suggest accompanying your artist to the store for a shopping spree, and then taking them out for a drink and a bite to eat (we always encourage pampering and feeding artists)!
The gift-giving season is upon us! Now is the time to get framing orders in to make sure they’re ready for Christmas or Hanukkah. Frames make amazing gifts all year round, and with a little forethought, they can be an absolute showstopper gift for the holidays. If you’re looking for gift-giving inspiration, here are a few of our favorite custom frame gift ideas.
Go Small- Frame a treasured snapshot, preserve an antique print, or protect a Polaroid. Photos from the 70’s and earlier tended to be printed very small, and for a lot of those older pictures, the only copy may be 2×3, 3×4, or 4×5. Give these classic photos the respect they deserve by getting them behind UV protective glass, and make them easier to see with a small mat. Pick a delicate antique style frame, and your teeny treasured 2×3 will have the visual presence of a photo 3 times its size.
Go Big- Choosing a large piece can be tricky- you want to be sure they’ll like it! But maybe you do gallery crawls with this person and they fell in love with a specific piece. Or maybe you’re an artist who works large scale: if you know of a big painting or over-sized photo print they’ll love, go with it! Stick to a simple style on something large- you don’t want to get overpowering. Think about gorgeous abstract canvases with float frames! Make sure to take extra care to choose frames that align with the recipient’s home decor and personal tastes, as a large piece of artwork is really a loud statement. Hanging a new painting that’s over 16×20 can instantly upgrade a whole room, so a large scale framed piece can be an amazing gift!
Go Multiple- Start a gallery wall by framing three relevant photos, prints or decor items in three matching or complementary frames. Choose artwork or photos that are similar in size, color and subject, and dress it up in frames with similar colors and designs. For instance, black and white images, prints from the same artist, photos of the same flower, pictures from the same photoshoot (wedding, engagement, maternity, seasonal family photos), images from the same soccer game/dance recital/track meet, landscapes of a similar color palette, photos of the family pet- the possibilities are endless. This is a great gift for a tween or teenager looking to make their room feel more grown-up, recent grads looking to decorate a new apartment, or a Mom looking to get a little visual unity in her family photos.
Print a Canvas- Give your favorite photo the fine art treatment- wedding portraits, fabulous sunsets, adorable pet photos, artsy Instagram still-life pics can all look amazing on canvas. Or print a big family photo extra large and get it stretched. If you’ve taken a photo at a family reunion or other gathering in the last few years, chances are the digital file will allow for large scale printing. Get it blown up, printed on canvas, and stretched. Canvas will give it a fine art flair and a great physical presence. You’ll be able to see everyone’s smiling face and Grandma and Grandpa will be so pleased.
Frame a Treasure- Frame a kids scribble drawing as if it were abstract art from the 50’s- it can look amazing on the wall. Frame a favorite jersey or souvenir t-shirt. Shadowbox their first hockey stick or first ballet slippers. Baby blankets and booties, roses from your first date, wedding invitations, medals won at competitions, scout sashes, graduation tassels, military memorabilia, collectible coins, love letters, baseball cards: all of these things can be framed! If it is an important part of their life, it deserves to be preserved and displayed. Get those things out of boxes and up on walls. (Pro-gifting tip, if you’re one of those folks who likes to make people “happy-cry” at emotionally touching gifts, this is an excellent way to go!)
I love cradled wood panels, and I think you should too. Cradled wood panels, usually made of birch plywood affixed to a pinewood frame (called a cradle), are a durable, frugal and versatile alternative to canvases and paper. Wood panels have a rich and exciting history (for instance, the Mona Lisa was painted on a wood panel) and several excellent brands are available for modern day artists. Despite their many sterling qualities, they are still underappreciated and underutilized in the contemporary art community. Allow me to explain why I think that’s a shame!
I love how durable they are. They are wood, so you don’t have to worry about denting or tearing, they way you do with canvas and paper. If your panel gets gouged or deeply scratched, you can simply fill with wood putty and sand it down, just like furniture. They stack for easy storage, even at different sizes (with canvas, you have to be careful to brace the stretcher bars against each other when stacking canvases of different sizes, otherwise you get sagging and denting). Different sizes can be stored in the same box, Tetris style. The way the laminated surface is attached to the frame prevents warping.
This durability also extends to making art on panels- you can lean on it, press firmly, scratch, scrape, erase, and wipe without worrying about damage. Working on wood means you can sand, carve and chisel the surface, adding sculptural elements into your artwork. Wood provides a solid surface to build up heavy applications of gel mediums, fiber pastes, and other textural mediums. The panel to the left has been carved and then areas have been built up with gel mediums to create a relief. A solid, rigid surface means you can glue, nail, and screw things to it. Panels are fantastic for so many kinds of mixed media.
On a practical level, basswood panels can save you money. A heavy duty canvas can cost the same or slightly more than an identically sized panel. Aside from the durability bonuses above, the panels have a few specific advantages to save you money. Because of their rigidity, they don’t always require the protection of a frame, and because they are made of raw wood, it’s possible to paint or stain the sides, creating a classy finish that gives the impression of a frame without the cost (obviously this only works with light-fast and waterproof mediums). The panel to the right got iridescent gold edges, to match the snake. You can even wire the backs by putting screw-eyes directly into the panels cradle, and the flat backs of the cradle allow for the use of 3M Command strips, making hanging extra simple.
The versatility of panels is pretty amazing. Aside from traditional painting applications for oil and acrylic (which they are great for), panels are an absolute godsend for mixed media artists. You can prime them with a variety of different mediums for a variety of different effects. Panels allow for the mix of wet and dry media without having to worry about wrinkling or damage to paper. It allows you to use sharp implements like pens and pencils without gouging or tearing canvas, and on a much more durable surface than paper. You could use an absorbent ground in order to incorporate watercolor, or a silverpoint medium to dabble in historical drawing styles.
Personally, I use panels for oil pastels– in order to get them to stick, I coat the panel with gesso, then paint, and then a layer of Golden Molding Paste. The molding paste gives me enough of a toothy porous surface for the pastels to cling to, and the rigid surface prevents the sagging and slipping I had encountered when trying to work on canvas. The piece at the right here is mixed media- the central rose and flowers to the top left are acrylic paint, the detailed roses on the left and bottom are decoupage taken from a gardening catalog, the other flowers and the hand are oil pastel, and the text in the background is pen and ink. Wood panels allowed me to layer and mix all these different mediums without paper rippling or canvas denting.
Panels allow for some really outside-the-box applications too. For instance, since it is wood front and back, you can paint on either side. You can use wood-burning tools to create rustic details. You can hinge panels together and paint each side, creating diptychs and triptychs like the altarpieces of the early Renaissance. If you flip a cradled panel over, you’re left with a framed indentation that’s perfect if you want to skip a frame, or want to create a shallow relief that has some protection. I’ve seen people use the backside of panels in order to do some really interesting things with resin and other pour-able mediums: the cradle creates a natural boundary for the resin. You can stain, carve or sand the cradle to look like a real frame, or to be part of the artwork itself.
You can use a number of techniques to attach and include all kinds of 3D elements or non-fine-art items to your artwork- I’ve seen metal jewelry findings, cabochons, fabric, and even hand tools (like the very heavy artwork at the right) attached to panels. You could apply a stain or a clear-coat in order to work the natural wood-grain into your artwork.
Aside from fine art applications, cradled wood panels are awesome for crafts as well. Flip a large panel over and attach handles to the short sides to make a quick tray, then paint, stain and personalize. Use a painted panel with hooks screwed into the edges as a caddy for keys and phone chargers, or attach two small panels with hinges to make a sturdy jewelry box. As for home decor hacks, you can paint a gallery depth canvas panel and hang it to cover an unsightly thermostat or oddly placed switch or outlet.
Whether you’re a traditional painter trying to get back to the roots of medieval and Renaissance painting, or an experimental mixed media artist looking for the next amazing surface, panels are something I highly recommend trying! You could fall in love with them, just like I have!
At Merion Art, we talk to newbies as often as we talk to experienced artists. For every driven creative who comes in with a brand name, size, shape and color, we have someone who comes in asking “I need a brush- how do I even choose?” We speak to countless moms or new students standing, frozen, confused and overwhelmed, in front of a wall full of brushes. This weeks blog post is an overview of the basic nitty-gritty info we would give to someone just starting out exploring the many varieties of brushes, including brush types, shapes, uses, and care. When we’re done, you’ll be able to stride confidently to the brush aisle and pick exactly the right tool for your project.
Anatomy of a brush
Basics first: What makes up a brush? The handle comprises most of a brushes mass, to balance it out, and can be wood, plastic or (less usually) metal. The handle will be long for painting on canvas (oil and acrylic) and shorter for painting done on paper (usually watercolor). The ferrule is a metal tube that connects the bristles to the handle (fun fact, the metal bit that holds an eraser onto your pencil is also called a ferrule). The crimp is a dent in the metal that holds the ferrule in place. The brushy part itself is comprised of bristles which can be natural or synthetic. It is alternately called the hairs, belly, bristles, or tuft.
Types of brushes
Generally when dealing with fine art brushes, you’ll be dealing with bristle, synthetic, or hair brushes. Bristle brushes are made up of hog bristles, which are stiff and have natural “flagging”, split ends that help the brush hold more paint. Hair brushes are often made with sable, weasel, ox, or squirrel fur, and are excellent for holding more water. Synthetic bristle brushes were developed along with acrylic paints, and are made of nylon, often golden or white taklon. Each kind of brush has its own best uses.
Bristle brushes work best with oil paint. The oil does not degrade the brushes, and the flagged tips of each bristle allow bristle brushes to carry a better paint load. They can become ragged with too much rinsing in water, so they work best with oil paints which don’t require water to clean up. The bristles are fairly rigid, which helps when moving heavy paints, but can leave brush marks in acrylic and can fail to properly move thin watercolors. Oil sticks to the bristles and helps the paint to spread smoothly, but the bristles do not hold water well, which leads to difficulties spreading waterbased paints.
Synthetic brushes work best with acrylic, but can also be used with oil or watercolor. They are an excellent, cost-effective workhorse. They clean up well with water and can hold up to prolonged soaking. Their thinner, unflagged hairs allow for greater detail and smoother application of color. Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals can degrade these brushes, so it’s best not to leave them sitting in solvents, and to limit their use in oil painting to smaller details and finishing touches, unless they’re specifically designed for it. Many brush lines have begun creating flagged synthetic bristle brushes, which are a hardy alternative to hog bristle. Synthetic brushes can imitate sables or bristles, depending on how thick or rigid the nylon filaments are.
Natural Hair brushes are best used for thin paints like watercolor, ink, or gouache. The soft natural hairs are excellent at absorbing and carrying a larger amount of liquid, which is important when working with watercolor and inks. The hairs are often too soft to effectively move a heavier body paint like acrylic or oil.
Brushes come in a dazzling array of different shapes, with some of the most common being round, flat, angle, bright, fan, and filbert. Each shape has different strengths. Rounds are good for lines, flats are good for wide fields of color, angle shaders are good for angles and controlled shading, fans and filberts are good for a variety of different nature effects like leaves and grass.
Less common shapes: Mop- usually a fluffy and full brush made of soft synthetic or natural hair used primarily in watercolor painting. Cats tongue- resembles a short, sharply pointed filbert, used in watercolor. Dagger- a long-bristled angled brush, usually for acrylic painting. Rigger- a long bristled, narrow round brush, used for script, lines, and fine details.
Brush sizes are not uniform across brands, or even lines. One companies #2 round might be closer to a #3 in another line. Be aware of this when buying from lists: teachers will sometimes specify a size but not a brand. Generally speaking it won’t matter too much, (close enough is probably okay) but it can be confusing when your 00 spotter is bigger than someone else’s 00 spotter in the same class. The exceptions to this are the flatter brushes: flats, angle shaders, and brights will often be measured in inches, (3/4 flat, 1 inch bright, 1/2 inch angle shader and so on) and of course, an inch is an inch no matter what brand you’re in.
Cleaning and Care
Make sure to always clean paint off your brushes before letting them dry- when oil or acrylic paints dry, they are nearly impossible to remove from bristles. Watercolor and acrylic paint can be cleaned with soap and water- artist’s brush soap is ideal, dish or handsoap also work well.
Oil paint should be wiped out of the brush with a rag, then cleaned with mineral spirits, and then with soap and water. Mineral spirits for cleaning oil paint brushes can be reused, as the paint solids sink to the bottom of the container: if you keep it in a glass container with a bit of wire in the bottom, you can clean your brushes with the same mineral spirits again and again.
Brushes should never be left soaking in liquid- this can damage the bristles and cause the ferrule to become unglued. They should never be stored bristle side down- this can leave you with bent and misshapen bristles. After cleaning, brushes can be blotted dry, reshaped, and left upright (bristles up) or suspended upside down to fully dry.