We’re well into the holiday season! Whether you’re trying to find a practical gift for the artist in your life, or you’re an artist who just received a gift card to your favorite art store, here are some of my long-standing favorite art-related items. 

This list was made for the artist working in any medium. If you’d like to see my previous gift guides, check out the links below:

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Practical Pick 1: Tape Dispenser

Not just any tape dispenser, but my trusty Excell twin roll tape dispenser holds two different widths of tape. I use ½-inch and 1-inch wide artist tape (pH neutral low-tack tape) daily to temporarily mount my artwork to my drawing board. It’s also great for staging photos (i.e. securing art supplies and mats). 

This dispenser is compatible with tape rolls with a 3-inch diameter core. Excell also makes single and triple roll dispensers. The cost difference between 1, 2, and 3 roll dispensers is very minimal so I would recommend picking up the double or triple roll capacity unit over the single roll

Where to Buy:

The dispenser is hefty and made for industrial use. I can easily see my tape dispenser lasting for at least a decade. 

Tip: My personal brand preference for artist tape has been ProTapes. They’re available in widths from ¼-inch to 2 inches in a variety of fun colors. 

Practical Pick 2: Logan Mat Cutter

Like most people, I used craft knives and traditional box-cutter knives for all my life. I know it sounds dramatic, but picking up a Logan Mat Cutter was life-changing. I own 8 assorted craft and snap-blade knives and I always reach for my Logan knife.

As a bonus, the replacement blades are “double-ended”, so you get twice the amount of use from one blade! Swapping out a dull blade with a fresh new blade is a quick 30-second job thanks to the thumb screw. I was so impressed with the Logan Mat Cutter that I immediately bought 100 replacement blades (Logan blade no. 270). Smaller 10 count refill packs are also available. However, you save over 65% by purchasing the 100 pack.

When it comes to cutting mats, I can cut standard 4-ply mats in one pass and medium pressure (this job would typically take 3 passes with a craft knife). Any thick paper – watercolor, PastelMat, bristol, etc. can easily be cut in one stroke as well.

Where to Buy:

Tip: A new Logan Mat Cutter comes with three blades installed. Remove the two replacement blades prior to use. The blades are very thin, so it’s easy to miss – many negative reviews online are due to customers attempting to cut with three blades.

Practical Pick 3: Excel Mahl Stick

I’ve used mahl sticks in nearly all of my live art demos and video drawing demonstrations. The main purpose of a mahl stick is to elevate your hand off the canvas or paper so that your hand does not smudge wet paint, graphite, charcoal, or in my case pastel.

I used a cheap clearance mahl stick for several years before upgrading to a sleek new version by Excel (note not the same company as the tape dispenser). The quality difference was immediately noticeable, and the rubber end is easy to clean. I personally only use two of the three segments while working. Having the flexibility to easily switch between 10”, 20”, and 30” is wonderful and this makes the mahl stick easy to pack and travel.

Where to Buy:

Tip: If you prefer to use the mahl stick at its assembled state at all times, a small dab of Loctite (or your favorite metal compatible epoxy) will create a nearly permanent bond where the segments screw together.

Practical Pick 4: Derwent Pencil Extenders

Similar to my craft knife experience, I purchased several different brands of pencil extenders before realizing quality does matter. Derwent Pencil Extenders are pricey but I haven’t had one fail on me yet in over 3 years.

A pencil extender is useful for any artist because nearly everyone works with graphite or charcoal pencils for quick sketches. I personally use extenders for colored pencils and pastel pencils.

With most wood drawing tools, holding a short pencil alters how the hand wraps around it. The side effects of an altered grip are nearly always hand cramps (or even worse, nerve pain). A pencil extender allows a natural hand grip throughout the life of the pencil. As a bonus, manual sharpeners can sharpen the pencil all the way down to the nub.

When calculating how much more of a pencil can be used thanks to the pencil extender, each extender pays for itself with a handful of uses. Plus there’s less waste and more art can be made!

Where to Buy:

Tip: The Derwent pencil extender set has two different diameters. The black extender is for standard pencils (7 mm) and the silver is for slightly larger pencils (8 mm). If you only use standard pencils, wrap several layers of artist tape, masking tape, or painter’s tape around the pencil to increase the diameter.

Practical Pick 5: Apron/Smock

I am, and have always been, a fan of aprons. Floral, solid, checkered, animal, and patterned aprons are tucked away in the art room (and kitchen). Aprons save any artist time and money because it’s easy to change in and out of the work uniform.

While I have a preference for lightweight cotton aprons with fun designs, there are thousands of different styles available. Aprons are an easy gift since most are one-size-fits-all. With so many options available, aim to look for ones with pockets for maximum utility.

Where to Buy:

What do you think of my practical art picks? If you purchased one or more of these items, let me know how you like them in the comments below. If you already own them, share your favorite brands/manufacturers.


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