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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gift ideas for Young Writers and Illustrators

By Carol Baicker-McKee

Olivetti Lettera 22, iconic portable typewriter, circa 1950s

I was lucky as a child and teen to have parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends who took my interests in writing and illustrating books seriously. In appreciation, I offer this list of excellent gifts that may boost the confidence and skills of young creatives. (And older ones too.) As a bonus, many cost little or nothing or can be thrown together at the last minute - a blessing for those of us who are so caught up in our own projects, we have procrastinated a wee bit on our holiday shopping.

Sketchbooks or Journals
What writer or artist doesn't crave the pleasures of a new, delicious-smelling book to write or draw in? There is an abundance of high quality options, but pictured above are three I love: 
  • Moleskines Okay, I know they're trendy-pretentious and overpriced, but they're just so...nice. And they come in a huge array of styles and sizes; there's a notebook for just about any taste or purpose. They're also widely available in brick-and-mortar and online stores, so finding them is a cinch. Be sure to check out Moleskine's website, which not only showcases their array of products, but includes templates for making some last-minute handmade gifts. Teens might also enjoy perusing some of the many tumblr and pinterest sites like this one that showcase the work of Moleskine lovers (WARNING: these sites sometimes contain art images that might not be appropriate for younger kids.) Young illustrators might enjoy the blog of Moleskine user Renata Liwska, illustrator of The Quiet Book, The Noisy Book, and her new release Once Upon a Memory.
  • Dick Blick's Artist Journals These lovely books have heavyweight paper that's great for watercolor, collage, pen and ink, even printmaking and stamping. Point your young artist to the gorgeous journals of Mexican-American artist Gennine Zlatkis for inspiration.
  • AVintage Journal or Notebook I snap these up at estate and yard sales whenever I see them, usually for mere pennies. The sellers usually consider them to be near worthless if they've been partly written in - but I just find the glimpses of lives gone by (and the lovely handwriting) to be intriguing.
Professional Quality Art Supplies

I still have - and use - the artist-quality set of pan watercolors that my parents gave me when I was about nine. Overnight, my art projects went to the next level, largely because good paint just works better! The set above was actually my grandfather's travel set, and I use it now when I travel. It was a gift from him that I treasure - which shows that even used supplies are welcome.

High quality permanent ink pens are always wonderful, as are artist quality papers for different media. Many craft stores have at least a small section of artist quality materials, colleges and universities often have outstanding (and reasonably priced) art sections in their campus bookstores, and there are many discount art suppliers. Two I often buy from are Dick Blick (their NYC brick-and-mortar store is almost my vision of heaven) and Art Supply.

A Cool Writing Utensil

 Sometimes all you need for a little motivation/inspiration is a new writing tool. Neil Gaiman, author of beloved children's novels like Coraline and The Graveyard Book (among other masterpieces, including adult novels and episodes of Dr. Who), says he usually writes his first drafts with a fountain pen - and I am increasingly finding it to be my tool of choice, at least for picture books. I personally like vintage pens, like the Parker 51, (but those tend to be pricey); inexpensive and still satisfying new ones (or different vintage ones) are widely available at stationary and office supply stores.

And don't forget typewriters! E.B. White banged out Charlotte's Web on a manual typewriter (an Underwood Standard Rhythm Touch) and Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on one too. Although they sometimes go for scary prices on eBay, you can generally pick up old manual or electric typewriters for a song at yard or estate sales and Goodwill and other thrift stores. The Lettera 22, pictured at the top of the post and a favorite of field journalists, cost me a mere $15 at an estate sale recently - and it came with an extra ribbon, the manual, and the original case.

Classes, Camps or Conferences
Give a certificate to be redeemed for lessons of some sort. Classes are available through many sources, including museums, arts organizations, community rec centers, community colleges (which often have weekend youth programs), and many universities, which often offer summer camps for young writers and artists. Don't forget inquiring among local professionals; my most memorable art classes were taught by professional artist parents of school mates.

Life Experiences
Every creative person needs to have a deep well of experiences to draw on in his or her work! The opportunities here are only limited by your imagination and budget. A grand journey will inspire - but so will Saturdays volunteering together at the local homeless center. Offer to take a kid to museums, historical sites, festivals - or just out exploring in a new neighborhood. A sketch crawl - to capture the animals at the zoo, or write up the interesting characters you eavesdrop on at the mall - is a cheap but memorable experience, especially if you work side-by-side or let the young writer or artist bring along a like-minded pal.

A Room of Her Own
Or perhaps just a closet or a nook in the family room - a space separate from a kid's bedroom that's dedicated as a creative studio may be just the grounding she needs to work seriously. Check out this site for ideas in carving out a space.

Work to Emulate
How about a copy of one of your lasting favorite books, a subscription to a literary or art magazine, an autographed copy of a special book or a signed piece of art?

Any more ideas? Share them with us in the comments. Happy Holidays!

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