Thursday, December 5, 2019

Non-Clutter Gifts: Art Supplies for Kids

Crayola crayons - box of 120 colors

I’ve always liked the idea of giving art supplies as gifts. They’re consumables, so they don’t tend to become clutter (unless a parent believes they must keep everything their child creates) and they encourage the creativity of children who have an artistic inclination.

But there’s one aspect of art supply gifts I never thought too much about until I read this on Twitter:
PSA: If you’re doing shopping for artsy kids this holiday season, avoid these art sets. Every artist I know got these as a kid and LOATHED them, because the quality sucks. Instead, find out what medium the kid likes and get nice versions of that specific thing. —Adam Ellis 
When Adam says “these art sets” he’s referring to the all-in-one kits, selling for around $25, that come with crayons, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, scissors, watercolor cakes, oil pastels, markers, etc. He went on to suggest better gifts, and a lot of people joined the conversation. Some points made:
  • The gift-giver’s budget obviously needs to be taken into consideration. But to meet budget constraints, you can consider getting a smaller quantity of higher-quality stuff. 
  • The age, interest level, and skill level of the child matter; not all kids will appreciate the higher-quality items. The boxed sets can be fine for a kid who would just like to try different mediums: watercolors, colored pencils, markers, etc. But kids in their teens might really appreciate some better supplies. 
  • Even Crayola crayons are a step up in quality from many of the kits. (Lots of people mentioned Crayola products as a good alternative!) You can get better quality than the kits without going to top of the line. (Dried markers were a top complaint about the kits.)

But if you have a child on your gift list who is really into art, some suggested gifts from Adam and others were:

boxes of Prismacolor colored pencils

Colored pencils

Favorites included Prismacolor, Caran d'Arche and Faber Castell. Over on Dick Blick I saw a tin of 12 Prismacolors for $7.10 (well below list price) — and I also saw a set of 160 Caran d'Ache pencils in a wood box for $463.99. Obviously there are plenty of choices between these two price points.

Author Ann Leckie made a great case for good colored pencils:
I’ve been looking for the tweet I saw where someone said basically that low quality art supplies can make you feel like you can’t do the thing, because this is very true. Particularly colored pencils, which, by and large the cheap ones are just disappointing and frustrating. ... Speaking as someone who has recently been taking art classes—the difference between cheap colored pencils and good ones is AMAZING.

box of 10 tubes of Van Gogh brand watercolors


Adam mentioned Winsor & Newton watercolors but noted they are expensive — and that there are cheaper options that are perfectly fine. Other folks mentioned Daniel Smith and Van Gogh. The picture above is the 10-tube Van Gogh set.

And here’s someone making the case for good watercolors:
Decent watercolors were a game changer for me. I hated those little pan sets that they gave us in school. They made me furious at their badness. Turns out I love painting. I hate bad paint. 
I am so on team Give Kids Good Art Supplies.

six Micron pens in various sizes

Pens for Ink Drawings

Adam mentioned Microns (and Copic Multiliners as a huge upgrade). Someone else prefers the Artline Drawing System. This set of six Microns lists for $17.99 and can be found for much less.

SL Huang makes the case for good supplies, including these pens:
Since art supplies ARE so expensive, if you *can* get the Very Artsy kid in your life something specific & high-quality they’d prob be over the moon. I know I lusted after SO MANY art supplies I couldn’t afford as a kid & was always thrilllllled when ppl gifted them to me

Also, many times, a truly arty kid would be much more excited with 5 microns for the same price as this big crappy set.

Flax Art & Deisgn gift card

Gift Cards

If there's a good art supply store close to where the child lives, a gift card could be a great option, too. (Flax is a store in San Francisco that I’ve enjoyed for gift-buying.)

Sunday, December 1, 2019

8 Charging Stations for Your Phones, Tablets and More

wall-mounted charging station, looks like a box with charging items laying on the top

Everything in my life needs charging. —Francine Hardaway

If you’re like Francine, I’ve got some interesting products for you! (Note: For this post, I’m excluding wireless charging products.)

The item above is the Charge-Box from Konstantin Slawinski, which comes in a variety of colors. It can be wall-mounted, as shown, or it can sit on a flat surface such as a countertop or desktop. You can also find it at Connox (with fewer color choices), but if you’re in the U.S. the shipping charges are going to be quite high from either site.

wood shelf with slot in the rear, where a tablet is resting

The Stage shelf from Spell lets you charge up to five items and keep the cords hidden. There are four options: walnut, oak, white, and black. It’s lovely, but expensive.

wood shelf pulled out from the wall showing the interior with two products charging inside

The items being charged could be kept inside or out.

charging station that has slots for the seven items being charged

When it comes to charging stations that arent wall-mounted, there are a few basic designs. This 7-slot one from Satechi was recommended by iMore, which notes that “each slot is large enough to accommodate even the largest of smartphones and any cases that you may have installed.” It’s also available in white.

Note that the charging cables do not come with it, though, so it won’t look as cool as it does in this photo unless you buy the cables, too.

charging station with slots for products; the charging cables attach to the side of a mushroom-shaped outlet

For a very different take on the same basic design, there’s the charging mushroom. The mushroom also serves as a night light!

charging station, box-like, where cords are kept inside and products rest on top or stand up against a rail

Other products, like the Sanctuary4 from Bluelounge, are designed to hide all the cords. As you might guess from the name, it has four USB ports. You can get the Sanctuary4 in either black or white.

charging station that's like a box with slats on top; three products (phones and tablets) are standing in the slats

Alldock provides another take on the hidden-cord charging station. It comes in two sizes: the medium which charges four items and the large which charges six. Products are available in black, white, bamboo, and walnut.

same box-like charging station as above with an attachment that holds an AirPod case

There are optional Apple Watch, AirPod, and FitBit mounts, too.

charging station with places for MacBook, iPad, iPhone, AirPod case, Apple Watch, Apple Pencil, and Apple TV remote

And here’s yet another design. NytLite makes cool charging stations designed specifically for all Apple products. The one I’m showing is the one that accommodates the most products, including the Apple TV remote (or a second iPhone).

woman sitting on a bed that has a bedside pocket that holds products being charged

You can also get a product designed for bedside charging. Z-charge provides three pockets on each side of the bed. There’s a larger pocket in the back, kept in place by that Velcro latch in the upper corner. Z-charge currently comes in four colors: white, black, chocolate brown and dove gray.