Hey Laura, help me buy an art set

“An Art Lover at Heart” writes:

Can you recommend any reasonably priced, high quality art sets?  I am in search of two for christmas, one for an adult, one for a child.  I am thinking of sets that contain at least a few of the following:  watercolors, colored pencils, oil pastels, markers, crayons.

While you are at it, can you tell me some of the best brand names in art supplies?  Particularly of oil pastels?  Thank you!

A little about oil pastels
I really had to look around for this info. I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, so I didn’t have any clue about what brand is better than others! Wikipedia came to the rescue with this little explanation of “grades” of pastels:

There are a number of types of oil pastels, each of which can be classified as either scholastic, student or professional grade.

Scholastic grade, for example the Loew Cornell brand, is the lowest grade: generally the oil pastels are harder and less vibrant than higher grades. It is generally meant for children or people starting out with oil pastels, and is fairly cheap compared to other grades, often less than US$5 for a large box.

The middle grade, student grade, is meant for art students and can be much more expensive but softer and more vibrant than scholastic grade. They are usually more expensive and cost around $0.70 to $0.90 each. An example of a student grade oil pastel is Van Gogh, manufactured by Talens.

Professional grade is the highest grade of oil pastel and can be very expensive, often costing $1 to $2 per oil pastel, but are also the softest and most vibrant. Three professional quality brands of oil pastel are Sennelier, Holbein, and Garich.

You also will want to read this article about how Fine Art Oil Pastels are Worth the Cost. Not only does the artist explain the long-term cost of buying cheaper oil pastels, he reviews some of the most popular name brands with fascinating results. He has another Oil Pastels Review here.


My suggestion for the oil pastels
Based on the above artist’s recommendation, I would go for the Erengi Art Aspirer set, which he calls “the workhorse brand for fine artists using oil pastels.” The Erengi sets are on deep discount through that link - a set of 25 is only $19.99 (list price $75!). Erengi also come in open stock, which means you can replenish your basic set without investing in a whole new spectrum.


My suggestions for the art sets
Here’s my philosophy about art sets: You should buy the best quality within your price range, even if that means fewer actual pieces in the set. Cheap supplies will be frustrating, even if there are a lot of them, and run the risk of putting an aspiring artist off their craft.

A good smaller set is the Reeves Maxi Color Art Box ($39.99). I can’t vouch for everything in this set, but from my reading about oil pastels, I picked up that Reeves is a solid student-quality oil pastel, so my assumption this whole set ought to be a good choice for a beginner - inexpensive, but not cheapo. It includes: “24 colored pencils, 2 graphite pencils, 12 large oil pastels and 6 watercolor tubes,” plus brushes, a palette, erasers, and other essentials.

Fundamentals’ All Media Set (super sale: $34.99) is another prettily boxed option, with a bit more variety than the Reeves option: “12 Oil Paints, 12 Acrylic Paints, 12 Watercolor Paints, 12 Watercolor Pencils, 12 Oil Pastels, 12 Soft Pastels,” plus brushes, palettes, and other essentials. I can’t find reviews of this set, nor do I know what grade the art supplies are, although it recommends age 11 and up, with adult supervision. This could be an excellent choice.

If you subscribe to the More = Better! philosophy, get this Colossal 315-pc. Art Kit ($22.99) from scholastic-grade brand Loew Cornell. It comes in a plastic box and those 315 pieces include…stickers and “other accessories” in addition to the expected watercolors, markers, pastels, etc. It is definitely geared toward kids, and the quality of the individual pieces will not be as high as the previous two I’ve listed. But, there’s Lots! Of! Stuff! if that matters to your recipient. :)


There you go, Art Lover. Send me a painting when you’re done!

Hey Laura, I think... Hey Laura, help me buy an art set

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