The 10 Best Art Sets
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in July of 2015. Whether young or old, experienced or a beginner, budding Picassos will find one of these art sets perfect for creating their next masterpiece. We've included kits that offer all the common mediums -- watercolors, pencils, oils, and acrylics -- to ensure there would be something suitable for everyone. Many come with pads and easels, too, so you can get started right away. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 25, 2020:
Art sets are a great way to get nearly, if not all, of the supplies you need to create your next painting or drawing in one purchase. Since most include a mix of mediums, they can also be a smart way to test out different types of paints or drawing materials to determine which you like best. It is worth noting though, that comprehensive sets like these generally value versatility over quality, so once you decide on your favorite medium, you may want to buy dedicated supplies. To help you with that, we have also compiled lists of the best acrylic and oil paints, oil pastels, art markers, and colored pencils, where you can find some higher-quality offerings.
Perhaps no option truly exhibits a focus on comprehensiveness and versatility more so than the US Art Supply D130, which not only includes three types of paints and more than 30 brushes, but also two kinds of easels and canvases to work on.
The Royal & Langnickel Painting Chest comes with some of the higher quality paints in this category, and we would consider them student level. They have a decent amount of pigment, which means you won't have to do quite as many coats to get good coverage, especially when comes to layering one color over another. However, the downside is that it is expensive, and it doesn't come with many accessories. The Royal & Langnickel Mixed Media is also of decent quality and provides a bit more value for the money, plus the included tabletop easel is great for those who like to travel to a variety of locations to paint.
For the youngsters, the Crayola Inspiration, Darice Arty Facts Deluxe, and Art 101 30175MB stand out as smart choices. None of them have any wet paints, and the ink in the included markers of the Crayola Inspiration is washable, which greatly minimizes the chance of messes.
November 30, 2019:
If you don't have the time to pore through thousands of art supplies in order to make a cohesive collection, you're like most people, which is why there are plenty of high quality, complete sets on the market. The ones we've picked out feature a wide variety of mediums, including acrylic and oil paints, watercolors, pastels, charcoal pencils, and more. Most of them come with tools, too, such as brushes, erasers, and sharpeners. If you're looking for something appropriate for the younger members of your household, you might consider investing in an art set designed specifically for kids.
The Mont Marte Studio Essentials and Free Hand Acrylic sets are the new additions to the list, the former chosen because of its variety of tools and affordable price considering the quality. Because of its completeness as a beginner painting set, the Free Hand Acrylic collection was picked. The US Art Supply Creativity and French Easels Complete sets, on the other hand, have been removed, due to complaints about quality.
Rembrandt Artists' Oils Excellent Wood Box Set While it will definitely cost you a pretty penny, the Rembrandt Artists' Oils Excellent Wood Box Set includes professional-quality paint that has a very high concentration of pigment and a high degree of lightfastness. It is rated to maintain its integrity for 100 years under museum conditions, so it it is definitely best suited to serious artists. All of the components store in the included beautiful walnut-stained hardwood box that has brass hardware. dickblick.com
Materials Are Anything But Immaterial
That way, if the messy, genius artist in you wants to leave all of your work materials strewn about the studio, it'll be easier to clean up later.
It'd be nice to believe, as very few artists successfully do, that the tools of an art are immaterial to its expression. You hear such things uttered in photographic circles perhaps more than anywhere else simply because of the diversity of available photographic technology, and because of the surprising results of so many photographic competitions, many of which give their top prizes to amateurs shooting on cameras that the so-called professionals would never be caught dead using.
Painting and drawing are tougher, as the quality of the tools is likely to leave an immediate and recognizable impression on a viewer, and is subject to time in the way that a digital photograph is not. A painting–that is to say, the physical paint–will fade, and cannot be reproduced as a photograph can, though attempts at restoration and preservation of the great works is ongoing.
For this reason alone, investing in a quality art set, and continuing to invest in quality paints thereafter, is absolutely material to your expression, unless the heart of your expression is impermanence. If that's the case, you ought to be mixing your paints from berry juices, or something that won't even last as long as the cheapest paint on the market.
You want staying power for your art, and you want paints and pencils that are easy to work with and that catch they eye when applied to paper and canvas. The sets on this list either combine materials for drawing and painting, or have an even more extensive selection of tools targeted at a single style, so budding artists and serious professionals alike will have all the tools they need to express themselves on common media.
Since organization is one of the biggest problems facing creative types, these sets also include a wide quality range of storage for their constituent parts. That way, if the messy, genius artist in you wants to leave all of your work materials strewn about the studio, it'll be easier to clean up later.
A Steady Climb Toward Quality
Beyond all the theoretical posturing, you've got a very real choice to make, and whether this art set is for you or a gift for another, knowing what makes one set different from or superior to another ought to help you gain focus on your ideal purchase.
The more obvious differences that present themselves as you make your way down our top ten list all concentrate around an ideal demographic for a given set.
The more obvious differences that present themselves as you make your way down our top ten list all concentrate around an ideal demographic for a given set. The set on our list that's made up of crayons and markers, for example, is clearly meant for a much younger artist who's just getting into self-expression. Of course, as you're reading this there's probably a 30-something in Austin, TX with that exact marker set creating masterpieces that will skyrocket him to fame, but we can't account for that while making our choice today.
Other sets on our list have a broader appeal, featuring paints of various bases (watercolor, acrylic, oil) in addition to drawing materials. It may be difficult to tell the nuanced differences among these middle-grade sets, due primarily to the similarity of their storage and layout. Among these suitcase-style sets, the big difference is in the color availability, particularly in the pencils, so if you know your preferred palettes, you can gravitate toward the right set.
Finally, we get to the most elaborate and expensive set on our list, an art kit that is undeniably geared toward professionals and more serious students of the craft. For these very simple reasons it reaches the top of our list, and it comes with anything and everything an artist would need for his or her drawing and painting needs. Old Dickie Van Gogh could have taken one look at this set, and he might not have cut off his ear.
Dreaming Of The Past
In his epic documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog takes us on a journey back to the oldest examples of human expression. Deep within Chauvet cave in southern France, cave paintings of horses, lions, rhinoceroses, and a dozen other creatures dance upon the walls.
Today, our studios, and museums, and galleries are our caves.
Radiocarbon dating shows the paintings to have been produced in two distinct groupings. The more recent of these groupings was created around 27,000 years ago, while the oldest among them reaches back nearly 33,000 years. They are, according to this dating, the oldest known paintings on Earth, the oldest moment of human artistic expression known to man.
Which is all to say that, so far as we can tell, the history of painting is the history of mankind. Many philosophers and scholars believe that the expression of an exterior world, accompanied by expressions of a self (such as the hand prints found in Chauvet and other caves), mark the explicit evolution in consciousness that separates mankind from his previous evolutionary forms.
Today, our studios, and museums, and galleries are our caves. Their staying power is meager compared with that of the ancient, prehistoric caves, which will likely outlast anything modern man puts to canvas. The subject, however, remains. We seek, by whatever means necessary, to express and communicate our experience, that we may better understand the worlds around us, the worlds before our own, and the ones to come.