From painting classes to coding courses: experience gifts to buy a designer

People are spending less money on physical items and more on doing things, recent research shows. Here are some non-physical present ideas to surprise the creative person in your life with.


Gravity Sketch VR

AutoDesk Sketchbook

By Autodesk
A tool for illustrators and graphic designers, Sketchbook allows users to draw using pens, pencils, markers and paintbrushes on a 100-megapixel screen. It can be used across devices, so users can switch between tablet, desktop and mobile, and physical, paper drawings can be converted straight to digital through the user’s phone or tablet camera – they take a photo, the drawing uploads and users can then ink and colour-in digitally.

A basic subscription is free. An enterprise, multi-user subscription costs £12 per month, or £96 per year.

Adobe Illustrator CC 22.0

By Adobe
As of October, the latest version of painting, drawing and illustration program Adobe Illustrator has a range of updates, including puppet warp enhancement, which lets user automatically make selections around images without needing to manually plot them, and freeform gradients, which provide a wider range of colours and shades to create more “natural” effects.

The first month is free, then it’s £23.99 per month.

Gravity Sketch VR

By Gravity Sketch
Intended for product designers, Gravity Sketch software enables users to create three-dimensional (3D) sketches in the air using a virtual reality (VR) headset and handheld controllers. It can be used to design a product as small as a trainer or as big as a car and features a suite of tools such as free-hand drawing, lines, curves and colour gradients. It is currently compatible with Oculus Rift and Vive headsets.

The software is currently on early access, and costs £22.99 from Steam.

Tilt Brush

By Google
Similar to Gravity Sketch, Tilt Brush lets designers paint in the air in front of them, but can also add special effects for animations, through paintbrushes dedicated to smoke, snow and fire. Another VR tool used for creating 3D illustrations, paintings and designs, it is compatible with Vive, Oculus and Windows Mixed Reality.

Costs £14.99 through Steam.


ANNA Money

ANNA Money

For the freelance creative in your life who wants help getting organised, this could be the perfect gift. ANNA Money, which stands for Absolutely No-Nonsense Admin, is a new admin app specifically for self-employed people and small businesses who need to sort out their own finances, from invoices to expenses. As well as the app, users get a credit card and bespoke advice and guidance. For more information on ANNA, head here.

The first three months are free, then it’s £11 per month for an account, credit card and invoice management service.

The Dots

The Dots is a creative jobs website and networking platform, which aims to encourage a racially, socially and gender diverse creative workforce. The website aims to discourage elitism, as employers who sign up to the service are not able to search for candidates by which university they went to. Why not get your creative director friend who needs to recruit new talent a monthly subscription?

Free to join as an employee, and costs £25 per month for the Recruiter Pro Plan. This includes access to the advanced search, messaging system, and the website’s new bias-free browsing mode, plus other features.


If you know someone who loves magazines but can never choose which one to sign up to, get them a subscription to Stack, an independent magazine distributor that prides itself on stocking print titles with beautiful design. The organisation aims to encourage “reading outside the mainstream” and users get a different magazine delivered to their door every month, from The Gentlewoman to Delayed Gratification.

A subscription costs £7 per month.

Art and craft box subscription boxes

A monthly subscription to a box full of creative goodies may well be one of the most original presents you can give this Christmas. Craftiosity looks to give subscribers a monthly “artsy challenge” by sending them a box of materials, tools, step-by-step photo instructions and video tutorials on a different craft project every month, which could be anything from book-binding to Japanese shibori dyeing. Some boxes are more specific, such as Sew Darn Sweet Box, which sends fabrics, ribbons, buttons, other haberdashery and sewing project suggestions. Other boxes are good for those who want beautiful things but don’t want to get crafty themselves – GlobeIn sends subscribers a box of ethical, handmade home products and accessories every month.

Craftiosity costs £22.95 per box/month.
Sew Darn Sweet Box costs £11.67 per box/month.
GlobeIn costs various prices, starting at $43 (£34) per month/box for the basic subscription.

Courses, classes and experiences

Courtesy of SeventyFour

Art and craft classes

By various
Whether your designer friend has a penchant for pottery, photography or painting, you can help to expand their creative horizons through a day class. Sometimes it’s good to get away from the computer and use your hands, after all. Obby lists over 2,500 classes in London online, from embroidery to candle-making, while Virgin Experience Days has a section dedicated to craft classes all over the UK, including make-your-own lino prints and tea-towel lessons, pottery making and painting.

Obby has over 2,500 classes at various prices, and you can buy gift cards.
Virgin Experiences hold many Arts and Crafts day classes at various prices.

Life drawing and painting courses

By various
Many designers have said that traditional drawing and painting skills improve sketching skills and make for a better graphic or product designer. If you want to bring out your designer friend’s expressive side, you could get them a 10-week course, from portraiture and still-life through to sketching the human form.

The City Literary Institute (CityLit) in London runs courses at various prices, around the £300 mark.
Creative Art Courses in Manchester runs weekend courses at £135.

Coding courses

By General Assembly
If a creative person you know wants to improve their digital development skills, you could pick one from a range of courses hosted by General Assembly. They teach a variety of code languages and content management systems (CMS), including HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript and Ruby on Rails, with day courses, part-time and full-time courses available.

Available for various prices.


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