The 2021 Gift Guide for Visual Thinkers

Is there a creative, visual learner in your life that you’d like to thank, encourage, or support (or maybe that’s you, *wink*)? 

Here is a curated list of 15 fun and useful gift ideas for all ages, from free to inexpensive to somewhat pricey. The items are categorized into Books, Tech, Tools, and Toys

Some are my discoveries from the past year that I’ve tried, used or read myself, while others are recommendations collected from the wonderful community of visual practitioners and facilitators. 

(Note: none of these are affiliate links. I stand to gain nothing by recommending these products except to share and inspire).


The Art Book for Children

US $49.95

When I asked Patrick, my favorite graphic designer, if there was anything his 8-yr old daughter Evie loved that I could include on this list, he responded, ”Evie wanted to read this every night for like 3 weeks and it got her asking a lot of questions about art. I love the design inside and the way it’s written is engaging for kids.” (Note: I think it may be out of print on the Phaidon site. BUT there are copies available on Amazon.)

Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics That Will Change How You See the World

US $35.99

“Award-winning geographer-designer team James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti transform enormous datasets into rich maps and cutting-edge visualizations. In this triumph of visual storytelling, they uncover truths about our past, reveal who we are today, and highlight what we face in the years ahead.” – Amazon

My colleague Lin is an information designer who recommends this book to “inspire fresh ways of visualizing information, especially as a way of portraying problems with data.”

Bikablo Posters

US $43.75

Bikablo, a German company with outstanding visual vocabulary resources, has a new product! This one is a “visual dictionary for flipcharts, methodology posters & pictorial words… for coaching, online workshops, larger group conferences, graphic recordings and many other scenarios.” I can’t wait to add it to my collection – along with the other 3 Bikablo books I have on my shelf.

Surviving the Horror of Online Meetings: How to Facilitate Good Virtual Meetings & Manage Meeting Monsters

US $16.62

This brand new book “takes the dread out of virtual meetings. It’s a survival guide for the online world. By learning a few simple techniques, your meetings can be engaging, energetic, effective, and even fun!” My copy just arrived, and I’m only partially through it, but so far this slim volume is an enjoyable read full of of wise, practical content – like the sip pause: when the facilitator takes a drink after asking a question or soliciting a response in order to allow time for participants to gather their thoughts and respond.


Mental Canvas

Free promotional version + monthly plans range from US $27-$50

“Creatives are using Mental Canvas Draw every day to explore ideas, communicate concepts, design products and tell stories.” I admit I haven’t used this spatial drawing app for iPad yet, but the demos I saw blew my mind. The ability to explore a drawing or map in 3D opens up so much possibility. Have you tried it?


Free + US $8.33 a month with a 1-year subscription

mmhmm is a cool app that makes it fun and easy to create content-rich slides, share presentations and make recordings. Record yourself in the video, then add text and visuals. There’s lots of options for static and dynamic backgrounds. The creators say, “We built mmhmm to add a little joy to our virtual presentations” and heck yeah, I believe they’ve succeeded.


Climer Cards

Physical deck: US $24.95 + virtual version: free 30 day trial then $5-$20/mo plans

Climer Cards and the Climer Cards App are a deck of cards with hand-drawn pictures designed to evoke metaphors and imagination, and are used by facilitators, teachers, parents and others to help with team building activities, enhancing conversations, and generating creative ideas. 

The Emotion Wheel

Free – US $35

Created by graphic recorder, artist, illustrator, teacher, and creative consultant Abby VanMuijen, the Emotion Wheel “…was designed inspire you to think about your emotional experiences in a more complex and nuanced way. I hope it gives you some tools and language to better understand how you’re feeling and how to communicate those feelings to others.” Free and paid versions of the wheel are available, as downloads, prints and there’s even a new digital version.

Gmund Cloud

€11.90 (US $13.49)

Gmund is a brand that offers the ne plus ultra of high-quality paper, and now they have an online shop with beautiful notecards, journals, and other paper products. This brightly colored notepad caught my eye. It “offers space for thoughts, dreams, ideas and castles in the air”

Kraft Paper Dispenser

US $132.00 – $225 (18-in, 24-in, and 30-in rolls)

Traveling recently I saw a wall-hung kraft paper dispenser in a cafe displaying a daily hand-drawn menu. I immediately had thoughts of installing one in my home office and studio. And now I can, thanks to Etsy! There are many available options from different shops, but I really like this one made from industrial pipe. Included is a paper ripper to hold the paper to the wall, for paper-tearing ease.

Kraft paper rolls can be purchased on Amazon (18-in: US $16 and 24-in: US $21)

Moleskine Roller Pen

$14.95 $7.47

This is my absolute favorite every day and sketch noting pen. It’s available in .7 mm and .5 mm, refillable! and clips on to the side of my Moleskine notebook (because in my office, everything’s Moleskine). On their site it’s out of stock in black 🙁 but available in many other colors. And, it’s on sale! But don’t despair, I found the black at my local Staples – also on sale.

No. One® Art marker set

US $16.20

Neuland offers different sets of 5 refillable No. One® (that’s “Number 1”, not “no one”) Art markers, including this super-useful one with skin tones, called “Friends”, that helps visually represent diversity in our communities.

Procreate brushes

US $12.00 – $16.00

If digital drawing and lettering is more your jam, check out these custom brushes, made specifically for Procreate. The creator, Lisa Bardot of Bardot Brush styled them after midcentury illustrations to replicate that unique style. There’s also a gouache set, which comes with a 35-pg user guide. The “inker” brush from the former and the “light pencil” brush from the latter look especially compelling for sketchnoting and digital graphic recording on the iPad.


Magnetic Creation Station

US $24.95

I had a black and white, seventies-era version of this when I was young. It was one of my all-time favorite toys, so I went searching to find something similar, and discovered this set which features 46 colorful magnetic shapes inside a latch-shut case.


US $70-$218

If I was a therapist, I’d want one of these in my office. I’m not, but I still want one. Isn’t it so visually and kinaesthetic-ly beautiful? “Bring wonder, play, and wellness into your every day with an Olander Earthworks Wonderscape…at home, at work, or in therapy as a tool to create grounding, peace, and flow. Roll, press, and play your way to wellness with an array of handcrafted cement spheres and superfine sand, all held by a beautiful artisan-made wooden tray.” The creators are artists who “make objects inspired by nature, math, science and wellness… each encounter with our art should inspire a new creative journey.”

Is there anything you’d include in this gift guide? Let me know, and I can keep an offline list to share in the future.
And if you purchase any of these products, let me know how it turns out! I’d love to have feedback.

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