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A Creative’s Wish List

Guest post by Ed Shems and friends

What gifts would make a creative professional happy? Now that’s a loaded question if I ever did see one! Although most of us love what we do, there are many resources that would make what we do more enjoyable and, in some cases, easier.

I realize that trying to come up with a comprehensive list of everything a creative pro/aspiring pro/student could possibly want or need for their studio is an impossible feat. Rather, I took the approach that perfect is the enemy of good and curated this list accordingly.

To start, I initially reached out to a few peers to get their suggestions. We looked around our studios to see what tangible items we’re always reaching for (aside from computers, phones, and Airpods, of course!) in our quest to compile a list of must-haves that would make a creative person light up with joy.

And, BONUS! If you buy these for yourself, you get to write them off on your taxes as a business expense!*

Let’s get started!

NOTE: None of the following are affiliate links. These are items we really use and love. None of these items are produced or endorsed by the Graphic Artists Guild, other than the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook and membership.

photograph of the handbook with an artist's model

The Handbook

It may have a long name but only because it’s just that important. The 16th edition of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines is the bible for the creative industries, with information on copyrights, running your business, and maximizing your income. But the sections on pricing your work and sample contracts are what really make this your best new business partner.


Kyle T Webster’s Digital Brushes

Kyle is a successful commercial artist who creates brushes for some of Adobe’s products. He also sells/gives away brushes at his Gumroad store, and that’s where you’ll find Basic Inker, Paper Layer, and the brush that blows me out of the water, Broken Typewriter. Pay $0 or whatever you would like.

photo of jet pens


On my first visit, I had something like 50 tabs open. – Erin Harris

If you’re looking for drawing pens, this is the place. If you’re NOT looking for drawing pens, you’ll end up buying a bunch anyway. Amazing selection, detailed descriptions, and great quality. If you want to do more drawing, start here!

photograph of a stack of sketchbooks with the Guild sticker on one


You know the photographer’s adage: “The best camera is the one you have with you”? I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter what you draw on as long as you draw. I have shelves of used sketchbooks, and the only observable similarity is that I seem to prefer ring-bound so I can open the pages completely. Don’t let anything hold you back from drawing!

Go with acid free so the paper doesn’t deteriorate. Buy from anywhere. Get one that fits in a backpack and another that fits in your back pocket. Blick is a good place

Psst! An illustrator friend, Stephanie Osser, gave me a Koh-I-Noor Magic Pencil and it made me starry eyed. Get a pencil sharpener with a large opening to go with it.


A Graphic Artists Guild Membership

Join a community of artists and creative professionals! Surround yourself with peers who can offer guidance, resources, and insight, (and who can learn from you, too!). Members get access to free monthly webinars, among other benefits, and the Guild advocates for all artists on important issues in Washington, D.C. And remember The Handbook I talked about before? Join, and they’ll just send it to you. For free.


Helpful Books

It’s clear from some of the above items that I firmly believe that we can’t shouldn’t do this alone, and that looking to others for help is a smart way to run your creative business.

Creative Director Terrence Moline recommends the following books:

Book jacket image Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (Nonviolent Communication Guides)

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. — George Bernard Shaw

The foundation of design is communication. Yet many of us lack the basic skills to express our needs and to hear the needs of others: this includes clients, family, and close interpersonal relationships.

Out of the hundreds of books I’ve read, this is the one that helped me design a better life instantly. And every other book I’ve read on communication, negotiation, or leadership seems to reflect the tools and principles illustrated in this manual for life.

— Terrence Moline

book jacket image for Business Side of Creativity

The Business Side of Creativity: The Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Running a Small Graphic Design or Communications Business

If the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines were my right arm, The Business Side of Creativity would be my left. Cameron S. Foote’s entire 4+ book series is a must-read for any designer interested in raising the bar on their business acumen.

When I started my business, this book gave me clear guidelines for the leadership style and business model I needed to create our company.

— Terrence Moline

Book jacket cover for Difficult Conversations

Graphic Artists Guild President and Book Illustrator Liz DiFiore recommends:

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

From mundane situations like a roommate that doesn’t get the hints to clean up after themselves to the all-too-well-known issue of doing business with a friend who turns into a nightmare client, Difficult Conversations is a collection of must-have skills. Nobody likes conflict, but it’s unavoidable, and it only gets worse the more we put it off.

I have used the skills in this book to have better relationships with staff, more effective mentorships, and, yes, even a successful navigation of the family holidays. I highly recommend this to anyone, but especially if you’re the kind of person who “doesn’t do well with conflict” or describes themselves as someone who “just wants to make others happy.” There’s a middle road to take.

— Liz DiFiore

book jacket image for Brutally Honest

Graphic Artists Guild Publisher Linda Secondari recommends:

Brutally Honest: No Bullshit Strategies To Evolve Your Creative Business

The title says it all! Emily Cohen’s no-nonsense approach to managing a creative business is both brutal and insightful. This beautifully designed book is a journey for the committed business owner. Emily drops truisms like “When Qualifying, embrace the tough questions. What have you got to lose?” throughout. I read the book cover to cover over the course of two days when I first opened my business. The words have rung true in my ears more times that I can recount, unfortunately I have not always followed the great advice!

Every engaged business owner should have Brutally Honest close at hand throughout the business day!

— Linda Secondari

photograph of keyboards

For Your Ears Only

Mechanical Keyboard Sounds on Vinyl. Because sometimes you just want to be surrounded by the sounds of typing. If you love the sound of rain on a tin roof, or of a little mouse tap dancing on your kitchen counter, then you’ve hit the jackpot.


Task Timer

Many of us track our hours to properly bill our clients or to learn how much time it actually takes to complete certain aspects of our projects in order to put together proper estimates. Graphic Designer Erin Harris’ favorite is the Time Timer, because it moves clockwise as it counts down, replicating a clock’s movements, while visually showing you how much time is left for your task. Gain awareness of the time you’re spending on tasks. 

logo for Communication Arts

Communication Arts Subscription

Keep your eye on your competition – and find inspiration – while simultaneously earning accolades for your own work by checking out/taking part in Communication Arts’ competitions.

— Creative Director Yanique DaCosta

photo of a ring light

Ring Light

No, it’s not just for taking selfies. I use a ring light for Zoom calls because I have too much light behind me. You might use it to attach your phone and record yourself as you draw to show your work in progress on social media, or to take photos of the products you sell on Etsy. There are three billion options and they vary in price based on your needs.

No link. Do a search, check out the options, and choose one that’s highly rated.

illustration by Ed Shems of a coffee cup riding on an avocado toast

Gift Cards or Passes to a Physical Space

A gift card to a coffee shop. A membership to an art museum. Get out of your studio and draw/create/ideate somewhere new from time to time. No gift card? Just go to the mall and sit in the food court and draw the cinnamon rolls and soft pretzels. No loss of points if they have big bites taken out of them. Or take a walk to a local park, a lake, or the beach (watch out, though. Seagulls love pretzels.)

There you have it. The first of many Creative Wish Lists where you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a creative professional happy. Happy holidays!

– Illustrator & Graphic Designer, Ed Shems

*This is not tax advice. I’m not a tax guy, so talk to yours for details.