Gift Guide for Artists, Designers, and Writers.

James Buckhouse
4 min readDec 7, 2023

Fixpencil (link)

Massimo Vignelli’s favorite pencil. Mine too. Technically a lead-holder, I once wrote an ode to this lovely, lovely drawing device. They come in 2mm and 3mm lead (Vignelli used 3mm) and different lengths… there is the regular barrel length and the “long.” Classic is the red cap that hides a built-in sharpener, black-on-black is lovely, too. Enjoy your new obsession…

Holbein Watercolors (link)

Japanese company Holbein makes readymade kits of paint that are more or less as good as it gets when it comes to off-the-shelf watercolors. The difference is you can “scrub back into” the colors, to perform an instant revivification of “dead” paint. Short of traveling to Tokyo and grinding from rocks at Pigment Tokyo (which, by the way, is an experience worth the trip), Holbein is your next best bet.

Leuchtturm 1917 Notebooks (link)

This is Neil Gaiman’s favorite notebook for hand-writing first drafts. Thicker paper than Moleskines, absorbent for fast ink-drying… Get yours blank, with no lines or dots or decoration to get in the way… just pure, glorious, delicious, open opportunity for story…

Utility Fountain Pen (link)

This is not an expensive pen, but it is fantastic. With no chance for thoughts to slip through your fingers, the satisfying handfeel makes the process of writing closer to the truth—that you must dance with the blood of stones to deliver signs to the page (as what constitutes ink but minerals in motion?). The pen delivers joy in your hand. And costs less than a sandwich in San Francisco.

Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper (link)

Buy it and paint. Cut the finished work from the block with your palette knife. Enjoy the magic of self-smoothing that happens when the block holds the frame tight and your drying painting flattens perfectly. Pairs nicely with Holbein colors.

Prisma Warm Grey Markers (link)

At Dreamworks, the storyboard artists most commonly used Sharpie — and only Sharpie — for that total commitment, total confidence, sometimes-wrong-never-unsure vibe… It was wild to watch. No warm-up, no “sketch lines” just full-throttle mark making. The Animators and the Art Dept would do it differently, with intermediate steps to sketch before drawing… (sometimes in non-photo blue, then pencil, then ink…) but not the Story Dept. Story Artists went all-in from the start with Sharpie. Watching them (and trying my best to occasionally contribute) gave me a new understanding of the performance of drawing…. something I had associated mostly with abstract expressionism… but no… do it right and every stroke is a dance…

And yet… for those special boards, show-dev, look-dev, pitch packets, making-of-art-book-behind-the-scenes, or when you just love a scene so much you want to re-draw it and spend some time with it… When you are trying to understand something about your character’s inner character by sketching the light in the room and the shadows that pool in the planes of the face… there’s nothing more fun than to stroke in the tones with your favorite 30% or 70% grey. These Prisma markers are the way. Now… the big question… are you cool-gray-American or warm-grey-French? (there’s only one right answer, says my favorite French art director…).


Four Books on Storyboarding:

Sylvain Despretz’s Los Angeles (link)
Parasite Script and Storyboards, Bong Joon Ho (link)
Framed Ink and Franed Ink 2, Marcos Mateu-Mestre (link, link)

(1)Part autobiography, part portfolio, part example-workbook, Sylvain Despretz’s Los Angeles (link) is both a very good example of what the art of storyboarding entails AND a moving story of one person’s ongoing pursuit or art, meaning, and a career. (2) Oscar-winning filmmaker Bong Joon Ho offers both his script and his planning boards for the masterwork, Parasite. (3) (4) Marcos Mateu-Mestre walks you through his techniques for how to show what matters in a panel. He offers an approach to image design that leverages the beauty of opinionated passion.

Books About Books

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (link)

Books, Type, History of Printing, Code-cracking… The original hardback has a glow-in-the-dark cover. I knew Robin from our time together working at Twitter in the early days. He’s a wonderful human and a very enjoyable writer.

Serious Noticing (link), How Fiction Works (link)

James Wood, literary critic, professor, and fantastic writer, offers us something special in this pair of books: actual hands-on ideas we can apply directly to our own work. He shows the subtle mechanisms at work in marvelous sentences. If you only have space in your heart for one, choose How Fiction Works, as its bit about “close writing” is worth the price of the whole tome.

Books about Film

Into the Woods, John Yorke (link)

Dig into the structure of story for Film and TV.

Story, Robert McKee (link)

The best book on how to write a screenplay.

A24 Screenplays (and movie books) (link)

Might I suggest the companion to Everything, Everywhere, All at Once?

Artist/Designer/Writer-owned stores:

Authored by the Sun
Lan Jaenicke
Aesthetic Union
Case For Making
Fat Gold Olive Oil
Backbone Bindery
Draw-Down Books



James Buckhouse

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford GSB/ & Harvard GSD