As someone who works at an art school, I can tell you that art students have particular tastes when it comes to their supplies, tools, and equipment. These tastes are not always known by the casual observer. People who pursue art have moved beyond the standard box of crayons, the grocery store watercolor set, and the doodling notebook. For someone not familiar with art supplies, it can be a daunting task to walk into an art store and select an appropriate item.
Therefore, it is often a good idea to leave the choices in the hands of the student themselves. Most stores, even small establishments, issue gift cards or gift certificates. A gift certificate to a local art supply warehouse or store can be a great gift because it supports the art student but also respects their freedom to select the things that they really need.
Another good place to shop for the art student is at the Apple store. Again, a gift card is a good way to cover a lot of bases. If the art student is a digital designer, chances are that they use some sort of Apple products, whether it be software or accessories for their computer or iPod. Even if they do not use Apple products for designing, many students have an iPod and would appreciate a gift card to buy more accessories or music online.
If you are unsure about the right art store or are uncertain about the Apple store, you can always go with a pre-paid VISA gift card. This card works just like a credit card and can be used almost anywhere, but has a specific amount on the card. As mentioned, the art student can be a unique person, so picking an appropriate gift can be a challenging task. Proceed with caution, and maximize the students buying power by giving them gifts that have flexible options.