So when I first started getting back into painting again after college the amount of options when it came to art supplies was overwhelming, as was the price tag of many of these items. Even today I still complain about the expense that can come with being an artist. And when your just starting out and not sure how far you want to pursue art, spending big bucks on supplies can seem wasteful.
So I've compiled a list on some basic supplies and tell you which ones you can definitely save on and which ones are worth splurging on when your just starting out with making art!
Brushes are something that to this day I still save on. Unless you need some extremely specific brush (which trust me, you really don't need especially when just starting out) there's no reason to pay big bucks for a brush. I know other artists may disagree with me but I've never spent more than $2-$7 on any one brush. And many of those brushes I've had since college and they still hold up even with me abusing them.
My advice for someone just starting out is to get the brush pack with multiple sizes and styles and slowly expand from there. Now, you still have to take care of your brushes or no matter what you spend on them they won't last long. Always try to clean them after each use and don't let them sit in water for long periods of time. I've been using The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver for years and I love it! It's saved a few of my brushes from the trash when I accidentally left paint on them for days!
Paint palettes: Save!
As with brushes, paint palettes you can definitely save on. I remember in college my painting teacher forced us to purchase expensive glass palettes, and while they were nice for blending colors, they were heavy and hard to carry around, broke easily, and weren't cheap.
The moral of this story is, palettes don't have to be fancy to work well. For my inks I use cheap plastic palettes and for my acrylics I use paper plates that come in big packs and I've yet to finish the pack I've had for years and never had trouble mixing colors on it. And as for covered palettes, unless you really need to keep certain colors wet for a long time or plan to take your paint outdoors I don't feel they are necessary.
Art Paper: Splurge
Now if your going to be using paper for most of your art (and by art I mean finished pieces, not just practice or sketchbooks), then getting good quality paper is important. Depending on what medium you use you'll need paper with an appropriate weight for that medium. And each increased weight will come with a higher price.
So if you only draw or use colored pencil you will need a lesser weight paper such as sketchbook, or drawing paper (50 - 80 lbs). But if your like me and use heavy acrylics or inks on paper you'll need a mixed media, watercolor or heavier weight paper (about 100 - 300 lbs).
Now this doesn't mean you need to go out and get the most expensive paper just starting out but if you know you plan on using a heavier material (i.e. acrylic, oil etc..) then getting the cheapest, lightest weight paper will only frustrate you because it won't perform how you need it. Lighter weight paper has a tendency to buckle when used with a medium that is too heavy which can lead to rips in your paper or just a not very professional look.
If you are unsure or want to experiment with different mediums than getting mixed media paper is a good start. They are usually mid-range in price and weight with a good amount of paper in each pack. Just know you will probably have to upgrade once you find a medium you like.
11 x 14 is a good size to start with to feel like you have enough space to create but keep the price down.
Sketchbooks on the other hand you can definitely save on. Whether you use nice art paper in the small sketchbook size or get those decorative ones that you can get at places like Barnes and Noble, sketchbooks aren't something I'd spend a lot of money on when just starting out. Keeping them cheap will help with not being too precious with them so you can be more free to explore and make mistakes without worrying about wasting expensive paper.
For me, since I've been painting for a while now I have a variety of sketchbooks for different needs. Ranging in size from 5.5 x 8.5 in. to 11 x 14 and mostly mixed media so I can do a multitude of things in them. My advice, don't go out and buy all the paper you think you need no matter how nice they look. Start with one and build it up slowly as a new need presents itself.
Paint: Save then Splurge
I know paint is a big one people wonder if they should save or splurge on and for me that answer varies. If you're just starting out with painting, whether acrylic, oil or watercolor, definitely save. Buy the student grade paint that's usually a lot cheaper. But if you're at all serious about painting you will have to splurge on nice paint and it could be sooner than you think. If you've been painting at least semi-consistently for 6 months and plan to continue or try and sell your work i would start to invest in nicer paint.
Paint is one of those things that there is a real difference in quality between the cheap and expensive versions. From the smoothness and coverage of the paint, to the way it mixes with other paints or painting mediums, to how it will look over time. Now that doesn't mean all is lost and you need to go out and buy all expensive paint. If you have a nice collection of cheaper paint, start by upgrading to mid-range brands. And if you keep painting for say another 6 months to a year, move to get more higher end brands then.
And you don't have to upgrade all at once, you can do it one tube of paint at a time. Once a color you have runs out replace it with the better quality version of the same color. Or wanting to try a new color for a painting, then buy that color in the better quality version, and over time you will eventually have a nice roster of good quality paint.
Good Affordable Brands
-Artist Loft Academic Level
-Artist Loft Medium Viscosity Acrylics
Mid Range Brands
-Artist Loft Professional High Viscosity Acrylics
-Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylics
-Grumbacher Academy Acrylics
High End Brands
-Golden heavy body acrylics
-Liquitex heavy body acrylics.
-Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylics
When it comes to canvas I haven't seen a huge difference in quality from cheaper vs expensive brands/canvas types. One of the main difference in pricing (besides size) is in how the canvas is wrapped and the depth of the canvas. Back-stapled is the cheapest while gallery wrapped in the most expensive type, with depths ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches normally. And while many might say a 2 inch gallery wrapped canvas is the most professional that's not necessarily true. I've seen many artist use 1/2 in. back-stapled canvas that looked beautiful and hung in museums, and sometimes a bulky canvas isn't the best way to go depending on what you are painting. So if you're just starting out, get the small canvas or the back-stapled one, your art will still look good regardless.
Some artist also stretch their own canvas on custom stretcher bars and in my opinion, when your just starting out stretching your own canvas just presents more hassle than reward. If you continue painting and especially if you want to paint large or have unconventional canvas sizes stretching your own canvas could save you money, but it's not necessary when just starting out.
I have a large floor easel and to be honest I don't think they're always necessary. For just starting out using your table, or a table-top easel works just fine, which is a lot cheaper than a floor easel. And for big pieces I usually just paint of the floor or prop it up against the wall. But if you want to invest in a floor easel the metal ones are usually much cheaper than the wooden ones and they get the job done just the same.
Painting Textures/Mediums: Save or Skip
Painting texture such as course texture gel, super heavy gloss or other decorative mediums (which I talk about in more detail in an earlier post here), are great extras to add to your art practice but they really aren't necessary for just starting out. If you really feel the need to try them out. Get one at a time, use it up and then see if you want more or something different. Don't go out and buy 10 painting mediums, cause I can guarantee you will spend over $100 and most likely will not like or fully use most of them.
Canvas Prep/Finish: Splurge
When I say canvas prep/finish I'm talking about gesso to prime your painting and varnish to finish your painting. Now, if you are making art only for yourself then the only thing I would recommend is gesso, because it will make your life easier when painting. Good quality gesso can really set you up for a good painting even if the quality of your paint isn't top notch (And yes, you should gesso your canvas even if they say they are
If on the other hand you want to show, sell or just protect your work for the long haul then a varnish is something you will also need. It gives your finished pieces a professional look and will protect them for years to come even if you don't plan on selling or showing it. But if your really just practicing and like to go over old paintings a lot a varnish isn't something you need right away.
Some Ways to Save on the Expensive Stuff
-Have a art swap with other artist friends to try products before you buy
-Try and resell art supplies that haven't been used much
-Go in on larger items with a group to save money: Me and a friend split the cost of a huge roll of canvas. We each got half and saved a lot.
-Never go to the art store without checking for coupons first.
-Know when art stores have their big sales and wait to buy expensive things then. I did this when there was 70% off canvas and got a bunch of large canvases that wouldn't of been able to afford otherwise.
-Go on dickblick.com. Their prices are usually cheaper than art stores and they have a wider variety than your local art store. I usually wait til I have a lot to order so I can get free shipping.
I hope this was informative for you and you can go out and purchase art supplies with more knowledge about what's really worth all the money and what isn't!
What are your opinions about these items, do you like to save/splurge on different things? Are their other products that I didn't mention that you'd like to know about? Tell me in the comments.
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