Have you ever envied the artists on Instagram and YouTube who have huge pencil and pastel collections? I have. Many, many times. I’ve sulked, complained, and thought how it was so unfair that these strangers on the internet had thousands of dollars in art supplies. In my first year working as an artist right out of school, I had a desk I bought from Craigslist and was saving for weeks to place an art supply order.
But then I realized that these artists at one point were probably in the same situation I currently was in. Early in their careers, these artists probably had to make some of the same sacrifices that I was making. Each artist I envied was able to buy their supplies because they had reached a level of success that allowed them to purchase the things I could not afford. Instead of feeding my jealousy, I tried to turn my emotions into motivation for me to become a better artist and reach their level of success.
So here are five reasons why I think it’s great to be an artist working with a budget.
Color mixing is one of the important art fundamentals I think every artist should have. But if you have the luxury of owning every color available, you can become a lazy artist. The majority colors are made with variations of the 3 primary colors + black and white. If you’re working with a limited color palette, you become very in-tune with what colors you can create and you also know what colors you cannot. For example, metallic and fluorescent colors can be impossible to make with the primaries and you need to buy a specific tube of paint if you want to get that color.
One of the first pieces of art I made with pastels was a meerkat. At this point, I had about 20 pastel pencils and a small 30 half-stick pastel set. But I was able to draw my subject and create a decent background despite only using about 24 colors. My drawing didn’t have all of the subtle nuances that I wanted, but I was forced to work on layering color and experimenting with pastel blending tools.
Understanding that color hue is only secondary to color values was an important point that I had heard repeatedly from Lisa Lachri, but it never stuck with me until I was put into a situation where I was working with an extremely limited color palette.
Get Creative with the Tools You Have
Besides paint and pencils, art tools can be absurdly expensive. While I’m not claiming that the $50 animal hair brush isn’t worth the price tag, you’ll be surprised with what you can work with from the dollar store. I’ve found that eyeshadow applicators and makeup sponges are wonderful and affordable options to name-brand blending tools. And I love sharing these art discoveries with fellow artists on Instagram!
Remember that not having the “right” brush doesn’t mean that you can’t paint. It just means you might have to work harder (or smarter) to get the same end result. Don’t let the lack of fancy tools be the reason why you don’t create art. It is definitely possible to be an artist on a budget.
A Deep Appreciation for Good Art Supplies
I never understood why there was a dramatic price difference between “student” and “artist” grade art supplies until I eventually made the switch. “Artist” or “professional” grade art supplies are far more pigmented than your standard student-grade materials.
Immediately after upgrading several of my pencils, I realized that I could work more efficiently because my materials were better. I could actually make more art in the same amount of time because I was using fewer layers of color with the higher-grade materials to achieve the same results. I feel like this revelation must have been similar to a chef working with a dull, cheap knife and upgrading to a fancy knife that could hold its edge.
My art supplies are one of the most precious things that I own. In recent years, I’ve moved several times and I’ve always taken extra care when packing and storing my art supplies. Unlike food that quickly expires, good art supplies can last a decade or more. I’ve chosen to invest in drawers to store my pencils and hard cases to transport them. I know that if I care for my supplies, I’ll be able to make the most art possible with the materials I own.
Budgeting to me means getting the most out of your dollar. I have an excel spreadsheet that I keep tabs on all the common supplies I buy from Blick, Jerry’s Artarama, and Cheap Joes. Sales are the best opportunities to grab new colors and replenish my current stock. I don’t mean to humble-brag, but I usually save 50% (or more) from the standard MSRP whenever I make a purchase.
Forcing yourself to purchase only when there’s a sale also means that you’re doing a lot of research to see if the art supplies you buy are a worthy investment. And I do wholeheartedly stand by my words when I say that purchasing art supplies is an investment. If you’re an artist looking to sell your work, you’re transforming the art supplies into a product that you’re intending to sell for a profit.
I make an art purchase about every 3-4 months. The quantity of supplies I buy typically guarantees free shipping, and I’ll qualify for the largest percentage discount. (If you’re familiar with Dick Blick, a typical sale will be 10% off a $50 purchase, 15% off $75, 20% off $125).
Making Each Piece of Art Count
I used to have a very bad habit of leaving half-finished drawings scattered everywhere. I usually lost the motivation to finish a drawing I started the previous day. I currently enjoy working with pastels and the preferred surface I like to use is called PastelMat. The retail price of one 9×12 inch sheet of PastelMat is about $5. So, if I leave a pastel drawing unfinished and abandon it, that is the equivalent of shredding a $5 bill. But, on the other hand, if I spend some time planning my drawing and stick with it to the end, I can eventually create a finished piece of art that I list for sale online.
Not only does finishing every piece of art you start make you a disciplined artist, it will also make you a better artist. Forcing yourself to make a complete piece of art pushes you to face your weaknesses. I’m sure you’ve seen many drawings on social media where artists start a portrait of a person, but will only draw the eyes and inevitably fails to follow through on the remainder of the drawing. The reason is because noses and ears are hard. They are difficult areas to render. I don’t know of many people who particularly enjoy drawing the weird folds in an ear. But, if you commit to finishing a portrait, you have to draw the parts that are not easy – and that will cause you to improve your skill set.
Besides these five reasons, there are plenty of other things that you can do while being an artist on a budget. If you have a budget tip, please share it below!