My personal view is that you need at minimum 3 full completed projects with new art materials before you should give a review. So when I see generic art sites give glowing reviews about an obscure brand or gimmicky art product – I have red flags immediately. In this blog post I’m specifically referring to websites dedicated to art recommendations. I’m not referring to the shorter customer reviews found on sites such as Amazon, Michael’s, or Blick.
Often, these sites are either promoting sponsored content or receive a commission based on sales. In the U.S., you must disclose if your content is sponsored or affiliated. Although it is still possible to review a product that was provided free or at a discount, transparency between the relationship of the artist and company is always important.
On my site I use Amazon affiliate links in some of my product reviews, but I always make sure that my affiliate statement is located in the top of my posts. And I include the pros and cons of any item I review. There is rarely a time when a product has zero negative aspects to it. When I see an overly positive review online, I can’t help but be suspicious.
How to Verify Reviews
One very easy way to check if a product review is legitimate is to see if the artist writing the review created any art with the item they’re reviewing. If they have a video or photos demonstrating its use, the reviewer is likely legitimate. I will often test new products during my live streams on Instagram, so you can actually watch me use supplies in real-time.
If it’s a generic review, you might notice that the wording sounds too positive. Or the review may sound ‘unnatural’ because it consists of sentences that were copied directly from the manufacturer’s product page. This tells you one or more of the following:
- The artist never received the product
- The artist did not have sufficient time to test the product
- The review was structured with specific ‘talking points’ by the brand, so any negative aspects of the product are never mentioned or trivialized (this occurs for sponsored posts)
Beware of Cherry-Picked Reviews
One common theme I noticed with some of the top results for art supply recommendations was that there were articles based entirely off of the reviews of other artists. The article summarized or quoted actual reviewers – however the writer of the article had little to no experience with the art supplies they were rating. I find it hard to believe that a true artist can recommend a product without even touching it.
There are two issues I have with this type of review. The first is that the author will typically pick reviews that are only positive. A product could have a vast majority of negative reviews, and yet the article will feature 1 or 2 positive reviews (and then the author gives their own ranking based on the biased smaller sample). The second issue is the experience level of the selected reviews are inevitably variable. It would be impossible to give a fair ranking of 10 products if each sampled review came from 10 completely different sources.
My Personal Thoughts
I take reviews very seriously because art supplies are often very expensive. Many of the products I review have been used for 1-3 months before I give my final verdict. I would never review anything based on a first impression. It would be an understatement to say that I am always very disappointed when I see reviews that are misleading.
One of my most popular blog posts has been my pastel pencil review (you can read here). I spent weeks making charts, comparing prices, and evaluating what aspects of each of the 5 brands I covered stand out. In ranking the brands, I made sure to say the properties of the pencils I personally enjoy, but I also try to consider what features other artists might find appealing about them.
I will never say that (insert name here) brand is the only brand you should ever buy. That’s simply not the case when it comes to art supplies. Every reputable art manufacturer has its own perks and downsides in their product formulation. Often, it is a process of trial and error before you find all the equipment, tools, and surfaces you need to create art.
What to Do
If you are an artist in the market to purchase new supplies, I recommend reading at least 3 reviews from different sources before making your purchase. Think about what aspects of the art medium you work in are most important to you. Sometimes it can be as straightforward as cost. If you’re looking for an affordable brand, you can easily sort products by price. For complicated properties such as paint viscosity or lightfastness rating, you might have to do more in-depth research.
In most situations, I recommend purchasing just a small assorted set or a few individual (open stock) colors to try a new brand before committing to buying a larger set. When it comes to art supplies a full color set can easily cost several hundreds to over a thousand dollars (USD). Remember that if you’re the artist, the supplies need to be compatible with your style and work process. Other artists can give their opinion, but no one besides yourself will really know if it’s the best fit for you until you try it.