Recently someone in one of the sketching groups I belong to asked a great question: If the cheap art materials I buy work just fine, why spend more?
Indeed. Why would anyone spend the extra money for expensive papers and paints if the bargain bin stuff works great? Certainly not me! I am on an extremely tight budget, and I buy the best art supplies I can afford. There is a very simple reason why.
Quality tools matter.
They really do. Take my word (and my personal experience) for it, the bargain bin stuff does NOT work great. If you have been using student grade or budget art materials, you probably won’t know this yet. It wasn’t until I upgraded to the good stuff that I had a big ‘wow’ moment and figured out what all the hoopla was about.
I believe that top quality art supplies, commonly referred to as “artist grade,” are even more important for the beginner than for the expert. When you are trying to learn any new skill, it is all too common to get frustrated and give up.
It would be a shame if you missed out on the joy of practicing art just because inferior art supplies muddled your efforts.
When I first began watercolor sketching and journaling, I used what I had on hand which happened to be whatever I could pilfer from my children’s art supply stash. I nearly used up their pan watercolor paints, and I enjoyed working with them. However, it wasn’t until I painstakingly splurged for my first artist-grade pan set that I realized how faded and grainy the kid’s pan set was.
Not only were the paints more of an issue than I first realized, the budget paper and brushes that I was using almost made me give it all up. I couldn’t understand how other artists accomplished those pretty washes and sharp details. My student-grade paper and brushes just wouldn’t do that for me, but at the time, I blamed myself.
I know good art supplies are extremely expensive. Quality papers, brushes, and paints can cost a lot more than than even their moderately priced counterparts. And just because you start buying quality materials doesn’t mean that your beginner sketches will instantly morph into masterpieces. But I promise that it will help your progress if you can concentrate on improvement without having to fight your materials.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive stuff out there, and please don’t spend more than you can afford, but I don’t want to downplay the expense of getting started. However, there are ways to save.
Below are some tips to help you build a quality art supply tool kit on a budget.
Focus on quality, not quantity.
To get started, you really only need a couple of good brushes, a handful of paint colors and one decent sketchbook or pad of paper. (For specific recommendations, check out my minimalist sketching kit.) Even accomplished painters will tell you that less is more, especially when it comes to palette colors. I rarely use more than a dozen colors at home, and I carry less than half that into the field. I have a handful of brushes and papers that I love and use daily, and I am content. Why buy more when a little bit will do?
Don’t be brand loyal.
When you move up to the artist-grade stuff, almost all of the supplies are going to be very good quality no matter what brand you go with. At this point, your choices will be determined less by quality and more by personal preference. As your supply stash grows, you’ll discover some favorites and some not-so favorites, and you’ll find that what one artist loves and can’t live without may not work for you at all. Keep an eagle eye out for sales and coupons, and feel free to mix and match brands to get the best deal on the best quality.
Look for substitutes.
When it comes to art supplies, think outside of the box. I put together my own DIY sketchbook that will save me money in the long run. My dollar store egg plate (above photo) makes an excellent palette and was a whole lot less than most watercolor palettes. You don’t need a fancy pen organizer when a school pencil pouch will do just fine. Feel free to get creative when it comes to art supplies so you can spend your money where it matters.