Can you cut corners when buying art supplies? Sure! Just use a pair of scissors! What? Ok, maybe that’s not what you meant. Today I’ll be addressing this common question. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat about saving money when buying art supplies.
A frequent question by artists who are starting out or wanting to try a new medium is, “Can I buy cheaper materials?”
My short answer to this is, “It depends.” Why? Because it depends what materials you will be using, and what medium are we talking about. There are indeed areas where you can save money and buy cheaper brands, but there are definite areas where you simply should not skimp. It also depends on what you intend to do with your finished pieces. Are you just practicing? Are you planning to give away or sell the finished work? That can make a huge difference as well.
I am currently working in three mediums: Graphite, Colored Pencil and Pastels. Since these are what I work in, I will discuss when you can and when you shouldn’t cut corners when buying your supplies.
Graphite is probably the cheapest medium an artist can work in.
Starting out with graphite you can easily buy inexpensive pencils and cheap sketch paper. The pencils I would suggest would be either General Pencil’s Kimberly graphite pencils or Blick brand graphite pencils. Purchase as many different grades of pencils as you can afford and have fun! Most pencils come in grades 9H (the hardest/lightest) to 9B (the softest/darkest). You really don’t need all of them when starting out and many incredible graphite artists don’t use the full scale. It’s a personal preference of the artist.
As far as paper goes, yes you can save money here as well. Starting out you can use regular sketch book paper if you are only practicing. If you plan to keep (long term), give away or sell your finished piece then you will want a better quality paper. Sketch book paper will yellow over time, in as little as a few months to a year. The good news is that many excellent drawing papers are inexpensive. Blick brand Bristol Vellum is a really nice paper for graphite. You can also try Strathmore 400 heavyweight drawing paper or Bristol Vellum. One I tend to love is Canson Foundation drawing paper.
Supplies are also another place you can save money. All you really need are erasers and blenders.
Erasers come in many shapes, sizes and types. Some can be a bit pricey. I’ve tried many different brands and what I’ve discovered is that just because it’s more expensive, or a brand name, doesn’t mean it’s any better than the cheaper versions. What you need is a kneaded eraser like Blick brand. They are just as good as Prismacolor and Lyra. A white vinyl or plastic eraser, again cheap works fine! If you want to spend a little more I strongly suggest getting a Tombow Mono Zero eraser and a Derwent Battery eraser. They are really handy to have, but not a total necessity.
As for the blenders, blending stumps aren’t that pricey, but there are alternatives that are even cheaper. For large areas cotton balls work wonders! Cotton buds/ Q-tips work excellent for small area blending. Cheap paint brushes can also be used to blend.
Colored Pencil is a more expensive medium to work in.
Can you save money on the pencils? Well, yes, kind of but you still want to make sure you have artist grade pencils. Why? Artist grade pencils will blend properly when using the various blending/burnishing techniques you will be learning. Low cost, non-artist grade pencils won’t work the same way for layering, blending and burnishing. They are usually not as pigmented as artist grade and definitely not lightfast. You need to tread lightly here. The best budget friendly colored pencils I recommend would be Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils. They are much cheaper than the well known brands but they work beautifully! I’ve been able to create some wonderful pieces of artwork with them as I began learning colored pencil. They work with all the techniques and give you a good feel for the medium. Buy the largest set you can afford.
Paper is another issue when it comes to colored pencils. Many artists have their favorites, again, this is a personal choice and also depends on the methods you use. I have tried a few different types with my colored pencils. My preferred method of blending is using Gamsol, odorless mineral spirits. I’ve found that Strathmore toned sketch papers work nicely even with using Gamsol. I have also used Strathmore’s Heavyweight drawing paper with good results. A few weeks ago, Strathmore came out with new Mixed Media Toned tan or gray 184 lb paper! I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to get some soon. I have a feeling it will be even better than the toned sketch paper when it comes to colored pencil work. Currently my favorite to work on is on the pricey side. I prefer Fabriano Artistico 140 lb Extra White Hot Press Watercolor paper. It’s one hundred percent cotton, which means it’s archival quality and it takes many layers of pencil. I highly recommend saving up and getting some if you choose to sell your colored pencil artwork.
Tools? Odorless mineral spirits if you’d like to learn to blend with it. You don’t need to use Gamsol. You could get Mona Lisa or any other brand. Erasers, again a nice white plastic/vinyl eraser will work. If you want to splurge then get yourself a Staedtler Mars plastic combi and a Faber Castell Perfection! The Staedtler Mars combi has a white eraser on one side and a blue eraser intended for ink on the other side. The blue eraser can remove a bit more color than the white alone. The Faber Castell Perfection eraser is a pencil style eraser which you can also purchase with a brush on the end. This eraser is probably the best I’ve tried for erasing colored pencil! An added benefit is being able to sharpen it to a point to erase in tiny little areas. It works better than the Tombo Mono eraser when it comes to colored pencil.
YIKES! Pastels can be a huge investment. Most artist grade pastels are quite pricey! So what I will tell you is what I have learned from Jason Morgan about pastels. Check out his YouTube channel (link below) to learn more about this incredibly fun medium.
His recommendations for pastel pencils are Stabilo CarbOthello Pastel Pencils when starting out. He also suggested Conté pastel sticks. I was able to purchase the CarbOthello pencils in my local Blick Art store, however they did not have the Conté pastels, so I opted for Blick brand ( I was impatient ). It wasn’t until later I discovered the Blick pastels I purchased were student grade, not their artist grade. Whoops! I will say they are nice and vibrant, but they are also a lot dustier and probably not as light fast as the Conté.
Surfaces/Papers – These are expensive and there’s no real way around it. If you want good results you need good quality pastel paper. Jason Morgan suggests using Clairefontaine Pastel Mat. Again, they didn’t have it locally and being impatient I purchased a pad of Sennelier La Carte Pastel Card. While it’s ok, you have to be super careful not to get it wet. Not even a tiny speck of moisture or it will flake off. Not good.
Again, I think Jason does an incredible job discussing what to use when working in pastel, so please drop by his channel and check out his videos. Jason Morgan – Wildlife Art
So there you have it. The bottom line is, if you want your work to last, if you sell your work (or give it as a gift) and if you’re going to invest all that time in creating a piece, then be careful what you try to save money on.
Until next time,