10 Money Saving Tips For Starving Artists

Let’s be honest, the materials needed to create art are NOT CHEAP. Especially if you’re really into it, and wind up using up most of what you’ve bought in no time flat. Even though I work a [nearly] full-time regular job, I still find art supplies to be draining my wallet on a regular basis. Art supplies, and, oh, shoes and hoodies and delicious expensive food and gas and everything else in the world. So, to help everyone out, I’ve done my first ever – LIST POST- 10 tips to save you money while still maintaining your artsy fartsy lifestyle.

10 money saving tips for starving artists

1. Don’t be picky

The first, and I think most important tip on this list is a very simple one. Don’t be picky! The phrase ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is probably one of the most realistic cliches in existence. The reason I put this here is because you need to realize that you don’t need a whole lot to make something beautiful. You absolutely do not need high-end professional materials to create works of art. Right now I’m doing more collages, but I’m doing them on cardboard! In the end, will anyone care if I did it on cardboard or gessoboard or canvas or vellum or paper? If all you have on your at any given time is computer paper and crayons, that shouldn’t stop you from expressing yourself.

2. Shop around

If you live in a generally large city, chances are you have the ability & luxury of choosing where to buy your supplies. Keep in mind that you can find art supplies at a variety of places, including office supply stores, Wal-Mart, large chain stores such as Michael’s, or small businesses. In my experience, large chains like Michael’s tend to be absurdly overpriced. So overpriced that it’s worth driving 30 minutes further to go to smaller individually owned art supply store!! But don’t limit yourself to places near you… There are plenty of online stores that sell art supplies at very very low prices. The only disadvantage to buying your supplies online is that they will charge you for shipping. If you’re only looking to purchase a small tube of paint, it’s not worth the $2 discount if you wind up paying $10 on shipping. When you spend $50 or more, the savings really add up. Plus, a lot of sites offer free shipping after a certain dollar amount!

I almost always buy my supplies (if I’m only looking to spend $20 or so) at this adorable little shop called Sarasota Art & Frame. I love love love SRQA&F. I think it’s their close proximity to Ringling College of Art & Design that keeps their prices low. When you have about 3,000 art students down the road, you can assume the demand for your products is going to be consistent. The staff there is mostly Ringling students, and they’re always happy to assist you and answer really random questions.

I know a lot of people are hesitant to buy things online because they like the appeal of holding a product in their hands before they decide to buy it. SIMPLE SOLUTION: go to store, find products you like, write down product name, search online. BAM you just saved yourself a lot of moolah. There are some really good discount art supply sites online!

3. Don’t buy pre-made anything

When you go out to a restaurant and someone cooks you some delicious food, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for it. If you were capable of cooking that well, don’t you think you’d go to the store and buy the ingredients for much less, and cook it yourself? This is how A LOT of companies make money, they provide something that people are incapable (or unwilling) to do themselves. If you are an artist who primarily paints on canvas, you can save A TON of money by learning how to do things yourself! Stretching your own canvas is not at all difficult, and it only requires a few common household power tools. Below are a few guides on how to make your own canvas. The advantages to learning this skill are endless! Not only do you save money, but you can make your own custom sizes as well. Everyone has seen 2’x2′ paintings before, but what could you do with a canvas that was 10’x3′ or something ridiculously huge, like 7’x7′?

You don’t have to paint on canvas either, if it seems like too much effort to build something every time you want to paint, you can also work on masonite panel. Masonite is commonly referred to as ‘hardboard’ in art supply stores. I am unashamed to admit that nearly everything I do is on masonite! You can find a 5′ panel of masonite at any hardware store for probably less than $7, and most chains will cut the panel into smaller boards for you. Last time I bought painting surfaces was probably a few months ago. I got something like 10 surfaces for the price of one gessoed hardboard at the art supply store.

Another do-it-yourself tip – learn to mix colors! Take a color theory class, or just experiment until you get a knack for it. You really only need a few tubes of paint to make every color in the spectrum. If you are capable of mixing a perfect shade of green, store it in Tupperware! 4 large tubes of primary colors is much less expensive than 10 small tubes of various colors.

4. Expensive doesn’t always mean better

I suspect this lesson is one you just have to learn with experience. But just this one time TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. When you are perusing the aisles of an art store (seriously, who doesn’t love this? Especially right after pay day AAAAAH) one of the best things to do is to just ASK FOR HELP. Chit-chat up the people working there. It’s not like they’re there just to kill time. Almost all people who work in art supply stores have at least slight interest in the stuff they’re selling. Sometimes they can be your best reference when trying to determine which brand to purchase. But, like the title says, expensive doesn’t always mean better. Sadly sometimes you really do get what you pay for. But, it doesn’t hurt to check with a second party before throwing down a ton of your hard-earned cash. In some materials, it really doesn’t matter which brand you get. For instance – gesso. How can you go wrong with gesso? It’s chalky white paint that is only used to prime a surface.

There is a chance I will get crucified for saying this, but sometimes it doesn’t even matter if you buy the cheap folk art paint at Wal-Mart. Here’s a little secret. You know those bird collages from a few posts back? There is black on either side of the center image? Yeah. That’s folk-art paint. The $0.97 bottles you see in the craft section. I don’t ever ever ever ever ever recommend using these paints if you’re going to be mixing, but for flat color… go for it! One wash of matte medium and it looks indistinguishable from the $8.00 tube of Golden’s Mars Black. I cannot stress enough that you should not mix these paints. The color will be flat and muddy and terrible. If you were to ever justify splurging on expensive art supplies, always go for the best paint. GOLDEN is where it’s at!

5. Subscribe to newsletters & mailing lists

Michael’s, local art stores, online retailers, they all want to make money off of YOU. They want YOU to keep them in mind so YOU come back and spend more money. YOU are the customer, YOU are their source of revenue, therefore they will do nearly anything to keep YOU coming back for more. Use this to your advantage! Many stores will offer you incentives to come back and shop some more if you sign up for their newsletters or mailing lists. Michael’s sends out 50% off coupons on a regular basis!! I usually avoid Michael’s, because as I said, they are rather overpriced but if you slash that price in half! That is one good deal!!

Sarasota Art& Frame regularly has massive sales, and certain brands of paint can be anywhere from 30 to 50 percent off! The only way I know when these events are coming up is because they e-mail me! In fact, coming up this week is their Independence Day sale! There is some pretty big discounts being advertised, and it just so happens that I have the day off on Monday! You know where to find me!

6. Be a packrat

I am a packrat, and I AM NOT ASHAMED OF IT. I keep EVERYTHING. Please trust me when I say I am not exaggerating. And, no, I am not a hoarder… I just keep things that I am sure will be useful… one day. For example, for my Design II final project last semester, I made 26 pages of marbled paper. The paper I used was just slightly larger than the book I was pasting them into, so I had to cut off about an inch margin for it to fit. Well, I have 26 inch-wide strips of marbled paper. What did I do? I saved them! It wasn’t until just yesterday that I finally wound up using one. I have had a painting sitting on a shelf for ages, and I just couldn’t think of what to do with it. Well, snip snip here and snip snip there, now I have a really neato painting with some awesome marbled texture!

You really never know when inspiration will strike you a certain way, so if you have the ability to keep little odds and ends that could potentially become something wondrous and fantastical, do yourself a favor and keep them! Keys, string, photos, magazines (ESPECIALLY THESE!) old books, old computer parts, old pieces of wood, cardboard, labels, bottle caps, stickers, tickets, old clothes & fabric, cds, casettes, toys… you name it – it has potential!

The most difficult thing about this particular piece of advice is keeping balance between “I am keeping this because I think it might be useful” and “I am keeping this because I am emotionally incapable of throwing it out” – If you are leaning more towards the latter, you might want to take a step back and examine your keeping habits. With all of your collecting, are you still able to keep your living spaces clean and organized? If no, you should probably re-evaluate how much you are keeping and what you will realistically utilize in the future.

7. Go digital

Digital work has its pros and cons… Among the pros: You can create absolutely incredible works of art, you have a limitless palette, and the god-send that is the “undo” function. You can make sure your work is centered and proportioned with the aid of grids, you can edit colors and add effects that are impossible to achieve with traditional media… And as soon as you’re done, you can instantly upload your work of art for the world to see. All of this, plus at the end of the day, you didn’t spend a dime on paint or canvas or brushes or ANYTHING! My cons might not really be applicable to everyone. First off, going digital requires quite a lot of up-front investment. You’re going to need a tablet, (which can run you several hundred dollars, depending on how big it is) you’ll also need a decent computer with a lot of RAM and hard-drive space-.psds can take up a lot of room! You will most definitely need a digital art program, such as Open Canvas, Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter. I don’t recommend obtaining these programs in an illegal fashion.

Well, all of that jazz aside, there is the question of how much you value having a hard copy of your artwork. When you create a piece of digital artwork and post it online – well, everyone has access to it. Anyone can take a copy, print it out themselves, etc. It makes no difference, because the “original” is still just a bunch of data. There is something difficult to explain about having a material product of your own sweat, blood and tears that you can hold, sell, or burn, if you so desire. So, that might not deter a lot of people, but it’s something to consider.

8. Share

Unless you’re a super lonely and depressed person, odds are you have some friends. If you are an exceptionally lucky person, you might even have some friends who are fellow artists. This tip really doesn’t require a whole lot of extra explanation. Be a good friend, share and share alike. I see no reason for 2 people who see each other on a regular basis to have 2 of the same tool.

9. Choose an appropriate wardrobe

This is just a secondary cost of being an artist. We all want some nice clothes to look decent in, and sometimes, especially in class, I will try to wear my nice jeans and flip out because I’ve gotten a dot of red paint on them. I now try to wear my painting clothes if I know I’m going to be handling potentially staining materials. Perhaps not everyone has this issue, but I have ruined TOO MANY nice shirts & pants by getting paint ALL OVER THEM. As of right now I’ve got a drawer full of clothes I only wear when painting. A gross old boyfriend shirt, a pair of old jeans, etc. I don’t trust artists who wear nice clothes while painting. How can you get into your work if you’re too busy fretting over getting your blouse stained? It isn’t just about appearances, it can really hinder your creative flow to have that kind of needless anxiety.

Also, jeans are expensive.

10. Don’t be ashamed of your cheapness


Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope this inspires everyone to keep up the good fight. Don’t succumb to the man, man.