For the savvy artist, shopping for art supplies can be a delicate balancing act. You try to walk the fine line between buying the highest quality materials and going broke. The trick is knowing which items you can save on, and which items to splurge on. We often trade tips about where we can cut corners and how to save money, but what about the other side of the equation? We asked our staff of experienced artists: when buying art supplies, which things do you always recommend spending a little extra money on?
“A little goes a long way”
J (Sales Associate and Painter)- recommends always choosing a high quality paint, especially for oil. He recommends Williamsburg and Holbein. Why? “Color, color, color! The cheaper oils never have the luminosity or depth of color as the good stuff. And mixing is a nightmare- colors turn to mud so quickly!” Sarah (Office Assistant and Mixed Media Artist) concurs, saying “Better to get a small tube of good paint than a big tube of junk. With artist’s grade paint, a little goes a long way.” High quality paint is more highly pigmented. You can always thin it down, but you can’t do much to improve a low quality paint.
“It’s hard to get it to do what you want, unless it’s high quality!”
Darryl, Justine and Caroline all agreed that what they splurge on is the substrate– which makes sense: a good substrate is the foundation of your artwork. Draftsman and Sales Associate Daryl says “Paper! It’s tempting to buy cheap stuff at first, but you’ll notice how much the quality of the paper will start to matter in the long run. You’ll notice a difference in the ability to erase for extended drawings, and cheaper paper will yellow over time.”
Caroline (Acrylic Painter and newbie Sales Associate) suggests using high quality canvas, like Masterpiece “With canvas, the thicker it is, the better it looks, and a high quality canvas takes the paint better” Justine put in a good word for artist grade watercolor paper– A quality brand like Arches watercolor paper will perform differently than cheaper papers: “It’s just so much better quality than a student grade paper, and it’s hard to get it to do what you want unless it’s high quality”
“You’re gonna want the Gold!”
Keith, (Mixed Media Artist and Floor Manager) also encourages looking at different levels of quality even within one brand. “If I’m doing any kind of mixed media layering, make sure to use Montana Gold spray paint rather than Montana Black.” Montana Gold is acrylic based, which allows it to react properly with the other waterbased media . “The pigments in Montana are much better than those in Krylon or other discount brands, and if you’re doing any acrylic or waterbased stuff, you’re gonna want the Gold.”
When you’re dealing with specialty products, it’s important to get them right- after all, you chose them for their special properties. That’s why Justine (Purchasing Manager and Painter) advises spending a little extra on “Gold things.” Whether it’s watercolor, oil paint, acrylics: It’s worth it to invest a little to get a good metallic. If you’re looking for a certain shine and sparkle, it’s best to upgrade- low quality metallics can end up looking cheap and gaudy. “Student quality doesn’t have the same lustre as an artists quality”. She particularly likes the look she gets using Finetec watercolors and Golden acrylic golds.
“You’re gonna change your couch sooner than you’ll change your art…”
Dave (Sculptor and Floor Manager) believes in splurging on custom framing. It’s the best protection for your artwork, and it will last a long, long time. If the upfront cost is divided over the number of years you’ll be displaying the frame, it’s not really a splurge at all. He pointed out “You’re gonna change your couch sooner than you’ll change your art, if it’s going to be on your wall for 20 years, it’s worth spending some money on it.”
Dave also ascribes to the old adage that a craftsman is only as good as his tools. “Especially when you’re talking about sculpting, high quality tools are going to last longer and stay sharper, and keep you safer if you’re carving. Brushes, carving tools, ceramic tools… most of the time, you get what you pay for.” And a good set of tools will pay you back for years to come.
Justine agrees, and endorses Winsor & Newton Eclipse brushes, “Even if you’re gentle with your brushes, high quality brushes will keep their shape longer and perform better over time”. She also advises giving some attention to often overlooked tools, like erasers and pencil sharpeners. Don’t try to cut costs just because they’re the little things. Cheap erasers can smear and smudge and transfer color onto your artwork, and “Cheap sharpeners dull out really quick, I specifically recommend the KUM brand sharpeners. With higher end sharpeners you can replace the blades when they get dull”
“The concentrated pigment really makes colors pop”
Jen (Marketing Manager and Pastel Artist) predictably plugged high quality oil pastels. “Sennelier oil pastels. They’re so high end- they have so much pigment and they glide smoothly. Because they’re so high quality, a little goes a long way and the concentrated pigment really makes colors pop. You really don’t need too many colors- One of the small sets is all you need. They are great for details and accents, in oil pastel pieces and mixed media”
“Go higher grade for your favorite color”
When Cory (Hand Lettering Guru and Sales Associate) was asked what he recommends spending extra money on, he immediately replied “Your favorite color. I always tell people, go higher grade for your favorite color. If you’re buying oil paints, buy everything else in Winton and buy your favorite colors in Williamsburg, if you’re buying watercolors, buy everything else student grade and your favorite color in Daniel Smith.” The colors you love to look at are the colors where you will really notice a difference in quality.
Obviously the idea of what is “Worth it!” will vary from person to person and medium to medium, but we hope this has given you an idea of how we like to prioritize when we shop for art supplies. You don’t need to always be using the best of the best, or the cheapest of the cheap, but we each have our specific areas where we feel it’s best to sacrifice bargain prices for quality. We hope you benefit from our trial and error!
Feel free to ask us any questions about the stuff we prefer, and be sure to leave a comment and tell us what high quality items you make sure to buy!