Oh the colors and textures of art supplies! Juicy inks…acrylics that spread like butter…fine papers that melt into glue… chisel nibs, fine tips and brush pens…bright and bold washi tapes…and how about creamy oil pastels?
When you walk into an art supplies store you want it all!
But no, you can’t—and you shouldn’t—buy out the store.
Last week we talked about the importance of sustaining a healthy relationship with art supplies. Not too much for the wrong reasons. Not too little either.
This week let’s talk about the actual supplies. How to buy (and find) art supplies so that you have everything you might need for any creative whim—without going overboard and ending up with waaaayyy more than you need (or not enough, either).
The trick, I believe, is to gather your art supplies thoughtfully and slowly and always according to your true creative needs.
Here is my bests advice for building an art supply collection:
1. I am a firm believer in beginning with the essentials.
Don’t purchase anything else until you own the basic tools and mediums for mixed meda. The essentials won’t break the bank. Many items on the essentials list can be inexpensive and recycled materials.
- Basic tools like scissors and a few paint brushes
- Essential media including five colors of at least ONE color medium (such as acrylic paint or ink or markers…). Those first five colors are always the three primaries plus black and white.
- Essential other materials such as papers and images and a few “mark makers” (which is anything purchased or found, such as stencils or bubble wrap, to make marks).
While you’re gathering your essential supplies, don’t forget art supply storage. You may begin with one box for all the essential supplies you own, but as you build your collection add storage containers to your list. You don’t want to amass more supplies than you can keep organized. Look for containers you have at home first before purchasing others.
2. Equally important, set yourself a monthly budget.
A wide array of art materials is super important for people who love to mix media in original ways. You'll find a full incomplete list of mixed media supplies here, but basically as your artmaking practice grows, you’ll probably want like:
- More paint colors, ink colors, pen colors…
- New acrylic mediums for new effects
- More pattern choices in stencils and/or stamps
- More papers for collage
- Better quality tools
- More ephemera
- New mediums you want to work with altogether
…and the list goes on.
However, you don’t need all art supplies all at once. I recommend setting a budget—whatever you can reasonably afford each month—and adding to your art supplies collection slowly within that budget. And buy on sale whenever possible!
Whether you budget $5 a month or $50 or more, over time your collection will grow and grow.
Once you’ve covered the essentials and you’ve got a budget, there is still the question of what to purchase. How do you make smart choices and buy the things you will use and love—and avoid filling containers with supplies you never look at again.
3. Purchase a small quantity at first of any item, play with it and then decide if you want more of it.
There are many brands out there and it takes some time to discover which products by which brands work best for you. For any new color medium, for example, you can buy just one color to test the product out—or at the most, those five basic colors (3 primaries plus white and black). Play first, purchase more later.
4. Consider the materials you most love to work with and the art you most like to make as the place to first invest.
You’ll learn more about your preferences the more you create, but start with what you love. Do you love mixed media collage? Then invest in papers, glues and other media to layer with collage—maybe a heat gun—and maybe invest less in high quality paint or expensive pens—for now. Do you prefer to draw or paint? Focus on pens and markers or a broader range of paints first. If you love fiber arts, then fabric, threads and ribbons may be the first items you collect.
5. Gather new materials as you need them—not before.
Over time you’ll want to experiment and play with new mediums. That’s great! Purchase according to your creative needs.
6. I believe art tools are almost always a good investment.
Unlike consumable art supplies, once you own a tool you can use it repeatedly—and it’s always best to have the right tool on hand whenever you need it. Heat guns, staplers, brayers, good paint brushes, palette knives, basic jewelry making tools, a good lamp—you won’t go wrong.
7. Stamps and stencils are art tools.
A large collection of either or both can be wonderful IF you use them in your mixed media art—but the key word is useful. Be aware of the kinds of pattern and design you enjoy—and those you don’t. If you add to your collection monthly you’ll soon have many options!
8. Hand made art tools are better than manufactured any day.
There's something about the imperfections in the line of the human hand. Learn to make stamps and even stencils to add to your collection. Also make handmade painted papers or make copies of your art journal pages to cut up for collage. Handmade is also budget friendly.
9. You may want to stock backups of those items you use a lot.
Not only do you save money when you buy in bulk, but you avoid running out of something mid project. Black and white pens are notorious for running dry, for example, just when you need them most. You may go through glue sticks regularly. Only stock up what you know you use a lot.
10. Reuse and recycle.
One of the pleasures of mixed media is that free supplies exist all around us. Old magazines, junk mail, packaging, plastic containers…these are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s free and good for the environment. And bonus! Creative reuse pushes our creativity!
11. Avoid owning too much of the same thing.
If you have already filled a box with recycled bubble wrap, you don’t need more. If you have a collection of markers you like, you don’t really need another full collection of another brand (if they behave the same way.) How many of any one thing do you actually need? How many stamp pads? How much paint? Be wise with your quantities.
12. On the other hand, feel free to collect lots of what you actually use.
Maybe you do a lot of watercolor so you want ALL the watercolors that Winton and Newton make, or maybe you can’t get enough washi tape in your work so you collect washi tapes or you love to use Neocolor II crayons in your art so you want all the colors. On budget, over time—on sale whenever possible of course—this is your art supply collection.
13. When it comes to papers and images for collage artists or book makers, it’s difficult to say when enough is enough.
A wide collection of different papers can be very useful. However, remember: the more you collect the more you need to store and organize. A massive, unorganized pile of papers isn’t that useful. Be prepared to invest in paper storage containers too.
So to wrap up my advice on how to buy art supplies, I guess the bottom line is to consciously add to your art supply collection. Begin with the essentials and then slowly add supplies according to budget and art making needs. You’ll want to keep everything appropriately stored so you can find what you need when you need it—so also invest in art supply storage items. Reuse and recycle whenever you can…
But know, in the end, that there’s joy in building a personal art supply collection that feeds our art making souls if we’re thoughtful about it.