My favourite part of any day is painting. For me, this means sitting at my easel or desk and doing the work of creating: playing with colour and getting lost in the image I’m working on. But before I can settle in, I have to make sure that I am well set up and have everything I need to get to work. An essential part of getting started on any artistic project is having the right supplies on hand. This post is about how I make choices when it comes to what materials I use, how I balance budget and quality, and where I shop.
What Am I Making and For What Purpose?
When it comes to materials, there are some basic questions I ask myself: what do I want to make and for whom or what purpose am I making it? I may make different material choices depending on if I am working on a project that I intend to sell versus working on an experimental project or taking a class.
Last week, I placed a big order of materials to get set up in a new city. Other than my brushes, I needed everything. It was both exciting and overwhelming! I needed materials for two categories: my own professional work and the three courses I’ll be following this semester at the Ann Arbor Art Center. Making this distinction between my work and the course material lists already helped me to plan for my art supply shopping.
The first thing I did was to collect the three individual material lists for the painting and drawing courses in which I’m enrolled. I decided to shop online at Michaels and started filling up my digital cart with everything from artist’s tape and palettes to the specific paint colours indicated by the teachers. This took a lot of time since I was comparing prices and looking for the best options.
When I had everything that I needed for the courses, I added some additional materials which I’ll need for my own practice. This included extra canvases, paints and finishing products like mediums and varnishes. When there was overlap between my course materials and what I need for my own practice—for example, various acrylic paints–I purchased a value size.
Balancing Budget & Quality
Art supplies can get expensive. I am always thinking about budget and quality when it comes to stocking up on materials. When I am buying materials for the works that I sell, I get the best quality I can.
The brands of acrylic paint I like to use are Winsor & Newton and Golden. Especially Winsor & Newton is an affordable, professional level brand. I have gone to Golden when I am looking for a specific colour to add to my collection. I use Golden for their acrylic mediums and varnishes.
Next week, I will begin following a course on watercolour painting. Because it is for a course, in which we will be practicing and experimenting, I purchased a smaller amount of paints at a fine quality. I am not worried about having a professional grade paint at this point. I purchased the Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours compact set of 14 half pans. If I continue to work with watercolour, I will reassess what I need and likely invest in larger tubes.
I stocked up on sketch books, thin canvas panels and a few smaller canvases for my courses. Again, I am thinking about how I will be practicing, experimenting and honing my skills through exercise. I may or may not keep my output and it will likely just be for me. I added some additional canvases of specific sizes for my professional work to my cart. I usually work on cotton or linen stretched canvas. I like a thicker, weightier canvas for my professional work.
It may be obvious, but it is worth stating that it’s hard to do good work with inadequate tools. I buy my paint brushes individually because sets are often of a lesser quality, and I only end up using a few brushes out of a pack anyway. It takes experimentation to know what size, style, and material brush works best for your art. My collection varies and I have my favourite go-to’s for each particular part of a painting (from washes to fine details).
I was buying watercolour brushes for my course and decided on a combination of a small set and one high quality individual brush. I am breaking my rule of not buying sets here because I will be using these brushes for experimentation and practice. If I want to go further with watercolour, I will invest in some good quality professional brushes later on.
Overall, I invest in high quality materials and tools for professional work, worry less when it comes to practice and experimentation, in particular with new mediums, and look for promotions, sales, and value packs of the materials I use most often.
My Go-To Art Supply Stores
In Brussels, my go-to store was Schleiper. This is a large store with everything art and craft related. It’s easy to spend a lot of time here and I love browsing through the aisles, picking up my old favourites and discovering new products to try.
I recently wrote about my trip to The Art Shack in Moncton, New Brunswick where I was very impressed with the customer service provided. When there is a small independent art store nearby, I always prefer to support local and create links in the city I am in. The Art Shack holds a special place in my heart because this was the first place that I bought art supplies when I began painting regularly in my teens.
Now, in Ann Arbor, I went to Michaels to stock up on everything I’ll need this year. I was disappointed with my experience shopping online. I spent a good many hours putting everything in my cart only to be informed, after my purchase, that my order was canceled. Confused, I called customer service. It seems, though I did not receive a clear answer, that it is impossible to order online if one’s credit or debit card has a billing address outside of the United States.
Due to limited options, I drove to the Michael’s store in Brighton, north of Ann Arbor, and filled up my cart again, this time in real life. I ended up getting more deals than I found online and was able to keep my 25% discount that I had had online. It took a while, but overall I’m glad to have found everything I needed at good prices.
Now I am all set up and ready to paint!
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