Supplies for the Starving Artist

I think it’s pretty clear that most of us are having more struggles with money. Usually, there isn’t enough of it. For those of us who like to draw, paint, or otherwise make visual art, that can be a real struggle! We might see an awesome tutorial for an epic art supply and really want to try it out, only to find out that those markers or paints are way beyond our price range. Maybe our kid wants to get started in art and we want to help them out without breaking the bank. What to do?

Luckily, there are solutions and some materials are both affordable and of good quality. I’ll be mentioning a few of these that I’ve tried myself, and giving links to those. If you happen to buy the item using my link, I might get a small amount of money but remember that these are things I have bought myself, and use every day.

If you are flat broke but still have that burning desire to be creative, remember this: though good supplies can really help, you don’t need them to make awesome art. I’ve seen people create beautiful images with nothing but a normal pencil, hunk of charcoal, or even a basic ballpoint pen. Paper can make a big difference, but I’ve still seen some great stuff done on basic printer paper. It helps a LOT to pick a medium that is more forgiving.

Cheapest Media:

Pencils – will work on a variety of papers, have a wide range of prices, and can look good on cheap, rough, sketch paper.

Charcoal – usually fairly cheap and don’t need a premium paper to look good.

Watercolors (to a point, see below)

Digital – if you already have a computer, you can do a lot digitally. An inexpensive drawing tablet will serve you well. See below.

Inks – This can mean a dip pen and ink bottle, fineliner markers, or brushes – either way it’s fairly easy to get these.

Water-based markers – depending on what you buy, these can be dirt cheap. They will work better on very smooth paper.

Best sources of higher-end art materials:

Alcohol Markers

Alcohol markers can be a fantastic medium but they are stupidly expensive. For example, I have seen Copics go for $10 a marker. If you buy super cheap alcohol markers though, they can have poor coverage and be really frustrating to use. I’ve used a brand called Ohuhu, and they are as good as (or maybe even a little better than) the Prismacolor Premier art markers I used to buy. They come in a fantastic array of colors with good tips. You can get brush tip, bullet tip, and chisel, and all the markers are double ended.

You can also buy themed sets such as gray scale, flesh tones, pastels and more. The main downside to them is that you can’t get single markers, but if one comes to you already dry or bleeding all over the place, the company will replace it. They also provide nice extras, such as marker cases, swatch sheets, and protective shseets to go under your paper. I’ve been using this brand for a while now and none of my markers have run out yet.

These also go on sale fairly often and they are easily a third of the price of more well known brands.

Here are some affiliate links if you want to check them out:

Basic Set of 48 colors

Pastel Set (36 markers)

Flesh Tone Set

Gray Scale Set (warm grays, cool grays, a really nice selection)

Marker paper sketchbooks (really nice heavy weight paper that is smooth and doesn’t bleed)

Massive set – has pretty much everything – 320 markers – on sale at the time of this writing


There are a lot of different travel kits and sets of watercolor out there. Generally I like finding tubes so I can mix larger quantities. Generally the most expensive thing you are going to have to buy is the paper since a watercolor tube actually lasts a long time. I found a really cool travel kit though with a nice metal tin and literally everything you need to make art including a pencil, a sharpener, an eraser, a brush, and really nice refillable water-brush. The colors are vibrant and work well. This makes an awesome gift.

My favorite travel kit – this has everything and it’s really pretty too! It even has a small paper pad to get you started. It is also frequently on sale.

Watercolor Paper – 140 pound is the lightest grade of paper you want to go with for watercolor, and even then it’s helpful to tape it down to a board to help prevent buckling. There are many options but here is one I’ve used and like.


Liquitex Basics has a decent array of colors and their tubes aren’t tiny. It is worth shopping around though because you may find other brands that suit you just as well. The best tip I have for acrylics is to learn to color mix, and to buy the best paints you can in good primary colors. If you have good primary colors that mix well, you avoid having to buy every color of paint in the rainbow, instead you can make your own. Brushes are important too, I’ve had good results from brushes with nylon bristles, you don’t have to get the super fancy brushes to get good results.

You can use acrylic on canvas, hardboard, even mattboard meant for painting. I’ve gone to the hardware store and gotten hardboard project panels, they will even cut it to size for you if you need. That can be a good source of cheap but durable surfaces. I’ve tried painting on foam core poster board but that curls so badly that I wouldn’t suggest it.


It’s pretty hard to do oils cheaply but if you are absolutely determined, be careful that you buy paint with really good pigment (the more warning labels, the better) so the colors mix well and you need to buy fewer of them.

That said, the hardware store is your best friend. You can get canvas drop cloths there that can be stretched for painting canvasses. You can get furring strips to make into the frames for those canvasses, or hardboard to paint on. It’s also the cheapest source of turpentine, mineral spirits and linseed oil. You can even buy your larger format brushes there – for example, one or two inch natural bristle brushes.

By comparison, art stores will charge a premium price for those basic supplies, in much smaller quantities!

Digital Art

Digital art can be really expensive to do, or nearly free. My favorite free art software is probably Krita. It works on a wide variety of computers and is very flexible. GIMP is another good one, also free, also works on a wide variety of computers. Both are amazing but are a little different, so try both!

Drawing Tablets – it’s pretty hard to do digital art without some kind of a drawing tablet. My favorite brand is XP-Pen. They have good prices on their tablets, have a wide range of options, and are usually on sale. They also have good customer support and their drivers are solid, I’ve never had one stop working or crash.

Ultra basic drawing tablet – here’s a good one to start with. Much less than $100!

Drawing tablet I currently use – this one has served me well and never given me problems – it has a nicely sized drawing surface.

My dream tablet – this is going to be my next upgrade. And it’s still a fraction of the cost of the name brand competition.

Colored Pencils

These can be really cheap or extremely expensive depending on what you do. You can get decent results with cheap Crayolas but you may face a lot of frustration along the way. You also want to get a good quality paper for colored pencils to look their best, like a hot rolled watercolor paper or cardstock with a bit of a tooth to it.

That said, I have found that Arteza pencils are almost as good as the premium brands yet are still affordable. I base that on experience and obsessive watching of YouTube comparisons.

48 color basic set, Arteza Pencils

72 color set in metal container, Arteza pencils

Unexpected places to find art supplies

The best place to find cheap art supplies, if you are really broke, is probably not where you’d expect. I’ve found my best deals on basic supplies at post-back to school sales, in the grocery store. That’s where they just had the big back to school blitz, but now it is time to switch to some other promotion so they heavily discount the school supplies. You can usually get good markers here for example. It’s often a Crayola product of some kind but remember, with determination and creativity, you can make art with ANYTHING.

Another good place to get cheap art supplies is at a big craft store like Michaels or Hobby Lobby, when they have their seasonal discounts. They usually have sets of basic art supplies or at the very least, paper.

Thrift Stores can be a good source of materials depending on what they get. They are usually found around the kid’s section. Another thing you can get at thrift stores is canvasses. Find a painting on a canvas, any painting, gesso over it, and feel free to paint away. You can do the same thing for frames. If you are more of a crafter you can also usually find random items to redecorate.

Office Supply Stores often have sales too, usually at the holidays or at back to school time. You can get markers or paint or pens there, but you can also get things like card stock and better papers. They are definitely worth a look.

For those who want all the flexibility of a major art supply store, but don’t live near one, or maybe the one live near has management you can’t stand, Dick Blick is a great website that has a huge range of art supplies. They do a good job explaining what everything is for and have competitive prices.

Lastly, the Dollar Store (or equivalent) can SOMETIMES have art and craft supplies. Beware though, you may end up paying more there for the same thing, or not be able to use the item because of poor quality. So be careful. Example: say you are a crafter and want to use those little jars of Apple Barrel Paint. Maybe you see them at the dollar store for a dollar each. That same paint might be 89 cents each at a craft store. Or even less if you buy a set.

The end…. or is it the beginning?

I hope this was helpful to someone. I’ve gone through a lot of hardship and been flat broke on more than one occasion. It’s helped to know where I could get some sort of art supplies when the creative bug bit me! I was helped a lot by watching YouTube reviews, which by the way is also an excellent source of art education.

If you have your own best places to get art supplies, or I’ve missed a category you want me to cover, feel free to comment below.

Finding your Element

I was having trouble thinking the other day.  Worries were piling up and also things were just not connecting.  It seemed like I couldn’t do the simplest things the first time.  My dear spouse gave me a modern parable that I wanted to pass along because I found a lot of truth in it.

She said, “how well does a Corsair or a P-51 Mustang run on the ground?”

Thinking about it, I recalled when I used to live next to a flight museum.  Those particular airplanes coughed and sputtered on the ground, but once they were airborne and operating at full power, their engines smoothed to a powerful roar.  I said “They run like crap.”

She said, “exactly.”  The implication being that my brain was like that, and it ran best when operating closer to full capacity.

I think that’s true for many of us.  We might have trouble in an environment we aren’t suited to, or thinking at too low a level, we might have trouble.  But when we find what element we are best in, we might find that we are fare more intelligent and capable than we thought!  How many people do we know who are amazing with their hands but useless with words?  Or who couldn’t tell a nut from a bolt but can write words that make your soul sing?  Or clean a place till it sparkles, but can’t play chess?

Moreover, the speed at which you do a thing can have a huge impact.  Some people are best when they are working fast and yet lose momentum if they try to slow down.  Some people keep making mistakes if they don’t take their time.  Like the proper operation of a vehicle, finding your “best RPM range” can be critical to your success at what you do.

Don’t just take another person’s word for it, either.  Find your own best pace.

If we all find that thing we are best at, and the rate at which we work well, those are the keys to realizing our full value as human beings.


Sparking Your Creativity

When looking for ideas for drawing, painting, poetry or sculpture, it can be helpful to think outside the crate. Or think outside the corrugated cardboard container. Or the cube. Or the containment device. Or the little space bounded by roughly equal sides and describable by geometry.

It’s not too useful to just say “be creative,” without having some ways to encourage that in your head! Creativity is like a muscle. Once you get your mind warmed up, you will be more creative with your other projects, not just the little exercises listed here.

My mother, who is a writer as well, gave me a great idea so I’ll mention it here. She has been writing poetry and short works with five randomly selected words. That can be a great way to kickstart creativity! You can even close your eyes, open a dictionary, and point. Or find a random word generator and use that. The idea is to cause new, unexpected input to come into your mind and spark new ideas. Creativity often comes when you take two unrelated ideas and play around with how they could be connected. And it’s hard to get new ideas without new input.

Something I frequently like to do is take some object, natural or created, and examine it closely, perhaps even under a magnifying glass or microscope if you have one. Even a pinecone can be a fascinating thing to explore if you really get into examining all the shapes, shadows, ridges and texture of it. Maybe it could become part of a new creature, or an idea for a structural support on a building? This can work for artists, writers, sculptors, or anyone else who wants to rev up their creativity.

Macro photography on the internet can be a fascinating way to look at the world. So can Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” feature. Take a walk and examine something you’ve never looked at before. Read an article about a subject you known nothing about. Pick a word at random and look up websites about it. Read quotes from famous people you’ve never heard of. That can trigger new ideas too.

Creativity requires imagination. If you open your eyes, literally or figuratively, and get interested in the world, great ideas follow.

13 Ways to Recharge Your Writing Batteries

via Daily Prompt: Recharge


Sometimes, we all run out of ideas.  We feel like a battery run flat.  At that moment, we wish we were like a cell phone – just plug a USB into the side of our heads and let the ideas flow in.  This is particularly bad if we’re working up against a deadline, or only have a little time to write, so we want to make it count.  Here are some ways to recharge!  Please add your own in the comments if I’ve missed something.

1. Meditate.  Totally relax, just for two or three minutes, and let go.

2. Write down ten ideas about something – anything – totally unrelated to your project.

3. Take a walk.  Let your mind wander.

4. Have a cup of tea. L-Theanine is good for your brain.

5. Take a short (no more than twenty minute) nap.

6. Exercise.  It sounds strange, but often exercise brings energy, not the other way around.

7. Play.  Preferably not with anything electronic.

8. Write down a list of things regarding your subject.  Odd little details, the nuttier the better.

9. Get yourself laughing.  Do something really silly, like juggling pants.

10. Blow the screen a giant raspberry and start writing anyway – one word at a time, it doesn’t matter where.  After all, you can always delete later.  The important thing is to get going.

11. Read a lot.  All subjects.  You’ll have more output when you have more input.

12. Keep a small notebook, write all your ideas down.  Look over that when you’re stuck.

13. Stay positive!



(And don’t forget to look at my last post, I really need reader input!)


Inventing Worlds

When I was younger, I read a book that absolutely fascinated me. I checked it out from the library again and again. It was all about creating imaginary kingdoms and building them in miniature form with old cans, oatmeal containers, cardboard boxes, and such. I loved that book. I remember turning a big table into my “kingdom,” and all the people who lived there worshiped the Great God Tagamet. They were somewhat inspired by ancient Egypt, as I recall.

I still enjoy creating worlds, though usually I make maps of them or write stories, rather than creating miniatures. When I wrote my novel, “The Dice of Fate,” I had a lot of fun figuring out how things would be. What climate was I going to choose for the area my story was in? What type of plant life?  What type of animals? As it happened, I chose a mountainous area with a wide valley and a river running through it. The trees were mostly deciduous, though there were some conifers too, and there were ancient ruins and a mysterious Road that had been there for ten thousand years or more.

Once you know what kind of place you are imagining, you can have lots of fun deciding about civilizations, trade routes, where resources are, how people get from place to place, what kind of agriculture they have, what kind of technology, and on and on. The possibilities are literally endless!

What to do with this information? Write a story, draw a picture, create a roleplaying scenario, make a miniature, or just dream. Imagination keeps the mind young.