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.

Snack Hack: Honey Mustard Pretzels

As I was in the grocery store looking for a decent snack, I incubated a new idea.  I absolutely love mustard pretzels, but they are usually $2-3 more than I want to spend, and several extra ingredients more than I want to eat.  An idea started incubating and now it’s hatched!

Why not make my own mustard pretzels, I thought?  So I did, and now you can too.  I like making my own snack foods when I have time because I like controlling the ingredients.


I used:

1 bag of sourdough pretzel pieces, 15 ounces

Plain yellow mustard, 1/2 cup

Honey, 1/4 cup

Small bowl, whisk, large mixing bowl, sheet pan.

I started by measuring the mustard, then made a kind of cup in the mustard by coatingDSCN1598 the sides with it.  That way I could pour the honey into, straight from the jar.  I did this with half my mustard so it would fill a half cup measure in total.  It was really easy to clean the measuring cup afterwards!

Similarly, I poured a little water into my mixing bowl first, so the honey would have less chance of sticking there, too.  Don’t use much here, a quarter cup at the absolute most.  I whisked it all together then added the other 1/4 cup of mustard.  I gave it a final whisk.

I poured the pretzel pieces into the large mixing bowl, then poured the coating on top, mixing it all thoroughly with clean hands.


I placed the coated pieces on the baking sheet in a single layer, then baked in the oven for 60 minutes at 250 degrees.

Stir them every fifteen minutes or so.

If your pretzels are still damp, they may need a bit of drying on the counter or in a warm oven.  I live in a dry climate so don’t have that issue.


I found these to have a milder flavor than my favorite brand, but I liked the price and DSCN1601ingredients a lot better!

You can, of course, alter this recipe to your own tastes.  You could add cayanne or garlic, both would be amazing, change the mustard type to something else, or dream up something interesting like using ranch dressing mix as part of the recipe!

Happy crunching.


via Daily Prompt: Incubate

A Clean Sweep – low cost minimalism

You already know all the benefits to minimalism.  Health, a cleaner home, less time spent reorganizing, less stress, etc.  Sometimes it seems like you have to be rich to be minimalist.  You really don’t, though.  Not if you do it right. In fact, you can even save money. Here’s how.

Right now, this very moment, is a fantastic time to live in if you are interested in minimalism. Data storage is tiny and cheap, multi-function electronic devices are common, and almost every book, magazine or song is available for download.  What once could only be stored in stacks and stacks of boxes or on shelves, can now be fit into a small pocket.  That’s a real benefit for someone who is trying to be more minimalist.

I have been able to fit nearly my entire library into one SD card, and my music collection consists of four or five CDs plus several hundred songs in an 8 GB Mp3 player that cost $5 including shipping. My eReader cost $50. My computer maybe $300 and I’ve had it for about four years so far.

What has this done for me?  Simplicity, even the basic level that I practice, allows me to support two adults in fair style on one income, even though I barely make over minimum wage. (Of course, I own my car, allowing low insurance rates, I don’t pay for cable, I found an apartment that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and my phones are $25 a line. That helps a lot.  Even so, the principle is sound.)

My point here is that minimalism is easier to achieve with some of this modern technology and it can save you a bundle, in time, in storage space, and in money. It can be a great feeling when you walk into a neighbor’s house and think “wow, they have something on EVERY wall, and things stacked on EVERY surface. I couldn’t live like that!” Then you think “wait, I did live like that. I love my new life.”

I see it as freedom.  Freedom from this:


You don’t have to turn your home into a monk’s cell to embrace minimalism.

Also, I won’t advocate getting rid of certain spare items. Sometimes stuff breaks, and you will be better off if you don’t have to buy a replacement right away. That’s what poor folk often do, poor folk like me, because we don’t have a spare wad of cash lying around. When you do keep spares, though, keep them in good order and keep them out of the way, such as in a labeled box. Know what you have, why you have it, and where it is.  I have a few extra cooking knives in my drawer, and also my trusty (and old) eeePC in my desk in case the main PC has something happen to it. It doesn’t take up much space.

I took a hard look at my appliances and got rid of my food dehydrator, my juicer, and my printer. Print jobs are ten cents a page at the library on a high quality full color printer. My printer takes thirty or forty dollars to fill with ink, and then it expires before I even use it halfway. With the juices I drink, it would cost more to buy the fruit than just buy the juice. The food dehydrator was poor quality.

That brings me to another good guideline – if you buy something, buy the best quality you can afford. Ultimately, it costs less to buy better quality then to have something break. That saves money too, as well as headaches.

With these tips, and modified ideas from the innumerable other minimalism articles out there, you can save money and have a better life.  The key is not to go ultraminimalist but simply be mindful in what you buy and why you buy it.

By contrast to the clutter I left behind, each bit of minimalism I find feels like this:


via Daily Prompt: Clean

Watching your medication costs might save your job!

Who know?  This shocked me when I heard it.

I recently took a call from a human resources worker at a company. One of their new hires had a medication that he took daily and the HR lady needed to know how much it was going to cost. Why? Because the cost of insuring that patient was going to affect whether they could afford to renew the insurance for their company. The story had a happy ending because I was able to tell the HR lady that the medicine would be $1,500 a month to cover, not the $45,000 a month they had feared, but what if it had been that much? A talented, skilled employee might have been let go or might have had to go to an insurance exchange because the company couldn’t afford to keep him insured.

Sometimes medications are expensive for a good reason – because the medications are highly effective, expensive to make, or for many other reasons. However, sometimes doctors will choose newer, more expensive medications because a drug rep said so, or because they aren’t thinking about the cost. It’s definitely worth a chat next time you see your doctor, and another chat with your insurance company. There very well may be a good medication that has been out longer, has had more time for the price to drop, and will work just fine for you! Keep in mind that most doctors aren’t aware of the cost of medications, or what your drug coverage is.

Most of the time, the best place to start is by calling your prescription insurance company and talking with one of their pharmacists. Working with the customer service representative, they can tell you what lower cost alternatives are, price them out, so you can then ask the doctor if a change would be appropriate. I’ve seen this save people many thousands of dollars without sacrificing any quality.

Personally, when I take medication, I try to ask for older, tried and true medications that are well understood and well studied. I let someone else be the high-paying guinea pig.

The true cost of cable

When I asked my friends how much cable costs, I was shocked!. One told me she pays $275 a month for TV and internet, and she’s thinking of cutting out the movie channels so she can save $30 or $40 per month. That’s it? That would still leave her about a $235 bill!

It seems to me that cable is not much more than a vacuum cleaner attached to your wallet.

How many DVDs can a person buy with $200 a month? I deduct $75 because that’s the price for cable internet, in my area at least. That’s all I pay, and I get all the entertainment I can handle.

An Amazon Prime subscription only costs $100 a year. You get unlimited 2 day free shipping plus a huge selection of movies and TV shows.

A Netflix membership doesn’t cost much more.

The library is free, and so is Youtube.

Now, let’s consider the time expense of cable. I used to be completely addicted to it, and watched TV all the time. My grades suffered, I didn’t work on my homework, I learned less. Ultimately, I wasn’t qualified to get as good a job because of this behavior.

I don’t blame cable for this. I did it to myself. I ask this question now: would it have been a good idea for me to pay for the privilege of having poorer earning power?

Yet, isn’t that what we do? We pay a company a lot of money (often thousands a year) for content we can buy for far less elsewhere! Learning is free. Entertainment is free. Even so, the addiction of passive entertainment can be really hard to shake. We don’t think logically when it comes to TV. We think emotionally.

If you are thinking of kicking the cable habit, consider how much more time you’d have if you didn’t watch as much TV. Consider the benefits to your eyesight. Also, tor your waistline. Think about how much you could get done if you freed up three or four hours every day. You could start a side business, read great books, exercise, spend more time with your kids.

Are you too tired at the end of the day to do anything else? Think about that, too. Is that really true, or could it change? Watching TV always made me feel more tired and lethargic, while doing things always made me feel better right away. This blog is about making your life more awesome. It’s hard to be awesome just watching TV all day. It saps your creativity and your energy.

There’s one final benefit to getting rid of cable. You will be exposed to less slick advertising and therefore you won’t feel like you need as much. This can lead to you spending less and being less of a slave to consumer culture.

With all the benefits of getting rid of cable, why keep it? The reason I keep hearing is that somebody else in the house wants it, so it can’t be gotten rid of. I’d say that some persuasiveness is in order here, if you do want to unplug the cable and plug into more money every month.

I’m not telling you to get rid of cable. I’m just asking you if the cost is worth it.

When you want to publish your book: tips for aspiring authors

The only thing worse than failing as a writer, is failing as a writer and paying someone else for the privilege.  Writing and getting your things published doesn’t have to be hard, though it often is. There are certain things you can do so you aren’t taken for a ride. I’ve watched the publishing industry change over the years, helped publish a few books, and in all of it I’ve seen that certain things remain true. So I have come up with some tips and rules to help protect you from career-breaking mistakes.
Do not ever pay an agent fee or publishing charge. Those are used by vanity publishers and scam artists to separate you from your money and give you nothing.

There is one small exception to this. If you complete the NaNoWriMo writing challenge and earn the 75% off coupon from FastPencil, that’s actually a pretty good value. For around a hundred dollars you get a fair amount of marketing help and wide distribution for your book, as well as a larger cut of the profits. Otherwise, don’t pay agent fees or publishing charges.

Also be cautious of anyone who says “you need to help us pay for a thousand books and you need to do all your own marketing.” Real agents don’t charge the author.

If you are an aspiring writer and want to be published traditionally, do not let your desire blind you to scam artists. Be particularly wary of any unsolicited emails from publishing companies with glowing testimonials, compliments about your work, and promises of big profits. I’m looking at you, SBPRA! Unless you are really well known, publishing houses don’t approach you unasked, and if you are well known, you won’t be needing these tips.
Carefully check any contracts to make sure you retain control over your work. Look for hidden fees. Read them. Reread them. If anyone objects or tries to get you to rush, don’t sign.

Before signing up with any agent or publishing company, check their online reputation. Several good authors groups, like the Science Fiction Writer’s Association, have lists of scammers. No reputation might not be a deal breaker but a bad reputation is.

When you self publish, and even if you don’t, use a beta reader. Have one or more people carefully read your work, looking for typos, misspelled words, awkward grammar, or anything else that will make your work look less than its best. The more eyes, the better!

Write what you love, write what you know, and never ever write something you don’t know about unless you have expert help. That is, talk it over with someone who knows the subject very well, and then listen to what they have to say!

Finally, any time emotion (especially love or fear) is involved, the market is ripe for scammers and they know it. You love your book, you love the idea of success. You fear failure. Scammers know that and they play to your emotions. This is your work, hopefully your best work, and you owe it to your future to let reason rule over emotion. You’ll be thankful later.

If you have any comments or tips, comment here and I’ll add them with attribution.