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Expensive VS. Cheap as chips

by Adriana Artmeier


There is this picture out there that you need expensive, good art supplies to create art when it comes to paints, pencils, canvases, etc. but is it true?


Do you need to spend a fortune to create good and long-lasting quality art or is there a way around it?


When I was younger I didn’t have much money to get “the good stuff” so I tried out a couple of different things and here is what failed AND some gems that actually saved me quite a bit of money and I still use today because they turned out to be better than the "professional" art supplies.


(also this will be part 1 of probably many many more so if you have any, let us know in the comments below)


 

COLOURED PENCILS


When I first started with coloured pencils I always got a bit jealous, scrolling around forums on the internet and looking at some other artists that had these fancy “polychromos” and other fancy coloured pencils while I tried to bring my drawing to life with a 30 pencil pack for roughly $5.


I thought that most of the magic of their drawings comes from their pencils so I put it on my wishlists for birthdays and Christmas and after I couple of years I finally received my first set, unpacked it with pure excitement in my eyes just to realise that it didn’t magically change my drawing and bring it to another level.


Until that point, I got rid of my very cheap $5 pencils and upgraded to some that were a bit pricier, almost double the price (I know, so fancy) and quickly realised that the difference between Faber Castell polychromos (that cost $2 PER PENCIL) and my cheap $10, 30 pack wasn’t that big.

The only difference I can remember was that you needed a bit less pressure to get the same amount of saturation but that was it. They blended the same, layers a bit worse actually and well the difference with the pressure .. was not worth it, to be honest.


Don’t get me wrong, they’re still great pencils but there are many many more that cost 1/10 of the price and you will get the same result.

 

GEL PENS


This one might not apply anymore when it comes to price because makeup is very pricey these days but in Germany, where I grew up, it was either 1.5 euros for a white gel pen or a couple of cents for a cheap white cream eyeliner stick.


Back then I was wondering how those YouTube artists were able to achieve these bright highlights in their drawings and instead of saving the 2 euros I got for lunch, I thought, I would try something else. I bought a white cream eyeliner and to my surprise, it actually worked pretty well for my charcoal and coloured pencil drawings and back then I thought I was so smart for finding that little cheap trick.


Now looking back at the drawings, they were so easy to smudge, because the only way you could make it look bright was basically to just layer that CREAM eyeliner on the same spot. It also attracted a lot of charcoal dust which caused it to look not white and bright and more like a grey soup. Not worth trying .. I would say, that was definitely a fail, so go for that gel pen, marker or acrylic paint and use the white eyeliner for what it is meant to be used for.


 

BRUSHES


I’ve gotten quite a wide range of different opinions when it comes to this one. I don’t think expensive brushes are worth it. AT ALL.


Just to let you know though, I work with acrylics so I probably need different things from a brush compared to someone that paints with other mediums.


The brushes that I have at home and worked with for ..3+ years now are from ALDI (German Aldi [I’m sorry]), called Vincenzo brushes and from WISH!! Yes, Wish, that super cheap online platform that nobody seems to trust. Believe me when I tell you that these brushes lasted me 20 times as long as the ones I bought from an art store for $1-$2 each. I paid maybe $5-$10 for a whole set of 10-15 brushes and as I said, the wish brushes are still working.


They’re not losing hair, super comfy to paint with, I have to say that the paint on the brush where I was holding it, started peeling a bit after 2 years or so, but nail polish made that stop pretty quickly.


They might not be the best brushes for every medium but I have to say that for what I paint and what I do, they’re perfect. Since then I also ordered Mont Marte brushes and amazon brushes but they’re still in the trial phase because ...I am still working with my Wish brushes.

 

PAINTS


I can again only speak from my acrylic paint experience BUT what I’ve found out over the years is that expensive paint doesn’t mean it’s good quality.


The best way to find out if a brand is for you at any price point is to try out their red paint (that is what I do anyway and it is a great indicator in my opinion).

I have to say that I found paints in a $2 shop (they weren’t $2 but $6-ish) that were better quality and coverage than $20 paint. When it comes to paint, a lot of the price (like with anything) depends on the packaging!! So don’t be afraid to try out cheaper paints, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad quality .. maybe the difference might just be in the packaging.


One of my favourite brands is “global” paint. Their paint is perfect for what I need and also “mont marte”. Both of them would be on the “cheaper” side when it comes to paint but they are the best for what I need specifically and definitely way better than some of the expensive ones that I’ve tried out.

I also have some “reeves” & “chroma - heavy body acrylics” which are on the pricier side I would say BUT have the best lavender & mustard paints that I’ve tried so far.

 

GESSO


I personally don’t use gesso, I only found out last year what gesso is, to be honest. Stuff like that happens to me all the time though because I am self-taught and what that means for me is that .. I’ve never watched a tutorial on painting, didn’t even touch a book about techniques or how to use my medium correctly, I just do what works for me, practice and experiment.

So once I found out what it was I thought I would look it up and compare it to what I use instead of gesso and I still haven’t used gesso and probably will never use gesso. I prep my canvas or wood with sanding (for the texture) housepaint and in some cases some spray varnish or another layer of house paint and then it is ready to go!! It is more work than just slapping on gesso but way more cost-efficient, I can still create texture and anything else with it just like you would with gesso just for a third of the price.


Of course, gesso would definitely be the easier and quicker option if you just wanna make it a quick process so it depends on what you want and how you work.

 

VARNISH


I use proper varnish for acrylic paints but also have clear acrylic spray or hairspray. Varnish is perfect for my normal acrylic paintings where I don’t use transparent yellowy tones, clear acrylic spray is perfect for my drawings or bigger pieces that might not be completely flat but what is the hairspray for?

Well, when I was younger I protected all my drawings with hairspray which worked perfectly and I would still recommend anyone to use cheap hairspray for that but now I also “varnish” my more yellowy paintings with it because it won’t change the colour of the yellow!! Normal varnish changes any translucent yellow tones which I use in quite a bit of my paintings.


If you have a problem with your paintings changing colour after varnishing it, try out hairspray!! DO IT !!

 

WOOD


I personally love painting on wood and actually prefer it to painting on canvas. I’ve ordered some wood for commissions from art stores before because I didn’t have anything to cut the wood that I usually get from bunnings and I really don’t see the point of paying $25 bucks each for an A2 wood from an art store if you could get the same thing for just a couple of dollars from bunnings.

Again, it would be quicker I guess because you won’t have to sand it or cut it to size but even with getting sanding paper and stuff to cut it you still come out on the cheaper side, can offer all sorts of sizes and you can offer wood panels in all different thicknesses as well.


In the end, it is so much easier to get the wood from bunnings, it is the same wood just in no fancy packaging. All you need to do is cut it and sand it and you’ve got the exact same thing for 1/10 of the price

 

CANVASES


I don’t have too much experience myself when it comes to canvases but I can confirm that most cheap canvases don’t stand a chance to professional ones.


I’ve painted on a few different surfaces in my time and a lot of different canvases in different price classes and from what I can tell is that for canvas boards, doesn’t really matter, I use both, cheap and handmade ones but for actual canvases, there can be a massive massive difference.


My suggestion would be to try and make canvases (and canvas boards) yourself if you have the space and the time for it. It is not that the cheap canvas will fall apart in a month but it can be quite wonky, uneven and It might need some restretching sooner or later.

 

In the end, it is all up to you how much you spend on your art supplies but I think that some of the cheaper options actually work way better for me than some of the more expensive variants I’ve tried which shouldn’t be a surprise to me or anyone because a lot of these things are priced like that because of their branding and packaging.


Experiment, don't be afraid to try something and think outside of the box and maybe you will find something that makes your process a whole lot easier.

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