The world of art has a dirty little secret...
It's a place filled with just a touch of snobbery in certain areas.
It's also a place filled with hard-work, sacrifice, and beauty. But sometimes at a great cost.
The term "starving artist" isn't quite as relevant today as it was years ago, but it is true that not all artists are able to pay the bills with their passion or talent.
And I have definitely known a few that lived in absolute squalor and still insisted that a person who used budget art supplies could not be a real artist.
Although there is something admirable about these classicists who endanger their own health in order to buy the most expensive supplies...not everyone wants to go that far.
Even worse are those who never try to create anything at all because they can't afford to waste a single drop of paint or piece of paper.
Is there a happy middle ground?
There is always a happy middle ground. You absolutely can be an artist on a budget, and here are 6 of my favorite frugal art supplies to get you started:
1. Sharpie Markers
Gone are the days when most Sharpies were black, and getting a red one was special. Today, they come in as many colors as the gigantic box of Crayola crayons. Even metallics!
As far as supplies go, they aren't exactly dirt cheap. But you can buy them along and build your collection. You can also find discounts during fall and spring sales.
Plus, unlike specialty art markers, Sharpies are multi-purpose. They can be used for a variety of arts and crafts, DIY, and office tasks.
Are Sharpie pens considered "fine art" material? Probably not. But there are a lot of famous Sharpie artists out there, who take their artwork to a range of unique canvases.
If you think Sharpies are just for doodling and labeling, check out the work of Aimee Alexander, an artist that makes some pretty intense "doodles"!
If you want a budget art supply that can "go anywhere" with you, draw on a variety of surfaces, and provide you with a range of color choices, then Sharpies are definitely a must-have.
2. Mechanical Pencils
Because there are so many forms of art, not all tools will work for every artist. Someone who wants to do realistic pencil portraits will probably need a full set of decent art pencils.
However there are a lot of artists that just use a mechanical pencil or even a yellow school pencil.
And it doesn't have to be fancy, especially if you need something that can be easily erased for outline sketching.
Personally, I keep a box of Bic mechanical pencils in my office and always have two or three in my purse as well.
The contoured barrel makes gives more control (my drawings are relatively small) and the white erasers don't smudge. (You can also pull them out and shape them to erase teeny areas.)
As far as sketching pencils go, Faber-Castell pencils are a decently priced upgrade.
3. Inking Supplies
For years, the majority of my work was done black and white ink drawings. I used a variety of pens, brushes and ink for all the filling in.
If I work on smooth paper, Sharpies are still my favorite. If I work on "toothy" paper, I like a cheap bottle of India ink, OR Sharpies.
For outlining, I use either a fine point Sharpie, or Prisma pens. Prisma pens are not exactly cheap, but they last a long time. I bought a multi-pack for $6 last year, and they are still going strong.
Brushes for India ink do not have to be really have to be made from the hair of a virgin fox collected during a full moon. Or whatever.
For practice especially, I recommend any nice, fine tipped brush from the craft section of your art or hobby store.
There are even some brilliant (and frugal!) artists who use nothing more than a common ball point pen to create artistic masterpieces.
Here is where I really part ways with traditionalists. I tend to think that an artist can pretty much make art with whatever they have on hand. I mean, cavemen used dust and mammoth spit and made cave paintings that lasted centuries. So why are we so picky?
Its totally true that some paint is better than others. And if you are trying to sell original paintings to discerning buyers then using kid's water color paints won't cut it.
BUT...kid's water color paints are really fun to play with. So I highly recommend adding some to your supplies. (They are excellent as a pale wash over ink drawings!)
You may be surprised at what you can achieve with even the humblest item. It's not like you can't upgrade to better quality watercolors once you decide you like the medium.
The same goes for other paints too. Just look at the amazing graffiti art people create from spray paint. I am impressed. I can't even get spray paint to cooperate for a craft project.
And I love, love, love using Apple Barrel acrylic craft paints for art. There is no limit to the colors and textures you can create by diluting, mixing, and adding other ingredients.
Still, "real" artists paints are awesome too. But you can experiment a lot before you decide where you want to spend your hard earned money.
5. Elmer's Glue
The hey? Yeah! Did you know that you can make Modge Podge from glue? Or even better...you can create a distressed, crackled look to your art by painting over dried glue?
You can also use diluted Elmer's glue to create a mask. Basically, you coat an area with glue, paint around it, then peel the glue. Its like painter's tape for your canvas, only you have more freedom to create elaborate shapes.
6. Free Editing Programs
If you are an artist on a budget, then you probably can't shell out the cash for all the pricey programs like Photoshop (yet).
There are several free options to try out first. So if you want to start experimenting with digital art, or just want to add a little digital media to your artwork, look into PicMonkey or GIMP to start with.
You can see a tutorial here of a piece I created using PicMonkey.
More Frugal Art Tips
Here are some other ways you can slash the costs of being an artist:
Look for Art Supplies Second-Hand
Yes, people get art supplies, then either give up or decide to try a different medium. Or maybe they get them as gifts.
You can check thrift stores and yard sales for blank canvases, sketching pencils, paints, and more. I even found a huge set of charcoal sticks at a thrift store once. Unopened!
Do Art Supply Swaps
If you know other artists, you might be able to trade supplies for finished art, or trade supplies for unwanted ones. Lots of artists get supplies for gifts, but sometimes the gift-giver doesn't know what to give. So artists end up with great supplies they don't use.
Work With What You Have On Hand
Use your creativity to come up with ways to use common items in your home to make experiemental art.
You probably have old coffee, food dye, and nail polish.
Sponges, newspaper, combs and rags can be used to create textures.
Have you seen the videos of people painting with ketchup? Seriously, you can get pretty wild and creative. Like Rob Ferrel, who creates portraits with SALT. (And hair!).
Don't Deny Creativity
When we make budgets for ourselves, we often drop things from the list that aren't necessities. Its easy for creative supplies to get nudged off in favor of things like say, food.
Truthfully, I think having a creative outlet is a necessity. If art is your "thing", then finding a way to make it happen can make you happier and healthier.
There have been many times over the years where I felt that picking up a drawing pen was "wasting" time I could be doing something more necessary to life.
But the truth is, it got me through some bad times. Plus, I've met friends, gained practiced, learned new techniques, and decorated several walls.
It's also earned me money and provided a way for me to give back.
Art is never a waste of time, and it shouldn't be considered a waste of money either.