Kat's 3 rules for buying art supplies on katcanpaint.com

How do I know which art supplies to buy? Kat’s 3 rules of buying art supplies + when to break them.

Kat’s {3 Rules} of Buying Art Supplies + when to break them


Kat's 3 rules for buying art supplies on katcanpaint.comBuying art supplies was the most overwhelming challenge for me when I started learning how to paint.  I know the frustration of not knowing where to start + wasting money experimenting with expensive supplies just to figure out the difference in quality + trying to teach yourself about art tools without getting lost in the lingo.

You have to learn a whole second language of Art Jargon to figure out exactly what brushes, canvas, and paint you need.

Thankfully I’m fluent in Art Supplies-ese :  I had textbooks and teachers to help guide my art supplies buying decisions + I read everything I could about art supplies on my own + I worked in an art supplies store in college.

Actually, I worked three jobs my Freshman year of art school.  I was determined not to be a starving artist.  There was a coffee and doughnut shop in the early morning – free coffee and donuts for breakfast! I worked a short but busy lunch rush shift at a sub shop in the afternoon – free half sub for lunch! Then I pulled a full shift at an Arts and Craft store in the evening – 25% discount on art supplies!  It was crazy but I was fed, had friends, and I saved a lot of money on my canvas, paint, sketchbooks, and brushes.  

Guess who worked the Fine Art section of the art store?  The Fine Art aisles are some of the most confusing in the store.  There is an entire section of brushes 16’ long.  The same goes for paints and mediums… and the display of paper and canvas? 32’ long and the shelves stretch all the way to the ceiling.  As the resident art student I spent a lot of time helping people pick out the right supplies for their budget.

I helped customers save time and money when buying art supplies with 3 simple rules:


{Rule 1} Get the best supplies for the money you have.

Believe me, I’ve bought it all.  I spent too much money on all sorts of cheap supplies hoping to save some money, isn’t that ironic?
After my discount, those 50¢ craft paints were only 38¢.  I did my miser math and figured I could buy about 30 bottles of cheap paint for the price of one bottle of the Golden acrylics that I really wanted.

News Flash: those craft paints are not a deal. Cheap paints are cheap in every sense of the word: they cost less but they are terrible quality. Hobby brands save money by skimping on pigment and binders.  The higher quality and more pigment in your paint the better staying power, better coverage, and brighter your paint colors. This means less coats, better mixing, and you can thin the expensive paints down yourself + they are light fast and last longer.
Magentas in hobby acrylics will surprise you, they fade in about a year.

The paintings that I made with my new paints were a hard lesson in being cheap. The colors changed from wet to dry, the whites were chalky.  Details disappeared, colors blended into mud, other colors were streaky, there were weird clumps of plasticized paint where the acrylics dried too fast.  I couldn’t save my work but I tried.  I spent more time and effort (and tears) trying to compensate for the crap quality paints I purchased for my work.

But I was still on a budget.  Instead of buying the $12 each paints, I bought a starter pack for $35 and slowly added one bottle to my collection when I had the money.

The Big Lesson here is that my art is worth the quality supplies I wanted in the first place.  It doesn’t feel good to settle for less and it certainly didn’t save me any money buying the cheapest paints that were available.  I deserve more. Your art deserves better, too.

When to break this rule:
Are you working in your sketchbook, learning your own personal color palette, experimenting with a new technique, or did you fall in love with a sea foam blue and tangerine you saw? Go for the cheapies.  You can figure out how to mix the colors yourself with the good paints if its not just a fad fascination with chartreuse.

Think of this like make up, if that helps: You’ve got your MAC or your Wet n Wild eyeshadows – both have pretty colors, but color coverage and staying power? You know the difference in quality vs. price + the exact same applies to paint.
Testing that glittery hot-off-the-runway palette, but not sure if the blue is going to look fabulous on you or bring up Mimi from Drew Carrey vibes? Try on the cheapies first, then invest if you’re rocking the cobalt.

{Rule 2} Always clean your brushes.


This may not directly be a rule about how to buy supplies or which supplies to buy, I know.  But this is a rule about how not to continuously buy expensive art supplies, and its important.
Brushes are expensive and you want your brushes to keep the soft springy even texture they have when you first open the pack. You can shampoo and condition your brushes, pat them dry with a paper towel and let them dry.   That’s right, as painter you also become a brush hair stylist.
Don’t let your brushes stay in your water.  The metal part of your brush, the ferrule, has the glue that holds your bristles in – if you get too much water or paint in this part your brush will start to warp, separate, and fall apart.  Then, when you are trying to do detail work, your favorite liner brush will look like Mick Jagger.

When to break this rule:
Don’t. Follow this rule! If you need scruffy brushes or want to work with texture wait until one of your brushes inevitably need to be retired.  Even if you buy the $10 value pack brushes – which I do – they will last a lot longer if you take care of them.  You can not bring a brush back from the dead – expensive or cheap.  So get in the habit of treating your brushes like they are dry-clean only now, then when you are ready to treat yourself to the Chanel brushes, you already how to care for them.

{Rule 3} Paint on the right stuff, baby.

It doesn’t matter what substrate you like to paint on: canvas, paper, or wood,  just make sure you get the good stuff.

Paper is the cheapest of the three surfaces and you can get a great pad of heavyweight paper for less than $10.  You will see a weight on the front of the paper pad ranging from 50 – 120 lbs; You are looking for something over 90 lb.  Heavier paper is labelled watercolor paper and comes in cold-pressed or hot-pressed.  Feel the paper & decide on the texture that you like the best.  You want heavier weight paper so that it can stand up to a lot of paint without tearing or buckling.  The blend of paper is important, too, as the percentage of cotton in the paper greatly changes the way your paper feels.

Start with a studio quality before investing in the expensive stuff:  http://www.dickblick.com/products/fabriano-studio-watercolor-pads/

I like painting on wood because  it holds up GREAT to all sorts of mixed media abuse.  You can sand and burn and paint tons of layers.  If you are tempted to buy the $2 plaques at Walmart RESIST! They are made out of horrible quality wood that will warp when you start painting.  Not a fun surprise!  You can run down to Lowes and have them cut larger pieces of pine to the size you want for free.

I like to use these wood canvas panels: http://www.dickblick.com/products/american-easel-wood-painting-panels/


When you are buying canvas ask yourself: Do I want to frame this or do I want to paint the sides and hang it on the wall as is?  There are a couple of types of canvas sizes, profiles, and qualities and the mix can get very confusing.  Stretched canvas comes in three profiles: traditional, gallery, and museum.  Traditional depth  is generally ⅞” and is easily framed.  Gallery depth is 1 ½” deep and Museum depth is 2” or more, both of these are hung directly on the wall because of the thickness of their sides, and you can paint on the sides.

 Figure out the depth / profile you want then buy the highest quality canvas you can afford in  that type.  Quality canvas is determined by the type of fabric stretched over the frame, how it is stretched, and the quality of the frame.  I could type 10 more pages discussing kiln drying, linen, cotton, weights, stapling, warp, and weft but that would be extremely boring.

 The best advice I have for you is to steer clear of anything labeled academic or studio, these are the lowest quality canvas / supplies and you will not be happy with the longevity of your canvas.

It only costs a couple of dollars more to get the better canvas and the difference is whether or not your painting can be displayed without twisting or bowing, especially in humid climates.

 Most importantly you don’t want to buy a cheap canvas and paint something you love on it, then find that the cheap, thin, stretcher bars warp. Inspect your canvas, especially if you are getting the less expensive stuff, make sure the canvas is stapled down tightly and the corners aren’t fraying, and that no parts of the wooden stretcher bars are warped or splintering.  Do not buy the ones with staples on the sides. Staples on the back only please!

This is what I use: http://www.dickblick.com/products/blick-premier-gallery-1-12-profile-cotton-canvas/

When to break the rules:
You can paint on your sketchbook paper, which is generally about 50lb, but you have to prime it with gesso first.  I recommend 2-3 coats.
The same goes for wood: gesso gesso gesso.   If you want the wood grain to show through then you need to make sure you prime and condition your wood for painting.

You can buy cheaper quality canvas but make sure you paint 3 coats of gesso on your canvas before you start painting. Canvas comes pre-primed with gesso, but you want to prep your canvas yourself. For a beautifully smooth surface: Paint a coat of gesso vertically. Let it dry. Sand.  Paint a coat of gesso horizontally, let it dry, sand. You paint a coat of gesso diagonally, let it dry, and sand this final coat.  It is a bit time consuming, so take some time and prep all your canvas at once, you will notice a huge difference. Or, you know, just buy the more expensive canvas, the difference is a couple of dollars or a couple of hours.

Paint on the best canvas with the best paint + brushes you can afford.  Your life will be way easier and you won’t feel like you are spending all your time fighting supplies or spending a fortune replacing brushes.

Note: I linked to DickBlick.com to purchase supplies but you can find comparable supplies at your local art store.  If you have a local independent art supplies store please take your business there.  Supporting local businesses is very important to me plus the staff at your independently owned art supplies store will be way more helpful and knowledgable than in a big box store.

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