Especially at the start of your art career, every penny counts.
It can be tough to justify the cost of pricey materials when you aren’t sure where your next paycheck is coming from, and you are running your business on a tight budget.
However, there is a fine line between saving money on discount materials and saving frustration and time with artist-grade materials.
We recently had the chance to talk with some artists about the role that art materials, equipment and gear play in their success.
Here are some of the things we’ve learned:
Even the greatest art materials can’t compensate for poor technique.
The dominant message from every artist we talked with was the fact that there’s no substitute for good technique. Putting on a pair of Air Jordans won’t immediately make you an NBA star. Working with the greatest gear and materials won’t have you showing at Art Basel without the skill to get you there.
“Don’t overcompensate with equipment. Start small and choose what works for you,” said artist Kelli Folsom.
Use the right products for the task.
Over 50% of the technical support calls and emails received by art product companies are a result of artists trying to get their material to perform in a way they aren’t designed to perform.
This is why you are seeing more and more product companies dedicating resources into educating users.
Rosemary & Co, a popular brushmaker based in the UK, is spending much of 2018 creating instructional videos for their best selling brush lines. These videos focus not just on how and where to use the product, but tips and tricks on how to take care of the brush to increase its life. Several other manufacturers are following suit and we will see a big surge in product-related educational resources over the next few years.
Good art products won’t magically make you a talented artist.
But, they can help you enjoy the process more and produce a better end result.
Plein Air painter Kathleen Hudson said, “If I really enjoy working with a product, my paintings show it. If I don’t, and if I’m fighting with the product, that shows as well”
While the saying “practice makes perfect” is true for artists of any stage, it’s especially relevant to those just starting out. With most mediums, there is more than just one material or tool involved in the process. And, trial and error is the only way to determine the combination that works best for you.
Early on, I believed the difference between good and great could be found in the gear, or in some method or technique I didn't know,” said painter Thomas Kitts. “But eventually I came to realize that time spent painting and long experience trump all else."
Kitts went on to say that success isn't all in the gear and that "eventually most of us realize that time and experience trumps all else."
Cheaper art materials don’t necessarily save you money.
Cheap clay may not hold its plasticity or show glazing as vibrantly. Better paint has more endurance and typically has a deeper tint and higher quality that translates to less paint needed for the same result.
And, anyone that’s tried to use a cheap canvas knows how much paint can be wasted trying to develop texture.
While we’re not recommending you go out and buy top of the line materials, we are suggesting that when you make your purchasing decisions, you factor in the true cost of those materials.
If the product is impeding your ability to progress, adding more time to the creation process, or fighting you along the way, there are costs associated with all those things.
There are different materials for different stages in your career.
When you are learning a new skill, you will be spending most of your time on repetition. You shouldn’t be worrying about wasting expensive paints or materials as you develop these initial skills.
“Practice is so important when you start out,” said artist and teacher Stewart White. “You definitely go through a lot of supplies … so cost becomes a factor that early stage artists need to consider.”
As you progress in your craft, you will want to invest a little more in your materials so you don’t waste time overcompensating for your materials. And, think in terms of quality over quantity. It can add up quickly if you try and upgrade all of your materials and tools at once. Think about what materials will have a greater effect on your outcome (paint, brushes, canvas) and what you can wait to upgrade (palettes, etc.).
Artist Nancy Boren thinks artists shouldn’t worry about it so much in the beginning. “Once they start to develop proficiency, they have to be working on an archival surface. There is no magic brush; technique drives it all.”
The bottom line? You want to enjoy your process as much as the outcome.