buying art supplies guide

How to Buy Art Supplies


It’s tempting to think that if we want to make art, we should, of course, begin by shopping. Full of zest, vim and vigor, we resolve to really get in the creative mode and, tail wagging, we prance off to the art supply store.

We browse through walls of pens, shelves of sketchbooks, and bins of brushes. We consider locked racks of spray paint, spools of armature wire, lino knives and airbrush frisket. We stare blankly at tubes of yellow watercolor that arbitrarily cost a buck or a Benjamin.

And finally we stagger home, our credit cards limp with exhaustion, clutching bags of random gear, unsure of what to do with most of it.

Our desire to create — depleted. Our sense of wonder — withered. Our vision of ourselves happily drawing and painting away in a sunlit studio — obscured by the heaps of the art supplies we bought last time we were seized with this fever, many of them identical to the ones in the bags we just dumped in the vestibule.

Unfortunately, the art supply store doesn’t supply what we actually need. The art supply store doesn’t sell sweat. It doesn’t stock alarm clocks to get you up an hour earlier. It doesn’t sell blinders and ear plugs to keep you focused. It doesn’t sell hard knocks. Experience. Crying towels. Or erasers to erase your fear of failure. The art supply store doesn’t even come with instructions.

If you want to draw, pick up that ball-point pen in the kitchen drawer, flip open that sketchbook you bought years ago that is ‘too good to use’, pull up a chair and draw whatever’s in front of you. Keep doing that every day until the very last page of that good sketchbook is full.


After doing this a whole bunch of times, you have permission to go to the art store. Buy a single Tombow marker, N95 Cool Gray 1 or N89 Warm Gray 1. It doesn’t matter which one. Should set you back less than $3. Practice with that brush marker and study how to add tone to your pen drawings. When the marker is used up, add a couple other grays. When they are used up, replenish, and add a sepia marker. A month later, reward yourself with a light blue marker, then a yellow, then a red.

When you’ve filled ten sketchbooks like this, buy a Winsor Newton artist grade watercolor field set. Spend $100 on this set. Buy one watercolor brush. Spend $20 on that brush. Sign up for Watercolor Rules and How to Break Them at Sketchbook Skool. Begin to fill as many moderately-priced watercolor sketchbooks as you can.

After that, you’re on your own. Buy whatever you want. You’ve earned it.

2 mins

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