When to Splurge, Save on Mixed-Media Art Supplies

Everyone in my immediate family is creative in one form or another. But Meredith, 15, seems to have inherited and developed a breadth of artistic gifts, including sewing and home décor, writing, culinary arts (her chocolate dipped and drizzled strawberries are already famous at her high school), photography, painting, and drawing. (Hey, I'm her mother; I can brag.)

mixed media art supplies
A few good-quality brushes will save you money and headaches in the long run, says artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer in her new Workshop video, All About Faces.

So when Meri asked for a set of Copic ® markers for Christmas after seeing a demonstration on YouTube, I was inclined to get them for her.

Until I saw the price. I know these markers are top-of-the-line art supplies, but, well, $5-7 a pop for a marker just seemed ridiculous to me, especially for a teenager's use.

I asked artist and Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason for advice on finding similar markers at a cheaper price, which she did (and I bought a very small set). But Jenn, who also has a couple of up-and-coming artists in her family (and knows how talented Meredith is), gave me some additional advice.

"In art school, I was always told: buy the best art supplies you can afford. It took me a while to figure out that in the long run, it's cheaper than having to replace cheap art supplies because they break down or don't give you the results you're after," she said.

Hmmm.

I was reminded of this again while watching collage and mixed-media artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer's new Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video, All About Faces.

Julie is all for saving money on art supplies by using everyday objects as substitutes. Instead of buying fancy mark-making tools, she uses plastic forks and toothpicks. To blend colors she picks up inexpensive foam cosmetic sponges from the drugstore and cuts them into smaller pieces so they last longer.  She uses inexpensive, all-purpose white glue and favors cheap plastic plates over artists' palette paper (you can recycle clean plastic foam trays that come with meat and produce) .

But when it comes to paintbrushes, Julie recommends you open your wallet a bit wider.

"I'm not saying you should buy a $27 paintbrush, but a $3 paintbrush will last a lot longer than a really cheap one," says Julie. She recommends you have at least one large flat brush and two medium round brushes in your kit.

Here are some other areas where you can choose to save or splurge.

face painting julie fei fan balzer
Don't waste money: suit the art paper
to the medium. (Art by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer from All About Faces.)

Paint. If you're messing about in your art journal, creating backgrounds, you don't need high quality paints. Inexpensive watercolors or acrylics will do. When acrylic paint is the star, however, splurge on really good primary colors: a couple of yellows, a blue or two, and a red and magenta will provide a nice base for mixing a range of colors.

Cutting tools. Fancy punches and cropping tools are nice, but a reasonably priced craft knife will take you a long way for a lot less. It is worth it to splurge on replacing the blades frequently. Not only will you make fewer mistakes, but a sharp blade is safer than a dull one as it's less likely to get stuck or slip.

Paper. This one's tricky. You have to suit the paper to the medium and the process, and often an inexpensive paper will do the job. But if you're painting or printing on paper, it generally pays to shell out a few extra bucks for a substrate that takes the paint or ink well and doesn't buckle or fall apart. Experiment to find out what works best for you in each circumstance.

Of course, there are ways to get top-quality art mixed-media art supplies without spending big bucks. Buying in bulk usually cuts down on the per ounce/sheet price, but this makes sense only if you use a lot of that supply. And, of course, waiting for a sale and using a coupon-preferably at the same time-can lower the cost of a splurge-worthy art supply tremendously. That's how I was able to get Meredith the markers she desired after Christmas. (And I made her use some of her own money.)

Another way to save money on art supplies is to know how to use them. For example, Julie gives tips on how to get the most pigment out of your paints, how to avoid waste, and how to cut corners or make supplies and tools do double duty.

You'll discover many of her budget-busting tips, plus learn how to make pleasing faces for art journaling, collage, and mixed media in All About Faces.


P.S. What art supply have you deemed "splurge worthy"? Why?

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Blog, Mixed-Media Supplies

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