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Most people know now that private financing will be getting tighter and tighter. Everything is going up in cost, including art materials. How are we to keep painting, whether we’re selling our job or not?
There are various ways in which costs can be kept down. This article aims to explore and find out what some of them are.
Online Shopping (and really offline).
If you purchase from several online suppliers as I do, you will be on their mailing lists. When discounts are operating, it is an excellent time to buy things which are normally quite expensive, such as oil paints or quite heavy-weight watercolour paper. If you can stretch your handbag, consider larger tubes of paint (like 200ml) especially oils and especially if they’re the more expensive colors. The top brands will last for years (unless you are painting enormous yacht-sail canvases).
EBay is worth a punt, but note that many sellers are very conscious of what things normally go for and, although their costs may appear lower, they then need to add the postage on. A tube of paint priced #2 or so lower than the norm may not end up being much of a saving by the time you’ve paid #3 postage for that single item. Having said this, if you trawl frequently through the art supplies segments, you can come across bargains. I once purchased a full set of Daler-Rowney pastel pencils for almost half-price, simply because the firm had made alterations to the pastel formula and had ceased the current boxes of pencils.
Likewise there are branded paints which are actually very good quality, but are not household names to the majority of people… these sometimes come up for sale and can be obtained with no rival bids simply because most individuals aren’t familiar with them.
If you sell your work, you’ll probably prefer artist-grade paintbut it’s not unusual to find professional artists picking certain student-grade colors for their work simply because they like the colour or the handling of the paint. Student grade paints in the big names are usually excellent value; particularly in acrylics, where they frequently come in large volume.
Canvases.
Piles of canvases come from several areas in the East these days. You can buy whole boxes of them at discounted prices from online providers, including eBay.
The 1 thing I’d note is the build quality. Many are OK; but some are poorly constructed. I have had”square” canvases appearing anything but square. What happens is that if one stretcher-bar is slightly more than the rest, a perfect square or rectangle isn’t obtained. The resulting canvas looks absolutely awful when hung on the wall and it is not fit for purpose… even if you ARE a penny-pinching artist.
Dud canvas? Cut off the canvas and use it to make a panel; or just practise on. Better still, invest in a whole roll of canvas. Expensive outlay but you’ll have the ability to cut off exactly what you want, if you want, and prepare it as you wish… and it may last you only years.
Another way to save is to use canvas-boards. A lot of professional artists prefer them. Canvas-boards are made from compressed card overlaid with a proper sheet of adequate quality canvas and glued in place. They last for a long time; I still have canvas-board paintings from the 1970’s and they’re absolutely fine.
You can buy boxes of them from some online suppliers and eBay isn’t a bad place to look either.
And even cheaper…
MDF
Offered in several thicknesses, the 3mm and 4mm sizes prove popular. Easily cut into any size (and shape) that you want, MDF needs sealing and priming before use. Remember the edges also. If you reduce your own, use a dust mask, MDF does produce a good deal of flying particles.
However, MDF isn’t quite as secure as people believe. There is a problem sometimes with what is known as substrate-induced discolouration (SID). There are a few solutions on the artists’ marketplace that will deal with this.
Conservation experts aren’t convinced about the long-term stability of MDF, but most people are not necessarily going to be painting masterpieces that need to last for a few hundred years. Properly prepared, MDF is fine. Some artists find it’s too smooth for their liking. Additionally it is possible to prepare a panel and then paste proper canvas around itthis may offer the additional tooth that some favor.
And really really cheapskates…
Paper
It’s possible to paint oils on watercolour paper as long as you prime the surface , acrylic gesso is best. This forms a barrier, preventing (or certainly delaying) destruction of this paper by the oils. Just how long it lasts for, I really don’t know but I would suggest not generating too many masterpieces this way; just to be on the safe side. Acrylics on watercolour paper don’t cause a problem.
There are now special papers offered for oil-painting; these seem the same as watercolour paper but have been specially treated to handle the harmful properties of oil-paint. They aren’t always cheap per sheet… but… a whole sheet for six or seven pounds will cut up into whatever size you need, and you’ll get several work surfaces for the money.
Hardboard.
I am not sure about this one. The perfect hardboard is one without oils in it (untempered) but I have no means of telling you from the other. If you use it, sand the surface first, use SID therapy and give several good coats of primer.
Attempt to use artists’ primers instead of those from a DIY shop.
It’s possible to make quite good panels by gluing sections of cotton shirts or old bedsheets on MDF or hardboard. Use pva or an acrylic medium to perform the sticking. Wrap the material over the borders and fix to the trunk, before adding a primer to the surface.
Acrylics can be painted onto plastic surfaces, opening up many ideas for using acrylic-sheet, perspex and other similar substances. Among the best places to trawl is, again, eBay, look for offcuts or someone promoting panels.
Other Media… Watercolour.
Fantastic quality watercolour paper could be costly. So why not consider the lightweight papers such as 90lb? I’ve read about artists spreading water on each side of their 90lb paper and just letting it stand flat–without any taping– into a very clean smooth board like formica or marble (an old kitchen work-surface would probably do). The sheet stays in place for a reasonable length of time. Other people don’t tape it, but simply place bulldog-style clips to affix it to a board, allowing the paper to stretch, cockle and then dry again without fiddly taping.
Pastels
There are options for creating a variety of surfaces that will make you less dependent on”ready-done” papers.
Gritty or grainy papers are extremely popular now for pastel work. You can create your own tiled surfaces using several materials along with a kettle of pastel-primer paint. There’s a trend to using MDF also, painted and ready with a gritty primer. Even plastics and metal will hold a proprietary pastel-primer.
Otherwise, paint the surfaces with clear acrylic gesso. This medium actually has a fantastic tooth and a few coats will probably give you all the grip you need.
If you’re keen you can buy a bag of 4fine-grade pumice stone and mix it with white gesso, to paint on your surfaces.
I’ve known people use sandpaper from the hardware store; yes it will work, but the newspaper isn’t acid-free. Pastel is however a dry medium, so if you truly want to be experimental then get yourself a sheet or two of fine-grade sandpaper. Avoid the rougher grades, the grain will eat your pastels in minutes.
Eventually… PAINT SMALLER!
The main thing is that you have the ability to find ways of maintaining your skills alive when money is a bit tight. If you can paint,… or even just DRAW… during those times, you’ll have a group of work ready to sell when the dark clouds draw out and things improve again.

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