Creating on a Budget and the Starving Artist Myth

I’m not going to lie – art supplies are expensive.

At a professional art store like Blick , a 37 ml tube of Gamblin oil paint in a “basic” color (Raw Sienna, Mars Black, Zinc White… I wish I could say red, blue or yellow) is roughly eight bucks. A 37 ml tube of anything Cadmium (red, blue, yellow…) is gonna start at around $15 and go up from there based on the pigment. And if you’re going into Hobby Lobby or Michael’s you’re over paying for just about everything unless there’s a sale (not that I don’t still go to these places sometimes – love me some Hobby Lobby).

You’ve gotta get brushes, paint thinner (if you’re using oil based anything), palettes, easels, tarp for the floor, canvas, paper (we’re talking $10 for a single sheet of heavy weight paper with dimensions around 24 x 36 inches); and, if you like to experiment like me… now you’re buying acrylics, latex, spray paint, glue, glitter, weird little objects at the thrift store, any and all drawing mediums, more substrates, more paper, magazines… the list goes on.


But it doesn’t have to be!

Today I’m sharing with you a few of my own tips and tricks for keeping the cost of supplies down, so that we can make more. Here we go!

  1. Latex. If you’re not familiar with it by the name ‘latex’, it’s house paint; just wall paint. I usually go with interior; I mix it up and get both satin and matte finish, and I buy the samples, lots of samples. You can get a sample of any color at your local Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menard’s etc. for around $2; less if there is a sale in the middle of the summer. Latex is similar to acrylic, but dries slightly faster, and is a little bit thicker and heavier, however, easily thinned. I wouldn’t necessarily paint a portrait with latex, but for abstract art and other DIY projects – it’s excellent and it’s cheap!
  2. Thrift Store Art. Seriously. Go to the thrift and feast your eyes on the home goods section. You will likely find some crazy ass printed “paintings”, but upon further inspection those kitschy works of art are usually on some nice thick canvas that you can gesso right on over, and turn into your next work of art. In addition, you can usually find cool frames, or neat vases and furniture for re-purposing. And while you’re there, feel free to grab a .99 cent black turtle neck to top off your artist persona 😉
  3. Take Care of Your Brushes. I cannot stress this enough. I have a ton of brushes. I have really cheap brushes, very nice brushes, little brushes, small brushes, huge brushes… and I take care of them all. Buy them once, take care of them, and they will last you forever. Simple as that!
  4. Coupons. Cheesy, I know. Remember when I said Michael’s and Hobby Lobby are over priced? True. But sometimes, they have sales – Hobby Lobby in particular runs a sale where everything in their art section is 40% off. And if you sign up for their mailing list, or if you have a Michael’s card, you can get coupons for even more savings. Now, that big $12 tube of acrylic that I like to buy is only $7 – score!
  5. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. There are a variety of paintings that I did in college that weren’t that great – I was just learning! There was a painting of a still life that included a bright orange box, a stuffed alligator, a blue bowl and an extension cord. When I needed some canvases to start getting back into the studio last year – those things were the first to go. I hung onto some of the work, sure, but anything that I felt good parting with, got a thick layer of gesso so that I could use it again. Freeee!
  6. Alternative Substrates. Not every work of art needs to exist on canvas or nice paper. I’ve painted on cardboard, crappy paper, Masonite, newspaper, scraps of wood, glass, the wall… we could go so far as to discuss performance art, conceptual art, sculpture, and other avenues of art making and creating that don’t have to involve a substrate at all. But if you want surface – you can find it anywhere. The thrift store, junk yards, yard sales, and stores like the Home Depot are my favorite places for this. This also invites you to think about why you’re using a particular material, and what turning it into art means for the larger conversation, which invites you to flex your creativity muscles in all of the best ways.
  7. Palette. Your palette can be anything from paper plates to plastic sheets, to the table in your studio. I am currently using two panes of glass from broken frames – one for dark colors, one for light. I’ll also point out, that your palette will also last you longer (like your brushes) if you take care of it by scrapping off unused paint (saving that if you can), and generally keeping it from building up as best you can. The chunkier things get, the harder it is to mix new paint with a palette knife.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to spend a little money to make your work, but you don’t have to break the bank to do it. Many artists throughout history have worked with nothing but pencils and paper, if that’s all they had. Often times, some artists have even turned to making their own oil paints , which can be a great alternative to purchasing paint if you know what you’re doing.

What’s more important though, that I want to stress, is that you just CREATE. When you’re limited on supplies and/or funds, it requires you to get even more creative.

Focus on what you have to say, what you can give back to the world, sharing your light and your truth, and you will succeed.

come alive quote

But wait – leading the life of an artist is going to leave me starving in the streets, right?

Wrong. Leading a life as an artist is going to be hard work, I won’t lie to you. You’re going to doubt yourself, question your work, skip a meal when you find flow working on a piece; sometimes you’re going to cry, you’re going to want to give up, you’re going to question why you’re doing this, but if it makes you come alive, you must.

When I was in my final year of art school, a guest speaker came in to talk to us about the “starving artist” myth, and the reality of living and working as an artist. His biggest piece of advice to us?

Find a job that will support you financial, that you don’t hate, that aligns in some way with your values, and do you work when you can. You have to work extra hard – it’s like having two jobs, and sometimes it’s going to wear you down. It certainly wears me down.

Some days when I come home I don’t want to get into my studio and “make a mess”, as I will say when that’s where my mindset goes, but I will do it anyway. I try to keep doing and making as often as I can; in the mood or not, inspired or not.

For me, it’s because I need it. I need to make art to feel fulfilled; to release; to recover; to move forward; to be.

And for a lot of people, doing this long enough usually leads to being able to make art as a primary form of income. Eventually, you CAN make a living doing this.

I am not there yet. But I firmly believe that I will be. That this is only the beginning. And that’s what drives me.


You can get… DISCOVERED. Sometimes this happens. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

That’s all for now.

Love & Light, Always



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