Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Why I Can’t Afford Cheap Art Materials

Studio Supplies

Studio table

I’ve always been preoccupied with the materials I use in my paintings and prints.  It’s been such an obsession I’m writing a book about my travels to discover different papers for artwork.

This week I stopped by an art store to replace some painting supplies I’d left in Bangkok.  Past the oils and watercolors I found their acrylic paints. Most were Australian brands I didn’t recognize, followed by a rack of your international standard Windsor & Newton; while they’re a high quality brand, I’m always on the lookout for something more interesting.

“What are your best artists’ grade acrylics and gesso?” I asked the clerk, a hipster in his late 20s with floppy hair and a ready smile.

He motioned to the Windsor & Newton and Australian brands and said, “These are all about the same quality. As for the gesso, well, gesso’s gesso. It’s all the same.”

Er, no it’s not. Student-grade or discount gesso has cheap fillers and an uneven texture I wouldn’t let near the custom-made paper I use for my paintings.

When you’re a student, it’s fine to use student-grade or discounted art supplies. But if you’re selling your work, you can’t afford to buy cheap art supplies.  The artist Kesha Bruce recently discovered her early acrylic paintings have been cracking on collectors’ walls due to the poor quality materials she’d once used.

A professional artist needs to know chemistry as well as the many other skills you don’t learn in art school, like writing press releases. Who knew?

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3 Responses to Why I Can’t Afford Cheap Art Materials

  1. Edward G. Nilges says:

    That was certainly my experience. I found a roll of the best linen and stretched an 8′ by 8′ canvas in Mom’s basement back in the day. The irregularity of the linen created a deep space and my little brother said, cool, it looks like you can walk inside the painting.

    However, Mom was kinda stuck with a white elephant.

    At the Art Institute, I overheard my fellow students saying to our teacher “why is that guy so good”? His reply: “he has the money to buy Winsor and Newton sable brushes”.

    Do they have art supply “superstores” in Oz?

  2. Lesley says:

    Good advice. I always wonder about art made from recycled materials or painted on something odd – will it hold up over time?

  3. Elizabeth says:

    @Ed I’ve not found art supply superstores, more the mom-and-pop variety. Re. sable/squirrel/badger brushes, I’ve used them all, and yeah there’s nothing like stroking on oil or watercolor with a soft firm brush that does exactly what you want. But I’m so hard on my brushes I buy basic ones.

    @Lesley Lots of art is made to be ephemeral, but if you’re selling it that’s another matter entirely.