Quality Over Quantity: Why Cheap Art Supplies Aren’t Worth It

When it comes to art supplies, it can be tempting to choose the cheapest option available. After all, art materials can be expensive, and it’s easy to assume that lower-cost supplies will work just as well as their pricier counterparts. However, as any experienced artist will tell you, investing in high-quality materials is essential for creating truly exceptional art.

Using cheap art supplies has a number of downsides. For one, they may not perform as well as higher-quality materials. Cheaper paints, for example, will contain less pigment, resulting in a less vibrant and less durable finished product. Cheap brushes may shed bristles or leave streaks, making it difficult to achieve the desired effect.

Also, using low-quality materials can actually end up costing more in the long run, as you’ll need to constantly replace materials that wear out or break. Cheap colored pencils are a prime example – you’ll have heard many people complain that the lead breaks all the time, and repeated sharpening them means you need to replace them much more frequently.

Why Quality Matters

Mastering values is a valuable foundation for any artist, but using low quality/cheap supplies can slow down the learning process and lead to frustration, as they don’t perform well and aren’t lightfast, fading over time like a cheap knockoff.

When working with low quality/cheap art supplies, it is also often difficult to create the desired effects and achieve the level of skill you aspire to – you’ll be fighting the limitations of the supplies, not just using them to achieve the results you want. A poor quality canvas, for example, may not be properly stretched, or may not have been properly primed, both of which means you’ll be struggling to create a beautiful painting on that surface. An artist’s journey is already challenging enough, and using poor quality supplies may add unnecessary obstacles that can be discouraging.

In addition, as you progress as an artist, you become more aware of the importance of lightfastness in your artwork. Low quality/cheap supplies often do not have the same level of lightfastness as high quality ones, causing colors to fade over time. This can be particularly frustrating when you have spent hours or even weeks creating a piece only to have it lose its vibrancy over time. Whether you’re creating art to sell, or to hang on your own walls, the last thing you want is to realize within a year or two that the work is no longer as vibrant as the day you painted it.

Downsides to Cheap Supplies

Using low-quality or inexpensive art materials can hinder a beginner’s ability to learn proper blending and layering techniques. These supplies often do not perform well, making it difficult for the student to achieve the desired effects in their artwork.

For example, low-quality paints may not blend smoothly, or the colors may appear dull and faded over time due to their lack of lightfastness. This can lead to frustration and discouragement, ultimately leading the beginner artist to give up on their artistic pursuits.

Moreover, cheap art supplies often lack the durability and longevity of higher-quality materials. Paint brushes with synthetic bristles may not hold up as well as those with natural hair, which can result in shedding and poor performance. Additionally, low-quality paper may not withstand frequent erasing or heavy application of media, limiting your ability to experiment and refine your skills.

Investing in high quality art supplies may initially seem like a more expensive option, but in the long run, it is actually more cost-effective and beneficial for your growth and success as an artist. Buying the best quality art supplies you can afford is a worthwhile investment yourself, because that way, you’ll be able to learn and grow without the challenges of inferior materials.

Tips for Affordable Options

One approach to finding affordable options for art materials is to consider generic or store-brand paint brushes, which may offer a reasonable balance between quality and price for beginners. While it is important to invest in high-quality art supplies for optimal performance and longevity, certain supplies may not require the same level of investment.

For example, paint brushes can be relatively inexpensive and still offer decent performance for beginners who are still learning basic techniques. However, it is important to note that even with paint brushes, there will be noticeable differences in quality between brands or types. It is important to do your research and read reviews to find the best options within a budget. Also, keep in mind that you’ll want to get the type of brush recommended for your medium – brushes intended for acrylics won’t hold enough water to achieve the best results with watercolors, for example.

Another option for affordable art materials is to focus on a limited color palette and invest in high-quality paints. This approach allows you as a beginner to still work with quality materials while also keeping costs down. By mastering blending techniques with a limited range of colors, you will also build a strong foundation for future work with a wider range of colors.

You could literally start with just black and white paint, and learn how to bring an image to life by focusing on contrast, on the play of light and shadows, and then, when you’re ready to venture into color, you’ll already have a strong sense of how contrast will affect the final result.

Similarly, if you’re planning to work in colored pencils, you can start with charcoal or graphite and learn to create realistic images in just monochrome before you step into the world of colored pencils.

Or, just buy a set of the primary colors plus one or two accent colors and learn how to blend to get a full range of colors without the full set – remember that even with a 72 pencil set, you will still need to blend and layer colors to get the results you’re looking for.

Always try to choose paints that are lightfast and of high quality, as low-quality paints may not perform well and will probably fade quicker than their high quality cousins. Overall, finding affordable art supplies will require you to balance between quality and cost, and it is important to prioritize the essentials while still investing in high-quality materials for optimal performance and longevity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some specific brands of affordable art supplies that are still high quality?

In general, high quality brands aren’t going to be cheap. As described above, your best bet is to start with a limited palette of high quality art supplies and learn how to use that set of colors with high quality paper or canvas before branching into a bigger set of colors. Good brands such as Winsor & Newton, Caran d’Ache and Faber Castell do offer student grade supplies, but you’ll find that even here, the professional grade supplies are so much better that you’re better off starting to build a set a few colors at a time.

For absolute beginners, you can start with a mid-range sketchbook like the Canson multimedia sketchbooks or look for sales on high quality canvases.

Pro tip: avoid store brand art supplies, as they are typically low quality.

Are there any situations where using cheap art supplies is acceptable?

There are situations where using cheap art supplies may be acceptable, such as for practicing or experimenting with new techniques. However, using low-quality supplies may hinder the learning process and result in frustration. It is important to prioritize quality over quantity for better results.

One situation where you’d absolutely want cheap art supplies is for children. You don’t want to hand a toddler or young child supplies that they will ruin by throwing them on the ground or leaving tubes of paint uncapped. Young children, typically before they hit their teens, also tend to not have the patience or the understanding of how to layer and blend and why those techniques are important – they’re literally just playing, so handing them expensive tools is a waste of time and money.

How can I tell if a certain brand of art supplies is lightfast?

Lightfastness ratings should be found on most art supply packaging. These ratings indicate the resistance of a pigment to fading when exposed to light, with higher ratings indicating better lightfastness. Look for the ASTM or Blue Wool lightfastness ratings – if the lightfastness is not indicated, or you see language such as “tested to the highest lightfast quality” without official ratings, you can be sure the supplies have not been tested for lightfastness.

Lightfast testing is expensive, and many brands don’t do that testing. This is usually reflected in the price. Thus, another rule of thumb is that if a range of art supplies is cheap, it’s very likely not been tested. After all, if a company has spent thousands of dollars testing for lightfastness, they’re going to be bragging about those ratings on all their supplies, and will charge correspondingly higher prices.

Can low quality art supplies be harmful to my health?

Low quality art supplies may contain harmful chemicals that can be hazardous to one’s health. These materials may emit toxic fumes or cause skin irritation. It is important to research and choose high quality, non-toxic art supplies to ensure safety while creating art.

Are there any tips for finding deals or discounts on high quality art supplies?

Finding deals on high-quality art supplies can be compared to searching for treasure. Look for sales, discounts, and clearance items. For example, my local specialty art supplies store has a yearly clearance where they sell off discontinued items, overstock, etc. – this is where I stock up! I find high quality brands of paint, expensive canvases, quality colored pencils, sketchbooks, pads of watercolor paper, and more.

You may also want to join loyalty programs and follow the social media accounts of art supply stores – also, sign up for their email newsletters, where they may offer flash sales and subscriber-only discounts. Whatever you do, though, don’t compromise on quality for a cheaper price.

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