Monday, August 1, 2011

How to get art supplies on a budget

The thing that bothers me the most about the art world is how disgustingly expensive all the art supplies are. There is a reason that artists are starving, and its because mainstream craft suppliers are ripping them off. Unfortunately some artists aren't aware that there are plenty of cheap or even free alternatives to those pricy name brand products that we all kind of despise buying. Let me help you save a few bucks with a couple of these easy suggestions. I use all of these items in my projects regularly and I hardly ever have to go out and spend money on materials anymore.

Acrylics v.s Fabric Paint / Screen printing ink
 Acrylic paint used on a fish stencil
Have you ever wanted to stencil or draw a design onto a t-shirt? You goto the store and ask the clerk for help and the steer you right towards the "fabric paint." To your dismay, it is outrageously priced and you only need it for a few projects anyways. You might wonder, why cant I just use regular paint? What's the difference? There really isn't one. Anyone who has ruined their favorite shirt on "acrylic paint day" in art class can attest that acrylic paint does NOT come out of fabric. This one's pretty much a no brainer- unless you're a fine artist and you're getting paid to use professional grade products, you can skip the fancy "fabric paint" that they try to sell you at the store. A decent acrylic paint will get you through almost any art project involving paint. It's a jack of all trades. The trick for using acrylics on fabrics is that you must heat press the paint after it has dried. This is a basic rule for any painting medium used on fabric, even the professional printing inks.

Gesso, Mod Podge, and Gloss Medium
You will be addicted to these items once you start using them, and they last for ages. They're essential to preparing your materials and creating a studier surface. They can be found at most local craft stores for under $10 a piece. Mod Podge is so common you can even buy it from Wal-Mart now.
Gesso shows up on anything, including brown felt skulls.
According to Wikipedia, Gesso "is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment or any combination of these." It is a permanent primer you can use to prepare any surface for artistic use. You can use gesso on pretty much any item you can think of. I've seen the strangest things gesso'd in order to make them workable. For example, one of my college professors assigned us a project where we had to paint an imagine onto a  three dimensional object. The class gesso'd a huge variety of items including of shoes, flower vases, boxes, milk cartons, and even an old TV! Gesso is essential if you're painting as well. You can save a considerable amount of paint by coating your canvas with gesso first. Paints can be built up with less layers this way, saving time and money.

Mod Podge, also known as matte medium, will make you swear off Elmer's glue forever. It is a sealant and a glue, and can even be used as a primer in some projects. The substance appears milky white when it's wet but dries completely clear. It comes in a few different styles, like Gloss, Matte and even "Sparkle Glitter." Slathering a layer of mod podge over your next collage or craft will seal it together and assure that no edges are coming up. It can be used to protect painted surfaces from being scratched or damaged. Did I mention it's an amazing glue yet? For example, the textured surface of the picture on the right was achieved by mod podging pieces of scrapped burlap onto a plank of wood. The burlap became hard, sturdy and workable.

Another example on the left will show a regular piece of paper that has been coated with mod podge. The bananas have been painted with oil paints, and there is no signs of warped paper in sight. Mod podging a project can leave it with the extra "finishing touch" that is easy to achieve and impressive to look at. While researching for this post I found a wonderful blog dedicated to the many uses of Mod Podge. Check them out, they have a great list of fun craft ideas and it really illustrates how versatile this product is.

Gloss Medium and cheap acrylic paint
Good acrylic paints are expensive. Name brands can run up to eight dollars a tube. The cheap kind is half the price, but it tends to be chalky, brittle and lack luster. But don't toss your crappy Apple Barrel acrylics just yet. Instead, invest in a bottle of gloss medium for your acrylic paint. Just a little squirt of the stuff mixed in with your paint will make a world of difference. Not only will it make your cheap paints look glossy, it subtly changes it's overall consistency and texture and just looks more aesthetically pleasing.

Store bought canvas VS cardboard and wood
I never buy any of those cheesy canvas from the store. Do you know why? Essentially, the store brand "hard back" canvas is just a piece of grainy fabric stretched over a piece of cheap cardboard. You can do that at home for free. All you need to do is find some scrap wood or cardboard. It's a lot easier than you think. Get into a scavenger state of mind. Scrapped cuts of wood can be found anywhere, even in your own back yard. Neighbors, friends, maybe your dad can have some old pieces of wood they aren't using that they'd donate if you just asked. If all else fails you can find wood behind dumpsters (sometimes not even inside the dumpster!) or near construction sites. If you collect it when you see it, you'll have tons of great cuts to choose from in no time.
They're perfect bases for canvas because they're sturdy and can accept an array of different medias and techniques. Try gessoing the wood's surface, or mod podging white sheet/muslin fabric onto it. You can even use the texture and natural look of the wood to your advantage, like I how did in my "hipster skeleton" piece pictured left.
I also have found collecting cardboard to be very useful for my work. Cardboard is great for when you're working on a piece that doesn't need to be as "heavy duty" (something you'd use wood for.) Depending on the quality of cardboard you can find, it's great for mounting pieces or decently sturdy surfaces for to work on. It's great for bookmaking and countless school projects. Once again like with the wood, ask your friends and family first for scraps or anything they might have lying around. You can also check with retail and grocery stores to see if they had any extra boxes. Liquor stores, for example will gladly give you an endless supply of boxes as they get all their products this way and find them a pain to dispose of. (This is a great tip if you're moving any time soon, by the way. FREE boxes.)

Fabric- apparently useless to everyone else in the world
When people who know me find out I'm doing fiber art now, it surprises me how quickly they say "Would you like my big bin of fabric scraps?" In my opinion, fabric is one of the most underrated art supplies around. People don't realize it's versatility, and they forget how expensive it can get! That spells good news for us scavenging artists. It can be stretched over a canvas frame, drawn on, painted on, sewn up or cut to pieces. Fabric is great with mod podge and gesso. For my AP Art concentration, I utilized fabric in many different ways. Each one of these those pieces (one pictured right) was gessoed on the back in order to make it accept paint and pencil easier. It made the fabric almost like a high quality canvas paper. This particular piece was made completely out of "trashed" and recycled fabric scraps. It's scratched in with an india ink pen and black acrylic paint, and was mod podged onto a piece of scrap wood.

Ok, that's all for now you guys. There's ton more to say about this subject but I will leave that for another blog post. In the mean time, do you have any "essential" art supplies that I forgot to mention here? Where do you go to find free and cheap supplies? Stay tuned for more suggestions and tips!


Zoe said...

I like your tip about the acrylic paints on fabric, will definitely try that sometime! I love textile art too-although sometimes the effort involved puts me off (although once I've got going/finished I have no regrets). Keep up the good work.

P.s. I do a little bit of that kinda stuff on here/ intend to:

Swervdriven said...

Hey, These are good tips, but one thing you might want to add is the general longevity of cardboard. This stuff will start falling apart in a MUCH shorter time frame than other substrates. It's great for texture in pieces that will be going digital or will be prints eventually since the physical artwork isn't the final product you will be selling.

Just thought I'd throw that out there, I've lost sales in the past due to the customer not wanting to pay for something that wouldn't last as part of their collection. It's a hard lesson to learn. =]


trina lyn said...

Thanks for the input Swerv! You're absolutely right- some of the materials here aren't nessecarily better their store brand counterparts. However, it really depends on the piece you're working on and who you're selling to. For example, fine artists who are selling their works for hundreds to thousands of dollars should go ahead and invest the money in professional materials. An average artist would probably be able to get away with using cheaper material (like cardboard) because they're selling to an average buyer as well. The change in longevity of the cheaper materials doesn't really make much of a difference to a typical art buyer. We're talking about a difference of the thing lasting 50 years instead of 100.

Uma Borkar said...

This is a great blog. I want to paint on a cardboard to make a wall art. Can I use mod podge before I paint on the cardboard?

Many thanks!

trina lyn said...

Hi Uma thanks for reading! You can definitely use mod podge on the cardboard before you begin to paint. However, keep in mind that your cardboard may warp a little once it starts getting moisture on it from the paint and mod podge. Here are two solutions to that- First, you can tape the cardboard down on a flat surface with painter's tape before you begin. This will prevent it from buckling as much. Or, you can just ignore the warping until the end, and simply glue it down flat to a sturdier base (i.e more cardboard or a piece of wood) Hope this helps- Good luck!