Ten Reasons Why You Should Not Buy Cheap Art Supplies

If you’re an artist, odds are you find yourself in the debate of cost verses quality with your art supplies almost every time you shop. After a couple of years in art school, going through mountains of supplies and watching others do the same, I’ve come to the decision that there is no excuse for buying cheap art supplies. Several brands that I’ve classified as “cheap” are Reeves, “Basics” by Liquitex, Artisan, Academy, and most student, crafts, or kids’ grade supplies. As a painter, many of these tips and reasons are geared toward painters using primarily acrylic, but many apply to any media. Other supplies considered are dry and oil pastel, collage glues, inks, dyes, tints, art pencils, art paper, charcoal, and canvasses.

1. Lower pigmentation
Most art supplies that have color use pigments. In almost every case, the pigment is suspended in the “stuff” of the particular supply but different brands, colors, media and styles have different concentrations of pigment. In cheaper art supplies, there is typically lower pigmentation because pigments are expensive stuff. The primary example of this is cheap verses better paint. Cheap paint if often not opaque, letting the canvas or under painting show through the next layer of paint. While mixing paint, weak pigmentation leads to muddy colors. Another good example of this is student colored pencils and Prismacolor or other artist’s pencils. Use a Prismacolor once, and you will notice an immediate difference with the heavy pigment covering the page, allowing clean color mixing and more impact with drawings. Student grade colored pencils don’t even come close!

2. Won’t give desired outcome
Often, an artist is looking for a certain characteristic attributed primarily to a certain media when choosing that media to work with. When you choose a low quality version of that media, the characteristics can completely change. For example, dry pastels and colored chalk. To the uneducated eye, dry pastels and colored chalk look more or less the same-both are a stick of powdery color, and can both come in many, many shades. The difference comes when you are using them. Quality dry pastels can give strong color highlights, and great mixing capabilities. Colored chalk rarely gives strong color and only mixes to mud color. Dry pastels will usually stay on the page better than chalk, though both will need a spray sealant. With paint, the difference is even more dramatic-drippy, thin paint will never give the impasto look of quality heavy body paints.

3. Quality version of media handles differently
This reason is one directly out of my own experience. Until a couple years ago, I hated using oil pastels. I couldn’t see the point in this medium; they just seemed like flakey crayons, never giving a nice result. After using quality oil pastels, my opinion completely flipped. I love oil pastels, and especially the related oil paint sticks. You may find this true with any medium. In my 7 painting classes, I witnessed many beginning painters who came into the class skeptical, never having had good results with painting, but after being put on the right track with tools and materials came to love it.

4. Toxic
Though children’s art materials must be non-toxic, many of their adult counterparts are not. Lower quality materials may be more toxic than their better equivalents. Some pigments can be toxic, and are more inexpensive and therefore more likely to be in cheaper materials. With oil painting, always use the highest quality materials possible. Turpentine, the cheapest way to thin and clean up oil paint is also the most toxic. Turpenoid Natural is a much safer alternative. Always be sure to use plenty of ventilation either way!

5. Lightfastness
Inexpensive materials are often less lightfast than higher quality alternatives. An area to be particularly careful with this effect is with colored paper. Children’s construction paper can become discolored within a matter of months while artist’s colored paper is far more lightfast. Low quality paint also has a high likelihood of fading quickly; artist’s paint also has a lightfastness index for each color within a brand. Be sure to consult this so that your masterpiece doesn’t fade in a year! Inks and dyes are another area to beware of lightfastness. If you a fiber artist always buy the best dyes you can afford so that colors remain brilliant!

6. Durability
It’s plain and simple. Cheap materials just won’t endure as well as their quality counterparts. Cheap canvasses warp, cheap paper falls apart, and cheap paint fades. Don’t let your artwork fall by the way side when an extra $5 for a better quality canvas would have fixed it. This is important rather you hoard your art yourself or sell it-you don’t want it to fall apart either way!

7. Tools
If there is one area in which quality is more important than any other, it is with tools. Quality paint brushes can make the difference between a good painting taking 20 hours to complete, or a great painting in 10 hours. If stray hairs and fanned out tips are taking the joy out of your work, it will show. Fibers, jewelry making, and ceramics are three other areas in which good tools are an absolute necessity for great work. And when you consider that cheap tools have to be replaced more often, you may spend less over the years on good tools than cheap ones anyway!

8. Use more of cheap stuff
Watching fellow students over the last two years has definitely proved one point to me-when using cheaper supplies: you’ll use more of it to get the same effect. Using 3 layers of paint to finally get it opaque uses more paint than one layer of quality paint. This translates into the cheap stuff actually costing more over a short period of time. It also takes much longer to keep redoing something that would have been completed successfully the first time with better supplies.

9. Different things possible with better materials
There is also a whole range of effects that are possible only with good quality materials. Impasto, used by the Old Masters as well as contemporary artists, is only possible using good quality heavy body paints. Many dying techniques used by fibers artists are only possible with high quality resists and dyes. Rubber bands and RIT âÂ?¢ doesn’t even come close. Higher pigmentation in colored media leads to dramatically different results than are possible with lower pigmentation. Even between media this is the case, just look at a watercolor and an oil painting.

10. Decent Quality is not that expensive
Many times, the difference between brands of paint is no more than $1-$3 per tube. This leads to about a total difference of $5 to $15 for a set of primaries plus black and white. With the monetary difference so small, is it worth sacrificing pigmentation, lightfastness, durability, your health, AND quality of work? In almost all cases, the answer is no. And, especially with consumable supplies, more of the cheap stuff is often used so over time the cost can become higher than with good quality.

For me, the transition to higher quality materials came at the point when I gave myself permission to grow as an artist. With quality materials, the artist can spend more time creating and less time battling it out with uncooperative media. We can all agree that this will lead to better work being created. And when you are using good materials and creating better art, who knows-maybe your art will start selling!

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