Treat Yo’Self, My Little Mess Maker: Buy More Art Supplies
In 2013, I worked as a cashier at a craft store in Minnesota. I learned a lot of valuable lessons while working there. Like, Christmas decoration glitter will stick to you and everything you own months after the season ends. There is no limit to how many pieces of scrapbook paper someone can buy in one shopping trip, but there is a limit to how many individual pieces I am willing to scan into the register before I go insane. The most notable tidbit I came away with was that fine art supplies are marked up by about 40% just because they could get away with it. So, when you want to buy fine art supplies at a “craft” store. ALWAYS use coupons.
I ran into all kinds of creative people as a cashier. The dabblers who saw something on Pinterest and just had to give it a go. The die-hards who owned every color of Copic marker and had a dedicated craft room in their house for making greeting cards. And the traditional artists who were willing to eat the high markup on art supplies to save themselves from driving 50 miles to the nearest dedicated art store.
Every creator had a different story, but one thing they all had in common was they had to go through the mental justification required to be standing at the register with a bunch of supplies, convinced it’s okay to spend money on their creativity. You may be working your way through that justification process right now. I’m here to help! For the most part…
Should you buy new art supplies?
I don’t know your life. I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but I can share everything I think about before I click “Submit Order” on my Blick shopping cart.
First, do you have money to spend and are all of your bills paid?
No? Don’t buy new art supplies. Debt isn’t fun. Don’t let yourself be a starving and stressed artist. Pay your electric bill and fill your refrigerator before you splurge on new supplies. While you search for funds, you can use unconventional/found objects to make art! Consider it a fun challenge.
But, if the answer is yes (or if debt doesn’t scare you like it does me and you have room on a credit card…)
Cool! Now you can buy supplies!
Though, since you’re here you probably need a little more encouragement to spend money. Let’s consider a few other factors that help justify buying new supplies.
1. Do you ever let yourself have fun?
I like to think of art supplies as entertainment and self-care. How often do you go to the movies? Or out for dinner? How often do you treat yourself to clothes, fancy coffee, or new shoes? A new paintbrush set can bring you more entertainment than a movie. New paints can be enjoyed longer than a night out.
If you want new art supplies, but feel guilty then make a trade for another mode of entertainment. And if you don’t even treat yo’self enough to make the trade in the first place, then you definitely should buy those art supplies. Enjoy life!
2. Are you in a creative rut?
Sometimes we get bored with the same old supplies and our creativity begins to wane. If you are itching to buy new supplies because you’re uninspired with what you currently have, then buying a new type of paint to play with or a fun new tool might be the catalyst you need to dig out of a rut.
I say, follow your creative urges if you have the financial means to do it.
3. Is anyone else stopping you?
When I worked at the craft store, hunting opener weekend was huge. Shoppers would use the crazy amount of money their partners spent on hunting gear to justify the crazy amount of money they allowed themselves to spend on crafting supplies. It was a fair trade. Hobby for hobby.
When we share our finances with a partner or family members, our spending habits become their business. So, if you are getting pressure to spend less on supplies from an outside source, make sure to listen to their concerns and work to find a middle ground.
4. Are you selling your work?
You don’t have to monetize your hobby, but selling a piece here and there or doing weekend craft/art fairs for fun can help your hobby pay for itself. Before I was a full-time artist, I allowed myself to spend everything I made (minus taxes) on my art. If I sold a piece, that gave me permission to buy more supplies. It’s pretty easy to justify buying new supplies when you make the money back eventually.
And if you are running a full-time art business, then your art supply shopping trips just become inventory restocking (also a tax write-off, so make sure to keep those receipts!). These days, I don’t actually want to buy new supplies, but I run out of paint and canvases and can’t make more art without placing an order.
5. Are you hunting for the best deals?
I’ve always been a frugal person, so I have a hard time stomaching the high prices on some art supplies. In order to make myself feel better about spending money, I have three rules I follow:
Always use coupons: Big craft stores give out coupons all the time. Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and JoAnn Fabric almost always have something on their site. Never shop without first finding a coupon. Sign up for all the newsletters so you can get coupons emailed to you.
Only shop during sales: I never buy canvases at list price. Ever. A little bit of patience goes a long way when you can wait for the big sales at each store. Back-to-school time is my favorite at Blick, and Michaels frequently runs specials on fine art supplies and canvases.
Don’t be seduced by “Professional” supplies: “Professional” art supplies do not make you a professional artist. And cheaper art supplies do not prevent you from making high-quality art. Yes, some supplies are really crappy and you get what you pay for, but the middle-road materials can be great. Those Copic markers I mentioned before are listed at around $8 a piece, but you can find multiple brands of alcohol-based markers that are similar and much cheaper.
6. Do you actually NEED new supplies?
Okay, now for a little discouragement.
I’ve found myself staring at my supplies in the past and just felt bored. I had plenty of stuff to play with, but I wanted new things. Sometimes this is a creative rut, but sometimes it’s just laziness.
Part of the fun of being a creative person is that you can find ways to stretch your current supplies and create with what you have. If you are feeling uninspired and don’t really want to spend money, then turn to the internet. Try searching for fun ways to work with whatever supplies you have on hand. Google different art prompts. Try exploring nature and make art from unconventional materials (Like leaves or coffee!).
We don’t always need new supplies. You might just have to look at your current supplies in a new way. But, even if you don’t NEED supplies, and have the money to splurge on your wants, then by all means. Go get those supplies!
Art and Money
It’s easy to spend a lot of money really quickly while buying art supplies. It’s good to practice self-control (especially if you are a compulsive shopper or have hoarding tendencies), but I rarely regret buying art supplies. I may regret dropping $80 on dinner and drinks when I could have made something cheaper and healthier at home, but my new watercolor brush brings me joy every time I load it up with watercolor.
So, I say spoil yourself and buy some new supplies. Put your energy and resources into the areas of your life that bring you joy. But, if you are financially not able to splurge, that doesn’t mean you can’t create.
I want to give a big thanks to @janettelevota for suggesting this blog topic! If you ever have ideas for a new post, please send them my way!
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.