How to buy art supplies.

It’s tempting to think that if we want to make art, we should, of course, begin by shopping. Full of zest, vim and vigor, we resolve to really get in the creative mode and, tail wagging, we prance off to the art supply store.

We browse through walls of pens, shelves of sketchbooks, and bins of brushes. We consider locked racks of spray paint, spools of armature wire, lino knives and airbrush frisket. We stare blankly at tubes of yellow watercolor that arbitrarily cost a buck or a Benjamin. And finally we stagger home, our credit cards limp with exhaustion, clutching bags of random gear, unsure of what to do with most of it.

Our desire to create — depleted. Our sense of wonder — withered. Our vision of ourselves happily drawing and painting away in a sunlit studio — obscured by the heaps of the art supplies we bought last time we were seized with this fever, many of them identical to the ones in the bags we just dumped in the vestibule.

Unfortunately, the art supply store doesn’t supply what we actually need. The art supply store doesn’t sell sweat. It doesn’t stock alarm clocks to get you up an hour earlier. It doesn’t sell blinders and ear plugs to keep you focused. It doesn’t sell hard knocks. Experience. Crying towels. Or erasers to erase your fear of failure. The art supply store doesn’t even come with instructions.

If you want to draw, pick up that ball-point pen in the kitchen drawer, flip open that sketchbook you bought years ago that is ‘too good to use’, pull up a chair and draw whatever’s in front of you. Keep doing that every day until the very last page of that good sketchbook is full.


After doing this a whole bunch of times, you have permission to go to the art store. Buy a single Tombow marker, N95 Cool Gray 1 or N89 Warm Gray 1. It doesn’t matter which one. Should set you back less than $3. Practice with that brush marker and study how to add tone to your pen drawings. When the marker is used up, add a couple other grays. When they are used up, replenish, and add a sepia marker. A month later, reward yourself with a light blue marker, then a yellow, then a red.

When you’ve filled ten sketchbooks like this, buy a Winsor Newton artist grade watercolor field set. Spend $100 on this set. Buy one watercolor brush. Spend $20 on that brush. Sign up for Watercolor Rules and How to Break Them at Sketchbook Skool. Begin to fill as many moderately-priced watercolor sketchbooks as you can.

After that, you’re on your own. Buy whatever you want. You’ve earned it.


27 thoughts on “How to buy art supplies.”

  1. Lovely blog but it’s just too late for me. But there is a art shop in BC that it might almost qualify for the one your searching for. Look up Opus art supplies,they are a lovely group of committed people.


    1. Sure. NOW you tell me!! Should have seen this years ago, but I think i’m Ready now for the good advice and wisdom. Thanks, man!!


  2. Interesting Danny but I would not trade that sound, solitary practice for the amazing experience that SketchBookSkool has provided. Appreciate your attempt, not sure if you really mean it judging by your example(which I simply admire and have learned a lot from). Does my comment indicate confusion, and uncertainty? Of course, the antidote is take Beginnings and work your way through all of the SBS kourses, do the work, post, share, read and follow Danny and Koosje and then one day….. You’ll read a post that says buy one pencil or take a tree branch and make marks. Thank you for all of it Danny.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice, Danny! Perfect for the newbie and those looking for a fresh start. Sadly, the initial thrill of buying doesn’t last nearly as long as the guilt from unused sketchbooks and dried up brush pens. After searching through too many zippered bags and pouches for the ONE pen I always like to use, you’d think a girl would take a hint. So much of life is about pruning, isn’t it? Thanks for your wit and wisdom, and always, thanks for sharing!


  4. Yes, more supplies doesn’t make art easier …but when you want a portable w/c paint kit look at the Portable Painter, available from the artist developer or Blick. It comes with empty pans so you can make up your own palette and it’s around $30.00. I have an old messenger bag that has paper, pen & my portable painter to grab for walks and hikes.
    Oh and if you have life drawing sessions near you please go and support them and the models …it’s a shame to lose the sessions because of low attendance. And while not a class with instruction I’ve learnt a lot and gotten great encouragement.


  5. Aaaah well, best meant advice. However, after having painted and collaged for years and attended a zillion classes – watercolor rules among them – I still cannot resist binge buying at an art supply store. At least I write up what I have in order not to buy another quinacridone gold or some such. And yes, a limp credit card is exactly what happens every time *Lol*.


    1. Same problem with all those how-to-watercolor books I collected for years! Then I discovered info on pigments and learned to substitute brands and mix my own secondaries. Now, I’m using up old tubes and buy only what I can’t mix.


  6. I’m such an art supply junkie, but— I actually *do* use them. Used art supplies are loved art supplies. Getting new art stuff is so exciting, and I get just as happy about other peoples’ new stuff as I do my own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great Post, full of your inimitable wit and wisdom Danny! Can I make one suggestion – a plea, really – suggest a refillable waterbrush instead of a Tombow brushpen? I’m waging what feels like a one-person crusade against single-use plastics in the art materials world. I’m sure I’m not alone – I know I’m not – but it just seems so important to me to get people away from from buying plastic pens that are just going to be thrown away when they run out. Sketchbook Skool could do so much to help spread the idea! Please?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No I don’t think I can. A water brush isn’t really a substitute for a single tone marker. That being said, I think my spartan program will drastically cut back on the environmental impact of loads of dried up art supplies hitting the land fill. I may single handedly save the planet. Yes!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You can in fact put diluted ink into a waterbrush – that’s what I meant. I do appreciate it isn’t a substitute for a brushpen. But thanks hugely, for thinking about the planet and driving your spartan programme! The more plastic we stop getting into landfill and unfortunately, inadvertently into the ocean – the better. Brilliant!


      2. Great post!
        I’m thinking of hiding all the art supplies I bought thinking THIS was the thing I needed, and use them as my rewards following your judicious plan. I’m equipped to become my own art supply store!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember the day you wrote in this blog about that HUGE sketchbook. You were intimidated by the sheer size and volume of it. I bought one too. Did you ever finish drawing in yours? Yeah, me neither, but I still draw in it. It’s my huge practice book.

    I love art supplies. I usually wait for Dick Blick coupons, sales, or I go to Michael’s or my local art supply store, (Arizona Art Supply Store). Someone is always having a huge sale. My sister just gave me 2 huge boxes of color pencils that she found in her cupboard. I think tag sales and flea markets are a cool place to find art supplies on occasion.


  9. Art supply stores to me are what candy stores are to kids.
    Art stores are my weakness…my place to wonder about aimlessly and day dream of all the art I want to make. The smell of paper…the feel of brushes…the splendor of all the colors. The art books with glorious pictures, incentives, ideas and projects. Pens , markers, erasers, pencils and more become overwhelming . And finally as your eyes glaze over and your hands start to quiver……you find that one thing you never knew you needed….and leave the store with package in hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I started a studio life-drawing class yesterday. I added Sumi ink and a ratty brush to the charcoals and graphites left from my last life class (20 years ago), just in case. Everyone else had paints, easels, canvases, and watercolor blocks. I used my ink and water-soluble graphite on plain drawing paper and felt it was a successful evening. You’re right, Danny—it’s more about the doing than having the same materials as everyone else.


  11. As always, Danny, you say just what I need to hear, just when I need it most! This one I’m printing to post on my breakfast table!


  12. Well said Danny! The best ‘art supplies’ are experience and personal expression…For those two things to manifest as an aesthetic form, you can use materials found anywhere in the world. For my own artistic practice, the sourcing of materials (I use found natural and synthetic objects to create eco-art) is a HUGE part of the artistic process. I wish that more teachers would think this way before giving their students expensive and (largely) unnecessary supply lists each term…


  13. This is so true! I, like most of my sketchbook friends, love art stores and are always looking for THE pen, THE paper, THE type of sketchbook, etc. that will make our pages looking wonderful. In fact, just yesterday I was with a bunch of sketching friends and we were talking about the perfect fountain pen. Art stores are like bookstores to me – always something wonderful just around the corner. However, in my heart I do realize that the thing that will really help my pages to develop is already with me and doesn’t cost a penny – just sitting down each day and putting pen or brush to paper. Sometimes that is also the hardest thing to do…


  14. I’m a newbie and having the same problem with drawing and watercolor art books. I seem to be compulsively buying them (most recently Dare to Sketch and Keys to Drawing) hoping that my skill will suddenly blossom just by reading them. If the books have suggested drawing exercises I can only seem to accomplish one or two before I’m distracted by the next great book that I think will change my life. I think I need to set some sort of rule for myself that I can only buy a new art book when I have filled a certain number of sketchbooks! I am halfway through filling up my Art Before Breakfast workbook, which I bought last October, and I’m determined to finish it this month, dammit.


  15. My Sennelier wooden box watercolor set came with a lovely brush, masking fluid, and of all things…a towel! I THOUGHT it was for wiping the brush. Its true purpose is now revealed…CRYING!

    It all makes so much more sense now, 😉


  16. This is a keeper, just like the post you did on Art Supply Porn, where you pillaged and plundered after an imaginary inheritance. Kept that one too!


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