Why Are Art Supplies So Expensive?
Isn’t it Odd…
Isn’t it odd that art supplies are so expensive when a good majority of the world’s artists are struggling to make ends meet? Granted, art supplies are available in a pretty wide range of both price and quality. But one of the reasons why I did not continue with a second degree (aside from the astronomical tuition) was the cost of art supplies.
Perhaps I could have gotten by with what is known as “student grade” art supplies. Student grade is the lowest quality of anything out there…charcoals, paper, paints, etc. The problem was, each of my teachers provided us with a supplies list at the beginning of each term with specific brands that they preferred. None of them preferred the student grade stuff. Not a one. And, each teacher wanted what they wanted, no ands, ifs, or buts. If I had two painting classes, for example, and both teachers wanted Cadmium Red paint, they almost always wanted different brands. Couldn’t I have just substituted one for the other? Trust me…we always asked. They always denied our requests with a whole list of reasons why not.
All Art Supplies Are Not the Same
Artist’s markers, for example. There are dozens of brands. Some of them are reasonably priced, too. There were a few classes that I took however, that required Copic markers. These are Japanese artist’s refillable markers that are actually quite nice. Even outside of school, in a professional setting, these are usually the markers that I see artists using. There’s a full range of colors and both warm and cool greys in a full range of shades. As cool as they are though, they aren’t cheap. I’ve seen sets over $400 and individually, they run on average $5-$8.00.
Paints and brushes were the worst. Brushes, for example, range anywhere from just a couple of dollars to well over $150 per brush, depending on whether they were for acrylic, watercolor, or oils, student grade or professional grade. And each of my teachers wanted us to have a variety of brush sizes. Paints varied just as much. Acrylic and watercolor tends to be cheaper. Oils can get rather pricey. So depending on what type of paint you’re after, prices can range from just a few dollars per tube to well over $200.
Thank Goodness for Pencils!
Fortunately for me, I’m not the painting type (although I had to invest in these supplies in school). Years later, I still have the same tubes I bought for my classes. Some of them are over ten years old! I figure if they still haven’t dried out, I might as well keep them. It would seem too much like just throwing money away regardless of whether or not I paint every day. In fact, it’s a rare occasion. But every once in awhile the need arises and I’m glad I have them on hand.
My professional expenses these days revolve around Stonehenge paper, pencils, Scotch brand blue painter’s tape, the occasional kneadable eraser, and workable fixative spray. All are relatively cheap and cost me a few dollars at a time. The paper I get is a special heavy grade 100% cotton paper, which is slow to yellowing with age. A 22×30” sheet costs around five dollars on average and I can get several projects out of that one sheet. The most popular size request for animal portraits is 8×10”, so I can definitely make that five dollars stretch. Pencils are cheap and they last a long time as does the eraser. The fixative spray is what sets the graphite when I’m done to prevent smearing and isn’t expensive either. In fact, if I time it right (back to school), I can usually find a BOGO offer.
Overall though, I think that digital artists have it made. Other than the initial expense of the computer, software, and peripheral equipment such as a tablet. There are little to no other expenses, no art supplies that need replacing or restocking. And if you have a pre-Creative Cloud version of Photoshop or other type of software, then you have it made. If you are operating from cloud type software, then there is a monthly subscription. But other than that, no paper, paints, brushes, pencils…nada.
Why Aren’t I a Full Time Artist?
I’ve often been asked by my 9-5 coworkers what I’m doing there. Why aren’t I making a living with my art? The answer is simple. I like to eat. I like having a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. And I really like having medical insurance. My artwork however, is so meticulously detailed, that I have a difficult time producing enough that would sustain a living. Thankfully though, my student days are over and with it the need to buy expensive supplies. I can go to my very low-stress job, come home and lose myself in a drawing and not have to worry about having enough money to get the supplies I need. For all the painters out there however (especially those specializing in oils), I sympathize. I think that it was for you that the term, “starving artist” came about. How much of your commissions immediately go right back into your art supplies? It’s no wonder that these days many, like me, have a 9-5 and do their art on the side.