Economizing on art supplies; preserving your work

Whether you want to make your art supply gift card go further, or you are into recycling, what are your methods of stretching your art material dollars?


The above picture is a 4 ounce jar of specialty paint that retails for nearly $40, but is most valuable not in the jar, but on a canvas!  The tub of brush cleaner was a pricey item because of its sheer size, but purchased with a 40% off coupon, it was not at all scary.  It keeps my brushes nice and I use it a lot.  It also keeps well, (unlike the paint). The brush is one of my favorites and is nearly 30 years old and still in excellent condition. It was an expensive brush but has has really held up, making it more economical than a string of cheaper brushes that don’t last.  Taking good care of it helped, too.  Below are some tips I’ve learned over the years.  I hope you’ll comment and add yours!


Shop the screaming sales!  Obvious, but if you’re not a natural born shopper, (I’m not!), you need to remind yourself.  Only caveat is don’t overstock on perishables, they may dry up before you can use them up.

Sign up for email coupons on art supply sites.  And/or “Like” their page on Face Book, they often post coupons there.  Don’t worry if they expire, there will be another one coming.  Having a valid coupon on you at most times, helps defray the cost of the items you use up fast or might otherwise skimp on.

Avoid “False Economy.”  A $40 jar of paint that dried up waiting for you to think of “something special” is a sad thing. Special is Right Now.  Your buyers don’t want a jar of paint, they want a painting. Use it or lose it!


Shop the hardware stores, and ask at construction sites if possible, or snag materials that someone’s throwing out, for scraps of wood and other surfaces to paint on, and even mismatched house paints, etc.  Worried about archival qualities of these things? Most will outlive you even in a landfill let alone if primed, painted, and taken good care of. But house paints are not formulated to be light fast as long as artists paints. Those may be best for temporary art, base coats, etc.  Be up front with your buyers, e.g., “painted on reclaimed lumber.” To some buyers recycling is a plus, but not all.  Give discarded material a sniff test…things left on the curb for trash pick up for very long can be scent marked by passing stray dogs and cats…ewww.

Reuse your own art.  Paint over things!  The old masters did it, and gessos and primers do a good job of hiding and sealing off old work, so you can repurpose the canvas or board.  Use broken ceramics to make mosaics.  Cut up old drawings you were going to trash, and make collages. Make sculptures out of found objects including some of your work that you weren’t going to keep.


Use acrylic mediums more. They can extend expensive paints a bit before they lose tinting strength. They make textured surfaces, without using up expensive paint for it. Mediums are the material that paint pigments are added to, so they are not a lesser quality product than paint, they just aren’t colored.

Buy good quality paint. It has more pigment so it goes farther, is often easier, more satisfying, and therefore faster to work with, and is less likely to deteriorate.  I firmly believe that, A) a big reason kids give up on art is because they’re only given cheap, disappointing art supplies, and B) cheap supplies may have their uses, but you need to know their properties compared to “the good stuff” before you can apply them to their best use.

That said about paint…Have a set of cheaper, or older worn brushes, for work that’s hard on tools. Like outdoor murals on brick walls.  Save your best precision tools for when they are really needed and/or for final detail work.  Old brushes are also good for scumbling, drybrushing, etc.

Buy some good brush cleaner with one of those half off coupons, and keep your good brushes good for a long time.  Other cleansers may seem ok until your varnish suddenly has bubbles in it or paint build up in a good brush ruins its point.  Rubbing alcohol will dissolve old acrylic, sometimes, if you have a brush that seems ruined.  Never leave brushes soak sitting on their points/bristles, they usually never come back from that once bent.

Save short stumps of colored pencils, etc, for a travel sketch kit.  You can use a pencil holder if they are too short to hold.


I won’t begin to tell you how to actually preserve mediums I don’t work in.  I can tell you that I use mostly acrylics, and I’ve read quite a bit on paint science.  I’m currently going with the theory that good acrylic paint should just have a clear acrylic top coat, some call it an isolation coat.  Google this, there are numerous methods, and opinions.  Some say sealed acrylic paintings are not porous, some say they are. You will need to find what works best for you. But I do believe paintings need some sort of clear coat between them and the world.  And, work on paper almost always needs to be framed and matted and under glass.  Never let the artwork touch the glass, it can stick.  Store drawings between leaves of glassine paper or baking parchment.  I have found these two papers to be about as non-stick as anything.  Pastels, which I no longer do because they are just too fragile for my liking, need extra care! Dorland’s wax medium can be used as a final protective coat on some types of art. It requires applying and waiting for it to dry, then buffing, but for certain types of work it is a nice finish.

Capture your work with a digital camera or scan it.  Even if your recycled, unconventional art begins to fall apart, you could sell reprints indefinitely with a good high resolution digital image.  Not sure what varying definitions exist as to “high resolution,” but as an example, the Print On Demand art site I’m on has pixel dimensions for all their products, and if it’s not at least that big, it won’t make the product. Save a big file.  Make smaller versions for uses that only call for small (low resolution) images.  So, photograph at high resolution, scan at high resolution, then in photo editing software programs, make your various smaller size versions as needed.

Before you sell your originals, always get a good digital capture of them.  If it’s a piece you would want to sell large high quality art prints of, spring for a professional photo shoot or commercial scan. You might be able to save money by having several done at once.

Though copyright registration has not been required since 1989, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office,, does have advantages should you ever have a serious infringement case.  So, if you have images that could be seriously infringed on, consider registering them, preferably before you publish them, as that is when there is the greatest advantage.  At the very least, do some due diligence in controlling infringement on your work by learning to do “reverse image searches” and “DMCA takedowns.”  (Google the topics, and see my Journals on Red Bubble.) Preserving your images as yours, and keeping others from claiming they did the work, or from selling them, is important, particularly if you are, or want to be, selling your work.


Email and Face Book sources to sign up for notification of sales, coupons:

Dick Blick:

Jerry’s Artarama:


Arizona Art Supply:

Technical how to info and products:

Tri Art paint:

Golden Artists Colors info on “isolation coat” and varnishing:

Liquitex combination Varnish and Medium:

Digital, and copyrights, preservation:

Google: Rheni Tauchid, and/or, The New Acrylics, or look for her two books in the library or book stores. Tauchid wrote the books as a consultant for the Tri Art paint company, (acrylics), and she talks about varnishing, isolation coats, and use of mediums.

Google: photographing scanning artwork and read methods, and opinions on when it’s better to scan or photograph, and tips on avoiding glare, fixing minor problems etc.  I personally scan anything small enough to scan, and photograph larger pieces.  If anything more than a minor adjustment is needed in color, contrast, etc, then the scan/photo is probably not good enough and needs to be done over if possible.

U.S. Copyright Office:

Art Theft; copyright infringement; find it and act on it:

Search more. Suggested terms:

  • making your own art canvases
  • art on unusual surfaces
  • recycled art
  • storing artwork
  • varnishing oil paintings
  • framing artwork
  • preserving artwork on paper
  • varnishing acrylic paintings
  • acrylic isolation coat
  • protecting pastel paintings
  • art fixatives
  • Dorland’s wax medium


You Tube for tutorials/demonstrations:

My Space-Making Sale ends Dec 31, 2012


Fly Catcher, © Cindy Schnackel
12 x 6 in. on wood/masonite type cradled panel, 1.5 in. deep, finished edges.
No frame, none needed with the finished deep edges.
Sale price only $75 until Dec 31, 2012.
Shipping extra.
See link in text for details.

Reminder: sale on original art expires Dec 31; prices go back to normal, Jan 1, 2012! 


Paintings from 6 x 6-ish miniatures, up to 3 x 4 FEET, and drawings from mini’s up to about 11 x 13 inches. Some framed, some not, (and if you prefer to buy a framed pice unframed that’s negotiable).  I’ve sold quite a few pieces as a result of the sale and happy to see these works go to good new homes, clearing space here for new work, particularly larger ones I’ve worked on outdoors since the weather cooled.

Prices range from only a few dollars for unframed drawings, screaming price breaks on miniature paintings, and huge price breaks on some of my bigger stuff, too.  I won’t be offering these prices again in any regular sales…this is a one time space clearing sale, before preparing to remedy a lack of studio space.

Paintings on canvas and panel, Price List:

Works on Paper, Price List:

Due to sales, I only have two miniatures left in the gallery Willo North, right now, but expect to have some new work there for the First Friday art walk in January.

Artists; the Future of Art, and Art as your Day Job


How many of you are, have been, our would like to be, professional artists? Or, just would like to make your art more profitable, show more, etc?  Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you’ll chime in on this discussion.

I interviewed four artists from Red Bubble, (the Print On Demand–POD art website we are all on), who frequently discussed the business of art there.  They were all asked the same questions about how they promoted themselves, where they thought the gallery business was going, if sales were up or down, how much of their “working” time was spent actually creating art vs the business chores of art, and if they had any advice for other artists wishing to make art their day job, too.

The artists are:

Janis Zroback, from Canada:

Janis is an innovative artist whose intensely hued watercolors are distinctive to her style whether she’s painting abstractly, or more realistically. She has numerous professional accomplishments under her belt. Janis frequently journals on Red Bubble about the business of art.

Anita Inverarity, from the UK:

Anita’s fanciful line work depicts animals and people, and is often delicately and expertly hand colored.  Her work is being very well received in her new career as a professional artist.

Regina Valluzzi, from the USA:

Regina’s colorful style incorporates mixed media and textural elements, and like the others is a recognizable style on Red Bubble.  She is very in tune with the business aspect of art, in her approach to selling, promoting herself, and keeping records.

Lynnette Shelly, from the USA:

Lynnette has been working professionally for just a few years, but from her journals on Red Bubble, it is clear she is succeeding at the business of art.  Her paintings and drawings often depict animals and dragons, in ink, paint, and sometimes metallic materials.

A common thread among these artists is that their work is unique, has a recognizable style, and is well done.  Plus, they all have worked hard to learn self marketing, and have spent the time to apply it!

The Questions I asked them all, (and will interject my own thoughts on as well):

1. What everyone wants to know it seems is, are sales down all over as far as you can tell?

2. Where do your sales come from, e.g. galleries, online, word of mouth, private sales…what?

3. Have you noticed changes in the way things sell or what you have to do to earn a living as an artist now, compared to say 10 or 20 yrs go or even 5?

4. Approx what percent of your “working” time is spent on creating vs spent on marketing or other business details?

5. What do you think the future is going to be like for artists? Do you believe galleries will need to change, or that online is the way to go, or???

6. What are some key points about art careers that you would call, things to do right, and mistakes to avoid, for those starting out or still struggling?



Janis indicated her sales were doing well.  Her sales come from all over the world, mostly online and private sales.  She has continued to work hard to promote herself, particularly in social media in recent years.

She said she spends more time on marketing, than on actually creating, and “that it’s just the way it has to be.”

Janis noted that many galleries were closing, and artists taking things into their own hands.  More galleries were also moving online.  Putting art on other products like iPhone cases, etc, is a reality now, too, but for the artist to decide. She noted that, “Salvador Dali put his art on everything under the sun and no one cared…throughout the centuries artists have done whatever it took to earn a living and they still do…nothing wrong with that.”

Janis had these Do’s and Don’ts for artists:

  • Do work, work, work, at your chosen field, every day.
  • Join the conversation, participate, otherwise no one will know you’re there.
  • Don’t ever say there is no time…there is always time.



Anita is the newest to being an art business person, but she has made amazing progress, so I wanted to be sure to get her input.

Her sales have been up, and she feels this is largely due to expanding her outlets and exhibiting a lot in the past year. She has gotten the impression from other professionals and gallery owners that it has been a particularly hard year for artists.  Her sales are about equally split between galleries, online, and private sales, and all are equally important to her.  Though she did not have a wide span of years to compare with, she felt that the biggest change for her this past year was social media, particularly Facebook, where she has gotten some sales from.

Anita also spends half her working time on non-creative chores like book keeping, maintaining her websites, marketing, and more.  She felt that effective time management was something to work on, to help with this, because as most artists do, she also prefers to spend her time creating. She says, “I’m not sure that people realize all the other activity that goes into being a full time artist.”

Anita believes galleries will always be an important selling outlet, for the face to face service that isn’t available online.  Galleries also help build an artist’s career with confidence and credentials.  She felt that galleries needed to have a strong online presence, too, not just artists. Small galleries, she said, often combined other services such as framing or gifts.  Anita used the word “sustainability,” which is one I feel hits the nail on the head, too.  But, she said, art has to remain the focus. She says, “I firmly believe that all artworks have a buyer out there, they just have to come across it and see it so the key for me is just getting the work seen in as many places as possible.”

Anita’s advice:

  • Be a part of local art groups, as well as online art communities.
  • Talk with fellow artists and share information, support one another.
  • Value yourself and your art.  Take it seriously.
  • Avoid underpricing your work.
  • Spend on good quality framing and presentation.
  • Work hard and above all, enjoy what you do.



Regina’s sales are also up! She started selling during the worst of the recession, and things improved for her since. She sees the art market as segmented, lots of smaller markets, based on different venues and types of buyers.  Some segments were hit harder by the recession than others. (Her ability to analyze and recognize these segments and what is working, could be why her efforts led to increased sales.) She mentions unconventional wisdom that says a recession can actually be a good time to start up your business. There may be more resources available, you’re forced to be creative and agile, and you develop good business practices right from the start.  Unlike those who do well in a bubble, but then cannot survive the pop.

Regina represents herself, and her sales come from all over, so she does not feel any venues are insignificant enough to discount them.  Her buyers find her through POD sites, blogs, exhibits in alternative spaces, social networks, her newsletter, art fairs, and networking.  She does not feel prepackaged sites, (POD sites would be one of those), are enough on their own.  She has her own commerce-friendly site.

Creating a “power triangle of online real estate” is advice she has learned about and found success with.  It includes your own website, a fully integrated blog, and a newsletter.  She said your social media sites need to drive traffic to those three important points of the triangle.  This is a way to build your traffic network.

Regina cautioned against taking to heart too much of the canned information online about art marketing, (and I agree there is a lot of it out there that’s obvious or not of much real use).

She spends about half her time, too, working at the business of art, leaving the other half for making it. Activities like shopping for materials, shipping things, and setting up exhibits, are part of the business that has to get done.

She does not feel brick and mortal galleries will ever go away, but does feel there may be fewer of them, with the most successful ones being the survivors.  She feels using the internet may be a bit less important for galleries than for some businesses, but it does have importance.  Why? The digitized presentation is more of a preview, and falls short of the real thing.  She does feel galleries need to learn to use the internet, and have a quality site.  The Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown was an example of a good gallery site.  She said, “They need good websites because without a website you don’t exist in the 21st Century world.  But what they really need to do is to understand the next generation of collectors, and develop ways of cultivating the pool of young new collectors and future potential collectors.”

Regina acknowledged the many tools for self representing artists now, but that there is a lack of robust networks for serious professional artists.  Websites are not tailored to each artist but are of a type that is destined to stay small, or are like “great big boxes–everyone jump in and try not to drown. … As the software developers and entrepreneurs catch on to the realities of representing artists online, I think we’ll see better, more powerful, less stupid tools.”

Regina had these points for artists to consider:

  • There’s a lot of bad advice out there; don’t follow that which contradicts everything you’ve learned with your own experience. Compare notes with other artists.  Trust your instinct/experience.
  • Evaluate opportunities for exposure; how much will it cost you in money and time?  What will you realistically gain?  Is the venue one where buyers go, particularly your buyers?
  • Don’t underprice your work.
  • Buyers want work that’s original and well executed. They want value but they don’t want “cheap.”
  • “Some people try to make “quick easy things” that they can sell very cheaply – not many buyers for that. Some people expect thousands of dollars for medium sized good but unremarkable work -not many buyers for that either. Unremarkable work priced fairly does sell. Remarkable very original work does sell too, and at a higher price point (it has to still be well made).”
  • Get some experience showing and selling. Take advantage of the knowledge you gain from each experience.
  • Don’t be afraid to be original; there’s a demand for safe, unremarkable work, but there’s an oversupply of it.
  • Work must be well made.
  • Produce 50 to 100 wowza pieces per year.
  • Personal style that people recognize as “you” is important.
  • Math–know where your money is going, and coming from. Spreadsheets help. Helps you determine the prices you need to get, to make a living, and what can be your rock bottom price.
  • If your art isn’t supporting you right now, you may need a day job while you learn and improve.



I’ve watched Lynnette’s art business grow in the short time I’ve been on Red Bubble.  Her recent newsletters in her RB Journals show she’s done an impressive job promoting herself, getting shows, and finding multiple ways to earn money from her artwork.

Lynnette’s sales were up for her direct sales, which she made through social media, networking, and her art sites.  However, she noted that art fair sales were down, and wondered if it was because it was an election year.  Her sales come from galleries, online, word of mouth, and private sales.

She feels that maintaining control over your work, and not just leaving it in the hands of galleries, is important.  She feels there are more opportunities now than ever, primarily due to the internet and social media, but noted that, “The signal to noise ratio is high, but at least the opportunity is there for you to directly reach out to collectors…”

Lynnette says she spends about half her working time on business and half on making art.

She states that an artist needs to actively pursue having a very strong online presence these days, and that while you can make online sales, it doesn’t cancel out the importance of physically showing your work (in galleries). Both have a purpose.

Lynnette mentioned the “disconnect” between the public and the art world, that people need to realize they can buy and enjoy art; “It’s not just for museums.”  She went on to say that high end galleries need to get back into the joy of art for its own sake, rather than investment.  “People need to buy art because they like or enjoy it, not because their art dealer told them it would be worth tens times what is now in five years.”

Lynnette’s advice for those starting out or struggling to make it work?

  • Figure out what works for you, there is no one way to success.
  • Don’t undercharge for your work.
  • Wear your artist hat when making the art, but put on your business hat when trying to sell it.
  • You’re not a “sell out” for wanting to earn an income from your skills.
  • Break down goals into manageable steps.
  • Never talk negatively about yourself or your art, particularly to the public.
  • Have a variety of price points.
  • Have multiple sources of revenue streams, like prints, licensing deals, etc.  But, don’t stretch yourself too thin.
  • Half the secret to success is just hanging in there long enough.


My Sock Chicken



I made this with no pattern or instructions, (those things are contrary to the way I work!, in two afternoons.  Took most of three pair of the famous Rockford Socks, which I could not find anywhere, not in dept stores nor craft stores. My mom finally found them in one of her quilting and craft catalogs! I quickly got to work and made my first sock doll.  I have always liked these dolls, about the only kind of doll I DO like, and now I have one!


Not for sale!  (At least not yet, wait til the honeymoon’s over.)


© Cindy Schnackel, please don’t pin my stuff to Pinterest. Thanks.