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:


11 thoughts on “Economizing on art supplies; preserving your work

  1. I didn’t suggest searching for ‘art coupons’ because any such search is going to be full of scams, LOL, so I only listed the companies I regularly buy from and get coupons from by email or on Face Book.

    Check your mail ads and newspaper ads for coupons, too. We usually get a sheaf of ads and coupons once or twice a week, and there is almost always a new coupon for the Michaels craft store chain, sometimes also Hobby Lobby, and Aaron Brothers. These have the big name brands like Liquitex, Windsor Newton, Golden…and brush cleaner, brushes, canvases, etc.

    One more thing…do not waste your money on the really cheap canvases! While they may be fine for playing around, or for things you ONLY plan to sell as prints from a digital image, they tend to warp, sag, and frustrate, so shop sales or use coupons and buy the good ones, with deep stretcher bars, good support cross bars, canvas affixed on the back not the sides, AND, make sure the support bars do not touch the back of the canvas when normal painting pressure is applied. If the bars touch, it will be frustrating to work on as it will leave lines where it touches. We bought some of the cheap ones to goof around on, but most are not suitable for selling as original art.

  2. Ohh art supplies are a third cheaper in the USA. than Oz—- Friend bought some things for me while over there and it’s a dream price wise, and Coupons??? I have never seen coupons at all here, suppose you mean discounts? sometimes but rarely cheap and never canvas which cost and arm and a leg.. apart from garbage cotton stretched rubbish. .. [Art shops are doing it so tough. ] cheap dollar shops around with fugitive pigment paints are a pest.

    • That’s distressing to hear, as there are so many good artists in Australia, I hate to think of them having problems just getting good basic supplies. There is a brand here called Matisse that seems nice, and has a lot of colors called “Australian” this or that, “Australian Blue” etc. How ironic…I wonder if they are not even available there, or just cost an arm and a leg.

  3. Testing the comment thingy…glitch was reported.

  4. Cindy! this is terrific! I wish I’d seen it a year ago…made so many mistakes! Great tips, good advice! MANY thanks for sharing it!!!!
    One thing: I use acrylics a lot and thought the only/best way to clean the brushes was in water and I have awful problems with my sink drain getting clogged up (in spite of diluting the paint as much as possible when washing the brush). I don’t want to use turpentine or anything else like that…ammonia doesn’t seem to help. What do you think?

    • I don’t recommend using any solvents on the drain! I saw an effective looking drain cleaning method somewhere, to use a bottle cleaning brush once in awhile but it looked gross so I didn’t try it.

      The thing that works best for me is to spread the paint on something, cardboard, another canvas, wood scrap, a rag…whatever. Swirl the brush around in a small water container like a yogut tub, then let the water evaporate. Then wash the brushes.

      Any leftover paint that’s still good and gooshy, but can’t go back in the original container, I put in a “sludge” jar. It usually ends up being used when I want a colored base coat, later.

      The less paint that finds its way into the drain, the better. Also keeps it out of the water supply. If it finds its way into another painting or even quick brush sketch on paper, its also kept out of landfills. I hate to waste paint, so besides the sludge jar for usable leftover paint, I often start new, spontaneous pieces with what’s left in the brush or palette.

      • Hey, thank you, Cindy! What’s odd is that the paint on my brushes dries so fast. I try to get as much off by doing what you said…starting “new” pieces (that I sometimes like better than the ones I was working on…LOL) or adding to in-process ones, using the paint that’s “left over” on the brush. I wipe as much off with paper towel, etc., too. But if I don’t get the brush into water right away everything just gunks up. So….I put the brush head (?) into a small plastic cup of warm water and get as much off there as I can, then put that residue water into a big bowl or hot water and pour it down the drain, then wash the brush under the faucet with warm water and a little ammonia/soap/water solution spray. The brushes get wonderfully clean, but I think that the acrylic is sticking to the drain sides. I’m not positive but I definitely have WAY more clogs than before I started painting again. :: sigh:: Guess I’ll just try to use more water, dilute everything more, see how that goes. Yes…I don’t like putting solvents down the drain. I don’t really like having them around at all, to be honest.

        One thing: I think I may be using the brushes “wrong.” I ram them into the paint on the canvas or canvas board, to blend the paint. There’s always more paint at the top of the bristles (by the handle) than at the tip. Getting paint off the tip is easy; getting it out of the center where the handle attaches takes more effort, and I think that’s part of the problem. Lots of paint hides there. Maybe I should use something else, other than a brush, to paint. Fingers work great. Gotta do that more often.

        Thank you again for the info!!!!!!!


  5. Hi Robin, if your method of using the brush gets the effect you want, it’s not wrong! It may be hard on brushes, but that’s beside the point, LOL! I have some brushes for ramming, scumbling, drybrushing, and all those things that tend to be hard on them. And a few that I baby, only for fluid paints, line work, washes, blending glazes and the like. But when it comes right down to it, if I’m into what I’m doing and a ‘good’ brush is in my hand, I do what I gotta do.

    For acrylics, you might like the “glazing medium” and “GAC 100” both made by Golden. They are fluid mediums that dry a bit slower. I also keep one of those tiny mist bottles nearby and mist anything that’s bound to skin over before I get back to it.

    Ammonia might be in some of the airbrush cleaners that do well…or alcohol, I dunno. Various liquids meant for cleaning airbrushes seem to work well, but they are expensive per use. YEARS ago there was a cheap, eco friendly all purpose cleaner called “Breeze,” that we bought at a grocery chain. (at least it claimed to be eco friendly if I recall) It was the best stuff for cleaning up even dry acrylics, as well as the rest of the house, and smelled nice. Then it disappeared.

  6. Glazing medium….I’ll look for it. Thank you!
    I’m still trying to figure out how to mix paints with each other and also how to use water with them. All I generally do is use paint from the tube and then mix it on the canvas, which is probably backwards. So maybe I need to spend some time just testing different mixes…the medium sounds good.

    I do use a little squirt bottle of water; it’s a big help.
    Breeze! Never heard of it but it sounds super. Just found it online, as breezecleaner (then .com)

    • Yeah, get some cheap plastic palette knives for mixing on the palette, and see if that, and gels, etc, do anything for ya. I like painting with palette knives, too. Thanks for the breeze link, it looks like they’ve gone into selling “distributorships,” or selling a min. order of 4 gallons at over a hundred bucks, and no stores here carry it, so that’s out. Too bad. If it is the same thing, it was a good product. I hate it when good stuff disappears. Years ago, a man my mom knew had made a jojoba shampoo locally, and it was fantastic, no product for any price was as good. It no longer exists, of course. For all I know it woulda been a good brush cleaner too, heh heh.

Experimenting with Comment Settings, in case you don't see a way to leave one.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s