top of page


  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

111: Cost Cutting For Artists

Howdy! I paint. I've dabbled in wood burning and sculpting, and I used to tattoo, professionally. By now, I've amassed a hoard of art supplies. One of the first things instilled in my during the Foundations phase of my art education was never throw out art supplies. And I'm always on the lookout for more. Art supplies can be very expensive, as are frames. I'm not exactly loaded, so I cut costs where I can without compromising my work.

For regular sketching, the cheapest possible sketchpad is sufficient, so long as it's a reasonable size for carrying around. I learned the hard way that if it's too cumbersomely large, it won't be used and is ultimately not worth the cost.

For watercolor paintings I intend to sell, I need the right pad for the job. Rather than buying the cheapest sketchbook available, I consider framing costs first. The cost to frame each watercolor painting adds up very quickly. Weirdly sized paper means I either have to cut them to a normal size later, to easily frame them, or to shell out for oddly sized mattes or frames. Hard pass. Looking at frames, I seek bulk sets at a low cost. The most common sizes sell for the cheapest in bulk. For my purposes, that means I buy 8x10 inch frames generally in packs of 12. While 8x10 watercolor pads aren't super affordable, nor always easy to find—I'm flexible. For watercolors, I need a slightly thick, textured paper. Print making pads suffice.

For oil paintings, I can technically sell them un-framed, so long as I've hung wire on the back and painted the edges a nice matte black. The wire does need to be coated or it'll be damaged over time. However, it's a lot easier to sell framed paintings, than unframed. The trouble is the cost. Canvases can be expensive. Frames are very expensive. For both, I buy in bulk and I keep a close eye on good deals. Before Covid-19 hit in 2020, I was able to buy 40 16x20 inch canvases from Blick at about $2/canvas, so for approximately $80 total. At that time, buying four 16x20 inch floater frames through Amazon, as opposed to Jerry's Artarama (who was still the seller) saved me tens of dollars. For reference, the frames went for about $35 each, without a discount at that time. The costs are much higher now. As in, the 16x20 inch Illusion floater frames now sell for $48 at Jerry's Artarama, and aren't being sold on Amazon at all. Canvas shopping is hit or miss but I still have stock to pull from, thankfully. Unable to justify paying the current prices, I keep an eye out for canvases and frames when I take walks, and while hitting up thrift stores and estate sales. In the past month, I've pulled at least 4 canvases from the curb, and estate sales have been great for frame shopping. Rather than dropping tens of dollars on a frame, I spend $5. This does mean the frames don't match, and that's a shame, but that's a compromise I'm willing to make.

When thrifting, if I see a very eye-catching photo frame of a reasonable size, I'll buy it and make a watercolor painting for it. Keeping my supplies affordable means I don't have to charge as much for the finished pieces.

Part of my artistic process includes collaging. I don't buy magazines. I've probably never paid for a magazine, actually, yet I have dozens. I already wrote a detailed blog post explaining how, but I'll throw a shorthand here. I'm in my local Buy-Nothing Facebook groups. Folks are always happy to donate their old magazines to an artist or waiting room. I also keep an eye out for free magazines. My area has a quarterly magazine wherein they promote local businesses and whatnot, which is very convenient. I've also subscribed to every free catalogue under the sun. Most of the links on the following website remain active,, with every passing year, more stores are moving away from print catalogues. Fashion magazines are a bit more difficult to get ahold of for free, but if their subject matter corresponds to your career field, you can request a free temporary submission. This website,, links to forms to fill out if you'd like to make a request.

For oil paint, I'm a Windsor-Newton loyalist. I've tried cheap alternatives found on Amazon and their pigments were less saturated, plus they came out too liquidy. I google around for the best price before shopping but I nolonger buy low quality oil paints. For watercolor and acrylics, I still buy what's affordable. Also, I'm very easy to shop for. If it's gifting season, my relatives know that art supplies are always appreciated. My better watercolor sets were gifts. Part of not-chucking old supplies includes me saving my very expired tattoo inks to use for watercoloring now. The pigments is very saturated but the ink dries more quickly than I'm used to. By diluting a dried nub of watercolor paint on the palette, it becomes malleable again. Not so, with tattoo ink, or not with mine anyway. Still, I'm happy to stretch the life of my supplies and I love how bright they are.

If you're in your local Buy-Nothing groups, you're bound to eventually come across a relevant posting. If you happen to live near apartment complexes or collages, taking a look at what they're chucking on their bulk-trash-pickup days can score you some great finds. Depending on what art you like to make (Collage? Decoupage?), libraries sometimes have an area for free magazines, or have seasonal book sales with incredibly low prices.

I think my big advice is just to keep track of what's the most expensive part of your process, and looking for ways to bring that cost down. For me, that cost is frames. I'm willing to spend more on paper and canvases if the frames will be more affordable. Research and flexibility are key. And prices change all the time, so just because my old go-to was a great deal, doesn't mean it still is.

Thanks for stopping by! I drop a new blog post every Monday! Toodles!

7 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page