Can You make That??

Painter, Paint Cans, Brush, Paintbrush

Most people know now that personal financing will be getting tighter and tighter. Everything is going up in cost, including art materials. How are we to maintain painting, whether we are selling our job or not?

There are various ways in which costs can be kept down. This article aims to explore and find out what some of these are.

Online Shopping (and indeed offline).

Always keep an eye open for discount offers. If you purchase from various online providers as I do, you’ll be on their mailing lists. When discounts are operating, it’s a good time to buy things which are normally quite expensive, such as oil paints or quite heavy-weight watercolour paper. If you can stretch your handbag, consider bigger tubes of paint (such as 200ml) especially oils and particularly if they’re the more expensive colors. The top brands will last for a long time (unless you are painting huge yacht-sail canvases).

EBay is worth a punt, but note that many sellers are extremely aware of what things normally go for and, although their costs may appear lower, they then need to add the postage on. A tube of paint priced #2 or so lower than the norm may not prove to be much of a saving from the time you’ve paid #3 postage for that single item. Having said that, if you trawl frequently through the art supplies sections, you can encounter bargains. I once purchased a complete set of Daler-Rowney pastel pencils for nearly half-price, simply because the firm had made adjustments to the pastel formula and had discontinued the present boxes of pencils.

Similarly, there are branded paints which are actually good quality, but are not household names to the majority of people… these occasionally come up for sale and are available with no competing bids simply because most individuals aren’t familiar with them.

Grade of Paints.

If you market your work, you’ll probably prefer artist-grade paint; but it’s not uncommon to find professional artists choosing certain student-grade colors for their work simply because they like the colour or the handling of the paint. Student grade paints from the big names are usually excellent value; especially in acrylics, where they often come in large quantity.


Piles of canvases come from many places in the East these days. You can purchase whole boxes of them at discounted prices from online suppliers, including eBay.

The one thing I would note is that the build quality. Many are OK; but some are badly assembled. I have had”square” canvases looking anything but square. What happens is that if a single stretcher-bar is a little longer than the rest, a perfect square or rectangle isn’t obtained. The subsequent canvas looks absolutely awful when hung on the wall and it is not fit for purpose… even if you ARE a penny-pinching artist.

Dud canvas? Better still, invest in a complete roll of canvas. Expensive outlay but you will have the ability to cut off precisely what you want, when you want, and prepare it as you wish… and it could last you simply years.

Canvas Boards

Another way to save is to use canvas-boards. A whole lot of professional artists prefer them. They last for a long time; I have canvas-board paintings from the 1970’s and they are absolutely fine.

You can purchase boxes of them from some online providers and eBay isn’t a bad place to look .

And even cheaper…


Medium density fibreboard has found favour with many painters. Available in a number of thicknesses, the 3mm and 4mm sizes prove popular. Easily cut into any size (and shape) that you need, MDF needs sealing and priming before use. You can use a normal sealer followed by several coats of acrylic gesso, with light sanding in between. Remember the edges also. If you reduce your own, use a dust mask, MDF does produce a good deal of flying particles.

However, MDF isn’t quite as stable as people believe. There is a problem sometimes with what’s known as substrate-induced discolouration (SID). There are some solutions on the artists’ marketplace that will deal with this.

Conservation experts are not convinced about the long-term stability of MDF, but most of us are not going to be painting masterpieces that will need to last for a few hundred years. Properly prepared, MDF is fine. Some artists find it is too smooth for their own liking. It is also feasible to prepare a panel and then glue proper canvas around it; this may offer the additional tooth that some prefer.

And really really cheapskates…


It’s possible to paint oils on watercolour paper so long as you prime the surface , acrylic gesso is best. This creates a barrier, preventing (or certainly reevaluate ) destruction of the paper by the oils. Just how long it lasts for, I really don’t know but I would suggest not producing too many masterpieces this way; just to be on the safe side. Acrylics on watercolour paper do not cause a problem.

There are now special papers offered for oil-painting; these look the same as watercolour paper but have been specially treated to handle the destructive properties of oil-paint. They are not always cheap per sheet… however… a complete sheet for six or seven pounds will cut up into whatever size you want, and you will get several work surfaces for your money.

I am not sure about this one. The ideal hardboard is one without oils inside (untempered) but I don’t have any means of telling one from the other. If you use it, sand the surface first, use SID therapy and provide several good coats of primer.

Attempt to use artists’ primers rather than those from a DIY shop.

Making your own…

It is possible to make rather good panels by gluing sections of cotton shirts or old bedsheets onto MDF or hardboard. Use pva or an acrylic medium to perform the sticking. Wrap the material over the borders and fix to the back, before adding a primer to the surface.

Acrylics can be painted onto plastic surfaces, opening up many ideas for using acrylic-sheet, perspex and other similar substances. Among the best places to trawl is, again, eBay, look for offcuts or someone promoting panels.

Additional Media… Watercolour.

Fantastic quality watercolour paper could be costly. So why not consider the lightweight papers such as 90lb? I’ve read about artists spreading water on both sides of the 90lb paper and simply letting it stand flat–with no taping– into a very clean smooth board like formica or marble (an older kitchen work-surface would likely do). The sheet remains in place for a reasonable length of time. Other people do not tape it, but only place bulldog-style clips to affix it to a board, allowing the paper to stretch, cockle and then dry again without fiddly taping.


There are options for developing a variety of surfaces that can make you less dependent on”ready-done” papers.

Gritty or grainy papers are extremely common now for pastel work. You can create your own gritty surfaces using several materials along with a kettle of pastel-primer paint. Consider using the primer on mountboard (which is conveniently acid-free), or other thick card. There is a tendency to using MDF as well, painted and prepared with a gritty primer. Even plastics and metal will hold a proprietary pastel-primer.

This medium really has a good tooth and a few coats will most likely give you all of the grip you need.

If you’re keen you can purchase a bag of 4fine-grade pumice stone and mix it with white gesso, to paint in your surfaces.

I have known people use sandpaper from the hardware store; yes it does work, but the paper isn’t acid-free. Pastel is however a sterile medium, so if you really want to be experimental then get yourself a sheet or two of fine-grade sandpaper. Avoid the rougher grades, the grain will consume your pastels in minutes.

Eventually… PAINT SMALLER!

The main issue is that you are able to find ways of keeping your skills alive when cash is somewhat tight. If you can paint,… or perhaps just DRAW… during those times, you’ll have a collection of work ready to sell when the dark clouds draw away and things improve .

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