When it comes to art supplies, much has been said about the importance of working with the best quality materials possible. Oh, how true! At the same time, though, there’s something to be said in favor of having a few inexpensive art supplies on hand.
The best thing I can say is that cheap means fun, as often as not. I love having a supply of inexpensive watercolor paper, cheap sets of paint, and bargain-priced brushes for the grandkids to play with. Yes, at times I do let them use my “artist-grade” materials, but most of our projects are just as much fun — and turn out just as successfully — when we go to my “kid’s bin” of art and craft supplies.
But cheap art supplies are not for kids and grandkids only, I’ve learned. I also have fun using very inexpensive watercolor paper, paints, and brushes. I have a lot to learn about watercolor, and I’m going over basic “how-to” techniques, practicing with paint consistencies, washes, and layering. I’m learning about how to create different effects with wet, damp, or dry watercolor paper.
On that note, if you’d like to watch a good video for watercolor consistency practice exercises, check out Brienne M. Brown’s video tutorial here.
Good quality watercolor paper can be costly. So are top-quality paints and brushes. I know, of course, the standard argument that says you can’t learn good watercolor techniques and get good results with bad paper, bad paints, and bad brushes. Bad in this case meaning low-quality. The argument has valid points. A beginning watercolor artist isn’t going to get good results with cheap supplies, and that can lead to discouragement and disappointment. Yes, I’ll agree that using better-quality materials will lead to better-quality results.
On the other hand, I’m not going to suggest that a beginning artist should spend $5.00 or more for a sheet of high-quality watercolor paper, or put out a few hundred dollars on the best squirrel-hair brushes. And for practicing, why not pick up a set of watercolors from the school supply aisle? Most of them come with a brush included, so there you go! Grab a cheap pad of 140 lb. cold press paper, and you’re all set.
You won’t produce any masterpieces, but you will be able to practice brushstrokes and play around with different techniques all without worrying about how much money you’ve invested. To me, that’s a huge factor. I love the idea that I can waste all the paper and paint I want while I’m practicing. I find it fun, too, to see just what I can do with cheap art supplies.
Consider this little practice page. I did this with cheap paint, a cheap plastic-bristled brush, and the cheapest watercolor paper I have in my studio.
It’s not a work of art, but it was fun to do. Here, in this photo, it’s still wet and shiny in a few places, and yes, I just let the paint drip here and there when I stood it up. One side of the tree trunk is fuzzy and one side isn’t, because that’s one of the things I was learning — how to create fuzz and/or how to avoid it.
Had I been using my best watercolor supplies, I wouldn’t have had so much fun, and I wouldn’t have learned much from it. This — along with several other practice pages this morning — taught me a lot. By using my cheap supplies, I used more paper, more paint. I spent more time practicing, and isn’t that a good thing?
And here’s another theory. If I can learn basic watercolor techniques using inexpensive materials, imagine how much better those techniques will work if and when I choose to use my better-quality supplies. That’s counter to the usual argument as mentioned above. But that advice — as with any advice — has to be considered from each individual’s perspective.
Spending outrageous sums of money and working with only the best materials might be the way to go for some aspiring artists. Others may be happy — and comfortable — with a compromise, using “student-grade” materials as they learn basic techniques. And then there are those like me who aren’t looking to become serious watercolorists. I just want to have a good understanding of basic techniques, and above all, I want to have fun with what I’m doing.
So, for me, the cheap supplies are all I want right now. I do have higher-quality paints and papers in the studio, as well as a few good watercolor brushes. When I feel I’m ready to get those supplies out and use them, I will. But for practice, nope, not going to happen. The very thought of getting out my Arches watercolor block to practice basic washes or dry brush techniques makes me cringe. Nor do I really want to use my artist-quality M. Graham paints while I’m just playing around.
Right now, as I’m learning, this girl just wants to have fun, and my inexpensive art materials give me all the cheap thrills I need. So, why pay more?
It’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves. If you want and need the better quality materials, then that’s the right choice for you. If you can afford top-of-the-line art supplies — for watercolor or any other medium — then spend to your heart’s content. Your work will probably be better than mine, but that would be true no matter how much I might spend on paints, brushes, and paper. And that’s all right. I’m learning to be happy being the casual artist I am. and that’s what really matters.