Crappy art supplies, and why they work

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July 9, 2017 by kittynh

I was in Michaels, the art mega store, purchasing black canvases.  They were the budget version and were on sale, 60% off for the two pack.

There were carts full of the cheap panels and stretched canvases, that wobble a bit, as the stretching isn’t done to museum standards.  People were stocking up.

I live in a small town of under 50,000 inhabitants.  Outlying regions mean perhaps 100,000 people depend on this store for their cheaper art needs.  Out of those 100,000, just how many are painters?  From the looks of the emptying shelves, the answer is A LOT.

I wondered just how many of these canvases were going to soon be covered in paint.  Or perhaps collages and glue, or ink and stamping.

It should be noted there are three art shops of much higher standards in the area.  These are the ones where you’ll pay a LOT MORE for just one canvas.  I used to stretch my own canvases.  You can get the materials to do that.  It’s one of those things you learn in school.  Good materials make for good art.  Spend the money.

The only problem is that, good materials mean a lot of money.  Also it can mean a lot of preparation time.  Stretching a canvas, then prepping it, can make art a less than impulsive choice.

So why was I, a former art supply snob, purchasing ready made black canvas at Michaels on sale?

Because I wanted to make some ART, and not mess around. Also, I’m on a budget.  I’m not selling art. I write and the craft part of my life makes more money than painting.  If I want to invest $200 in canvas and supplies, I’m not going to be creating very much art.  If I can get a two pack for $5, I’m going to be enjoying creating art quite often.

I know a painter that is very talented and sells well.  He has trouble making money though as he pays $40 for a tube of white paint, and he’ll often use an entire tube in one painting.  His art will sell for $2,000 to $5,000 a painting.  Some pieces go for $10,000.  That’s not really successful today, but this artist is truly dedicated to his craft.  He makes enough to get by, and by giving lessons he makes enough to be middle class.

Still, he’s putting between $500 to $1000 in a canvas and supplies, and framing can cost just as much.

The Cheshire County Historical Society has an exhibit by a local artist, Albert Duvall Quigley.  Quigley often bartered his works.  His most famous barter was to the hospital for the birth of his children.  What makes the Quigley exhibit especially enjoyable is that he made his own frames.  Rather than paying for the expense of framing, Quigley made frames that are works of art on their own.  They match the paintings, and were my favorite part of the exhibit.


This is Quigley’s Aunt Cora… see above photos for close up of frames

The lesson from Quigley is that if you say you “can’t afford” to paint because of the cost of supplies and framing, improvise.

I had an idea for a series of paintings I wished to “explore”.  Artists often explore an idea.  To death.

If you go to the Picasso museum in Paris, there is a room of guitar collages.  Many guitar collages.  Picasso had to explore the guitar collage until he got another idea to explore.  Much of the artwork in the Paris museum was seized after Picasso’s death by the French government as Picasso did not like paying taxes.  The museum was built around works he had left in France.  Picasso travelled and lived with a lot of canvases that did not all sell.  You get the feeling that people just got tired of seeing his guitar collages and were “Call me when you are making something new!”

no electricity, one small bit of running water, and a lot of creative people.

For me, my idea will take a lot of black canvases.  The inspiration was from the work of Yayoi Kusama.  She liked dots. I watched a youtube about painting in her style and the first half of the video was prepping  your canvas.

I’m not teaching this idea, though I may in the future.  I’m just exploring it.  Michaels is allowing me to explore this without the effort of prepping a canvas and all the mess.  Cheap paint?  Well, I am using Michaels better paint, but it’s not museum quality paint.

However, great work doesn’t have to be done on expensive materials. One problem with the poverty stricken Left Bank of Paris artists was that they were poverty stricken.

Possibly “free” material

Amedeo Modigliani wanted to be a sculptor.  What few works remain of his sculpture were often made from blocks stolen from building sites.  He painted as he couldn’t afford to sculpt.



Other artists used such cheap paints, that today, curators are kept busy keeping the cheap paints from peeling off the canvases.  One of the more famous fakers of paintings in the 20th century, used leftover house paint from his basement. John Myatt  fooled a lot of people on a budget.  He now exhibits his own work, under his own name.  He may now use much better paint, as he is very successful.

While quality is important, the number one motivation for most artists is to follow an idea.  I want to convey this. I want to try this style.  I want to experiment with my own take on this style.

A lot of very good art, in very well respected museums, is done using crap materials.

So, stock up on those Michaels supplies!  If what is keeping you from exploring your idea is a budget, imagine yourself living in the Bateau Lavoir, and go with what you can afford.

Be sure to use a coupon.

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