The Frugal Artist

Choosing a few key professional quality art supplies can save you oodles, while providing better results. Work out your ideas on affordable medium quality mixed media paper before commiting your idea to a canvas or expensive watercolor paper.

For those artists who do not get to paint or create very often because of cost, you are not alone. When I was younger the only time to paint was never, nor could afford to. My solution to the nagging creative side of the brain was to purchase a sketchbook and some pencils. The book was sketched in about once per week, elaborate drawings. Sketch books can last for a very long time if you take care of them, as well as give you a chunk 80 plus pages to play with. The trial and error sketches were drawn on cheap typing paper, or any scrap paper, which got thrown away. Eventually, it worked out to sketch a few times per week, and I took on whatever commissions that came my way. Usually, it would be portraits and favorite animals that paid from $10-$75. Savings eventually paid for some paints, brushes, easels, and other goodies. The point is, if you practice even with modest amount of time and materials, you will develop your art skills and give you a few more luxuries.

I recommend a Mixed Media journal. You can paint directly in your sketchbook with acrylics, watercolors, gouache and colored pencils. I use Canson XL Mixed Media Pad, and surprisingly, I can paint in oils on it too. Canson XL Mixed Media sketchbook is a very low cost, medium quality book, and you can really get down your ideas before you commit them to professional quality paper, board or canvas. There are a few sizes. I have a small one for my purse, that I carry with watercolors, and a 9×12” book, which I work out ideas in the studio. You can find Canson XL Mixed Media Journals everywhere including Walmart, even in my little town.

A very high quality sketchbook that has 64 pages is the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media book. This is the absolute best paper I have ever come across, hands down. But, it is one of those books where I don’t even want to use it for anything more than real art because of the expense and the quality of the paper. 

It is better to buy good quality professional paint set from reliable manufacturers than it is to purchase student grade quality. I promise you that if you are remotely serious about art, you will grow out of the student grade supplies after about the third painting. If you choose a handful of carefully selected colors, it won’t cost more than $45, but it will last you much longer than a $15-20 student grade set, and your paintings will thank you. 

There are no affordable sets provided by most oil paint manufacturers. However, if you choose the following colors you can get a perfect mixing set for under $45, free shipping. This is my personal limited palette.

The perfect limited palette used by the artist of Colorful Easel.

From Winsor & Newton  get the following colors: Winsor Yellow (PY74), Bright Red (PR254), and Burnt Umber (PBr7). From Gamblin, get Titanium White (PW6), Phthalo Blue (PB15:2), and Ultramarine Violet (PV15). The reason I recommend this palette is that there are no toxic pigments, and the oil paint dries relatively quickly, and you get a great variety of colors. Ultramarine Violet is a lovely violet that doesn’t over power like Dioxazine, but has a similar tone, and it dries so much quicker.

Golden Acrylics

Golden Acrylics Principle set of colors that will give you a bright color mixing palette. It is solid. You get six 2-ounce tubes with the colors Benzimidazolone Yellow Medium (PY154), Carbon Black (PBk7), Phthalo Blue (Green Shade PB15:3), Phthalo Green (Blue Shade PG7), Quinacridone Magenta (PR122), and Titanium White (PW6).

Daniel Smith Watercolor Set

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors Essential Set contains six .05 ml tubes of beautiful colors including Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Pyrrol Scarlet, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, and French Ultramarine Blue.

With regards to tubes versus pans, I’m more of the watercolor pan type of person. And with that said, there is something called watercolor sticks. Turns out that sticks have been used for decades in old school architecture drawing and rendering. Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks are the absolute best watercolor sticks available. Now these sticks are not cheap, however, the sticks are three inches long and generous and last FOREVER.

You can get three full sized watercolor pans from one DS watercolor stick, or six half pans. If you purchased half pans from say, Winsor & Newton, you’d pay on average of $7 each! Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks are priced $8.74 across the board, but one stick saves you about $34 in the long run FOR ONE PIGMENT!

What I’ve done is cut each watercolor stick one and placed them into a full-size empty pan, and made my own watercolor set. The sticks consists of binder and pigment. The colors are vibrant, and you can paint very large paintings with them. I recommend getting a red, yellow, blue, violet and brown; white and black are always optional

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castell Finest Artists’ Quality Watercolor Pencils

In lieu of a watercolor stick, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor pencils are pretty affordable, and fun to play around with. The basic set of 12 comes with everything you need to get started, but they also have open stock for when your taste grows. You can draw as normal, or use them as a watercolor pan. Various effects can be achieved by flicking the brush on the edge for a spatter, or dipping the pencil in water for a very thick rich color line. I really like these pencils.


With regards to brushes, do not rely on the number for the size of the brush, as they are all different, Dick Blick has each one with a measurement regarding the length and width of each brush. Here are a few of my very favorites per medium:

Winsor & Newton University Brushes for Oils and Acrylics

You’ll want at least four W&N University brushes, a very small detail round size 3/0, a round size 1, a flat size 4 and a flat size 8 (in University brushes).

Dick Blick Master Squirrel Round Brush

These are soft squirrel brushes which are great for washes. It has a lifetime guarantee. I use a size 6, as I’ve said, don’t rely on the numbers, size 6 is small.

Simply Simmons

If you want good quality brushes for an extremely affordable price, I highly recommend Simply Simmons Brushes by Robert Simmons. These brushes work on every media know to man. They last a long time too, but the cost per brush is $3 to $4. Get small, medium and large for all of your projects, you won’t be disappointed.

The Master’s Brush Cleaner and Preserver, works on all of your brushes. If you use the Masters’ you will have your brushes for years to come. 

Regarding canvases, papers and other supports, see my post called “Supports”.