Buying new art supplies is the most fun—and most expensive—part. Don’t think that if you don’t have a lot to spend you can’t still learn to make art. You can! It’s just about being selective and making good choices.
Everything you need to get started painting with acrylics can be found on our Amazon list here.
Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:
You will need:
- A water dish—this can be an empty yogurt container, a jelly jar, or you can purchase different water containers from the art store. A Silcoil (third image) jar is a good option because the coil knocks the paint off your brush and keeps the sediment at the bottom of the tank so you don’t accidentally pick it up with your brush.
- An old rag (or two). This can be an old washcloth, dish towel, or paper towels. You can even purchase painter’s rags at an art supply or hardware store.
- Cleaning supplies. Rubbing alcohol acts as a solvent to dried acrylic paint and in most cases, can get it out of clothing. Wet Ones clean hands well and are handy to have around.
- A few brushes.
For more on brushes, check out the Acrylic Brushes lesson.
- A surface
- A palette. You can buy one or use a paper plate if you want to keep things inexpensive while you’re learning. See our Acrylic Palettes lesson for more information, including how to make your own “stay-wet” palette.I recommend a stay-wet palette when you’re working with acrylic paint. These are plastic boxes with essentially a wet sponge in the bottom to help keep the paint moist so it doesn’t dry out too quickly (this is always the frustrating part with acrylics—you mix the perfect color, but before you can finish, the paint is dry! Mixing it again exactly as you had it is hard, so try to keep your paints wet.) They can run around $20 at an art store, so if you want to save some money (to spend on more paint!) then here’s a good tutorial for making your own “stay-wet” palette: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtvaTQH7FXk. All you need is a Tupperware container with a good seal, some paper towels, water, and parchment paper. You can probably get all these items at a dollar store, so your palette may cost as little as $3! If you’re unsure about painting and don’t want to invest too much money, you can always use a paper plate! Palettes can run anywhere from just a few dollars to more than $60, so there’s something available for every budget.
- A palette knife (optional). While it isn’t completely necessary, it’s handy to have a palette knife for laying out and mixing colors. Metal is best and you’ll want something relatively small so you can keep the color in one area.The palette knife can also be used to scrape paint off your palette when it’s time to clean up, scrape paint off your canvas, or even apply paint on to the canvas! They usually run somewhere between $3 and $20. The one pictured above is a good general palette knife. It’s handle is off-set so you don’t get your fingers in the paint while you’re mixing or cleaning and the sharp tip is good for picking out small bits of color. Remember to wipe off your palette knife on a rag between mixing colors—you don’t want to turn your beautiful colors into mud! For more on palette knives and how they can be used to apply paint to the canvas, see our Acrylic Brushes lesson.
- Glazing medium. This is an additive you mix in with your paint to help it flow as you paint. It’s better than just using water alone because it doesn’t dilute the strength of your paint colors.
- An easel. Either you can buy an easel or use a cheaper alternative, but you’ll want something to hold your canvas upright and at a slight angle for you to work on.
A very small, thin easel can be relatively inexpensive, though not very sturdy if you’re planning to do a lot of painting.
A tabletop easel is a good solution for the home painter who doesn’t have much room. The Ravenna tabletop easel is reasonably priced and has a built-in box to store your paints and brushes:
The Ravenna tabletop easel (~$56) can also be folded up and taken with you if you plan to paint on location (see Painting en Plein Air lesson for more about this).
A typical artist’s easel.
If you’re working outside a lot, you may want to get a plein air easel.
Even if you’re not working outside a lot, plein air easels are nice because they have built-in storage for your paints/brushes/mediums and fold up into convenient little suitcases for carrying around and storing.
And if you’re going crazy, here’s a pro easel (these can be well over $500!):
This easel can be purchased online for $910 (which is the sale price).
You can also look on Craigslist or eBay for an easel, or try building one yourself if you’re handy!
Here’s a homemade tabletop easel from artist/blogger Kristin Maynes:
For the beginning student, here’s a great idea by Juxtapost.com:
Colors To Buy; Student Versus Artist Grade Paint
And of course, you’ll need paint! We recommend starting off with three simple colors (titanium white, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna). See below. There are a lot of good student grade paints out there for beginners. They’re less expensive and you can buy them in large quantities so you’re free to waste a little paint during your experimentation process.
What colors should I buy?
For the first two exercises, you’ll need to purchase the following colors:
Cadmium Yellow Light
What’s the difference between student grade and artist grade paint?
A lot of beginning painters are nervous to buy good quality paints because they’re afraid of wasting them, but good quality paints can really change your work for the better. Artist or professional grade paints are higher in pigment load (more pigment = better color, not so much filler. It’s like the difference between a fast food hamburger and making a burger yourself. The one from the fast food restaurant, though cheap, is full of filler while the one you make yourself is made from fresh, wholesome ingredients). Artist grade paints have more color variety (more to choose from) and less shift in color (acrylic paints darken as they dry). One of the biggest differences between Student and Artist grade paints is how they mix with white. Artist colors, because of their high pigment load, will retain their vibrancy when mixed with white while Student grade colors tend to dull out when mixed with white. See a demonstration of that here:
Some of the more expensive colors like cadmium red will only be available as hues in Student grade paints. A hue means that it is an imitation color and not the real thing, so you won’t get the color saturation with a hue that you would with the actual pigment. (Learn more about what these mean in our Basic Color Theory lesson.)
Shopping at DickBlick.com, these paints are about $7/each, depending on the brand and size (for example, roughly $7 will get you 8.5 ounces of student grade paint or 2 oz. of artist grade paint). Here are some brands to try:
Exercise One: Scavenger Hunt
Have your own scavenger hunt! Review our Acrylics Recommendation List so you have a reminder of items you might scavenge. How many of these items can you find already in your house? For example: instead of buying a plastic palette, look in your kitchen for some old Tupperware (there must be one that’s lost its lid!). Instead of buying rags, find an old beach towel or t-shirt that can be used. Before you buy a plastic storage bin, try using a carry-on suitcase that only gets used once a year when you go on holiday or clean out a cardboard box in your garage. If you have access to a woodshop and are comfortable with building things, find some scrap wood and search Google for instructions on how to build your own easel. Making art does not have to break the bank!
Exercise Two: Budget
Come up with a budget. You’ll need to consider your personal budget before determining what supplies you can afford when shopping at your local art store or online.
If you want to use it, we’ve created a simple Excel budget worksheet for you to download and use in figuring out your personal art budget: Acrylic Budget Worksheet.
You’ll notice our Starter Budget came to $113.93 and the Full Budget was $257.89. Click on the tab at the bottom of the worksheet to see the other budget (see tabs circled in red in the screenshot below). We have come up with our budgets by finding the recommended items at online retailers. For better bargains, try going to thrift stores, garage and yard sales, or purchase supplies with a friend or two so everyone can share in the cost and materials (and experience!) together. Remember, the Starter Budget allows you to complete only the first painting tutorial–after that, you’ll need to buy more paints.
As indicated on the Worksheet, enter the supplies you need under ‘Enter Quantity’ in Column G, and the Price per item in the adjacent column H. The Worksheet automatically computes your budget. See the screenshot below that shows you how to change the currency from US dollars to your currency, after highlighting Columns H and I.
A note about brushes: The biggest mistake beginners make is buying brushes that are too small. Big brushes seem intimidating (how will I get any detail?) but you’d be surprised with what you can do with a few nice big brushes. If it were us buying them, we would get a size 12 flat, a size 10 filbert, and a 4 round. You’ll lay out your broad strokes with the 12, tidy it up a bit with the 10, and add detail at the end with the 4. The flat brush will leave hard lines, but the filbert has softer edges you can blend with.
You can paint on just about everything with acrylics! See the Surfaces lesson for more on that. The most popular surface is a canvas. To start with, buy an 8” x 10” or larger stretched canvas. You can always reuse a canvas by painting over an old painting (again, see the Surfaces lesson to learn more).
Exercise Three: Our Recommendation List And Let’s Go Shopping
Now that you know what you need to buy, it’s time to go shopping. Download and print our Acrylics Recommendation List so you have it handy when you do your shopping. You may choose to go to an art store near you or do your shopping online. If you prefer to shop online, we have an Amazon list with all our recommended supplies for you here!
Key Lesson Learnings: You’ve learned about the painting supplies for your chosen medium, the difference between artist and student grade paint, then budgeted and purchased the supplies you need to continue your studies. Great start!
Next lesson: Acrylic Palettes