Tips For Painting On A Budget

Art supplies can be expensive. Let’s talk about some creative ways of to reduce your painting costs.

Torrit Grey

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Every Spring, Gamblin Artists Colors cleans out their air filters and recycles the pigments into a paint they call “Torrit Grey”. Gamblin sends out tubes of this paint to art stores every year around Earth Day (April) and you can pick up a tube for yourself for free.

Gamblin also hosts a Torrit Grey Painting Competition in which artists are asked to create works of art using only Torrit Grey, black, and white oil paints. Here’s a link to the submissions from 2013:

First place winners get $500 in Gamblin artists’ materials and two Honorable Mentions each get $350 of the same. Enter your work and you could be a winner!

Saving Unused Paint

Instead of throwing out unused paint at the end of a painting session, make your own Torrit Grey! Gather up all the unused paint—yep, every single color—and use a palette knife or old brush or mix them all together. You’ll have some sort of a neutral at the end of the process. Keep it in an airtight container and use it for neutral underpaintings, to darken other colors, and as your very own, unique neutral in your paintings.

If you are using oil paints, you can make Torrit Grey from the sludge in the bottom on your solvent container. This is great because it reuses pigments that would otherwise go to waste and it cleans your solvent for reuse at the same time. Watch this video demonstrating how to do this from Gamblin:

Free Samples

A lot of manufacturers give out free samples when you fill out information on their website.


Winsor & Newton offers samples of oil, acrylic, and watercolor paints as well as gouache, inks, and other two-dimensional art products. Fill out their form for a chance to receive samples. The samples are subject to availability, so you may not hear anything back for a while after filling out the form. Still, if you’re in no rush, it’s a good way to get a free sample.

Liquitex also offers free sample-size art materials. Check their website for current offers. As of July 2014, the samples being offered are Liquitex Paint Markers, Liquitex Spray Paint, and Liquitex Acrylics. There are some shipping restrictions, so check the website to make sure shipping to your location is covered.


Yupo makes premium grade synthetic papers that are waterproof and tear- resistant. You can request a free sample by filling out this form here:


Artist’s Network

At the beginning of each month, you can enter you email address for a chance to win one of Artist’s Network’s “swag bags” of art supplies.

Jerry’s Artarama

Enter your story of why you love Jerry’s Artarama for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to shop online at Jerry’s Artarama.

Follow art supply retailers on Facebook and Twitter for announcements of giveaways and prizes.

Hunting for Deals

Try searching Craigslist or eBay for supplies on the cheap. You can generally find sets of paint that are unused or only partially used for much less than you’d pay in an art store.

Check estate sales and garage sales in your area for art supplies or used surfaces you can—gasp!—paint over. 

Thrift stores may also carry art supplies and some cities have thrift stores solely dedicated to art supplies. In San Francisco, SCRAP carries all sorts of odds and ends for art making and you can spend less than $10 for some paper and paints. Because thrift stores don’t have control over the things they carry, you may not always find exactly what we recommend. That’s okay—part of the artistic process is about being creative with what you have access to!

Often times home improvement stores will have “oops” paints—paints that are on clearance because the color wasn’t what the customer wanted. Make sure you get water-based paints—oil-based require solvents for clean up and also need a base coat to prevent damage to your surface. You can use water-based house paint as a primer for your surfaces, although it doesn’t have the proper tooth to hold onto oil paints and is certainly not considered archival (it won’t last forever).

   Using the Internet is a free app for your internet browser that finds the lowest possible price for you from thousands of websites as you shop online. Also has coupon alert and wish list features. and both have coupons and discount codes that can be used for online purchases. has coupons and discount codes that can be used both in-store and online. offers cash back when you shop. Go to their website and search for art supplies. When you click on the name of a retailer and shop there from the Fatwallet site, you earn money back on your purchases. It goes into your Fatwallet account and when you’re ready to be paid, you just let them know and they will either send you a check or deposit the money into your PayPal account. Get up to 6% back on your purchase! will let you know when they post a new deal on their site based on your interests. For example, you can search for “art supplies” and create an alert so they will email you whenever they get a new deal on art supplies.

And always…

…ask for a discount. Lots of stores give out student and senior discounts. Michael’s (arts and crafts store) has a 10% discount for seniors on Tuesdays. Maybe it’s time to take grandma shopping…

Check the websites of different art and craft suppliers for coupons or upcoming sales.

Alternative Surfaces

Cardboard, wood, old doors, driftwood, rocks, soda cans, discarded clothing, paper grocery bags. Anything that paint will stick to!

Artist Kim Alsbrooks paints on discarded beer cans:

alsbrooks-1 alsbrooks-4

Toulouse-Lautrec painted and drew on cardboard a lot:

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1887, pastel on cardboard

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1887, pastel on cardboard

You can make cardboard more archival (last a long time without deteriorating) by sealing it with several coats of acrylic gesso.

Painter Pete Hawkins uses old doors:


In 2011, I challenged some friends to make art using only paper bags from the grocery store. We had an exhibition at a gallery displaying all of our works and the results were great:


Cesar Karamazov


Nash Rightmer and Ryan Carr

Ashleigh Norman, How The Mourning Dove Got Her Name, 2011, oil on paper bags mounted on panel

Ashleigh Norman, How The Mourning Dove Got Her Name, 2011, oil on paper bags mounted on panel

This was my work. I affixed the paper bags to a piece of panel using spray adhesive. I didn’t seal the bags with anything so they remained very absorbent, but I had to be careful not to use too much oil in my paint (otherwise it would have stained).

Try looking in your closet for old clothing that can be recycled into an oil painting surface. Experiment with cotton and linen fabrics that can be stretched like canvas, but be sure to prime well with acrylic gesso (for oil and acrylic paint) or watercolor ground (for watercolors). If you don’t have stretchers, stretch and secure the fabric to a board or wall. Unstretched artworks are very popular these days. You can use grommets in the corners to keep it stretched tight or for hanging when you’re finished.

Fabrics with very little stretch to them are probably best. T-shirt material may be too stretchy, but you can try it! Polyester, vinyl and Nylon will likely not hold onto paint very well. Upholstery fabric works very well and if you like the pattern, you can seal it with a clear gesso or acrylic matte medium and incorporate the pattern into your painting!


This painting was done on blue and green upholstery fabric—you can see the diamond shapes in the background that are part of the fabric.


You don’t have to buy a fancy palette to hold your paints. Try using an old dish or dinner plate, baking dish, or even a frying pan that’s no longer usable for food.

Keep the Styrofoam trays that meat comes in from the grocery store and use that for your palette.

Recently, I went out on a plein air adventure on a boat and needed a small palette that would be easy to use in a crowded space, so I took an old plastic cutting board and covered it with wax paper. The cutting board even had a hole on one side that worked as a thumb hole so I could hold the palette easily. The best part was that when I was finished with my painting, I just took the wax paper off and threw it in the garbage. No messy clean up required.

One of my painter friends just uses wax paper taped to a table.

You can also use glass. Sometimes tile stores give out samples—that’s how I got a thick piece of glass to use as a palette. It’s too heavy to hold, but it’s easy to clean.


Easels can get pretty expensive. You don’t have to buy a fancy one just yet—try some of these alternative easel ideas.

Here’s a homemade tabletop easel from artist/blogger Kristin Maynes:

For the beginning student, here’s a great idea by


An old pizza box!


Cookbook stand:


Of course, it will only hold small canvases unless you put a lightweight board (foam core board) on it first to extend the dimensions.

I’ve also heard of people using an old chair with no arms and propping the canvas against the back. Put a cover on the seat to keep it clean and use the seat as a table for your palette and brushes.

How do you save on art supplies? Send us your thrifty tips using our submission form!

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