I’ve found several students finding ways to cut down on the cost of painting. I want to tell you of some things that I think work well, others, not so well. There are ways to cut down on costs.

There are four things that you absolutely need to paint and they are: paint, brushes, canvas and easel.

Most other things can be found around your house.

Let’s start with the four things your need. What can you cut down on and what do you need to spend your money on?

Paint – I can’t stress this enough. DO NOT BUY STUDENT GRADE PAINT. What you will find with student grade paint is that it has less pigment in it and more oil or fillers. What does that mean to you? You won’t be able to get as rich of a color as you will want. It is weaker. Titanium White is relatively inexpensive in paints. So, if you mix a student grade paint you will need more of the color to mix with your white than you will of a professional grade. Also, your colors will not be as vibrant, fresh and clean. I’ve seen this repeatedly with some of the colors and the frustration of the student in trying to get a nice, vibrant color.

There are some colors that are more expensive than others. Cadmium colors are expensive. Try hansa yellows instead of cadmium yellows. Use a perylene red instead of cadmium red. It’s not exactly the same, but Gamblin’s Perylene Red is closest to a true red. Don’t use cobalt. Try mixing Ultramarine and a little Manganese Blue Hue together instead. A lot of the choices in colors is just habit. There are often alternatives. Then, learn to mix the colors together. Also, start with a limited palette. It’s much better to buy a small amount of colors and learn to mix rather than buying more. You learn more and it costs less. If you haven’t signed up for my  FREE email course on colors, do so. In it there is a video lesson on learning to mix colors.  

Brushes – I’ve had students come to my workshop with mangled, old brushes with dried paint in them. Then wonder why they can’t get a nice, clean, crisp brushstroke. It amazes me. There are certain brushes that you can buy cheaper. The block in brush, a big brush to quickly put in the pattern of the painting on canvas. I’ve used throwaway, bristle hardware brushes and also, an inexpensive nylon flat brush from the craft store. While at the craft store, I will look for small liner brushes, or small round brushes. These are sizes that always seem to splay out pretty quickly, cheap or expensive. At least, that is my experience. So, I buy less expensive ones and then throw away once they splay out. I don’t have the guilt of throwing a brush away when it costs $1 instead of $10. Other than that, save your sanity and frustration and buy good quality of brushes. If you want more information on supplies, I have a  FREE email course on Beginning Painting


Canvas – Now here is a place that you can save money, at least when you are starting to paint. Use a pad of painting paper or buy matboard and apply two coats of shellac from the hardware store to the matboard. You can cut matboard with an exacto knife. It’s lightweight and inexpensive. I also use it for traveling when space and weight is an issue. I know that you will be much more likely to experiment and throw away when you have an inexpensive, easy to get painting surface. I’ve had students bring linen panels to a class and then decide the will save it for when they are better. Now, isn’t the time to buy it.

Easel – I wouldn’t go out and purchase one that is expensive. Until you start painting, you really won’t know your needs with an easel. If you can, buy a used one or inexpensive and later think about what you want. Here’s an article with more info on choosing an easel.

Other supplies

With a palette there  are a number of surfaces that you can use – glass, a piece of formica, plastic sheet, cookie sheet or piece of wood that has been oiled with vegetable oil. Paper towels (porous ones like Viva or Blue shop towels), Palette knife ( a medium size triangular knife) and solvent or oil.

I use a glass palette on my cabinet. With my plein air easels, I have wood and plastic ones. With the plastic, I have to use a plastic scraper. Glass is my preference, but not always convenient for plein air or travel.  One surface that I often see students use if disposable palettes. The problem that I see is that the majority of people don’t clean it off and they are searching for a clean place to mix their paint. It’s possible to use it, but you need to transfer your paint to the next page more often to have a clean space.

The next item is the solvent. For safety, I would skimp here. I use Gamsol, which is the safest on the market. But, you can recycle your solvent. I keep my old can and pour the used solvent into it. Then let it settle and pour off the clear into my clean can.


Your solvent jar can be any jar or can with a water tight lid.

As far as the oil that I spoke about, you don’t have to use solvent to paint. Oil removes oil, so try some oil to remove the paint in your brushes. At one time I didn’t use solvent, I used vegetable oil and I’ve used it since while traveling when I’m in a pinch. I don’t like it as well myself, but it is a matter of getting used to it and making sure that all the oil is wiped out of your brush before getting into the paint. You can always give it a try.

Another link to a related article.

Easy Cleaning of Your Solvent Container