“Arting” Must Haves: What Things Do I Really Need in Order to Start Creating?

New artists that are just beginning sometimes stop themselves before they even start. They usually ask me questions like “What do I need in order to get started?” or “Art supplies are so expensive, can I use the cheap (insert cheaper art supply name here)?” These are not easy questions to answer for people, not because I don’t know what people need….but more because of the amount of people who let the idea of not having the “in” tools simply paralyze them to where they create nothing. Sometimes it won’t matter if you assure them that they already have what they need, they won’t believe that because they don’t have what they “think” they need. There are really only 4 things that you will need to get started, keep reading and I will tell you what those are.

Can you even tell the quality at first glance?

Part of the issue is that the art elite make it seem like such a high dollar task. I have heard so many things about not being in the “rich kids” club and that if you don’t have this brush or that paint your art isn’t as good. That is bullshit. I have seen masterpieces done with spray paints and a broken down wall. I have seen amazing art done with musty book pages and coffee. You may develop a preference because you like the way a certain paint glides or you like the feel of a specific type of canvas, but there isn’t a standard that you MUST adhere to. You can paint your masterpieces with your fingers…you can opt for the $5 acrylics rather than the $150 oils. It really doesn’t matter, to the PEOPLE that matter. These rules are fake.

Just throw out all of those notions that you are a better artist when you have all the swag. A really great artist will do the unimaginable with the simplest ingredients. The artists that we consider to be our “masters” didn’t have all the bells and whistles. They used what they could find to make the paint colors. They experimented with what they could and came up with the most amazing things. They had imagination and vision. Just think about that when you are trying to compare your arting bounty with that of another artist.

So, now that you know how I feel about this I will give you an honest answer about my “must haves”. When I say this I just ask that you understand that must is subjective. Just keep in mind that if I didn’t have the materials that I am going to recommend to you, I would still create. I have been without before…there were times in my life where I painted with my fingers and I made paint out of whatever I could get ahold of. There were times where the 50 cent tubes of paint from Walmart were what I could get…and I was happy to have them.

First….you need some sort of surface to paint on. This could be wood scraps, drywall, paper, cardboard, canvas boards, stretched canvases, mirrors, and ANYTHING else that moves you. I have a bad habit of always painting on my tables. If I see a piece of furniture that has a chip in the paint I am likely to paint on it if given the chance. The mood will eventually strike me. I had a husband once that hated that fact about me. Funny thing is that I think that his severe disapproval of my urge to paint on everything only fueled the need further.

Easels are nice...but you should paint any way you can!

All of that being said…I do actually have a preference. I admit it, I am spoiled at this point in my life. I LIKE the professional level wrapped canvases that they sell in most craft stores, I take it back…I LOVE them. I will say that I use the ones from Michaels Crafts most often. Of course, there is nothing that says you can’t still make sure you are smart enough to use massive coupons and take advantage of sale items to get these…in fact, I recommend that. Even once you are able to afford these things at full price, why?

I totally love painting on these canvases because it FEELS like butter. They are smooth and they hold the paint so well. The thickness of the sides inspires me. However, I will still use the canvas panels…I will still buy the packs with like 10 canvases in them. I like to have a variety on hand. I also like to teach using the cheaper ones. Not because I don’t think that the work of a newer artist isn’t worthy, but I teach using these because if the student can learn to make awesome art on the more simplistic canvas types they can literally do ANYTHING. You should master what you HAVE access to and not what you WANT access to.

Brushes come in all shapes and sizes. Don't be afraid to research the uses of each type and adapt from there!

Second….you need brushes. I mean like almost ANY brushes. Don’t go into the craft store and pick out a whole bunch of brushes that are super fancy and high priced. Start SIMPLE! Sometimes the best learning tools are going to be the packs of Hobby Lobby brushes that are different shapes and sizes. They aren’t super expensive, but you can learn with them. You can create….and you don’t have to find yourself in tears if you mess them up experimenting with materials. I started with the crappy brushes made of plastic when I was a kid. I used to think that those were the shit….I didn’t know any better. I now know that those are simply shit….haha! I did get a chance to learn and to play though and I think that those shitty brushes served their purpose.

At this point in my life and in my career I buy brushes that are a little bit more expensive than the simple Hobby Lobby packs, but sometimes I really want the handy cheapies that remind me of when I still created simply out of JOY. That reminder makes me realize why I started and also why I continued to paint. The reminders keep me grounded so that my work maintains the standard I set as a child…I need to love creating and I need to only seek to be a better version of ME. Even now I will drop my brushes or hold one in my teeth while I add to my painting with my fingers. Still the BEST paint brush that I own to this day. Hands down….get it, HANDS?! Ha ha ha…okay, I know it was a cheap joke.

Third…you need paints. Seems pretty simple right? Not so much. You have watercolors, tempera, oils, acrylics, gouache, and many other things….some of which are different grades or versions of those I listed above. They even have different levels of ‘quality’ within those categories as well. Maybe you’re a pencil or pen artist. Maybe you like markers or colored pencils. Maybe you paint with food items. Some artists paint with blood. I think that is probably not a very healthy option, but some paints are very harmful in their chemical properties as well. I am not a person that will say “You shouldn’t use those because (insert overly sensitive reason here).” I will only tell you that if it isn’t food you shouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it in your mouth, eyes, nose, ears, on your skin, in your butthole, etc. I shouldn’t need to give a reason…you’re supposed to be an adult, just DON’T do it. Knowing this, you should be able to use most any type of paint without serious injury or harm.

Some artists use only spray paints...

There are factors that help you decide which paint to use, but most of this is really experimenting. You want it to dry quick? Acrylic. You want it to dry slow…if at all? Oil. You want to control the fade and depth of color more? Watercolor. There are so many options for paints and materials to use. Try as many as you want to or that you have the opportunity to. You have to find what you like and what works for you. There isn’t anyone that can tell you this. If you can’t get professional grade, get student…if you can’t afford either of those then just use the craft grade paints. Those can be great and you can make some awesome stuff. Besides, you can get the Folk Art brand paints on a budget and still have some lovely color depth to your paintings. I will admit that I have a large amount of these in my studio at any given time.

I have ALL types of paint. I have pretty much anything under the sun that you can think of…but I have my favorites. I like the Liquitex Professional Heavy Body paints just as much as the next guy….they are actually some of my favorites. I also have some of the Basics line and many of the Professional Acrylic Inks. I use their gels, and mediums. I have the varnishes…but I sometimes require the Golden professional paints, or their High Flow line. I use the Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colors, but I use the Arteza paints as well. I like the Gamblin paints and the Bob Ross Oil Colors. As I said before, it really depends on what the project is that I am working on. I use fancy spray paints and I use cheap ones. Sometimes I use Valspar paints when I can get them. I waste nothing and they all have a place.

Fourth….and lastly, you need one more thing if you really want to start creating. That thing is the one thing that you couldn’t buy even if you wanted to. That thing is PASSION. You aren’t going to use the patience that is needed to learn how to create if you don’t have it. You won’t work tirelessly to master the materials and develop your own techniques if you don’t love it. You won’t respect and honor the materials that you have if you don’t have passion to create. Being an artist is like being in love. You can’t force that kind of feeling. You can’t stop that kind of compulsion. You can’t feed that kind of hunger.

Regardless of the other things that you may ever attempt to do in your life, you won’t be able to hide this type of passion. You don’t need to hide it either, you really need to USE it. Use that to fuel your search for the BEST materials for you. Make sure that you are letting passion drive you in your failures and in your successes. Don’t be afraid to go against the art elite and decide what works best for you. Don’t FEAR finding out that all of their rules are total bullshit. Shatter that standard by ALWAYS creating real, raw, and amazing work!

And when you do…make sure you come back to show me!

Passion is what matters!

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