Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The art of economising - on art materials

Swimming against the tide
8" x 10", coloured pencils on Saunders waterford HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Every morning I glance at the headlines in the paper that I read online. This morning's headline jumped off the screen at me - Economy: 80% fear we are heading for recession - ICM poll. As a result 60% are trying to spend less, with clothes and fuel costs heading the list of cutbacks.

But there was no mention of art materials..........

What does spending less mean for artists?

The one advantage of age is that you accumulate lots of experience to draw on when it comes to a recession. It comes from having survived times when you didn't have so much money and/or you went through a recession.....or two, or three! It's not very nice while it lasts but a bit of ingenuity can go a long way in terms of making life easier.

So what does spending less mean for artists? Below is a checklist of my ideas - do feel free to comment at the end about how you can improve on what I've suggested and/or what your ideas are for making your resources go further.

I bet lots of you are doing some or all of these already. If you've got a tick against most of them I just know you've already thought of extra ways to recycle art materials and/or avoid unnecessary expense - so please comment and share your ideas with the rest of us.

  • Customer orientation - Look for suppliers of art materials who are looking to work with artists as they try to make their money stretch further.
  • Quality products and premium prices - Don't avoid good quality suppliers - premium pricing can come unstuck in a recession. Look for major discounts on slow moving and/or high priced stock and/or stock which becomes very much subject to discretionary rather than essential spending.
  • Availability and premium prices - Having it 'now' costs money. Learn to embrace deferred gratification! Think about whether you can wait or whether you can place orders in good time to avoid any fast delivery premium. Plus art books which have just published don't attract as big a discount from online suppliers compared to those that have been out six months.
  • Quantity and discount prices - Buying small quantities costs money. Find out and learn about ways in which you can earn discounts. Embrace co-operative endeavour - see below! :)
  • Trade discount In a face to face situation and/or when spending a lot of money ask for a 'trade' discount or a discount for cash.
  • Practice discipline - stop 'dropping in' to the art shop even though you don't really need anything and/or buying things on a whim or things you don't really need. Make a mental resolution that you're not allowed to buy any more stock until you've had a good go at using what you've already got.
Media and supports
  • Organisation pays! - Tidy up all existing supplies and prepare to be amazed by how much unused stock you have already!
  • Accessibility helps - Make all your supplies accessible so you can see what you've got and don't end up running to the art store or placing an order - and then spending more than you intended do.
  • Create revenue - Sell off all stock which you don't like/have hardly used
  • Practice economy - Painters - squeeze that tube - or get one of those "nifty tube squeezer thingies"! Coloured pencil artists - try using solvent for base coats - it makes CPs go a lot further.
  • Be cost-efficient - Think about how you can cut up existing stock efficiently to make stock sized supports
  • Recycle - Work out which examples of old work can be reused/painted over to create new work
Mats and Frames
  • Stock sizes - Stop being so 'freeform' in your creativity and and cut your framing costs by learning how to work to stock sizes
  • Recycle - Recycle frames rather than having new ones made. Keep off cuts from mats and find good uses for them - eg as a support for new work
  • Learn how to cut - Learn how to cut your own mats. Learn how to cut a sheet of mat board efficiently.....and, it almost goes without saying, measure twice and cut once!
  • Makeover - Learn how you can 'improve' cheap frames and make them look good
Packaging and despatch
  • Recycle - Recycle as much packaging as possible. Find ways of making packaging both robust and cost-efficient.
  • Let your customer save money too! - Give customers the option of choosing how much they pay for despatch - between slower/costs less and faster/costs more
Art Books

I love art books and a major part of my art spend budget is on art books. So..........
  • Cut transaction time - Stay out of book shops (I ration my visits!)
  • Accessibility - Get your art books off the floor and onto shelves so you can see what you've got ( my #1 priority!)
  • Recycle - Read existing art books again! We know we all spent far too much time looking at the pictures first time round.....
  • Never pay full price..... - Check out second-hand book prices on online sites. I'm always absolutely amazed how much cheaper the 'used' option can be when adding in the book modules to my information sites.
  • ...Only ever pay discounted prices - Use online sites for book ordering - and get that massive discount and use the time saved to make more art!
  • Free delivery - Use the no delivery charges option
  • Practice deferred gratification - wait before you place that order! Do you still really want it in a week's time
  • Create a book fund - Sell the books that bored you and use the revenue to create a fund for buying 'new ones' at 'used' prices
  • Read for free - Join a lending library and place your order for that expensive art book you wanted to read
  • Access other forms of learning - Use online sites more for learning/finding things out about art
Trade-offs and co-operative action

Trade-offs - This is my absolute favourite method of economising. I don't spend less on art if I can help it - I just spend less on everything else!!! But to work properly I have to mentally trade cost items within my budget if I want more art materials and books. Let's put it this way - I don't buy a lot of new clothes any more!

Co-operate / Buy in bulk - Work out ways in which you can create opportunities for trading and co-operative purchasing in bulk. Some local art societies/clubs make arrangements for buying materials in bulk to get much better prices. The trick is to work out what are the sort of things you all use (or could use) and what are the sort of products where discounts can be had for bulk buys. Examples are:
  • packs of paper rather than individual sheets
  • any product which can be safely decanted into smaller containers
  • standard cream/ivory mats
  • standard mouldings for framing
Trade skills/stock - Other options are to trade skills and/or stock.
  • Do swops with other artists you know. What have you got that they want and vice versa
  • Trade stock for skills and vice versa. If you know an artist who knows how to do what you can't do (eg cutting mats) then work out a trade which benefits you both.
  • Swop art books with people at your art club
  • Suggest your art society/club create an art book/video library for temporary loan and/or swops

As you'll no doubt appreciate there's a bit of recycling and co-operative endeavour flavour to my suggestions - but that's just the way I think! ;)

So - is there anything there that can help you through the threatened recession? Or do you have a really great idea for cutting costs or saving money that you'd like to share?

Please use the comments facility below to continue the The Art of Economising Checklist


Rose Welty said...

My art books are funded by my credit card...meaning I got one of those Amazon cards, we use it for everything and get $25 free at Amazon just about every month. (Of course, we pay the full balance every month and don't incur interest charges.)

Making A Mark said...

Wow - that's fantastic! I'd not heard about that before - what a good idea.

Gillian McMurray said...

You are a woman after my own heart. I recognise alot of your advice in my own behaviour. Among the tips I use already are recycling frames and packaging, buying secondhand books and I always use Amazon's free delivery when I buy new books. I even learned to cut my own mats. It really does make a difference to outgoings. Selling my own books is definitely the hardest advice to follow though.

Julie Oakley said...

Charity shops - a great source for frames and all that recycling is so green!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Katherine. I've recently had a bit of a rude awakening about how much I've spent on art supplies this year and I'm going to start putting some of your ideas into effect! (I blogged about your post this morning on Feathers of Hope...)

MaryAnn Cleary said...

I, too, have found great frames at the local thrift stores for a bargain price. I also use the Amazon card as well as being an Amazon Prime member where shipping is fast and free. The Prime membership isn't, but I found that it has more than paid for itself with me ordering only books that I need or want and not trying to add more on to reach "free shipping". I also purchased a printer through Amazon as well as the inks (that all qualified for Prime) so that I could create my own prints using pigmented inks and my choice of archival papers. I found that those prints done by third parties had little or no border and I needed control over the process plus saving the costs of a middle person.

Making A Mark said...

I'd forgotten about the frames - I check out the photographic frames in interior/furniture stores. With a new back they're very serviceable and cheap for smaller works where you don't want to spend a lot of money.

BTW - my quip about surviving previous recessions was real - I can remember the ones in 60s, 70s and 90s - but apparently there are a few more - read the Times Online re Britain's 10 worst recessions ever. That was a bit of an eye-opener!

Unknown said...

Katherine, thanks for all these great suggestions! Sometimes I need to sit back and think of things like this, especially ordering materials I don't need yet or can't find under other art materials.
Last winter I wrote to Golden and asked if they had any seconds or extras, explaining that I'm a full time artist in a wheelchair. Well, they sent me so much stuff! Besides huge bottles of acrylics, they sent gallons of medium. And the man at my local frame shop handed me a huge box of frames he didn't want anymore! So sometimes it doesn't hurt to just ask.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Deborah! That reminds me - my framer said he had something for me - I think I muttered about needing to find room for it first!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I have to agree heartily with ordering just what you need -- and that means figuring out what colors you use all the time and what supports are your favorites. It's cheaper to buy most supports in bulk, so rather than getting 1 of each size or type, buying 4 of a kind . . . etc.

Also, making your own supports saves a ton of money. I switched from pastelboard to masonite and Colorfix primer. Saved me a ton of money last year.

Great and timely post, Katherine!

Felicity Grace said...

What a timely post - I was in Green & Stone *and* Cornellison yesterday! I bought only what I went in to buy (Polychromos) and found the Lyra pencils on your recommendation and yes, they are super! (There are better deals to be had but I need to try pencils out, being fairly new to cp.) I've never been one to go overboard with art supplies and find there is a tendency amongst some art bloggers to talk more of supplies than the work (ask a question on the groups about technique and ask about materials and note the difference!) - so there must be a lot of wonderful art supplies out there gathering dust. I think an art list where we could swap/trade similarly priced/hardly used or new things might come in useful.
The bottom line is buying only what one needs probably. Referring to your post about art books that don't actually instruct, I think they many of those could easily be struck of the wishlist!

Anonymous said...

I keep an excel spreadsheet of all my paint and pastel colours so I don't buy ones I already have just cos the colour appeals to me. (I have a print out I put in my bag when shopping) I live many hours from any real art supply stores so that helps too.
I only check my favorite online art supplier once a month, and even then only check the specials page unless I am about to run out of something essential.

Jeanette Jobson said...

Great post Katherine as we all feel the pinch when spending on art supplies.

I use my local dollar store to buy 8 x 10 stretched canvasses for $1 each. Perfect for stock for classes. I can also get canvas panels there too for the same price in a variety of sizes.

I wait for big sales to buy larger purchases of more expensive items - such as 40% off coupons once or twice a year at Michaels.

I am getting into the habit of buying stock sizes of frames and working to fit. Again, buy in bulk and buy on sale where possible.

I order online and check around for pricing then buy in bulk so reducing my shipping costs.

I have also vowed to work down my 'stash' before I buy more supplies for the rest of this year. My art cupboard of full of legitimate and not so legitimate supply buys. So unless I need a very specific item, I won't allow myself to indulge til 2009. Unless of course, something that I use constantly is on super sale and they're virtually giving it away!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to get your selling on line tips. Judy

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know more about fixing up old frames, and what you mean about changing the backs on store frames. Great info on this blog, always. Judy

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