Oil Painting on a Budget: How You Still Can Afford It

Let’s face it, times are tough economically for everyone these days, not just for artists.  But if you are an artist who must budget in your art supplies, I have a few ideas that may help.

Even Pablo Picasso found himself with no money for his art, but managed to paint anyway.

Pablo Picasso, La Vie, Chicago Museum of Art

Creativity will serve you well beyond your artwork if you use it to find ways to paint without having to buy new supplies. In Picasso’s case, his “Blue Period” coincided with the poorest days of his life. The reason being not only a depressed state of mind, but more importantly because he could no longer afford pigments and had only blue left to paint with.

Expensive cotton duck canvas on expensive stretcher bars is not the only surface that can be used for oil painting. If you look hard enough you can probably find plenty of alternatives around your house/garage.  Wood, plywood, and hardboard, all make great surfaces. They are easily primed with a couple of coats of gesso, and depending on the thickness, can be self-sufficient. A thin piece of wood, less than 1/2 an inch in thickness or so, will do better if gesso is applied to both sides of the wood in order to prevent warping. Very thin, bendable sheets of wood can also be pinned or clamped to a surface in order to keep it flat in the painting process.  A large sheet (4′ x 8′) of thin plywood or hardboard purchased at Home Depot for around $12 can be cut into numerous smaller or even large size canvases, which end up being less than a $1 each.

Similarly, paper can also be used for oil painting as long as it is fairly thick and preferably acid free.  You can buy very inexpensive poster paper at the local large discount retailers or craft retailers such as Walmart, Michael’s or Hobby Lobby.  You can get 3 large sheets (22″ x 28″) of poster paper for around $1.  Before you paint on the paper, you will need to prime it with a spray primer or gesso.  You can get a can of good spray primer in the paint department of Walmart for around $2.  The primer or gesso acts as a ground to keep the oil paint from getting to the paper.  Apply 2 or 3 generous coats of primer to the paper and let dry before painting. Without the primer or gesso the paper will quickly rot or fall apart from the oil that will soak into it from the pigments.

If you don’t have wood or thick acid-free paper around the house, 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. If you don’t have stretchers, stretch and secure the fabric to a board or wall. Unstretched artworks are very popular these days.

For brushes, I will suggest 2 strategies.  First strategy, if you have a little extra in your budget, go ahead and buy the best brushes you can afford, even up to the very expensive ones.  Then take very good care of them. Wash them with warm soapy water after every use or let them stand in vegetable oil between uses. The vegetable oil will keep them conditioned and in pristine shape.  Second strategy, if you have no extra money in your budget, is to buy the very cheapest brushes and use them literally until they wear out or fall apart.  Treat them the same as the expensive brushes by either washing with warm soapy water or soaking in vegetable oil or both.  It will get you the most miles from your money here.

Oil Paints

Winsor Newton's less expensive student grade- Winton Series

There are a number of student grade oil paints that are relatively inexpensive.  Windsor Newton makes its Winton Series,which is student grade but still very good.  Ask your local hobby store for the student grades that it recommends.


About Gary Bolyer Fine Art

I am a New York City-based landscape artist.
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