“Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without.”
As an artist and crafter, I have (as one would expect) a variety of art supplies.
As an artist who has decided to make “art” my living by using a variety of types of mediums – from different types of pencil work, painting, drawing, and even textiles and needlework – I have quite a few art supplies. Probably more than the average creative soul, although from what I have seen, some of my colleagues and artistic friends have rivaled me. They put my own stash to shame, actually.
Since I have been creating for most of my life, I feel little guilt about the number of supplies that I have accumulated. Not only because these are required to make my living, but because as someone who is always seeking to learn new techniques, improve on skills that I have, and grow as an artist or a teacher, I feel quite justified in the scope and variety of supplies that I own, as these are the tools I need to be successful both in my personal and professional creative endeavors.
But when is what we have considered “enough”?
If we ask our spouse or our other non-creative friends and family members, the answer may be something like, “about five years ago.” I find that to most non-artists that I know, they look at something like ‘paint’ as just that – “paint”. A pencil is simply a pencil. Paper is simply paper. A brush is just a brush. (You get the point.) There is no need to differentiate or further sub-divide or expand each category. They look at our accumulation of materials as somewhat self-indulgent and wasteful. They are actually a bit confused because they don’t understand that each type of pencil, paint, and paper has unique characteristics that allow us to create using certain techniques. Each medium is specialized to a point and in order to be successful in creating with it, we need to use certain supplies that have been tested and found to be conducive to that medium.
We have come a long way since drawing on the walls of caves.
As I was doing some light organizing of my painting and drawing supplies, I couldn’t help but feel happy and proud of the treasure trove of quality materials that I have accumulated over the past few years. Most of these supplies were bought over the last five to ten years and many of them are top-shelf art supplies that any artist would be proud to own.
I have quite an impressive variety of types of mediums, too. This is because I feel that making art or being an artist shouldn’t restrict us to using only a certain type of tool to create. I used to think that the term ‘Multi-Media Artist’ pertained more to those who were more crafty than arty (snob that I was) and it is only as I become more educated and explore art more do I understand that many – if not most – types of artwork pieces are created using a mixture of types of materials. Some consider that ‘cheating’, but I think that any means used to come to a creative end is acceptable to me. There is nothing wrong with using whatever is necessary to make something look nice. That, to me, is what art and creating are all about.
The only problem I have with my own art supplies is that even though I had many of them for several years, they are still in near-new or near-pristine condition. While it is desirable and expected that we take good care of the things that we cherish and worked hard to obtain, there becomes a point when we are almost afraid to use our nice things for fear that we may spoil or ruin them. We feel that what we will create with them will not live up to their beauty and quality and we will disappoint ourselves because it will feel that we are ‘wasting’ something we hold precious.
I speak for myself here, but I suspect that there are many of you who feel the same. I have a large stash of wood pieces that I purchased from my days when I belonged to the painting chapters when I lived in Chicago that still reside (unused, and unpainted) carefully packed in storage in my basement. Every so often I open the boxes and look at them and wonder to myself if I am brave enough to use them and paint on them without feeling that I would be ruining them. To give you an idea of how long I have had them, I have lived here in Canada for over 16 years now. I actually liked them enough to haul them from Chicago when I moved here and had limited space, knowing that I wanted to paint on them and not wanting to leave them behind. Yet here they sit. Untouched.
What am I waiting for?
I do the same with paper it seems. As I explore different types of mediums, I realized that many of them require specialized paper – or at least paper that will offer optimal use of that medium. One example of this that is pretty commonly known is watercolor paper. There is hot press (smoother), cold press (rougher), and everything in between for a variety of textures and also a number of weights and thicknesses and composite materials (such as pure cotton) which will offer different levels of absorption and longevity of the finished piece – depending on your needs and goals. Not to mention colors.
Then there are papers best used for drawing with colored pencils. And papers best used with pastels. Different types work best with oil pastel and others are best with soft (chalky) pastel. And graphite. And ink or marker. (Etc., etc., etc . . . ) The list goes on.
You can see how one can quickly fall down the rabbit hole of having the latest and greatest supplies. As someone new to a medium or technique, it is easy to want to try everything available that is hailed by this and that teacher. It takes restraint and patience not to do so. Also some trial and error.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that there is a rhyme and reason we have for trying new supplies. For those of us who create, our collective goal is to be a better artist. I don’t think any of us really just spend money on supplies to spend it. We hope that what we are buying is something that is not only a quality that we are expecting but also something that will make our creative journey fun and pleasant and give us a sense of accomplishment and help us learn. That’s a lot to ask from a pencil or a piece of paper, but it is something we continually are searching for in our artistic journey. When we find something that fills our needs and we feel comfortable with it, it adds to the excitement and pleasure of our creative process. We only need not be afraid to use it.
This brings me to the point of my post. Can the supplies we own be deemed as ‘too precious’?
My answer to that question at this point is, “I certainly hope not.”
As I did the general straightening of my drawing and painting cabinet and was admiring my beautiful supplies, I noticed just how little so many of them were used. Part of this was because it was a very busy year for me with the woodcutting part of my business. It is difficult for me to come down from my shop after a full day of work and start creating. Sometimes I was already working for 12 or more hours at that point and I just didn’t have it to be in me to be creative. I would spend the rest of the evening browsing my photo sites and Pinterest and planning project after project. It seems though that I spent more time planning than I did actually creating. That realization was a bit disappointing.
However, this past year (2021) was probably one of the most prolific years for me in regards to me creating art for arts’ sake – not for my business. As you see from my previous posts, I follow several online teachers and I feel that I have learned a lot and created a lot of paintings and drawings. This is evident when I look back on the posts and see the pile of artwork I have stored. But I can do better.
This is my cabinet that sits in my studio room that holds most of my drawing and painting supplies. (My DecoArt Acrylic paints and mediums are located in a different location which will be another post in itself. These are my ‘fine art’ supplies)
I actually had this piece and another, taller cabinet that is located on the opposite side of the room built for me a couple of years ago when we moved into our other house. The other cabinet holds my embroidery supplies for kits as well as threads and beads. This cabinet is mainly the drawing and painting supplies.
I specifically wanted the cabinet(s) to be very deep (about 23″) so that I had room for a layer of boxes and supplies with some empty shelf space in front. This way when I finished for the evening, I could just tuck what I was working on in the front ‘for now’ until I next had the chance to work on it again. My studio and desk would remain neat even if I didn’t get back to the project for a few days. I am a firm believer that my workspace needs to be neat so my mind can be clear and concentrate on what I am creating. Those who know me know that I generally keep it all like that most of the time. 😉
When I open the cabinet, you can see how I store things:
Everything is organized and pretty much labeled. (Yes – I love my label maker! 😀 )
On the top shelf, there are my most-used brushes. Behind them are my larger watercolor tube sets, Inktense pencils and blocks, and some watercolor palettes, as well as my mini-brushes in the beautifully painted box on the right, which was a gift from a friend. The brushes are easy to grab at a moment’s notice.
The next shelf (from the top down) is Alcohol markers and inks, markers, and my sets of India inks. Under that are my beautifully boxed sets of both Sennelier oil pastels and Faber-Castell Polychromo pencils. (The Prismacolor pencils are in the box that sits on the top of the cabinet). There are also a box of drawing extras and some Paul Rubens metallic oil pastels behind the pencil cases on the left.
The next shelf holds my box of palettes, ink extras (fluids, mediums, pens, etc.), the bee box contains my smaller watercolor pans and sets made from the larger tubes above, and my glass glitter.
The stacks of tins are all gems in themselves, they are my Caran D’ache guache crayons, Carbothello pastel pencils, Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils, Pitt pastel pencils, Conte a Paris pastel sticks wiping tools, and PanPastels.
The boxes on the right are cards and papers of smaller sizes.
The bottom shelf holds my main stash of “good paper”. That stack of paper on the left is about 14″ tall. The bottom of the right stack is stretched watercolor paper, the box on top of it is my rubber stamps and then on top of that are watercolor cards and more watercolor paper. It may not seem to be a lot of paper by some standards, but all of these papers are what I consider artist-grade and are precious.
The containers on the right of the bottom shelf are leftover embroidery threads, which are in another category and overflow. It is probably for the best that they are there, as it means that I can fit no more paper and it helps make me aware that I have enough for many, many projects.
When I sit here and list all of the beautiful supplies that I have accumulated, it gives me a sense of satisfaction. Not only have I worked hard to curate such a beautiful collection of materials, but I look forward to transforming these materials into something even better: Artwork.
Every type of supply has a purpose. I find that I have very few that overlap or perform in the same way as another. So while looking at the entire lot may seem excessive to many, I feel the need to stand my ground in that each set is unique and has a function all its own. It has a purpose.
If there is anything to be guilty of, it is that I am still somewhat afraid to use some of these precious supplies for fear of ‘ruining them’ or maybe not living up to the potentially beautiful art that they are capable of creating. I know that sounds silly, but I also know many fellow artists that share my insecurities and fears in this respect. We don’t want to ‘waste’ that precious piece of paper or those precious pencils or paint, and because of those fears, we spend our time planning, procrastinating, and avoiding using the best supplies and surfaces. That in itself is the biggest travesty.
For those of you who may not have read previously, I am taking this month (December) “off” of the woodworking part of my business as a kind of sabbatical so that I can take a break from cutting wood and spend the time focusing on learning, creating, and designing. While some of this will include things that will involve the business, I will mostly be focusing on my own personal journey and growth as an artist. Naturally, this will also benefit my business in the long run, as it will make me a better-informed teacher. I think it will be a positive experience all around. I work hard all year long, and I feel that I not only earned this time, but I also need it in order to keep fresh and not burn out from doing what I love.
One of the biggest goals I have for the upcoming year is to USE these beautiful supplies that I have just showcased. I want to see that pile of paper go down a bit, use some of those lovely, packed-away surfaces, and actually RUN OUT of some of the colors of paint, pencils, and pastels. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
I hope to blog frequently about this part of my journey. I want to go into each type of supply with a little more detail as to what it does and why I have chosen it. Each thing has a purpose and I hope that my own experiences with these lovely supplies can also help and inspire YOU! You may see something you want to try and I am happy to share my experience with it. There are very few of these things that I regret getting and I would love to share both my positive and not-so-positive experiences with each thing.
My biggest regret will be if I don’t use them. No supply should be considered too “precious” to be used.
I think my first focus should be on my watercolor paints. Next time I will talk about the sets and paints that I have and what inspired me to purchase them. I learned a lot in the past few years about them and I have some good ideas for those who want to try them and don’t know where to start.
I think that doing this series will inspire you and also keep me inspired, too.
Until Next time . . .