A common complaint

A common cause for complaint among artists is the high cost of supplies. It’s not unusual to spend thousands of dollars a year on supplies. It’s this cost that leads a lot of artists to abandon art as a career. It’s this cost which also makes a lot of people complain about the cost of art works. While most artists can recoup the cost of materials in selling a piece, they often have to cut the price of their labour down to the bone. A good example of supply cost is turpentine – both of these cost $10.00:


The small bottle is Winsor & Newton distilled turpentine, 2.5 ounces / 75 ml. Ten bucks. Is it better? Yes. At least it used to be, it has become increasingly suspect (mostly detected by smell. It no longer smells pine-y fresh). What it has is a name, one established enough that they can stick any price on their products, and people will buy it. (Obviously, I’m included there – I bought it.) I don’t use turpentine a great deal, so it’s easier for me to go with the cheap stuff. The temptation to cheap out is always there, but that is problematic too, because you do get what you pay for. An example:


Prismacolor coloured pencils, and Derwent blender and burnisher. Prismacolor is my preferred colour pencil, and they cost $2.00 a piece. That might get a shrug from most people, and if all you needed was one pencil, that might be an appropriate response. When you need 5, 10, 20, or more pencils, well…it adds up quickly. What about a set? I should mention that I don’t shop at Amazon or Walmart, but even at Walmart, a set of 150 Prismacolor Premier pencils costs $163.50. (The list price is $312.00). Online art supply – Dick Blick, the set is $151.00 + shipping. Same with Jerry’s Artarama. Prismacolor is far from the most expensive in coloured pencils, too. I won’t even look at Caran D’Ache ($292.00 for a set of 76 luminance). The pricing is the same when it comes to drawing pencils. I have an assortment of pencils, Staedtler, Koh-i-noor, Faber Castell, Derwent, and Sanford to name a few. And yes, all those pencils have specific attributes and effects, so going cheap on pencils isn’t an answer either. The price of good quality markers is very high, for a limited amount of colours, usually in the neighbourhood of $40.00 to $50.00 for 24 markers. I don’t want to even discuss the cost of brushes – that alone can utterly break you, along with the cost of canvas and, oh, paper. I love paper, and a lot of it I just dream about. The cost is prohibitive, especially for things like large size, single sheet Arches 300 lb cold press.

Quality matters, so the next time you’re contemplating buying an art work, please keep in mind that artists aren’t just mindlessly putting an ‘outrageous’ price on their work. We should be able to earn a living wage and be able to continue buying supplies.


  1. says

    I know that problem all too well.
    I’m just glad my machine likes the “budget” brand of thread better than Madeira, but for many things you can’t go cheap.
    The sound of one of those fucking US ballpoint needles breaking almost makes me cry…

  2. says


    The sound of one of those fucking US ballpoint needles breaking almost makes me cry…

    Oh yes. I don’t think most people have the slightest idea of how it can be.

  3. says


    I’m just glad my machine likes the “budget” brand of thread better than Madeira

    That Madeira is beautiful, but the prices? Not so pretty. Things do not get better when you move into other areas of art, such as textiles. You’re still faced with very high costs, for bloody everything. I would love to work in silk, but with hanks going for (at the very cheapest) $27.00 a piece, that’s not going to happen. Cotton embroidery thread isn’t much if you just buy one skein, but I buy in the dozens. And batiks have gone up in price, too. Then there’s needles. And scissors. I need a new pair of fabric scissors, and I do not want to face that at all. And irons. And stabilizers. And so much more.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    Carpenters’ and builders’ paints, lacquers and oils are mostly quite expensive already. Apart from some paints sold in big buckets and linseed oil, most stuff is more expensive by volume than vodka* here. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the artist quality paint in tubes costs a pretty penny.

    But, OTOH, I was surprised how expensive paint and especially lacquer was.

    * = And alcohol is very expensive here.

  5. says

    Ice Swimmer:

    But, OTOH, I was surprised how expensive paint and especially lacquer was.

    That’s pricing for artists again though. People who are woodworkers, who make furniture with great care, skill and talent -- they get price gouged too. It doesn’t matter which direction the art goes, the prices for supplies is always higher.

  6. Ice Swimmer says

    Caine @ 5

    A luthier who makes custom electric guitars once said in a video about building guitars that lumber may become more expensive if you say (or the salespeople in the lumber store get a wind of the fact) that you’re making musical instruments.

  7. says

    Ice Swimmer, yes, I’ve heard the same from luthiers and wood workers, that they need to keep their mouth shut about what they do when sourcing lumber. It’s common, when shopping for lumber, for the yard worker to ask “what do you want it for” or “what are you doing”, ostensibly to help you in your choice, but I’m a bit more cynical about it.

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