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  • Writer's pictureHazel Manley

Not Found in the Art Shop!

A friend was recently talking about a new brush. It was a highly specialised brush for a very specific purpose, and it started me thinking about all those “must-have" art purchases that laid mostly unused for so long that I finally got rid of them as art-clutter!

The trouble is that art supply catalogues are so enticing. It’s easy for those new to creating art to feel that to be a proper artist you must have this or that expensive thing. This in turn can make the creation of art an expensive and therefore exclusive pastime.

After a while, most artists begin to realise that less is frequently better than more and that perhaps some of the most useful items can be found outside of an art supply shop.

Here are my top 9

A propelling pencil

I once turned up to a life class having bought a full set of “artists' pencils“ to find my art tutor sketching with the same kind of pencil I used to draft this blog! A built in eraser means one can try things in the confidence that changes are easy and never needing to stop to sharpen your pencil means not losing those fleeting opportunities to grab a quick sketch. For those concerned about single use plastic, spare leads are available at ordinary stationers.

White glass chopping board

I spent ages trying to find the perfect palette to match my oil pastel style and the prices for palettes that were less than ideal were eye-watering. Eventually, I started to think outside the artbox and I bought a white glass A4 sized chopping board. It meets my needs perfectly at about a third of the price of something from an art supply catalogue.

Photographer’s soft box

Buying this was another outside the box moment. Having seen artists' lamps for £100‐120, I had a lightbulb moment - sorry about the pun - and bought a photographers' soft box for about £30! It’s not elegant, but the light quality is exactly what I need (and it leaves around £100 to spend on art supplies)!

Kitchen paper

The kitchen is a great place to find useful stuff! I used to use old tea towels for cleaning up acrylic spills and brushes and kitchen paper is brilliant to use with oil pastels. I cut each sheet into smaller pieces and often get several uses from each which saves waste.

I use it to protect areas from smudges, to blend larger areas, clean brushes and palette, and to clean up spills – because there are always spills!

Jam jar

I decant small amounts of solvent into a mini sized jam jar which is harder for me to knock over and there is less liquid to spill if I do. Despite these advantages, if there are children in your house, this is an absolute no-no as then even non-flammable, non-toxic solvent should be kept in a childproof container.

Freezer blocks

OK, I don’t use these often, but one of the downsides to the soft, creamy nature of Sennelier oil pastels (OPs) is that they don’t go well with heat, so when the weather is really hot, I pinch the freezer packs and put them under my OPs to keep them cool!

Cotton buds

Now, before you all write to me about how plastic is ruining the oceans, let me just say: I only buy the sort with paper stems. I get loads of use from every single bud and then dispose of it carefully.

I use them for blending, smudging, removing and applying colour.


In my opinion, you can’t beat a good sharp penknife for sharpening coloured pencils. I also use mine for scraping off colour (to remove mistakes), scratching in details and removing tiny areas of colour to create sharper edges in a painting.

Decorators' tape

I’ve tried several types of artists' tape (at art supply catalogue prices), but have found delicate surface decorators' tape is at least as good and often better for preserving a clean edge around the edges of a painting at a fraction of the price.

So what should the new artist buy from the art suppliers?

I think that might be a topic for a future blog! Generally, I find it's better to buy fewer items at the best quality I can afford than go for quantity. For example, when it comes to buying colour (in any medium), I think it’s much better to buy fewer colours with lots of good quality pigments in them than a big box of cheaper products and for this you need a good art supplier.

If you have six good watercolour paints you can mix just about any colour. With OPs, I started with a small box adding more colours as I worked out what I needed and could afford. A large box from a cheaper brand with every colour under the sun does look tempting, but the paints or pastels can be very disappointing and cost more in the longer term.

My exception to this general rule is brushes. This is because my OP technique (using them to move pigment around the paper or blend rather than carry large amounts of pigment) means I ruin expensive brushes just as fast as cheaper brushes! As a result, I buy cheaper brushes which don’t inhibit the way I work.

Over to you

If you’re just starting to create art, don’t be put off by thinking you need to spend a fortune. If you’ve been doing it for a while, I’d love to hear about your "outside the artbox treasures" so visit my FB or IG posts about this blog and tell me know about them.


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