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  • Writer's pictureHannah Kaplan

Products I Recommend: 8 Must-Have Art Supplies for Every Artist

If you're familiar with my art, it should come as no surprise that bright, joyful colours are kind of a defining characteristic. Have you ever wondered what my secret is for getting such vibrant colours? Well, of course colour choice and colour theory play a big part. But having the right art supplies sure can help!

I've been painting abstract art for over 8 years, and in that time, I've learned so much about what art supplies work best for me in my art practice. I started out buying my art supplies from the dollar store, and there's absolutely no shame in that! When I was first starting, I didn't want to spend a lot of money on art supplies because it felt like a waste when my art wasn't living up to my own aesthetic standards. But at a certain point, I outgrew what I could do with those dollar store art supplies, and now I'm ready to share everything I've learned about the art materials I can't live without.

I've even got a few money-saving, eco-friendly hacks for getting your hands on art supplies on a tight budget!

10 Art Supplies Every Artist Needs

1. Good quality canvas or paper

I do most of my abstract acrylic painting on canvas. As I mentioned, I used to use dollar store art supplies, and that included canvases that I could grab for a few bucks and not feel guilty about "wasting" good quality art supplies. However, canvases are one of those things where you kind of get what you pay for. Dollar store canvases simply don't hold up as well as more expensive art supplies, and here's why.

If you compare a cheap canvas to a more expensive, professional canvas, you'll be able to see that the cheap canvas is probably not as tightly stretched, and it's probably also not as thick or sturdy feeling. This can become an issue if your painting style is more physical, like mine: I've often poked holes in cheaper canvases when I get a little too into the artistic flow.

That said, if dollar store canvases are what's in your price range, one way to improve the quality a little is by covering it in a gesso paint. Your canvas likely already has a layer of gesso on it, but an extra layer or two can make a huge difference in how sturdy your canvas is and how it holds up to use.

Another tip for getting good quality canvas on a budget is to check out your local thrift store, or keep your eyes peeled for art that your neighbours put out for grabs on the sidewalk. I can't even tell you how many of my canvases were found in this way. I've also gotten used canvases from artsy friends clearing space, so if you know anyone who might have extra art supplies lying around, it can't hurt to ask!

If you decide to try painting on paper instead of or in addition to canvas, try to get your hands on a good quality paper that won't buckle if you're using thick or watery paint.

2. Paint brushes that make marks you like

Experience is the only thing that can really tell you what art supplies work best for you. That's because there are so many different types of art supplies, and they are all suited for different purposes.

My favourite acrylic paint brushes are the most scrubby, grubby, used up, dried out paint brushes I can find. They probably came from a multi-pack, they were not expensive, and I am not concerned about leaving them in used paint water overnight (or longer, if I'm honest). The reason for this is that in my abstract art, I love to see visible brushstrokes, and I'm more drawn to the messy mark making that happens when I use dried up old brushes than when I use more expensive, softer, fancier paint brushes. But that is entirely specific to my way of creating art.

If you're going to be doing watercolour painting, for example, you'll probably want paint brushes designed for that purpose. Or maybe you'll try a house painting sponge and surprise yourself with the marks you're able to make! Have fun figuring it out for yourself, but don't stress over buying the expensive paint brushes if they're out of your price range right now.

3. Coloured pencils

Personally, I like to "wake up" a fresh white canvas with some coloured pencil scribbles. I have a cat-shaped ceramic cup filled with all my coloured pencils, and they are an amalgamation of pencil sets I've bought or, more likely, been given over the years. Some are school supply level, some are more fancy professional coloured pencils. There is probably a difference in quality, but when we're just sketching out random shapes and scribbles to avoid the fear of the blank white page, the quality of the art supplies isn't super important.

You may also want to try out other drawing supplies like chalk pastels, paint markers, and whatever else calls to you. Just be aware that different materials react in different ways when paint is put on top of them. For example, most coloured pencils won't reactivate when you paint over them, but watercolour pencils will. Maybe this will result in a unique, unexpected effect, but it could also ruin your plan for your artwork if you're not aware ahead of time.

4. Tools and scrapers

You can have a lot of fun making art with tools like palette knives, squeegees, silicone wedges, or even cake icing tools if that's what's available. Using these tools combined with multiple layers of paint are a great way to add dimension and texture into your abstract acrylic painting. Try adding some paint to your canvas, then scraping it away, or using your tools to write a secret message (tons of my paintings have hidden messages in them if you know where to look).

I have a huge selection of these kinds of art tools, but to be completely honest, I usually end up just using a pencil crayon or, even more often, the back of my brush, to add texture to my acrylic art. But I have also been known to use a palette knife to add some extra thick paint to my art now and then. Realistically, you probably have some old kitchen tools that could be repurposed for art making - just make sure not to use them for cooking again once you're done!

Another art tool I can't live without: a pair of pliers and a paint tube squeezer to help with those hard-to-open paint tubes and get out every last drop of paint.

5. An art easel

Some artists like painting standing up, some prefer sitting at a desk, and still more prefer to work with their art on the floor. I've done them all, but lately, my preference is to sit at my desk in a comfy swivel chair with a nice desktop easel in front of me. I also have a standing easel, but it doesn't fit on my desk, so I use one that my mother in law happened to have tucked away in her home. I've seen quite a few art easels at the thrift store if you don't want to invest a bit more for one from your local art store.

6. Water jugs

An integral part of any acrylic paint setup includes at least one jug of water, where you can wet your brush, clean it between colours, and leave your brushes to soak while you keep painting. All of my water jugs are recycled from buying things like pickles, salsa, anything that comes in a glass jar pretty much! I'm sure you already have something like this around, but if not, a thrift store should have something suitable for a dollar or two.

7. Paint

I primarily use acrylic paint and acryl gouache paint in my abstract art. I like how there's such a huge range of colours to choose from, the paint dries quickly, and there are a number of options when it comes to the thickness or liquidity of the paint. Another benefit to using acrylic paint over oil paint is that it tends to be at least slightly more affordable, and you don't need any special solvents or mediums that can be toxic without proper ventilation in your art studio.

Here are a few of my favourite brands and types of paint to use for my abstract art:

Heavy body acrylic paint is thick and viscous, making it ideal for creating textured marks. My favourite colours from Golden right now are fluorescent magenta and fluorescent orange. I like to mix my heavy body acrylics with water so they go on the canvas a bit smoother.

Liquitex Basics are a great acrylic paint option for beginners, since they are more affordable than brands like Golden Paints while still providing consistent quality. Liquitex Acrylic Gouache offers intense colours that go on smooth and dry matte.

While it comes in smaller tubes, the colours Holbein has available in their acryla gouache line just can't be beat. They have over 100 colours of paint, and my paint selection is not complete without their Luminous Red.

Similar to Holbein Acryla Gouache, Turner Colour Works Acryl Gouache paints are super pigmented and come in over 230 colours.

With a professional acrylic paint line starting at $12.36 for a tube, or their lower cost Galeria line starting at $6.09, Winsor and Newton Acrylic Paint strikes the perfect balance of quality art supplies at an affordable price.

This one is for the Canadian artists out there! DeSerres house brand acrylic gouache paints go on super smooth and are a great price, making them ideal for beginners and professional artists alike.

This is my holy grail for white acrylic paint. I get the 500 ml pouch, which lasts pretty much forever. It's super thick and textured, mixes great with other paints, and can be easily watered down as well.

8. Paint mediums, gesso, and varnish

Finally, every artist needs gesso paint, acrylic medium, and varnish in their studio. Here's what each of those are used for:

Paint medium

Acrylic paint mediums are additives that can be used to change the consistency of your paint. Water is a perfect paint medium for making your paint more liquid, but you can also use mediums like gloss, matte, gel, and texture to create unique effects in your art.

Gesso paint

Gesso is a paint mixture that is used to prepare surfaces, like a canvas or wood panel, to be painted. If you ever want to use recycled canvases for your art, or cover up past experiments that didn't go as planned, you're going to want to have some gesso on hand. You can also buy clear gesso, which has no pigment. I haven't tried it, but this can be useful when you want some of the original surface to remain visible in your finished art.


Lots of artists like to finish off their paintings with a coat or two of varnish, which can help bring the painting together as well as protect the art from accumulating dirt or dust. Varnish comes in glossy, matte, and satin finishes. Which varnish I use depends on the painting in question, but I always make sure to have satin varnish in my studio, as it gives an effect in between glossy and matte, and, as a result, is super versatile.

What should a beginner buy to make art?

While many will suggest buying the primary colours (red, blue, and yellow) as well as black and white, I have to tell you that I very rarely use red paint in my art practice. Instead, I find I can replace red with a nice vibrant pink, and that helps me to achieve colour mixes that are more appealing to my eye, even if I'm only using 3 tubes of paint.

If you're interested in getting into acrylic painting, but you're still wondering if the expensive art supplies are worth it, I hope this post has put some of those fears to rest. The most important thing is to work with what you have. As long as you have a few paint colours, a jug for water, some paint brushes, and something to paint on, you'll be okay! The rest you'll learn from experience, and soon enough you'll feel confident in knowing what art supplies you prefer to use in your art.

What are your must-have art supplies? Let me know in the comments!

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Oct 20, 2023