Biggest Mistakes Buying Art Supplies

“Bad shopping habits die hard!” ~ Tori Spelling

I don’t like to admit it, but the mistakes I talk about in this article are one’s I’ve made throughout my life that I wish I knew when I was young. Knowing them would have saved me a lot of time, money, and frustration – but, which I also wouldn’t have learned from, to get to the point now where I am a lot smarter and more frugal with my time and money when I buy supplies.

So, why write an article on the biggest mistakes when buying art supplies? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that you go in, buy what you need, and leave? Well, not always…

Because while most art supply stores are literally a paradise of products to get artist’s drooling, they are still a retail place of business with one objective: To get our money!

In getting our money, they need to raise product prices to pay for their rent, shelf space, employee payroll, insurance, they’re inventory, and a lot more. A product you can find online for $5 dollars, might cost upwards of $7-10 in a retail store. The smaller the retail store – like a mom n’ pop art shop - the higher the prices will be –

because they don’t buy product in large bulk like the big stores do.

Still, I’m a big fan of going to my local art supply stores and help keep them in business, over buying online when I can. Unfortunately, the retail stores don’t often sell what I need. Worse, to increase their sales, they sell a lot of novelty items that people buy on impulse.

Whether you’re visiting your local or, my case – distant – art supply store, or you’re buying online, there’s some things that are important to think about and remember before putting money down or clicking that final link to complete the purchase. For me, the closest art supply store is a small, family owned shop about 20 minutes away. Their inventory is very limited and most of it is old and covered in dust. They survive by having a framing business in the same shop.

I only go there when I’m absolutely desperate, because their prices are just too high. Another family store is about an hour away. I love their friendly atmosphere, but their prices are really high, as well. They keep a decent inventory and offer classes and events that make it a fun place to visit. And then there’s the big chains, like Dick Blick or Jerry’s Artarama. There are a few in my area, but they are about 1-2 hours away. These are the best places to save money and explore a wide variety of art supplies, but the drive keeps me from going often. I’ve heard from others that their closest art supply stores are often several hours away,  so I definitely consider myself fortunate to have so much, so close by! But, no matter which art supply store I go to, there’s an itinerary of “Do’s & Don’ts” that I follow, fairly religiously.

As for the Do’s, it’s pretty much “do” go in and explore. Look around to see all the amazing supplies. “Do” touch things and get a feel for new products, sketchbooks, pencils, and brushes. “Do” ask questions and engage the staff, because you never know what kind of artist they might be. Lastly, “do” plan on spending some money, because these supplies are not cheap and it’s important to be prepared.

As for the Don’ts, that’s where the biggest mistakes are often made. Here, I list out 10 of the biggest mistakes people tend to make when buying art supplies, and see if they resonate with you or sound familiar. Again, I admit, I’ve made all of these mistakes in the past, and luckily for me, I’ve actually learned from them.

The Biggest Mistakes When Buying Art Supplies

1. DON’T go art supply shopping with friends or family.

It’s always fun to go to an art supply store with friends or family, as everyone – even non-artists – gets giddy and excited in an art supply store! And why not? It’s a place to explore and have fun! However, it’s important when we’re buying art supplies for ourselves not to be distracted, rushed, or pressured into buy something we don’t need. I love my kids to tears, but the one thing I don’t like is to take them supply shopping. Because, while I’m trying to make serious decisions, the trip usually becomes about them and the impulse purchases they want to make. I don’t blame them, of course, because like I said – it’s exciting and fun!

For me, going with my friends always results in feeling rushed or pressured to buy things I didn’t come in for.

My friends always say, “OH, these are really cool! You should buy these! I think you’d love these!” There are times when I will go shopping with my friends and family, just not when I’m on a mission to get my supplies.

2. DON’T forget to research products, find out about sales, and bring coupons.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is going into a store and not knowing the difference between different products or brands. For example, you’ve heard great things about Daniel Smith paints, but you’ve also heard good things about Windsor & Newton, too. So, you look at Windsor & Newton display and find that their Cotman paints are much cheaper than Daniel Smith. But, when you get them home and start using them, you find that while they’re good paints, your expectations of them were much higher.

Doing the research on products before we go to a store or even buying online, is essential to being a smart, savvy, and well-informed consumer. Whether it’s a computer, a new food line, or even a set of markers, knowing what we’re buying ahead of time, can save a lot of headaches and disappointment. 

Also, when doing that research, it’s a wise idea to see which stores are having sales, and if they have coupons or coupon codes. While I was at Michael’s, many of the products I looked at were marked up pretty high. Yet, I know that when I go to their store, I can log onto their wifi and a 40% coupon will appear on the screen. To me, saving 40% on products that are already marked-up is a lot better than NOT having that coupon and paying full price! I learned when I was an executive designer at Staples, shopping just after their “Back to School” sales will usually get you much better deals than shopping during the sale, itself, as they need to clear out their inventory.

3. DON’T  use credit cards.

I know, it’s often the most convenient way to pay for expensive art supplies when you don’t have the cash.

But, honestly, if you don’t have the cash, maybe you should consider not buying the supplies at all? Even if you do, paying cash or with debit will limit the amount you’re spending without having to pay a percentage fee to the credit card company and risking penalties if the total amount isn’t paid in full when it’s due. Also, it costs the store money to run those credit cards, so using them can also affect the store, as well, who is likely to raise prices to compensate.

4. DON’T bring a large amount of cash.

So, if you’re no going to use your credit card, it’s important not to bring too much money and risk over-spending. As far back as I can remember, I’ve kept a change jar that put my spare change into to save up as my “art supply fund.” I don’t touch that jar until it’s full, and that’s when I’ll plan a trip to the art supply store!

It usually holds over a hundred dollars, and there’s a lot of great stuff that I can buy with that! For me, this is how I keep a cap on how much I spend when I buy supplied. It’s all based on what I can afford and what I need, as opposed to what I want. I also know that if I walk into an art supply store with $500 dollars, I’m like going to spend most of it, usually buying more than I need or can afford. So, on average, I’ll bring anywhere from $50 to $100 with me, knowing that I can buy what I need and maybe even have enough to splurge on something I want, too.

5. DON’T go without a list or knowing exactly what you plan to buy

People who know me all know that I’m a perpetual planner. I plan everything, when I can and buying art supplies is no different. In my last trip, I went with a short list:

• Daniel Smith Perylene Maroon

• Opera Pink

• a RENDR sketchbook

• and three Escoda Versatil brushes that were on sale.

I knew exactly how much everything was going to cost, and because I had my teacher’s discount, it cost even less than I planned. Going into an art supply store not knowing what you want will usually result in buying items you don’t need. and that’s okay, if you’re aware! 

6. DON’T forget what supplies you already have.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past is with colored pencils, pastels, and brushes. I tend to buy things that I already have – but forgot that I had. I feel really stupid when I get home and see that I’ve already got three Crimson Red Prismacolor pencils or a drawer full of gum erasers.

Nobody goes into a grocery store with a list of everything they already have at home, but taking a peak in the cabinets before you go and creating that list of what you need is a good idea. The same goes for art supplies. Before you shop, take a look in all those bins, boxes, and drawers to see what you have and what you need.

A lot of times, I’ll find an old, empty tube of paint that needs to be replaced, and sometimes, I find art supplies I forgot I even had. Trust me, finding supplies you forgot you had is like reconnecting with an old friend – and it may save you from buying it again.

7. DON’T buy repeat items.

And like the grocery store analogy, it’s not wise to buy items we already have because we think we’re going to need more. It’s like buying a jar of honey because the one you have is half full. It can be an expensive waste of money on something we don’t need. Money that can be saved or spent on something else. Now, I’m guilty of this because I buy things like Micron Pens. But, I go through them so often, I’ll often buy two or three at a time. 

There are cases where buying repeat items is necessary, but again, planning for it will keep that to only items we really need.

8. DON’T always listen to the people who work at the store.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I give the people who work in art supply stores a lot of credit because they work hard AND they have to know a lot of information about a lot of different products, mediums, and techniques. Plus, they have to deal with artists all day. But, when it comes to doing my shopping, I’ve had more art store employees give me wrong information, that led me to make purchases I’ve regretted.

Most recently, I asked an employee if they carried any empty half pans, explaining that most places don’t carry them and they’re hard to find. The employee, very confidently said, “Oh yeah, we have those!” I got excited and they led me to where the half pans were kept. Except, they weren’t there. They never were there. The employee looked confused. They led me across the store to another aisle and said, “Oh, here you go!” and pointed to plastic palettes. I explained myself, again, and was led across the store again.

This went on for about 10-15 minutes before I finally stopped it and thanked them for their help.

I wanted to say, “if you don’t know the information, then don’t pretend you know – or, maybe ask another employee if they know!” I’m all about not wasting time and energy, OR going on wild goose chases to find something that may or may not be there.

Again, going into the store with a good plan of what you need is the best way to go. Asking for help is always a wise thing to do, but when it’s clear that the employee doesn’t know the answer, OR if they clearly have no idea what you’re talking about OR if they don’t know what THEYRE talking about…. then politely get away from them.

9. DON’T give in to cheap, impulse, or novelty purchases.

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and stood in line and found yourself surrounded by candy bars, chewing gum, chips, and magazines? Or maybe you’ve stood in one of those twisting lines at a big box store in a maze of shelves with car chargers, headphones, and bright colored flash drives? These are impulse purchases that retail stores put on display at the checkout area, knowing customers will think, “Hey, I need one of those!” 

In art supply stores, these can be found all over the store, on the end caps, at the register, and even on special displays in the middle of the floor. They are usually really cheap, plastic items or tchatchke novelty items that nobody really needs or wants, but which might be fun or cute. Like a set of mini paint brushes I saw once. I bought them for my daughter, thinking how cute they were and she’d love them. They cost $10 and they were smaller than wooden matchsticks. My daughter tried to use them and they were junk. Cute, but junk. 

Avoiding these impulse purchases will not only save you money, but will keep you from adding more clutter to what already exists.

10. DON’T buy items you will never use.

Buying what we need is the most important reason to visit an art supply store. But, sometimes buying what we want can be fun and fill us with a positive, emotional rush that feels good and gives us a feeling of excitement. A few years back, I found a large package of natural sponges for painting for about $10 that I thought would be fun to try. I also found a package of neon colored pastels for about $15 dollars.

Like most people, we get caught up in the shopping experience. Buying impulse and novelty purchases can be fun and sometimes it’s worth it just for the smile it gets. But for me, I really thought I would use those sponges and pastels. I brought them home, tried them a couple of times, and now they sit at the bottom of my bin, never to be used. I’ll probably donate them, but it makes me roll my eyes to think I spent about $25 on things I don’t use. 

Sure, you never know if you don’t try, but if you’re going to shop for art supplies, unless you have a real need for something, maybe hold off on buying it until you actually have a need for it.

11. DON’T go when the store is about to close.

There is nothing worse than casually shopping, and hearing that voice over the intercom saying, “Attention shoppers, the store will be closing in five minutes!” Our happy, casual grazing in the aisles suddenly turns into a panicked run to grab whatever we can, as we lunge toward the register so they don’t close out and keep us from giving them our money!! 

In all seriousness, being rushed or having that feeling of a clock ticking while you shop can be a real distraction. So, it’s wise to give yourself plenty of time to peruse the aisles, compare brands, prices, and products, testing them when possible. I’ve found that when the store is closing and I’m at the checkout, there can often be a problem with one of the items I’m buying. They have to call a manager, figure out the issue, and go back out to find a replacement or look at the shelf tag for the right price. It can make everyone uncomfortable, especially if you’re the last person in the store and the employees all just want to go home.

So, while an impulsive trip to the art supply store can result in expensive, impulse purchases, it can be to our benefit to PLAN a trip to the art supply store, giving ourselves time to explore, just as it can be to our benefit to plan out what we expect to BUY when we get there.

So, those are some of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen in my experiences when shopping for art supplies…With that, let me just add a few tips to help make the experience even better!

Positive TIPS when shopping for art supplies would be:

1. Look for clearance sections to find really good deals on items you might not have considered paying full price for.

2. Go to other areas of the store you normally wouldn’t explore – if you draw in pen & ink, check out pastels. Watercolor? Go to oils. Explore to learn!

3. Ask other customers their opinions or advice. Customers are often more passionate and knowledgeable about their supplies than the employees. 

4. Don’t dismiss VALUE PACKS or product SETS. These can often contain hidden bargains that we might overlook because they look cheap.

5. Always stop before you get to the checkout line and take the time to re-evaluate EVERY purchase to make sure it’s what you want and can afford.

Well, I hope this information was helpful for you and might even give you an advantage the next time you go shopping for art supplies. Thank you for visiting my blog and please check back next month for a new article.

As always, enjoy your creative journey to the fullest, have fun with whatever you are exploring, and thank you for coming by. God bless!