Choosing Art Supplies: Need v. Want

Of course you know you don’t need a lot of equipment to be creative. Paper and pencil is fine. Paints and brushes. Scissors and glue if you work multi-media. But in our consumer society, we are pushed to be “creative” by buying equipment, products, “stuff” that will make us better artists. “If I buy this left-handed brush made with the eyelashes of a thousand virgins surely I will be able to paint perfectly.” I’ve been there.

There is a fine line between “need” and “want,” and even if the line is clear, it

This brush does a lot in one stroke. From

doesn’t mean we don’t want. There is also that slight frisson of fear that if we buy one more thing, the producers of  Hoarders will come to our door while we shriek, “I’m an artist, those are my tools!”

If you have limited space (who has huge studios with endless storage like those featured in those yummy studio  magazines?) you need to make careful choices of what you need and how you will store it. It doesn’t make sense to have the perfect piece of equipment if it takes you an hour to find it. So how do you make that choice?

I asked my spouse, who is a chef. Yes, he has a ton of equipment, too, but here are some great kitchen rules that work in the studio:

1. Choose equipment that does more than one thing. For example, toasters ovens can cook without heating up the whole kitchen, broil, and make toast, but a specialized bagel toaster can just toast bagels. Does anyone need a banana hook? Look for equipment that can do more than one thing. A paper cutter for example, can trim straight edges, cut papers in half or other fractions, make triangles, squares, and other straight-edge geometrics. A paper cutter can also cut heavier papers for covers, pockets, and cards.

2. Avoid equipment that requires you to buy more than one to achieve the same idea. Years ago, we used a square cake pan and a round cake pan to make amazing cake shapes. Now you can buy cake pans in the shape of brains, vampires and SpongeBob SquarePants. How often will you use each one of these? The same thing works for shaped hole punches that you can buy in eight sizes. Will you really use all eight sizes of butterflies? Nope. But when you are standing in the store, you aren’t sure what size you will need the most, so you buy them all. Marketing loves your indecision; they are counting on it.

3. Buy the best of what you use the most. For a chef: knives and pots. (Notice these are all multi-use tools.) You need good ones and several because you are not going to take time to plan your meal so you can keep washing one pot and reusing it. The same is true for paint, brushes, paper, and whatever you use in your specialized kind of art.

What purchase do you regret? What was a great discovery? Let me know in the comments.

-Quinn McDonald is an author and creativity coach who works with creative people who are stuck.