The Joy Of… Cheap Art Supplies

2015 Artwork Cheap Art Supplies Sketch

Even though this is an article about art, I’m going to have to start by talking about music and computer games for a while. Trust me, there’s a valid reason for this and I’m not just rambling about obscure stuff just to sound pretentious. Honest.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, a few weeks ago I rediscovered a couple of acoustic punk bands I first found on Youtube a couple of years ago – I am, of course, talking about “Johnny Hobo And The Freight Trains” and a later version of the same band called “Wingnut Dishwashers Union“. Some of their songs can also be legally downloaded for free on the Internet Archive too.

One of the interesting things about both of these albums is both how low-budget they sound and how this doesn’t matter in the slightest, because the lyrics are so wonderfully-written and cynical. The lead singer/guitarist might sound like a busker, but he’s more punk than most “popular” punk bands are. And I don’t even consider myself to be a punk, even though the first “cool” band I ever discovered was a punk band (The Offspring, if anyone is curious).

And then this made me think about my favourite computer game – I am, of course, talking about “Doom II” and all of the various fan-made levels and mods for it you can find on the internet. This is a game that is over twenty years old and, graphically speaking, it looks very primitive. But it’s still a lot more fun than many games that have been made over the past decade, because it’s so well-designed.

It’s easy to write things like this off as “the exception to the rule”. The rare things which, although they may be low-budget and/or primitive, are still somehow great for a weird reason that no-one can explain. But, I’d argue that they’re great because they’re so basic.

One of the most damaging myths about making art is that it requires a lot of money in order to be great. I’m talking about the idea that a good artist needs lots of expensive art supplies, a purpose-built studio and/or expensive graphics editing software in order to produce great art.

This is, quite simply, nonsense.

Yes, using lots of expensive stuff will help to make any flaws in your art less obvious at first glance and it will probably also make you feel more “professional” too. But it’s no substitute for skill, imagination and/or experience and you shouldn’t let a lack of money and/or expensive equipment put you off from making art.

The fact is that the basic tools for making art are fairly cheap. And they still work.

You can draw a truly stunning picture with a cheap pen in a cheap notebook, you can make a great picture with cheap coloured pencils, you can paint something wonderful with low-grade paints, you can digitally edit a picture with a free open-source image editing program like GIMP etc…

And, ironically, the quality of your work will shine through a lot more easily than it would if you produced something with expensive stuff.


Well, because there’s nothing to hide behind. No fancy art supplies, no flashy digital effects or anything like that. It’s just you and your work and, if you’re good at it, then you’ll impress people – if you’re not, then you won’t. And, if you can seriously impress people using incredibly cheap materials, then this is a sign that you’re doing well.

Plus, sometimes, it can be fun to test yourself by going “back to basics” and seeing if you can still make great stuff with nothing more than a pen, a pencil and a piece of paper. Yes, it’s a bit more of a challenge than usual, but it’s still strangely satisfying nonetheless.

The interesting thing is that all of the things I’ve said only really apply to things like art and/or music. There’s no real equivalent for writing because, at the end of the day, words look like words – regardless of whether they’ve been typed on a top-of the range modern computer or on something from the mid-2000s.

The text of a bestselling novel and the text of a self-published e-book still look pretty much the same in visual terms. So, in a way, I guess that writing is the most “honest” and “open” form of creativity in the world.

It’s just a shame that other forms of creativity aren’t as inherently egalitarian as writing is, in this respect.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂