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Smart affordable ways to have a well-stocked artist space

Take care of your tools if you want them to last. (Photo: Thom Masat / Unsplash)

Artists, this is the season to make more art.  Using this gift of time to create makes sense, and we are here to share ideas on creative projects – as well as how to stock up on art supplies, creatively and cheaply.

Let’s get started.

Know what you need. Create a list of all the supplies that you likely need for the next six to 12 months.  Add extra items to cover the bursts of creativity  and productivity from staying at home during coronavirus.  Then separate the list into must haves and wish you could buy.  Unless you have a rich uncle or patron, now is the time to focus on the must haves.

Buy together.  Identify a purchasing partner – an artist who works in your medium who you like and respect. Or join an artists group. If you join forces with three painters, buying canvases in bulk makes sense.  This works equally well for jewelry artists, photographers and others to share raw materials or finishing supplies.

Go to bargain hunter buying places. Go to garage sales or head to Arts & Scraps, once it reopens, on Detroit’s East Side. Or if you’re close to Ann Arbor, go to SCRAP Creative Reuse. Estate sales work, and sites such as allows you to search to see if they offer the supplies you need most.  CraigsList Free and junk yards may yield great items for sculpture, frames and more.  Just practice safety online and when you meet in person to collect supplies. Also: Look for artist-to-artist sales. These take place sporadically for artists to sell off extra or unused supplies and creative work.

Care for your tools. Buy a better quality and then take a little time to maintain. “Well kept art supplies can last for years,” according to a post republished in FineArtTips. So carefully wash your paint brushes and pat them dry after each use. Do the same with other creative equipment. 

Track your spending.   This can be as simple as a shoe box for all receipts or more high tech: a digital  log of every nickel spent on supplies, frames, packing materials and more. These are business expenses and they may be tax deductible. Read more about artists’ tax deductions in this post.

Set aside funds.  Each time you sell a piece of your creative work, place 20 percent of the proceeds – more if your material costs are high – in a special bank or credit union account to pay for supplies and equipment.  This practice will provide funds to replace canvases or silver wire or whatever runs low.

If you still cannot buy all your supplies, you may need to borrow money – from a family member or close friend – to stock your creativity. Just be clear about when and how you will repay this.

Perhaps your favorite aunt or pal will be glad to receive a painting or pendant instead of cash for a loan.

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Financial goals and gift giving. Timely money management basics for emerging artists

Overloading your budget or your financial goals does not always work well. (Photo: Louis Hansel on Unsplash)

Money management is messy and difficult, especially when you are tempted to splurge on fabulous new restaurants, sweet treats or new shirts or earrings for yourself or your best friend.  And for emerging artists, the desire to buy more art supplies and apply to shows may compete with the desire to go to Miami with friends for spring break.

So Mint Artists Guild is starting a new series of blog posts to help young artists and creatives manage their money, and create more opportunities for themselves by saving.  This first post gives you some starter material to consider and we expect to share about one a month through much of 2020.

So let’s get started.

Set one or two clear financial goals.  Do not go after five goals; it’s just too many. Write down your goals or create a vision board to show them.  (Read this Chicago Tribune piece on another way to visualize your financial goals.) Write your why into the goal, such as: “I want to buy a new computer by April 10, so I can set it up for freelance work over the summer.”  Be specific and give yourself a deadline; you can always extend it if your savings are growing more slowly than you expected. Then set a reminder of your goal on your phone so it pops up at least once a week. And share your goal with someone who cares about you and ask them to check in on your progress at least once a month. 

Anticipate your expenses. Plan ahead for the costs of a graduation road trip or a big exhibit, a new computer or your first apartment. Estimate how much you will need at least four months before – and add 20 percent to your estimate because unexpected costs will show up.  Then plan and save or fundraise, and be clear how much you need to save every month. That way, you will have most of the funds in hand before the big day.

Create handmade gifts. ‘Tis the season to give, and yet your income is not bigger. So start creating some gifts – whether digital prints or fresh-baked brownies. And then in January, create a list of gifts you want to give for 2020 and make most of them that first month of the year.

Another way to land a beautiful gift is to swap with your artist friends. Set up an evening for talking money and trading art or do this at the end of one of your holiday pop ups.

“Here’s my gift giving rule: Respect your current financial situation,” said Suze Orman, an author and financial planning expert. “The way to build your savings is by spending less each month.”