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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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Grow your “Frugal February,” emerging artists

Get creative with recycling and make new items more affordably. (Photo: Bernard Hermant / Unsplash)

Artists can be impulsive, extravagant individuals, and that may lead to slim savings or piles of credit card debts.  Yet many dream of traveling to new cities or countries for inspiration, creative projects or study abroad.

Perhaps it’s time to embrace Frugal February, a smart concept aimed at cutting expenses and lowering credit card debts piled up over the December holidays.  Because February is a short month – and often incredibly cold – it’s easier to stay inside and save money by cooking and eating at home, money management experts say.  

“It’s fun, rather than a struggle,” Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert with the website NerdWallet told the New York Times

Start by tracking all your spending for at least a week. Create a note in your phone, or use a spreadsheet or a simple money management app. It’s important to start with an understanding of how and where you spend money, with as much specifics as possible.

Then think of a goal – something worth saving for – that you need money to achieve.  This goal, whether it’s a big vacation in 2021 or a new bicycle or oil pastels by summer, will help you with willpower to cut back and save more in the month ahead.

Here’s five ways for emerging artists to save during Frugal February:

Find it for free. Collect items from Craigslist free or Freecycle. Seek supplies for your upcoming creative projects on these sites or post what you are seeking and ask people to donate supplies.

Skip the latte. Or skip all dining and drinking out of the home, unless your favorite Aunt is treating you. Make coffee and lunch at home this month. Buy yourself a really lovely thermos or lunch box, from a thrift store or resale shop, of course. If you forgo 20 lattes that would have cost $4.50 each, you will have an extra $90 to spend on summer vacation or other goals.

Rollback spending. If you usually spend $100 a week on food out and fun, scale it back to $65 – just for February. Choose a couple of categories where you will reduce your spending, creatively.

Recycle art materials. Create a swap with other emerging artists to trade art supplies. Or get out the gesso and reuse a few of your own canvases. This trick will save you money and it’s a great habit to establish.

Games and money teams.  Gather a team of creative friends who want to save money and get together to discuss your Frugal February ideas and successes.  And develop a game night or other creative activities at home on  weekends, so you’re not tempted to spend money on entertainment or dining.

Share your progress and plans on social media, too, and engage more friends in your money goals, suggests Palmer of NerdWallet.

If you want more help with Frugal February, read these posts from DIY Playbook and 29Secrets  –and review more money-saving ideas from NerdWallet.

Watch for money management ideas and financial planning strategies for emerging creatives about once a month on the Mint blog.