When (And When Not) To Buy Quality Art Materials

When (And When Not) To Buy Quality Art Materials

Recently, we announced our plan to Kickstart the Etchr Sketchbooks in order to help make quality materials that are actually affordable.

(Excited? We are!! Join the mailing list to stay updated on the process!)

But… Are quality art supplies even worth it?

I (Sarah) am not personally a traditional painter… but Ânia, an artist and our resident ray of sunshine, is creating a children’s book in watercolor and ink.

Recently, she spent a weekend working on the watercolors for her book, just in time for the big Children’s Book Fair… and might’ve had to throw away her pages.


The paper quality sabotaged her.

    Sarah: Ânia, you had an instance recently where your materials ruined a project, right?

    Yeah. It was so bad, I didn’t have the guts to look at it again for two whole days.

    And what was I doing with low quality paper? Just the FINAL ART for my book!

    The paper wasn’t the lowest quality ever, just “okay” - but that’s not enough for what I'm trying to do.

    Sarah: So the frustration was that bad, you’re okay with scrapping the entire page and not coming back to it?

    Yes, it was very frustrating!! It’s not like I can throw the work away, I have to use what I did! I only had one shot!

    I needed to ink the sketches, then watercolor the spreads. So far, I’d been using the Etchr Mirror for the small sketches, and practicing ink and watercolor on the prototype Etchr Sketchbook (in A4 size.) The spreads for the book needed to be much larger, so I ran out and bought some big, relatively cheap watercolor paper for the final paint.

    I needed a giant light box. My husband’s workplace lets me use theirs at my discretion, but I have to travel with him to that city. (Which takes a full day.)

    I took the day off, traveled to my husband’s work, sat down at the light box, and put brush to page...

    ...But when I started painting, the paper began to FALL APART. So I thought “Okay, I need to be careful with this paper…”

    ...Which means my energy’s being divided between not ruining the paper, and doing the work I need to do.

    [ Ânia's cheap watercolor paper falling apart. ] 

    I had to try each wash more times than usual, each time with less and less water, to see how much water I could use before the paper was ruined.

    The amount of water required is fundamental to EVERY watercolor technique I can use. Since the paper couldn’t hold water properly, I had to try and re-learn my techniques on the fly. It took me FOREVER.

    Turns out, a bunch of stuff you think is technique just comes down to quality materials - like certain blending effects between colors. I’ve seen blending in other people’s work, and I always asked “how did they DO this?”

    The techniques that worked on the prototype Etchr Sketchbook pages just didn’t translate onto this low quality paper.

    Sarah: What happened? Will you need to redo a whole day’s worth of work?

    Thanks to Photoshop, I managed to salvage the work. If I had more time, I’d redo everything with better paper.

    Sarah: So in a way… using “cheap” materials was more expensive.

    You had to use more of them, you could have wasted a day’s worth of work and opportunity cost, and if you had to do it over again you’d be using twice the materials AND time…


    Sarah: Do you ever use low quality materials?

    You don’t always need the top quality paper. It depends on the work you’re doing.

    If I’m going to a cafe to sketch, I’ll be honest: I use a cheap sketchbook. I got into the habit of using low-quality materials in art classes in high school. At the time, that was GREAT - cheap materials were good enough to learn how acrylic works, or how to use a brush, at a very basic level.

    Sarah: Why would you choose high quality materials?

    I’m not just making school projects anymore. I’m making a book, to show to publishers, to see if they want to buy it. Not a school project.

    On higher quality paper, I can focus on creating. No unnecessary stumbling blocks like ink bleed or paper that’s literally falling apart - I can just worry about making the best piece that I can!

    I do see the other side of the coin. Using expensive materials makes people too afraid to “ruin it” by making a mark. When I used Fabriano paper, I felt that, too, but after comparing the two… I wish I had Fabriano paper again.

    The more I use it, the more used to it I get.

    [ On the left - how ink behaves with the cheap paper. Notice the blobs of ink spreading across the paper. On the right - how ink behaves with the Etchr Skethcbook cold press. No bleeding! ]

    We invest blood, sweat, and tears into learning our skills - but when it’s time to invest money, people balk. Why?

    It can be easy to overlook the effect our materials have on our work.

    We, as artists, have so much to juggle already - there’s the meta stuff like managing your time, finding free moments to create in the midst of life…

    Then there’s the mental stuff like knowing how to draw and paint, and all the things that entails…

    ...And maintaining your creative spirit (and avoiding art block) is a hurdle in itself.

    The LAST thing we need is to throw more hurdles on top of that by wrestling with our materials.

    (Ânia learned the hard way, and was gracious enough to share the lesson with us!)

    [ see below the sketches Ânia made with our Etchr Sketchbook - cold press on the left and hot press on the right ]

    We need to prove artists care about their materials.

    Quality materials DON’T have to break the bank.

    Kickstarter is the best way to drive down the cost of our books. In order to do that, we need you!

    The Kickstarter for the Etchr Sketchbook is launching this April.

    If you’ve backed an Etchr product before: firstly, thank you! And second: you know the campaigns are always a party, packed with perks and deals you won’t be able to get after the campaign ends.

    We’re working on making this campaign the greatest yet.

    If you’d like an Etchr Sketchbook at a REALLY sweet price, (plus the other Kickstarter-exclusive perks…)

    ...Make sure you’re on the mailing list!

    - Sarah Mills

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