Project Friday: Budgets—Time vs. Materials

August 24, 2012

See the full post for complete details.

120814KurtLeft: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen Sketch on Richeson recycled watercolor paper (1/4 sheet), pasted on a page in a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia in-studio journal. On the right side of the page decorative Japanese papers were first glued in place. The 1/8 sheet has torn edges. Washes of Schmincke and M. Graham gouache were added. Read below at the end of today's post for more notes on this paper.

Not a day goes by without someone telling me in person or in an email—"Thanks Roz, you sure spent a lot of money for me at the art supply store."

None of this ribbing bothers me, because I didn't spend the money for them, they did. And because I only recommend products that I use and love (I don't do paid reviews). I know that if people follow my recommendations with the product they will find some fun with it. Will it become their favorite product? I doubt it. We are all after all different and have different approaches and goals. (What I do hope is that in the trial of new things on your art journey you discover things that are as important to you as my PPBP is to me for instance. Sometimes we all do that by listening to recommendations, trying things and learning that, nope, what we used before really worked best for us after all. You won't know that unless you work your materials.)

But I hear comments about art supply expenditures frequently enough that I do feel every so often it is incumbent upon me to remind everyone to STOP.

Everyone needs a budget. You can decide on your budget based on your earnings, your goals and expectations for disposable income and savings, and a conference with anyone in your private circle who shares those funds. You are on your own for all of that.

But please, please don't buy supplies because you "just have to have them." Or because a blogger you read writes about them. (Even if that blogger is me—I know I get much more intense about art supplies than 99 percent of the population. I can't help myself.)

What I would like you to remember, and what I have reminded you of over the almost 4 years I've been doing this blog (and if you were my student—way before that) is that your purchases should be reasonable and attached to goals.

For instance: I'm buying 6 primary colors of a new gouache line today because I'm going to test them out this weekend and the rest of the month.

Not: Well [fill in the name of your favorite artist or blogger] uses those so I'm going to get some of those today even though I have to travel for work all next week and won't have a moment to paint.

Huge difference. I know people who are so eager to buy art supplies that they find unused supplies a couple years later tucked in a cupboard, dried out and now completely unusuable. That's a bad use of funds by any stretch of the imagination. Even worse I think that type of behavior is demoralizing for an artist—at whatever skill level they are at. The ruined or simply unused supplies stand as a reminder of unformulated plans or lack of follow through.

My other difficulty with unplanned or non-thoughtful purchase of art supplies is that it dismisses and minimizes what is the most important component of your art budget—Time.

You can have all the materials in your favorite art supply store right at home at your fingertips, but if you don't spend time with them they are useless to you. And you really want to spend focused time with each type of material so that you can move towards mastery before you jump ship to have a go at another tool or medium.

Many people I meet in my classes are filled with frustration about their artwork—the lack of progress, improvement, etc. When I inquire (and remember I'm always inquiring) I learn that they leap from one medium to the next before they really understand what one medium might do.

Project Friday started as a way for me to encourage people to pick a medium and a topic and really devote some extended time getting to know them.

So for today's Project Friday I would like to encourage you to take stock of the art supplies and papers you currently own. (Don't make a detailed inventory because this might be depressing or overwhelming for some of you if you have been moving from medium to medium for any length of time.)

Next make a list of your art goals. Do you want to improve your drawing skills? Do you want to understand color theory? Do you want to move from working in watercolor to oils or vice versa? 

Rank those goals. On my list improved rendering is always at the top, and I have a strong bias that it needs to be on the top of everyone else's list too, but there is only so much bossy pants attitude you can put out before people get annoyed, so you go ahead and make your list any way you want.

Once you've ranked your goals jot down ways of meeting those goals. Maybe this means you are going to go to life drawing two times a week instead of once a week (if rendering is important to you; hint, hint). Perhaps there is a class you can take. Or does a friend have a book and video you can borrow—lessons from a favorite artist?

Open your calendar. If you don't have one with large boxes and places to write draw one or print one out.

Write in actions you are going to take to achieve your goal. Write in the classes and other art-related events you'll be participating in. At the end of your planning session your calendar should be filled with notes about when you are going to life drawing, when you are simply drawing at home, when you are going to the zoo, when you are going to the art institute for inspiration (and impromptu sketching), etc.

Now you are going to look at your art materials and match them up to those goals. Example: You have a lot of colored pencils and want your rendering skills to improve so that's what you're going to be taking to life drawing FOR NOW.

The point is to not spend any more money for materials (except paper). Use the art supplies you have to move those art goals forward.

If all the classes you want to take require the outlay of $200 or more in supplies you don't already have you need to ask yourself "Am I ready to take that class?" 

You also need to ask, "Why do I have all this stuff I don't use?" "When would I use it?" "Why aren't there any painting dates on my calendar when I would use that stuff?"

Perhaps what you really need to do is take a basic class with few supplies to pick up on some skills that you are missing so that you can practice and actually get to where you want to go?

(And at some point, if you haven't used a certain group of supplies, say for fabric painting, you might want to set a deadline—use some of this by such and such a date or I'm going to give it to a friend who uses it.)

My point is your time is the most important thing you need to budget. You can't ever get it back and you have to start thinking about wise and useful ways to spend that time. You can spend and waste money on supplies and then you're short of cash, but you can return to saving, or work extra hours, or get another job, etc. and make that cash back. 

There is no getting your time back. (And I've found that if you watch your time you also start watching your other expenditures.)

Now when you are thinking about time being irretrievable—just stop it. Don't start whining and complaining that it's all over for you and you're filled with regrets and you'll never be the painter you want to be.

I tell people all the time (without whining) that if I live to be 120 I will never paint like Gerôme. I still paint though—I make goals and work towards them. I focus on what is before me, not what is left behind. If anything I use this knowledge to light a fire under myself!

Thinking about budgeting time will focus you into using your remaining time to better effect.

That's what "Project Friday: Budgets" is about.

1. Come to grips with the fact that time is the key thing you have to budget.

2. Realistically assess all the side paths you've been taking with multiple media and focus on the ones that meet your art goals.

3. Set some realistic art goals SUPPORTED by time slots in your calendar: classes, life drawing, art outings.

Following this approach will also erase the hold those unused materials have on your energy. Right now they are all holding you down. Your internal critic is probably loudly complaining every day that you haven't used such and such. Well with a new plan, as suggested above, you'll be able to move forward. Just tell that internal critic you're on the job.

One more thing. I enjoy joy as much as the next person. I enjoy simply moving my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen across my favorite papers. So I understand as much as anyone (and certainly as much as you no matter how much you believe those joys are central to your being and no one else understands them—listen to yourself, you've slipped into addiction), what it is like to use a product and enjoy it and want to test new things. 

Because of this I'm not advocating that you prohibit yourself from little treats now and then. One day I walked into the art store and there was a new type of paper and I tried it and it was OK so I moved on. But if it had been a great experience I would have purchased a little pad of that paper, even if my goal for the week had been to only work on Stonehenge I have in my flat file. I would have made that purchase because I know we all need to be rewarded and have leeway, and everyone likes a treat. (Particularly if it is within the monetary and time budgets we've set up.)

So go ahead and walk into the art supply store; go for a glue stick, see the new genuine mineral pigments, and fall in love with Genuine Serpentine (a watercolor from Daniel Smith). Buy it if it fits in your budget of money and time—i.e., you can afford it and you have time to use it in the upcoming week. (Thats just an example folks, I could have mentioned any product, but Genuine Serpentine is a wonderful paint.)

I'm encouraging you to be more thoughtful about these issues because I hear so often how disappointed you are at not reaching your goals. 

Time in will get you there. The more you practice in a focused way the more progress you'll see. Set yourself up for that type of interplay of budgets this Friday (or weekend).

Additional Notes on today's paper: I've written about the Richeson recycled watercolor paper a couple times now. I really enjoy how it takes watercolor, gouache, and of course the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I purchased 100 sheets of the stuff (after my initial 5 sheet purchase sold me on the paper) to use for studies, quick sketches, and for quick sketches in life drawing. I'm continuing to have fun with it. Click on today's image and view the enlargement. You'll see the crisp way the paper accepts the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen's strident ink line. It's yummy. The pen dries quickly on this paper, though if you have a very thick dark line of ink you might get some "bleeding" if you scrub with a paper towel and wash, like I did on the eyebrow at the left. (I was applying loose washes of gouache and then wiping at them with a paper towel.) All other ink lines in the piece were ready to go so this is not a problem. I put down many layers of wash in some areas and rubbed with a paper towel, but the paper held up. Even with light washes of gouache the cold, grayish white of the recycled sheet still provides an excellent reflective base. 

  1. Reply

    GREAT POST! We all must share the intense joy of browsing through the art supply store or flipping through a new catalogue— it ignites some hope and inspiration factor! It is art crack! One thing the helps me stay grounded: a multi-drawer supply cabinet. I periodically rearrange and clean it out. It is like shopping at home. Some odd marker or stick of charcoal pops up that was forgotten, and it really feels like new again. Using everything you already have is its own challenge!

  2. Reply

    If I’m interested enough to try something I buy really cheap supplies, then I haven’t lost much if I change my mind. If I really like it I get the good stuff (not the best,just good). If I’m actually good at it I buy some of the best. What’s needed is a place to send used supplies so people who can’t afford to buy anything can still make art.
    I really need the discipline to budget my time. And the confidence. It’s like looking at a blank page. Yikes!

    • Catherine Hubbard
    • August 24, 2012

    Thank you so much for this insightful post.

  3. Reply

    Ellen, I like that “feels like new again.”

    I think that is sort of what’s behind my rotating to different journal papers. I love all my favorite papers, but after 3 weeks with one I want to move on and work with something else, and so on and so on.

    I have a room with some boxes of stuff I’ve saved for classes but I don’t teach those classes any more (journal boxes and embellishment classes) so I really have to clear all that stuff out so I can have more storage space for what matters to me. Happily we are going to have a swap meet at an upcoming Collective meeting so I can take the stuff in at that time!

    Enjoy your rediscoveries!

  4. Reply

    Sheryl, I wish you success with your Project Friday. I would suggest a couple things—don’t make it about deprivation or judgement. If your internal critic jumps in to lecture you tell him/her to stop it—You might even say, “I’m doing something about this right now so you aren’t needed here.” (If talking to your IC is helpful.)

    And like any “diet” if you do fall off the wagon don’t beat yourself up and then go crazy with more buying (instead of more eating in the diet analogy). Instead just smile and get back on track. Don’t even waste time making justifications or excuses, just dive back in.

    This will be easier to do because you’ll have your goals written down and you’ll have your “dates” on your calendar.

    Good luck.

  5. Reply

    Molly, no, no, NO! Don’t buy yourself cheap supplies.You can never tell from cheap supplies if you really have an affinity for something.

    It is much better to buy a few high quality supplies and test them out—e.g., don’t buy cheap watersoluable oil pastels which are no fun to work with (and smell) and will frustrate you with lack of quality pigments and high rate of binders and garbage, all frustrating you at every stroke. Instead buy high quality artists watersoluble pastels but just buy a red, yellow, and blue (the three primaries) and maybe one or two other colors you really use all the time. Then test those and you’ll know right away if the product/material/medium is right for you.

    This method will make a huge difference in your fun factor, your art will benefit, and you actually will have more money because you won’t be wasting it on the inferior supplies which you never used up. A whole lot of something poor-grade is still more expensive than a few items of high quality. And if you buy the poor grade stuff you never really know if you’ll like that medium and two years from now you might test it all over again because someone (like me) is going on and on about it.

    Don’t put yourself up for that level of frustration.

    I think I need to write a WHOLE post just about this.

    Please, only first quality stuff from now on when you test a new medium.

    As for passing stuff on, there are low quality things like InkTense pencils which are so fugitive that I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with them—those types of things just get tossed, I wouldn’t even give them to a kid to frustrate them.

    But if the supplies you are getting rid of have some quality and are non-toxic you can almost always find some teacher who needs materials (they have NO BUDGET for art supplies), so I suggest you check the montesori (sp?) schools or public school teachers you might know.

    In the Twin Cities we have Art Scraps, where you can take things and give them to the shop and they sell them

    As for the discipline, that’s something you can build with practice. Start by just making 15 minutes a day for art making a goal that you do everyday. Then build up from there with your other activities and more time.

    And if you have trouble with the blank page use those 15 mins. a day initially just to decorate your page with washes and patterns of color that you can then come back and add to at another time. It’s fun and you won’t have a blank page any more!

    Good luck.

  6. Reply

    Catherine, I’m glad you found it interesting to read, I appreciate the feedback.
    Good luck with your time and supply budgets!

    • Jennifer West
    • August 24, 2012

    Wonderful insight! The same is true of buying art technique books. A little voice is now programmed into my head whenever I ponder buying a new drawing book. “YOU DON’T NEED ANOTHER BOOK ON HOW TO DRAW, YOU JUST NEED TO DRAW!”

  7. Reply

    Yes!!! Jennifer, it’s the same. I started to include that and it became a longer and longer post. EEEK. I am reviewing some new artbooks (watercolor) that I could not resist, in the next month. I hadn’t purchased any artbooks for so long and then bought several. They have to get out of the house—I need more space. I’m taking some of them to the local used book store this weekend!

    I’m also thinking of giving all my fabric arts books to the Textile Center’s Library. I’m not going to be doing any more of that as I’m saving my hands for bookbinding. Aging will make you focus.

  8. Reply

    “Art crack”–best phrase ever, Ellen Ward!

    Thanks for the reminder. It is so hard to pass up all that potentiality lurking in those new supplies! Especially when one is tired, or doesn’t have mental space to actually create something that day, getting something new with all of its promise and hope of doing so in the future can be a lifesaver . . . unless it is really stopping us from going out and sitting in the car for 10 minutes sketching something instead of buying more stuff.

    • Karen
    • August 24, 2012

    I’ve stumbled onto your blog- oh my- and the same day you post about time… and art supplies. Wow. It hit home. I am bad with both. Too much supplies. Not enough time doing art. I can do better. Thank you for telling it like it is.

    • Cate
    • August 25, 2012

    Roz, it’s back to school for me as a primary teacher, and from now through June, I know that time will be at a premium. I always find it hard to juggle time for making art with my very demanding job, but you just made it a lot easier for me to think about how I’m going to do just that with this Project Friday.

    Thank you SO much for a wise and wonderful post.

  9. Reply

    Elizabeth, I hope you can work on making art even in the tiny spaces of time that you find you have. I’ve written a lot of posts on this because I think it’s where people need the most encouragement. (I can’t remember what I’ve called the posts though so I can’t refer you.)

    I can tell you from personal experience that even when you are totally worn out if you push and do something, a single drawing, even if the drawing is crap, you’ll feel better and it will be easier and easier to use whatever time you have for making art, whenever that time presents itself. It’s one of the reasons I force myself to sketch when I have vertigo. I’m going to feel crappy anyway, why not have some paintings after it’s all over.

    Whatever gets you closer to the goal.

  10. Reply

    Karen, I hope you can set up some goals and a plan for yourself. Jump in and be kind to yourself too.

  11. Reply

    Cate, I have a past student, now a friend, who was a teacher and she thought similarly, but she was in one of my summer workshops and I kept harping about making 15 minutes a day for your work and she took me up on it and that first year back to school she kept it up and she now has the most incredible journals (she was a painter before she ended up in my class). She recently told me that she felt the daily push enabled her to take her art to a new level. She did this for a couple of years and then hit retirement and already had her art practice in place. (I think it also helped her get through the school years before she retired.) We all need to take time to recharge our batteries ALL year long on a regular basis.

    So do whatever you can to make this happen. It will make a difference for your daily work at school too.

  12. Reply

    Stellar article, Roz. A keeper and a classic.

  13. Reply

    Thanks Adrianne, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate the feedback.

    • Deb Dugan
    • August 27, 2012

    Thanks Roz! I needed that! I love the advice about time – I’m sooo much better off when I actually make a schedule. The ironic thing is that the more I schedule (or budget as you phrase it so well), the more free I feel. It’s as if it’s all taken care of and I don’t have to expend any energy worrying myself about it so much. Same goes for money, supplies, or any resource I think. Great post!

    • Diane
    • August 27, 2012

    Roz, you so often come up with just what I need to read. It is almost as if you know me! Unfortunately I am like Jennifer, books seem to be my personal downfall. I LOVE to read about how I can be doing everything better.
    And I really do have to remind myself to come back later and read the comments after each of your posts. You so often add some insight to what you originally wrote and I hate to miss out on anything. Thanks for all the advice.

  14. Reply

    Deb, I think reading books, how-to, things about materials, things about artists you love—it’s all good. We just have to budget that with what we do ourselves. Get out of the dreaming mode of stuff and actually do stuff. I’ve written a post somewhere about making your own art retreat/workshop, using an art book. In that way you are actively using what you learned immediately over a short space of time. Not every book is suitable for that however, some should just be put down.

    Pull out a book you really love and add it to your schedule as a workshop at home for an extended Project Friday, maybe a week of evenings.

    Thanks for reading.

  15. Reply

    Your comment about feeling more free the more you schedule is exactly my point. You don’t have to worry and “talk yourself out of” doing something because you just do it. The more you just do something the sooner it becomes a habit (in this case a healthy habit).

    Good luck keeping that productive schedule up.

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