Friday, June 10, 2011

tyro art materials you don't need

The art materials people stay up late at night (later even then I do) to think up things to sell to people who want to be artists. Their job is not to help you to be an artist, but to sell you stuff. They don't actually know anything about art but they have heard the voice of the art student and terminal amateur calling. When you get a catalogue in the mail from an art materials supplier about three quarters of what is in there is aimed at folks who are clueless. Most of the people who receive those catalogues are amateurs or totally inexperienced and the vendors have learned there is a lot of money to be made supplying not artists materials, but the things those folks think they might need.
To fulfill the needs of these occasional and naive visitors to the art sphere they have developed many products that will appeal to the artistic tyro. Frequently these materials are to help the beginning artist experiment or work in a new and easy system that requires less learning to give "professional results immediately. Following is a list of some of those products that you probably don't need.
  • iridescent paint, also metallic oil paint, often available in reds and greens, bronze and silver
  • plastic projectors for transferring images from photos to canvas
  • plastic devices for holding brushes next to your easel, often in lazy Susan drag, sometimes made of wire
  • wire storage systems for your studio, often on casters, plastic studio furniture and special plastic tackle boxes for the artist
  • oil paints with names like coral and delphinium blue rather than after the pigments of which they are made
  • aprons with specialized pockets just for artists often having the name of the vendor emblazoned thereupon
  • rubber sticks with beveled ends to be used instead of a brush
  • books that promise spiritual enlightenment driven means of making your painting better or offer psychology based advice on breaking out of the restraints of creative block.
  • wheeled trolleys for French easels that fold out into seating for the elderly
  • weird color mixing guides that promise a new proprietary way to understand color
  • flimsy aluminum easels with plastic parts on their legs that slip while in use.
  • safe solvents made from vegetable matter that while harmless, or even potable, will not clean a brush.
  • brushes that some artist with a DVD or book has invented in a new shape or configuration that are used to allow the tyro to work in their "method" Also brushes with rubber rings around their handles for EZ grip comfort
  • books with "free and easy" in the title.
  • prestretched canvas with wide stretcher bars that "don't need framing".
  • canvas in cabochon, triangles, or octagon shapes .
  • Paint sets that have collections of dozens of unnecessary colors in tiny tubes nestled in a wooden box with a little bottle of linseed oil and a plastic palette knife and three pieces of cardboard with canvas on them
  • sets of premixed colors for portrait painting or working in the method espoused by some dork who puts out DVDs on how to paint
  • Little posable wooden or plastic mannequins of figures and horses
  • ergonomic studio furniture that allows you to work in a kneeling position
  • special lamps for painting that clip to your easel
  • pads of paper "canvas"
  • plastic viewfinders
  • stuff to spray on canvas to tighten it up when it sags
  • oil paint compressed into sticks or in little squeeze bottles
  • canvas that fits in your printer so you can put a painting on it for painting over
I invite you to add to this list of evil and unnecessary junk in the comments. The list is nearly endless.


MCGuilmet said...

...special "Artist Hand Soap" or brush/studio soaps.

Anonymous said...

i enjoyed reading through the list to see what i had thought would 'make me a better artist'... so i have a set of 8 metal drawers to organise my paints; i have often wondered if i should buy those wooden figures; and i have an ergonomic kneeling chair in the garage which i thought would keep my son awake when he was studying... clearly it didn't...

Kristen Dukat Art said...

adjustable viewfinder for cropping a composition in a convenient middle gray value.

David Teter said...


I have a couple of these items, given as gifts from tyro's because... it's sooo cool!

Anything from clearance.
Any gadget with the word 'Handy' in the title.
Anything with the word 'value' in the title, or worse 'a super value'.
Anything with 'saves time, saves money' in the title.

Plastic paint tube squeezers, a piece of plastic with a slot cut in it (not the same as metal paint tube wringers which actually work like those old clothes wringers).

David Teter said...

Love the pic for this post by the way.

Johan said...

These vendors also aim at people that know a creative person, and they happen to want to give that person a "useful" gift.
I had to actually tell people to stop buying books on learning how to draw or paint.

Some other totally uninteresting stuff to be found at art stores:
Cheap ass easels that break as soon as you try to use them.
Tubes to put paper in, then forget about it and find out it's all ruined after a while.

The stuff we could really use though is hard to find in the store, and if it's professional material, is often out of stock.

Then they wonder why internet shops are so successful...

Libby Fife said...

Happy amateur talking here: Now your biases are really showing!!!:)

I don't have any of the items mentioned except for the opaque projector and in my defense, I learned how to grid up a sketch long before I got the projector.

The catalogues make me crazy. I am a minimalist by nature and so just quietely put the catalogues in the recycling, cover my ears and eyes, and quietly chant, "I am not listening, I am not listening."

stapeliad said...

I have exactly 4 things on that list, and truthfully I have put them all to good practical use at one time or another. Those rubber brush things are pretty good for soft pastels.

My addition to the tyro list is "Liquid White" from everybody's best pal, BR...

Eden Compton Studio said...

I was relieved to find that I only own one item - the clip on easel light which never clipped on and now sits in a corner. I would add small little pans of pastel that look like cosmetic compacts so you can supposedly make your pastels look more like oils. I know some people like them but I don't see the point.

Linda Schweitzer said...

This looks like the list of stuff I gave away when I moved! Probably should add the non-professional canvas pliers to the list, which is why I have found the spray stuff for tightening canvas useful...

jimserrettstudio said...

Don't forget the new techie gadgets,
a 700 dollar digital art projector, (projects from any device) the 400 dollar Video Art Instruction Desk (a computer desk with a drawing board)
or the 200 dollar viewfinder for your cellphone (a phone app that crops and converts to gray-scale)
Just overkill and pointless. I'd rather spend the money on some good paint.

John Kelley said...

Painting on ipads..... wait those are pretty cool.

billspaintingmn said...

I've never bought any, but I see they have water based oil paints.
What is that?

Debra Norton said...

I confess I have one of those little mannequins, I think it was a gift, about twenty years ago. I have never used it that I can recall, but it seems to magically change poses up there on top of my desk hutch, especially when my son comes over....... I just checked, right now it's getting ready to dive!

Plein Air Gal said...

A chain with a hook at each end to be used as a "paper towel holder" for your pochade box - $10! (no I didn't buy one)
I do like Ugly Dog soap for my brushes, but find good old Lestoil to be the best all around and for getting paint out of clothing!

Richard J. Luschek II said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard J. Luschek II said...

I didn't have time to read the whole blog post, but thanks for assembling this list. Since you suggested this stuff it must be great. I just put my order in at Wilber's Art'splosion Warehouse.

Anthony Sell said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would humbly include the following:

- Pochade umbrellas that fold backward at the slightest breeze.

- Starter brush sets that are comprised of mostly useless types and sizes.

- Any bristle brush that costs more than $12.

- Specialty painting knives designed with split or wavy blades for achieving "unique special effects"

- Large, wheeled, double masted easels (with a marine hand crank for raising and lowering your 300 lb. painting) which cost as much as a small used car.

- Table top easels.

- Anything involving an air compressor.

- Special "Artist Quality" glass jars for holding medium, which cost $6 at the art store, and $.60 at the hardware store.

- Canvas or linen which comes folded.

- Deluxe leather-wrapped painting mahl sticks.

- Masters Drawing Kit, including one pencill of every lead known to exist, one small kneaded eraser, a rubber eraser, small pencil sharpener (dull), two blending stumps, a tortillion, and complete with a convenient zippered carrying case (sometimes also sold with a large satchel for carrying all of your convenient carrying cases).

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...


Any brand of water-soluable oil.

Any brand...

Steve Hall said...

Stape, you've got to do a follow up post of the things you need that art stores SHOULD carry but don't:

* Good paper towels that are super heavy and perforated for half sizes.
* Nitrile Gloves
* Wing nuts in sizes that replace French Easel brass thumb nuts
* Trash bags (I like the white medium kitchen size)
* Nice folding chairs (canopy optional)
* Cork sheets to cut up into small "feet" for French easels.
* Multi tools with pliers and wire cutters (in case you can't get a paint tube open or haven't replaced your easel thumb nuts with wing nuts)
* Large and large mouth size metal paint cups with metal caps

Antonin Passemard said...

ahahahahahahhah !!!!!
coral and delphinium blue lol !
Stape best post ever !!!
I will add all Bob Ross dvd's and materiel !! Really !!!

MichaelJA said...

Wow, I read all of what you and others have put down in this list of ‘inconsequential items to make one an artist’ and at first I went from “someone woke up this morning in a pissy mood.” or “someone must have pissed in your coffee and cereal?” to I totally feel like such an amateur right now (head bowed down in shame) I’ve worked in graphic design studios and have used allot of these so called tools and never felt less of an artist for doing so but now … oh man.
I can understand most of the list having chuckled at these items I’ve seen in catalogues and as well have been a sucker to GAS (for musicians it’s known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

Now I’m second guessing that digital projector I’ve been in the processes of saving my pennies for and maybe this is a good thing now to second guess it.

Not trying to make excuses for myself either but having worked in the graphic arts industry where productivity & getting it done as quickly as possible is demanded verses the fine arts world where I’m transferring those skill sets to being an actual artist I guess makes me a joke and susceptible to consumerism. I’m guilty as well for designing tools to make the job even easier and thinking of making these ideas available to those who might benefit from them.
Right now I feel like the Emperor who was exposed publicly.

jeff said...

Most of the stuff on the list is pretty useless. I do have one of those gray adjustable viewfinders that and I think they work pretty well. Mind you so does my fingers and eyes. You could use two pieces of mat board and some paper clips. I think there is a diagram in Carlson' book.

Someone made a remark about studio easels with hand cranks. I'm not sure why one would think a nice sturdy studio easel is something a amateur would use. I have one that I've had for about 15 years and it's a great easel that will no doubt be here when I'm long gone.

James Gunter said...

Quote: "ergonomic studio furniture that allows you to work in a kneeling position."

I'm on my knees a lot about my paintings. They make furniture for that?!?!

McKinneyArtist said...

Had 2 of these no good things! The plastic tube twister are real money wasters.

Please somebody invent a handicapped easel. Needs to roll, tilt and be ease to move over a lazy boy chair. Name it after me the "Broke Back Easel" Please HELP!!

barbara b. land of boz said...

Sure seems like a whole lot of money was wasted on a lot of useless artful or should I say awful items. Glad I only had a couple of these in my "stuop".

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

rahina q.h;
The ergonomic kneeler looked so good in pictures though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

A Time For Art~Daily Paintings by Kristen Duk;
I wrote about those tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

David Teter;
Plastic tube wringers, Gotta have about 15 of them too,

Stapleton Kearns said...

Johan Derycke;
The art supplies are over beyond the plastic flowers.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Libby Fife;
I am glad to hear you have only the projector and not the kneeling chair.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Stapeliad ;
I have never tried that. Maybe I need a can.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Eden Compton;
Pastels are COLORED DUST.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Linda Schweitzer;
I have a set from the 19th century that are better than anything made today.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jim Serrett;
The hi tech stuff is particularly useless. The higher the tech the higher the price.Although I do like my digital camera and photoshop.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Ipads, are those like Maxipads?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Glad you brought those up, I thought of including them, but I do know an artist who gets great results with them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Debra Norton;
You could get them a Barbie dreamhouse to live in. I think that they are made to appeal to the doll instinct.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Plein Air Gal;
I have seen those and scoffed. I put my towels in my backpack. Saves on chain.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Richard J. Luschek II ;
If you had read the whole post I suggested that you needed a backup up set of each of these, store em in the bomb shelter because frankly, you never know.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Anthony Sell;
I have enough equipment without an umbrella. Officers never carry them anyway.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thomas Kitts;
I am concerned about the hydrogen in the thinner for those.

Stapleton Kearns said...

digitect ;
If the art suppliers carried paper towels they would be 5 dollars a roll and have a picture of Van Gogh on them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have a Bob Ross T shirt. I wore it yesterday, everybody laughed at me here in the New Jersey paint out.Bob sleeps with the fishes.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I woke up vindictive, people with no internal organs don't urinate.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I love my double masted 10 foot tall easel with it's maritime winch.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jim G;
No, but I know of a good book on that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think there must be an easel that will do that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

barbara b. land of boz;
And think of all the would be artists disappointed when their paintings are not better after acquiring them.The promise and the disappointment.

VickiRossArt said...

I used to work on one of the kneeling chairs when spending hours at a drafting table. Actually nice, but took up alot of floor space.

I'm now into collecting pochade boxes...they are so CUTE! And I don't get up early enough to see the sun come up, am inside with cocktail by 6, and hate to sweat! Go figure.

Creativity Clubhouse said...

a billion mega pixel digital camera with 100x optical zoom

Jennie said...

I actually love my water based oils, they are a godsend if you are a parent, and they clean up very easily, i recommend giving them a try.

The hand crank easel is a must if you are disabled, mine is a godsend, it's only single masted though ;) for the person who asked about the disabled easel that goes over a recliner, there is one, fully remote controlled that will even go over a bed. It costs over 5k from memory which is veery steep but it will hold the canvas over you to lie down at. I don't know how one handles drips! There are always ways, I consider one over the ergo chairs, but now that I don't have to bend at all for my easel and can put the height anywhere I need with an easy crank, I can stand almost all the time. It's always worth investing in something to enable you to work past your disability :)

I have to admit to one item on Stape's list, my collectors love my double wide stretched canvasses, I can't stretch my own and these never warp. I hate painting the sides, but they look great when done ;)
I laughed with those stupid plastic tube squeezed things! More trouble than they're worth!