Art Supply Tips

Studio View

Art Supply Store recommendations

Charcoal drawing supply set

In these articles, I provide recommendations with detailed explanations of art supplies. Most art supplies work in conjunction with others, so each article will present a set of supplies with individual descriptions of each material in the set.

While the majority of the artistic process is about what you do with the supplies, choosing and shopping for art supplies is a huge process in itself. Just knowing where to shop is complicated; I almost always have to shop at 4 different stores, and sometimes I have to do extensive research to find what I need.  Selecting art supplies is different for everyone, and ultimately every artist has to troubleshoot and experience each material for themselves. Once you gain experience with a breadth of art supplies, you’ll know what your personal preferences are. While I always encourage my students to experiment with art supplies on their own, I do believe that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Getting recommendations from a professional can save you hours of fruitless labor.

As a professor, I have observed that many of the struggles art students have frequently occur because of either 1) poor choice of art supplies, or 2) because they aren’t using a full range of tools. Many of the problems that art students have simply wouldn’t exist if they had been better informed of what to purchase.  I have found that most art students have no idea what to buy, so I hope these articles will be effective launching pads.

As an art student, I experienced a lot of unnecessary frustration because I had poor quality supplies, or because I just didn’t know certain tools existed. My sophomore year at RISD, I had been exasperated by how muddy the colors in my oil paintings were . The day I started cleaning my brushes properly with a silicoil brush cleaning tank, my oil paintings instantly became more vibrant. Discovering this brush cleaning tank didn’t happen until after I had been taken at least 4 oil painting classes.


Choosing art supplies became even more critical when I started teaching.  I try to be conscious that most art students are on a limited budget, but at the same time, I want to ensure a smooth experience for my students. At RISD, I send my students a highly detailed materials list (see image below) before the first day of class. The staff at the RISD Store love my materials lists, too often students are given materials lists that are vague and confusing. Consequently, students don’t know exactly what to buy, which results in many returns and/or wasted purchases.  In my materials lists, I am explicit about details like sizes and manufacturers, but I also provide photos of each supply on the materials list, making it easy for students to identify what they need in the store.


My philosophy on how much to spend on art supplies fluctuates depending on the situation. There are several circumstances where I think it is totally fine to use a cheap, crummy supply, while other times I am adamant that a specific brand that is costly must be used. I was a poor art student once, and I definitely sympathize with the desire to save money on art supplies whenever possible. On the other hand, I know that saving money on a cheaper item is sometimes not worth the headache that cheap supply will cause.  I’ll be sure to mention alternatives to suit any budget, noting the disadvantages/advantages of each choice.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


4 thoughts on “Art Supply Tips

  1. I agree that quality materials/tools/supplies are important. Towards the end of my art education, I was always frustrated with oil paint and how to keep things organized. It helped having the cleaning tanks for my brush, tho I want to share this with other fellow artists.. My friend purchased brush holder for me and it really helps with keeping everything organized. I hope this will help other similarly frustrated painters.

      1. Thank you to both of you! First of all art materials get so crazy for me too Adrian! and Clara your tutorials are easy to follow along and fun.

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