10 Ways to Make Art on a Shoestring Budget

Money is tight for a lot of us these days, so I thought I'd come up with a list of ways to make art on the cheap!  I hope you will enjoy trying these tips out. :)

1. Anything Can be a Canvas.  Upcycle!  Are you about to discard something that might be a fun new surface to paint on?  Wine bottles, little boxes, or even a piece of wood you find in your yard could potentially be an alternative canvas!  Just apply several coats of gesso, and get ready to attack your new canvas with paints and collage materials...

2. Use What You've Got.  You don't need the latest fancy paint additive to make good art.  You just need paint.  And chances are, you've got some of that already!  Hold off on buying anything new until you use up what you have...  I make most of my paintings with cheap ($1/bottle) acrylic paint and/or housepaint (usually cheap stuff from the Oops! Section of paint at the Hardware Store), and I don't use any acrylic mediums - I just use water as an additive!  I think sometimes artists think there work could be better if they just had the newest paints or colors of paint brushes out there, but that isn't the case.  Time and practice will make your work better, and that cheap paint you have on hand will work just fine!

3. Keep It Simple.  Sometimes all you need is a pencil and a pile of copy paper that you stole from work!  Fold your stack of paper in half, staple the sides, and you have an instant sketchbook!  I love playing around with new pens and nibs and all kinds of art tools, but I always find myself going back to the simplicity of paper and pencil.  It's fun to have lots of supplies, but sometimes too many options can feel overwhelming.  Stick to the basics, and keep practicing!

4. Make Art Supplies.  Did you know you can make just about any color by using the three primary colors: magenta, yellow, and cyan (blue)?  That means you only need those three colors plus black and white!  Do some online searches for how to mix colors, and you're good to go!  You could also think of other alternative ways to make art supplies - maybe you could use some coffee or tea to stain your papers.  Artist Marcel Dzama often uses root beer base as a brown in his illustrations. You could even make your own milk paint!

5. Find Free Online Art Lessons.  Just do a web search for "Free Online Art Lessons," and you will be surprised at all of the results and resources you will find!  I offer free drawing lessons every Friday, and you can find out more about that by clicking here

6. Make a DIY Sketchbook.  Get an old discarded book (preferably a hard cover book), gesso the pages, and you have a brand new sketchbook!  It's fun to leave parts of the book peeking through too, so that you can see it was an old book to begin with.  Gesso and paint the cover as well, unless the book you choose already comes with a great cover image.  It's lots of fun to work this way!

7. Never Buy New Canvas Again.  Check out thrift stores for old paintings that you can paint over.  Sometimes the previous artist painted too thick, so it's hard to paint over their work, and in that case, just rip the canvas off, and you are left with a great frame!  You can buy duck cloth from the fabric store, stretch it over, gesso it, and you have a DIY canvas.  So easy!

8. Use Water as an Art Supply.  Water is a great tool for any artist!  You can use it to make cool drippy effects in your paintings, and you can use it to stretch your acrylic paints a bit further.  Experiment and play with water as an art supply!  I always keep some water in a spray bottle with my paints so that I can spray some water on the piece whenever the mood strikes me...

9. Use a Xerox Machine as an Art Tool.  Back in the dark ages, before I got my own mini copier and before there was Photoshop, I used to live at the copy shop!  I'd spend hours resizing, mirror imaging, and reversing the colors on my images.  I still use my mini copier a lot now, and it's a great way to play with your images and see them in a new way!  Blow your images up to huge proportions, then shrink them until they are miniatures.  Create mirror images of your drawings, or reverse the colors so that all the whites become black and vice versa!  Make a ton of copies out of your sketchbook, turn them into a collage, recopy them onto some thicker paper, and then paint in your masterpiece!  There are so many ways to play with copiers...

10.  Use a Window as a Light Box or Tracing Tool.   Don't have a lightbox but want to trace an image?  Simply put the image you want to trace up to a window with light shining through, put a piece of paper on top, and trace away!  No need to purchase a fancy light box...

I hope you enjoyed these tips!  What are some ways you make art on a shoestring budget?  Which of these ideas do you think you will try?

Have a creative day!


  1. tessa, i try to do these things already. i like the idea of painting over something else & getting the frame as a bonus. when i took some art classes, they had paintings people left, forgot, never picked up, months or years later. i asked if i could take those canvases home, & paint over them. they said sure.

  2. Hi Teddi, So great that you already do most of these things! And that is wonderful that you found some old canvases at your art class!! :)


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