Here’s the thing. Many artists spend all their spare cash on art materials or tech ‘for their art.’ Many artists are, in fact, hobby-poor.
This is a tender topic for people, and I totally get it. It seems unfair, being called out for overspending on stationary when other people get to overspend on luxury cars. Even using the word ‘hobby’ has a really negative connotation to many artists.
I get it. I’ve been there, I’ve spent obscene amounts of money on all kinds of art materials, from the very cheap to the very expensive. Watercolors, brushes, paper sets, sketchbooks, colour-pencils, brush totes and PENS omg, so many pens. That’s not even breaking the surface of my shame-ocean.
That’s not even counting the digital tools I’ve bought. I blush to think what my digital art set-up has cost me altogether over the last ten years. Being a digital artist is not a cheap proposition to begin with. Then there’s a constant craving for the newer, shinier, better tech.
I spent a long time in those confusing warrens, making a lot of costly experiments that didn’t make me a better artist. Hopefully I can save you some time and money.
‘I need it. I’m an Artist.’
Let’s be clear. I’m not calling your job a hobby and you do need certain things to work as an art professional. You also a certain amount of artistic play-time to keep things art fresh and exciting. After all, what’s the point if you can’t buy yourself a nice new sketchbook sometimes?
As artists, especially young artists, we tend to fuse parts of our identities together. We fuse our identities as Artists together with things like our self-worth, our time and our finances. It’s really hard to separate all those things out and make good, equitable decisions, because it feels like we’re betraying our primary identity, which is to be an Artist.
We also tend to moosh the line between ‘I need this for work’ and ‘I need this so I don’t let my Friday night DOTA team down.’ We count fun, play-hobby-stuff and serious-career-work stuff as the same.
They’re not the same.
Also, sorry, but I know for a lived fact that spending money on vast, untouched collections of specialist equipment and materials INSTEAD OF DOING THE ART is not making you happy.
In fact, it’s making you feel increasingly guilty and fraudulent, and less and less like a ‘real’ artist. Because until you actually do the art you want to be known for doing, all you’re doing is buying your identity.
Everyone does this. Everyone wants to be an interesting person with an interesting hobby. We all want to be the kind of person who does yoga and scuba-dives and takes amazing photographs.
So we outfit ourselves with the latest and greatest kit and then leave it to rot in storage. We get a pale kind of a ‘doers-high’ from buying the gear, instead of practicing the thing to any level of proficiency.
‘It’s going to make me a better artist.’
This is the number one excuse we all use for buying yet another thing in pursuit of our identity ideals.
You can see this mindset in play when artists ask each other “What brush was that you used?” or “What program did you do that in?”
Because our comparatively lesser materials or technical set-up is OBVIOUSLY the problem.
We know it’s not. We all know our artistic ability is not going to magically improve when we find a better quality brush, pen, digital surface, paper, or tool. Focusing on buying the better thing can keep us from the awful truth:
It’s not the tool. It’s you.
You’re not where you want to be in your art-journey. You desperately hope that having a +1 paintbrush will bump you up to make art like the people you admire, but it won’t.
Yes, it’s important to have the right instruments, but the cold hard fact is, you have a certain amount of practice volume to get through before you break through to the next skill plateau. There’s no quick way around that.
Overbuying materials in pursuit of better art is procrastination and fear of starting, pure and simple.
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