If you don’t know what or where to buy, a good place to start is the Society for All Artists, which has more than 45,000 members beavering away worldwide in a multitude of media. It costs £27.50 a year to join if you sign up for automatic renewal. For that, you get a package of benefits, including a welcome pack, its bi-monthly magazine Paint, exhibition insurance, and discounts in the Home Shop on materials ranging from paint, palettes and pencils to pastels and paper, with free UK delivery. The loyalty points system means you can save more on your next order.
The Society will be at the three-day Art Materials Live event at Birmingham NEC next month (tickets are £10). When the doors open on 3 November, hundreds of passionate painters will thunder through, ready to shop till they drop. It’s a fair bet Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin won’t be showing their faces – they could buy the whole place with their spare change – but in the lower case art world, this does not need to be an expensive hobby.
Unless, of course, you find yourself in Cornelissen & Son, near the British Museum in London. It has been trading since 1855 and is like a sweetie shop for artists, a delightful Hogwartsian emporium of drawers filled with paints and brushes, its shelves aglow from jars of pigment with names like Dragon’s Blood Powder. (Its bronze powder was used recently to repair damage to Prince Charles’ car.) You can’t leave without buying something. Or quite a lot of somethings.
But while supporting physical art shops is a commendable activity, it is not always practical. Having heavy packages of paper or canvases delivered to the door is one of the reasons online traders do so well. And, of course, their bulk buying power keeps prices down.
One of the leading UK arts and crafts suppliers is Jacksons Art Supplies, which also has two stores in London. (See below for a special offer for high50 readers.) Jacksons is currently offering 20 per cent off the Rembrandt range of oils, pastels and watercolours. There is free UK delivery on sales over £39, a catalogue more seductive than Nigella’s chocolate cupcakes, and an excellent range, from budget to break-the-bank.
Generally speaking, say the experts, it is better to buy the highest quality paints and brushes you can afford (although a £100 brush still won’t turn you into a Turner). Sable is fabulous, but don’t be too squeamish about squirrel.
But you can be weasely about easels. Art School Supplies offers easels at almost half the price of some other retailers. And if you’re still on a budget, you can build up a library of How To books by buying used copies through Amazon. For instance, David Bellamy’s Watercolour Landscape Course can be bought used from £4.79 instead of £12.99 new. Finally, for more inspiration, watch The Painting and Drawing Channel.