Oil Painting on a Budget: How You Still Can Afford It

oil painting
Pablo Picasso, La Vie, Chicago Museum of Art

Are you an artist and would like some tips for oil painting on a budget?

Would you like to cut your costs in oil painting without sacrificing any quality in the final product?

Let's face it, painting supplies can be expensive.  And if you are an artist who must budget in your oil painting art supplies, I have a few ideas that may help.

Even Pablo Picasso found himself with no money for his art, but managed to paint anyway.

Creativity will serve you well beyond your artwork if you use it to find ways to paint without having to buy new supplies.

In Picasso's case, his "Blue Period" coincided with the poorest days of his life. The reason being not only a depressed state of mind, but more importantly because he could no longer afford pigments and had only blue left to paint with.

Just to let you know, all of the product links in this article are Amazon affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon, but it doesn’t cost you any extra. Don’t worry, I’m always honest, open, impartial with my reviews – I only recommend the good stuff – but this affiliate income helps keep the site running.

Many surfaces can be primed with gesso and made ready for oil painting.

Surfaces for Oil Painting

Expensive pre-stretched cotton duck canvas is not the only surface that can be used for oil painting.

If you  look hard enough you can probably find plenty of alternatives around your house/garage.

Wood, plywoodhardboard (also called mansonite), and even paper, all make great surfaces.

They are easily primed with a couple of coats of gesso, and depending on the thickness, can be self-sufficient.

Canvas Surfaces

Buying your canvas in bulk rolls will save money in the long run.

To cut costs on traditional canvas surfaces, buy your canvas in bulk rolls.  And then cut,  stretch and prime it yourself.

This has been the way artists have made their canvas for hundreds of years. Pre-stretched canvas are a relatively modern product and most artists today don't realize this and largely take

them for granted.

It does, of course, take more time and effort to cut and stretch the canvas yourself. But in the end it is more rewarding and will save lots of money in the long run.

Another less expensive canvas surface is the canvasboard.  You can buy these in sets or individually. But overall, the cost of these are very low.

Wood Surfaces

Wood makes an excellent support for oil painting if it is properly prepared with gesso

Many of the Old Master works are painted on wood. Wood makes an excellent support for oil painting if it is properly prepared with gesso.

A thin piece of plywood, less than 1/2 inch in thickness or so, will do better if gesso is applied to both sides of the wood in order to prevent warping.

Very thin, bendable sheets of wood can also be pinned or clamped to a surface in order to keep it flat in the painting process.

A large sheet (4' x 8') of thin plywood or hardboard $12 can be cut into numerous smaller or even large size canvases, which end up being less than a $1 each.

Masonite or hardboard panels make an excellent surface for oil painting.

Hardboard (also called masonite) makes an excellent painting surface.

Hardboard is treated the same way as plywood for oil painting.

Just apply a couple coats of gesso to protect the masonite board from the oil paint.

Paper Surfaces

Similarly, paper can also be used for oil painting as long as it is fairly thick and preferably acid free.

You can buy very inexpensive poster paper in individual sheets or in bulk rolls.

You must gesso any paper surface before you put oil paint on it.

The primer or gesso acts as a ground to keep the oil paint from getting to the paper.  Apply 2 or 3 generous coats of primer to the paper and let dry before painting.

Without the primer or gesso the paper will quickly rot or fall apart from the oil that will soak into it from the pigments.

Brushes for Oil Painting

For brushes, I will suggest 2 strategies.

Buy the best brushes you can afford and then take very good care of them. They will last a very long time and this will save you money in the long run.

First strategy: If you have a little extra in your budget, go ahead and buy the best brushes you can afford, even up to the very expensive ones.  Then take very good care of them. Wash them with warm soapy water after every use or let them stand in vegetable oil between uses.

The vegetable oil will keep them conditioned and in pristine shape. If you follow these simple steps with your brushes, the expensive brushes will last a very long time. This will save you money in the long run.

Second strategy is to buy the very cheapest brushes and use them literally until they wear out or fall apart.

Treat them the same as the expensive brushes by either washing with warm soapy water or soaking in vegetable oil or both.  It will get you the most miles from your money here.

Saving on Oil Paints

Winsor Newton's less expensive student grade- Winton Series. I recommend this brand for cutting costs on your oil paints.

Student grade oil paints can help you save money.

They are much less costly than the professional quality oil paints. And in some cases you will not sacrifice too much quality by going with these brands.

There are a number of manufacturers of student grade oil paints that are relatively inexpensive.

But I like the Winton Series by Winsor Newton.

The reason I like the Winton Series is that you still get a high quality paint for a lower price point. I've used this brand and have always been happy with it.

Let us know how you cut costs on painting in the comments below.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. William Cahill

    When I was in school, many a year ago, it was advised to rub down masonite with denatured alcohol before gessoing; this neutralized the oils in masonite, allowing better adhesion of modern “gesso”.

  2. Sheree

    I see some artist using super thick oil paint spreading it on the surface like butter and thick icing (in super thick) layers of paint, how is this possible won’t it take forever to dry or never dry?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.