9 Money Saving Tips for Artists & Illustrators

In my time being a professional artist & illustrator, I’ve gathered quite a few handy tips when it comes to saving those $$$, which is important for a successful freelance career because you need to have a safety net to keep you going when your work dries up.

Here are my top tips to save money as an artist or illustrator:

1. Buy supplies online, and when you need to buy something in store, take advantage of coupons

Buying things online on websites like Amazon and Ebay often means you’re buying directly from the manufacturer, which is great for you because you’re not being charged the additional fee for the store lease, employees and company profit. As much as I do love to support local art stores, if you’re trying to save money or you’re just starting out, buying your supplies online will save you at least 20-30%. You can also take advantage of the reviews on sites like Amazon to make sure you’re getting a good product.

Here are some of my favourite art supplies to buy online:

  • Paper for my art prints

  • Shipping supplies (mailers, biodegradable sleeves, “fragile” stickers, etc)

  • Watercolour paper

  • Gouache, acrylic and watercolour paints (I’m loving the brand Arteza right now!)

  • Paintbrushes

  • Empty watercolour palettes (I like to make my own with gouache paints)

  • Photography equipment for social media (props, tripods, lights, etc)

  • Paper trimmer (I bought a heavy-duty one for a fraction of the price because it was used but in great condition)


2. Buy your supplies in bulk, when you can

I started buying large rolls of watercolour paper and trim it myself at home. Not only does this cost you WAY less than buying pre-cut paper, but you also get to choose which size you want at any time! As someone who makes custom work for clients a lot and offers custom sizes to clients, this is a big plus. 12x12”, 16x19”? No problem! Other things you can buy in bulk are shipping supplies for your prints & online products, typically the more you buy the cheaper per item they are. Just make sure you will actually use all of it and have room to store it!

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3. Go to your local library, or listen to free audiobooks online

As an illustrator, it’s important to learn as much as you can about dealing with client requests, pricing, marketing and so much more. I’m constantly looking for new books to read, but I’ll only buy books I know I want to read more than once, because storing books can be a pain and costly. See if your local library has the book you’re looking for, and if not, see if you can find a PDF or audiobook version online. You can always decide to buy it later, but chances are you won’t want to or need to.

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4 . You don’t need all the latest tech

With the new iPads coming out nearly every year, it can be tempting to give your tech an upgrade, but if you have a perfectly functioning iPad or Wacom, just don’t do it! You never know how much things will change year to year. I almost purchased the new iPad Pro because I wanted the new pencil, and a few weeks later I switched my work over to painting entirely. Especially in the early years, make do with what you have. If you think you need a new piece of technology, see if you can rent it first and then decide if it’s really worth it to you. I had also bought a Sony camera a couple of years ago but never find myself using it because I actually prefer the look of photos and videos on my phone! Be wise with making big purchases, even if you think you really need it. If it won’t truly take your business to the next level, it’s probably not worth it.

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5. Work from home, and invite other freelancers to work with you.

Co-working spaces are popping up all over the place, and although they are wonderful, if you want to work there 2-3 times a week it can really add onto your current rent bill or mortgage. Find local freelancers in your community and invite them to come with in your home space, or meet up with them at a local coffee shop.

If you do want to join in your local co-working space, just buy day passes here and there when you feel like it, and if you end up going frequently, then purchase a monthly pass. Just be sure you’ll use it!

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6. Run collabs, not ads

Instagram and Facebook ads can be tempting because they’re always popping up on your feed, but you’re better off to invest into sending a few prints to someone who has an audience you know will enjoy your work. Not to mention this is a great way to make new friends or find like-minded people in your community. People will be much more likely to follow you if they’re recommended by someone else, rather than stumbling upon your ad and not knowing anything about you. Word of mouth is still and will forever be the #1 marketing tactic.

These earrings are part of a collab with another maker in my city! Take advantage of being able to support one another and help each other’s businesses grow.

These earrings are part of a collab with another maker in my city! Take advantage of being able to support one another and help each other’s businesses grow.

7. Ditch the car, if you can

As a freelance artist or illustrator, the odds are that you’re not gonna be driving to work every day and that your work is likely at home either on your kitchen table or in a studio you’ve built for yourself. It’s much cheaper nowadays to take an Uber when you do need to get around than to own a car, especially if you live in a city.

8. Find affordable alternatives

Winsor & Newton paints are known for their impeccable quality, but at over $10 a tube, they can really add up and make a big dent in your bank account. Unfortunately for us, most of the time the quality of our paints won’t really make us a better artist. I found a great alternative with the brand Arteza, and I really enjoy the quality of them. Winsor & Newton’s introductory 10-tube gouache set has a price tag of $65, whereas I bought Arteza’s 60-tube set for $60 (this price may have changed now that the brand has grown a bit). This isn’t to say that the Winsor & Newton paints aren’t worth it, but if you’re tight for money or again, just starting out, it’s wise not to dump all of your savings into paints because you might change your preferred medium as your style evolves.

Similarly, the Adobe creative cloud suite can be pretty pricey for someone starting out. If you need a software to edit your illustrations, you can try other programs like Pixelmator. It may not have all the features the Adobe suites do, but if you’re looking to make simple edits it will for sure do the job.


9. Lastly, stop buying clothes! (Lol!)

*Low-key a reminder to myself too*… As an artist or illustrator, odds are you’re not gonna be going to an office everyday, and you don’t need to dress like you will. Invest in a few different quality outfits for outings, meetings and events, but for day to day stick to comfy dresses, rompers or joggers. You can wear the same thing twice in one week and no one needs to know. You might even have the occasional pyjama day, cause why not? We all have those gross hair-up-admin-on-the-couch type of days. Also, don’t buy your clothes online. Make sure you try on your clothes and know that they will be comfortable enough to wear all day, otherwise you won’t bother and they’ll sit in your closet.

This dress is my favourite to work in! Light & breezy, comfy for all day and if I need to pop out I still feel stylish. It’s from  Madame Babu , another local maker in my community!

This dress is my favourite to work in! Light & breezy, comfy for all day and if I need to pop out I still feel stylish. It’s from Madame Babu, another local maker in my community!

Sabina FennComment