Why Drowning Yourself In Art Supplies Doesn’t Make You An Artist

Coloured Pens
image: tofutti break

How much do you have in the way of art supplies in your home or studio?

Is it just the minimal amount you need for the current project(s) you’re working on?

Is it enough so that you can adequately express any surge of fresh inspiration that might strike you at any time?

Or is it enough to start up your own Art and Craft Superstore and supply the entire artist population of the nearest three cities for at least the next year?

Of course we all need our artist’s tools and materials of some kind. Different media demand different supplies, some far more than others. To pick an obvious example, if you’re a wood carver you need a whole lot more than a novelist.

But I’m not so interested here in the amount you have, but the feelings and emotions and beliefs behind the amount you have, however much or little it is.

When I was younger I was very much into music, and devoured the NME and other music magazines as soon as they came out for the latest new releases. I visited record shops at least a couple of times a week and rarely left without a new purchase.

Music – and my music collection – defined who I was to a large extent, probably more than anything else in my life in my late teens and early twenties. Love me, love my records.

But an extensive record collection doesn’t necessarily make you a music lover any more than anyone else.

Who’s the bigger, more “authentic” music fan of these two?

The young woman who buys every track her favourite band releases and listens to them endlessly on repeat in every spare waking moment, rarely, if ever listening to anyone else?

Or the young man who has a diverse and extensive record collection that makes him appear very cultured but whose records sit gathering dust, resembling an expensive every expanding ornament more than anything else?

I was somewhere between these two, but the point is, having loads of records doesn’t make you a music lover, just as having loads of art supplies doesn’t make you an artist.

What makes you a music lover if how much you listen to music. Simple.

What makes you an artist is how much you create. Simple.

If you find you’re drowning in art supplies, (and still adding to them at every opportunity) and not actually creating much, then you might want to look at why.

What do your art materials mean to you?

What does it say about yourself that you have so many?

What are you trying to prove by having this amount of materials, especially unused materials? And to whom?

What do you think of others who have way more supplies than they’ll ever use – paints that have long since dried up, brushes that are broken and bristle-less, paper that’s molded and decayed?

Most importantly of all, does having so many materials help you be more creative? Or overwhelm you and hold you back from ever finishing anything? Or from even ever starting anything?

These are uncomfortable questions, and maybe they’re ones that you’re asking for the first time.

To be creative you just need your creative mind.

You’re already an artist, you don’t need physical, external materials waiting to be molded into wonderful creations to prove that, to yourself or anyone else.

Your creativity is evident in the way you think, feel, see, act and express yourself.

Stop purchasing, gathering, hoarding, organising and reorganising, choose a handful of materials and a promising idea, and go create.

You’re an artist, you create stuff, the stuff that’s most important to you, the stuff that calls you to be created.

Honour that calling.

You need to. We need you to…

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11 thoughts on “Why Drowning Yourself In Art Supplies Doesn’t Make You An Artist”

  1. I agree with you on the subject of art supplies.
    I generally buy few art supplies, I use what I
    have on hand, find out in the wild or what someone doesn’t intend to use any more. My wood
    I collect from cabinet makers or building sites,with their permission of course.
    The one thing I finally was able to buy was a tool attachment for my dremel that lets me cut out my circles for my dreamcatchers to size and
    not depend on an outside source.
    What ever the project I wait to collect what I
    need for it when I’m ready to work on it. The
    thing I buy as often as possible is feathers as I need them on hand always, even though when out on my walks I collect them along the way.
    It’s not what you have to create, it’s what you do with what you have to create. Starting
    with your mind. (big smile)


    1. I love the whole idea of re-using art supplies and found materials, whether it’s physical objects or sounds, or pictures.

      That’s a great quote – It’s not what you have to create, it’s what you do with what you have to create. And often the less you have, the more creative you need to be…

      Thanks for your thoughts Alexa.


  2. So true! Clutter destroys creativity, it crowds the mind and blurs the vision. I see that all the time. If I don’t use something in 6 months, I sell it. I had tons of crafty crap around years ago and I just unloaded everything (donate to your local schools, YMCA, scouts, freecycle.org) and it’s been so freeing ever since. You don’t need everything relating to a new design, like getting every color or every size. It will drown you and you’ll be stuck with expensive leftovers taking up space and buyer’s regret. GO with very little. You’ll see how much better it is.

    Now if I could get my husband to give up those crates of records and CDs in the basement that he NEVER listens too…..


    1. This is true in all areas of life, clutter destroys creativity, like you say Melinda. There’s such expectation with having loads of materials, almost like every last pen and tube of paint and scrap paper is calling you at once, whispering “Pick me! Use me! Make me beautiful!” It all adds up to a cacophony of noise in your head and ridiculous pressure to create something amazing using every last object.

      The expense is a good point too, and the buyer’s regret adds only to the creative frustration and/or guilt of having had something for ages and not even looked at it, let alone used it.

      Thanks for your experiences!


  3. I’ve put this article on the wall opposite my desk.
    I’m just starting to play with paint, ink and paper. There are so many nice techniques and ideas out there, that it’s hard to choose. And seeing all the materials makes me greedy. Besides, it is much saver looking at techniques and materials than putting paint to paper and maybe discovering that it does not turn out the way you would like it to, that it is harder than you thought or that you (imagine!)might not have any talent at all.
    But without starting I’ll never get anywhere. And wasn’t having fun and playing the main point of starting my craft/arts experience?
    Good to be reminded of that (it comes from all sides at the moment).


  4. I agree with Alexa, “It’s not what you have to create, it’s what you do with what you have to create.” I am buried under mounds of boxes/bags/baskets of mixed media ephemera, art/craft supplies, found objects of every size and description. There it all sits while I continue to add to the piles and mentally create all manner of wonderfullness. Nothing actually gets DONE, though.

    Dan, I disagree with your statement that “What makes you an artist is how much you create.” This seems counter to everything I’ve read in your previous articles. I believe that what makes one an artist is that one DOES actually create. Which means, of course, that I’m not an artist.

    I have sometimes defined myself as an ‘artist-in-waiting’, telling myself that it’s a step above ‘wannabe’; the problem is, I no longer can remember just what it is I’m supposed to be waiting for.


    1. Thanks for your comments Diane. I think being buried under materials and not using them is quite common, and yes the more materials you add, the more pressure there is to use them, and the less they actually DO get used. This adds to the mental clutter too, as you find more evidence of how uncreative you are, and count how many materials you’ve bought and now still lay used.

      Re what makes you an artist, I mean that simply having canvas, brush and paints doesn’t make you a painter. Using them to create something makes you a painter. Same with any form of art, just buying and gathering the materials doesn’t mean you’re an artist, it just means you can buy stuff, anyone can do that. I do believe we are all artists, but we must become “active” artists, bringing our “artists in waiting” within into action.

      What if I said you don’t need to wait any longer, you just have to say to yourself – “Diane, it’s time to get creating…”?

      Or, what if you started all over again? What of you threw out all your materials and started a new project afresh? It could be the most liberating act you’ve done for your inner artist in years… Just something to ponder…


  5. Oh gosh. I have a really hard time with acquiring new art supplies. There’s something really satisfying about buying them, but that’s where the awesomeness stops.

    I’ll start a new project and get really into it and then end up buying new supplies specifically for my project. I am rarely able to be more creative with an increase in new supplies. In fact, a lot of times I create less. I get overwhelmed by all the new stuff and just stop doing it.

    My collage work is the worst. I’m amazing at accumulating paper samples, magazine clippings, color swatches… but my best (and most) work come out of limited supplies.

    I’ve been trying to be mindful of this when I see a new pen, paper, or magazine I just “have to have.” It’s a tough process sometimes.


  6. Thank you thank you thank you. I have been feeling pressured by all the stuff just waiting to be transformed into that one of a kind art doll…some day. And it doesn’t happen and I start to doubt myself as an artist and the cycle goes on and on. We recently decided to sell the house (with my huge studio) in it and I was panicking over how to store all my art stuff in a motorhome, how could I work in a small space that would need to be cleaned up at the end of the day? I feel much better now. It’s just stuff. I can always get more when I need it and use it right away instead of hoarding the supplies. Now I believe I will go to bed and perhaps actually sleep tonight.


    1. Cheryl, I love hearing stories like this, how by letting go of having all that stuff helps you let go of such pressure to create something amazing also. It’s something I’ve experienced a great deal in the last year or two – I have less stuff than ever (in all areas of my life), and am probably happier and more creative than ever. Thanks for reading and posting your experiences.


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