Art School Survival Guide #3: art ain’t free

University don’t come cheap, we all know that. Tuition fees aside, degrees are full of unanticipated costs and purchases and Art School is no different – just with art supplies instead of textbooks and readers. When you’ve paid your rent, bought a little food and maybe a bus pass there’s often not much left over to fund the masterpiece that so far exists only in your mind.

It’s frustrating, depressing and can be downright humiliating, but it’s important to bear in mind that you’re not the only art student who has suffered through being skint, and there are many tried and tested ways to get through school on the cheap(er). Why not try…

  • Purchasing art supplies from those hideous dollar shops. They often have a huge range and many stock stretched canvases in a variety of sizes. Before you scoff, just let it be known that the venerable Richard Larter purchases many of his art materials from such shops. He’s not poor, but he’s not stupid either.
  • Frequenting dumps and junk sales. I don’t mean the sort of places where everything is neat and a sweet old lady works behind a nice counter display..I mean somewhere where things go to die, and burly men with few teeth nominate prices upon asking. In Canberra, this means Aussie Junk – a store attached to the dump, which is currently as junky as I have seen it in a long while. These places are ideal for those working in sculpture or installation. Where else can you buy a dozen clock radios for ten bucks?
  • Attending garage sales and estate sales. Here’s a trick – buy someone else’s failed artworks (and there are an alarming amount out there), scrub them back, give them a fresh lick of gesso, and voila! Brand new canvases (and possibly gross frames to boot!) Other interesting surfaces and materials that can be found at such sales (or in relative’s houses) include old maps, nice bits of wood, old boxes, reams of old printer paper, bolts of fabric etc etc
  • Scouring online for specialist art supply websites. Some of these offer greatly discounted prices on well known brands by cutting out the middle man and buying and selling in bulk.
  • Being honest with your lecturers and course conveners. There’s not much point pretending everything is fine and dandy and that yes, you actually really want to be making a sculpture out of fallen leaves from outside the studio again this week. You may find they are able to hook you up with financial support, or at least help you access some materials.
  • Keep your ear to the ground for grants you might be able to apply for. There are a whole range of schemes out there to help artists with the costs of making work – some even for undergrads! Pick up brochures, trawl arts websites and chat to other students and lecturers, to make sure you hear about them.
  • When all else fails, a session watching The Young Ones may dull the poverty angst. At least you don’t have to eat snow for dinner.

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