Fall finally made an appearance here in Big Swampy. Surely it won't last, but it's been really lovely for a few days. Great for morning walks and sitting outside with a book in the afternoon.
I've been promising to discuss the subject of art materials, and so I think I'll take a few minutes to give an introduction on that topic that I may expand on later. There are a ton of resources out there on this subject, so I encourage you to do some research for yourself. Perspectives are varied and often conflicting. Personally, I don't really get too serious about the difference between "student grade" and "artist grade" supplies. Buy what you can afford, and as you can afford higher quality products, work your way up, finding which ones you actually prefer in the process of learning and creating. As a general rule, artist grade is better quality - such as richer, more opaque pigments in paints, better constructed brushes that won't shed bristles or fray too quickly, and sturdier ground materials like watercolor paper and gallery-wrapped canvas. Better quality generally translates to higher price points.
Because artist grade supplies are usually much more expensive, I tend to mix my various supplies, so that I'm using the less expensive materials for certain elements, and saving the costlier supplies for when I really need to use them. I may do a watercolor wash using the free sample I got from the art store on a good quality paper, and use the artist level paints for the main subject matter. And when I find things on sale, I try to stock up. I also experiment a lot, seeing what works and what fails. It's okay to make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are successes that haven't been fully realized yet. If something isn't working, step away and do something else. Come back to that project later with a fresh perspective. It's when I push myself to finish something that I'm the least satisfied with the result.
I don't have many favorite brands or a go-to drawing pencil. Since I didn't go to art school, I never learned a lot of the techniques or rules that many professional artists swear by. In a way, I think that is somewhat liberating, since I don't have to use the "correct" pencil for sketching if I want to do something different. Personally, I'm more comfortable drawing than painting. A pencil is an orderly thing - solid and straightforward. A brush has a mind of it's own sometimes. (There was a great post on the Muddy Colors blog that touched on that recently, so now I know I'm not alone in thinking paintbrushes are tricksy and false.) I've pushed myself to get more involved in practicing beyond drawing as a way to develop, artistically, because it's easy to get into a comfort zone that regresses into a rut. Once that happens, predictability becomes an issue. I've seen artists who use the same techniques over and over, and focus only on the same subject matter, to the point that I can almost anticipate the elements that will show up in a piece before I see it. So, for me, the answer is to constantly push my own self-imposed boundaries. Sometimes I really surprise myself.
My preferred media (the materials used to make the art I create) are graphite pencil, charcoal pencil, watercolor and acrylic paint, and ink. For the support (the surface material), I use a variety of different papers or a pre-stretched, wrapped, and primed canvas, or even wood panels. The surface will dictate whether I'm working in dry media (pencils, charcoal, certain pastels) or wet (paint and loose inks), and vice versa. Your support materials need to be able to stand up to what you are using to draw or paint. Watercolor pain will completely destroy standard drawing paper, for example. For ink I prefer markers and brush pens, but I'll use loose ink as well. I'll very often combine some or even all of these elements together. I'll also use a variety of thinning or thickening media, top coats, and other materials to add texture and other elements, and from time to time I've even been known to add actual glitter to a painting. I love the shiny stuff. People have frequently asked me why I don't use oil paint. The answer is that I am incredibly impatient, and the drying time necessary for oils is pretty much impossible for me to handle. Then there is the fact that oil paint has to be thinned with a solvent, which can be pretty caustic. Since I don't have a designated space in which to paint, I don't want to risk spilling something like turpentine all over my kitchen table. Maybe someday if I get anything resembling studio space, I might try expanding to oil paints, but for now I'll continue to practice with acrylics.
So, what's the best place to buy your supplies, from artist level all the way up to pro? Good question. And the answer is...anywhere you find them. I'm not trying to be flip, here. There really are endless options for supplies. You can use online retailers like Amazon, Opus, or Jerry's Artarama. If you have a local art and craft store, they can be great for beginners to find inexpensive materials. Of course, larger national retailers such as Blick are a lot of fun to shop, and if you have any local independent professional art supply stores, definitely check those out as well. Most manufacturers like Golden Paints have websites where supplies can be purchased directly. Another option that is budget-friendly is artist swaps and sidewalk sales. Sometimes artists are looking to get rid of excess supplies that are taking up space, and will apply considerable discounts just to get rid of stuff. Honestly, in collage work you don't even have to *buy* supplies - you use whatever you have sitting around, from scrap paper and ribbon to spray paint and buttons to playing cards to old greeting cards.
But really the point is that it isn't so much about what you're using as what you yourself are creating. Art is subjective, as we all know. And the definition of "best supplies" is just as subjective. Use what you can afford to start out with. Practice. Play. Experiment. Make things!