How to begin with really limited budget?

I’d love to start my long time dream of painting, but have really very limited means to do it.
Would it be possible to make a list of tools needed in order to start, even really small if my budget is about $300?
Also, what are best subject matters for smaller canvas 9”x 12”?
For years I’ve been watching Mark’s wonderful videos and teaching, but it all quite overwhelms when it comes to the tool and studio needs.
I did purchase 5 small canvas, made a stain and stained them, got drawing pencils(white and yellow), made a color checker.
I’d really appreciate help to get started!
Thank you!


  • Paint what is familiar. People, pets,  the salt and pepper shaker, your guitar
    Some 4 b pencils and a pad of cheap drawing paper. Buy a small set of paints. Not student grade. Artist grade. Cadmium Red Deep, Cadmium Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine blue. You could buy Winsor & Newton artist grade. Cheaper. and excellent color. Buy 3 or 4 good W&N Bristles filbert and flats. A couple of inexpensive soft bristle synthetic brushes. A inexpensive desk easel to start and a good disable LED bulb high, CRI 90+, to stick in a lamp. Use a piece of 3/16 glass for a palette you'll need a couple of inexpensive palette knives. 
    The you'll get the fun gear as you progress. 

    Good art materials are not cheap

    Your local art supply, big online cart supply, Jerry's?, or Amazon. 
  • Thank you so much! Very helpful!

  • Glass cutting boards make a good cheap glass palette. 
    I started with this table easel. Cheap and also give some storage space. 
    I also like adding burnt umber it is cheap and makes a decent black when mixed with the ultramarine blue. 
  • If you but good stuff they will remain with you for a long time. Bad materials will give you bad results.

    But here are some cheaper but reasonably durable options
    1. buy those five colors...don't cut short here. if possible get artist grade paint
    2. buy artist poppy or safflower oil and clove oil
    3. But at least 4-5 filbert brushes of different sizes. Don't buy the cheapest ones.
    4. Get a good quality canvas pad
    5. Get a table easel
    6. Get a glass, paint the back with a warm middle value gray color. Tape the edges
    7. Get a white/yellow pencil
    8. at least one flexible pointy painting knife
    9. plastic food wrap to cover the palette to keep the paints wet. Place a cotton drenched with clove oil inside the palette before covering it with food wrap.
  • I'd replace the Cadmium Yellow, Red, and Cobalt Blue with Hansa Yellow (PY74), Pyrrole Red (PR254) and Phthalo Blue (PB15). The first two are Series 1 colours in W&N, and I think they do a Phthalo Turquoise (PB15/PG7) which is a series 1 too.

    I'd mix them with Iron Oxide Yellows and red to improve opacity at the expense of chroma if they need dulling down.
  • edited May 3
    It depends a little what your starting point is, and a lot on where you live (US is ideal for deals).

    If art is new to you, and you want to learn in a simple but thorough way, you can get away with 2 colors. In some atelier methods they force you to stick with charcoal, and later to use only a light and a dark for years.  The first painting I did was a portrait of my dad from a B&W studio photo. People where blown away at how well I caught the likeness, which was easy for me because I knew him so well.  But my point is, that there is not only a lot to learn from using two colors, but there is a lot of stuff that is fun.  Once you take the jump, you will know whether this is for you, and if it is you can probably find a way to do a little more.  This is a values study approach where you are trying to use two colors mixed to represent all the gradations of light and dark.

    My first painting was with acrylic, no medium, and 1 brush.  You could do it with artist grade materials, if you shopped around, for 10-20 dollars.  I used a woden panel for the surface.  You can paint on almost anything, the Mona Lisa is painted on wood, not even stable plywood.  You can get 40 9x12 panels +, out of one sheet that costs 15 dollars (plus cutting, which I am lucky to be able to do myself).  You can also buy wood panels at art shops.  A lot of top artists prefer them.  Those that prefer cloth, prefer linen, which is pretty expensive.  Canvas is usually a lessor option, but if you buy it in rolls and cut your own, then tape it to a panel, it can be very cheap.  You can also glue materials to panels.  I do that with water colour paper, and canvas.  Canvas that is glued to wood takes on one of linen's characteristics, since it takes the worry about the lower fiber strength out of the equation.  Surfaces are a huge topic, but the bottom line is they don't cost much, there are tons of options.
  • edited May 3
    If you go the two color route you can use Mark's total approach, so long as you either use a two tone source, or look up some videos on seeing values.  If you interpret the values you can use any source.

    There are a few problems with Mark's palette, which is entirely valid approach in itself.  But from your concern about cost: 1) While you can match almost any color with the  primaries. Two of the three colors, the red and the yellow are pretty expensive, and darn expensive if you want to make a lot of green.  2) You need to use really nice versions of these colors that are true, and those colors tend to be 2-3 times as expensive as cheaper paints.  Some of the "hues" will not produce true results when they are mixed.  So you need to track down the correct shades to get the results promised (assuming you didn't buy his paints for cost reasons.  They aren't super expensive actually.  If you use his paints,  you know they will play well together.  The issue with a  color palette on cost is actually mostly if you use other people's versions that rely on Cadmium yellow and red).  And then you have to be sure you have true colors, so that they will mix as the color wheel says they should.  3) Then there is the cost of the mediums, if you are brewing your own.  Some of these are reasonably cheap, but to go all the way, you will incur some costs.

    Another limited pallet that is quite cheap is the Zorn pallet.  There is a lot online about it.  It is more of a pallet that is designed to simplify colour harmony issues, it will not match colors as the pallet Mark uses does.  So it is better for a free approach.  and it uses only one color that is costly, a red.  The other colors are yellow ochre, black, and white, which are all very cheap.
  • edited May 3
    Mark now offers his palette in 50ml tubes and the 5 basic colors cost only 69 dollars.  The larger tubes are a little better value.  They used to sell all the colors independently, and if you wanted to start with a two color system, you could get the white and the burn umber.  A lot of people do two color painting with the BU instead of a black.  That way you can get a larger set if you want to, later, and you already have extra of two colors.  Mark also added a black, and if they are selling that individually, you could order it for a B/W palette.
  • @Agita

    When I was a starving art student, I found the cost of supplies to be really inhibiting, because I was afraid of wasting anything. If you think this could be a concern, I suggest the following to paint on. They work great, and are cheap! You can tape the edges down to a board, like a watercolor 

    Canson canva-paper pad, 12x16 inches, 10 sheets, US $14.04 at

    The others here have given good advice. I would suggest spending as little as possible at first, because your preferences will change over time. Then you will know you want different supplies, and will have more confidence about the changes.

    I think one doesn’t need fancy equipment or supplies. One needs a spirit of adventure, and a willingness to make mistakes.

    I still have, and use, a very cheap table easel I was given when I was 13 years old. That was over 50 years ago :)  I love it.

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