Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Love/Hate Relationship Called Art Materials

I love art supplies.  I love opening new packages, replacing empty material bins, and pulling the materials out for the first time with a new project.

I also hate art supplies. I hate writing up the orders, squinting at the order codes, typing them into the small order forms, squeezing in as much as I can into my sometimes tight budget, and realizing I forgot and item after the orders been sent in.

Working with art materials is my biggest love/hate relationship with my job.  And it's on my mind because I have to work on next year's supply budget already!

If you're an art teacher like me, you have orders coming out of more than 5 different catalogs...clay comes out of one, Triarco, United, Nasco, Sax,and Dick Blick fight for the best prices (and there's even more catalogs to order from than I listed!).  Then you have your basic teaching supplies: tape, pencils, staples, etc...

Ahhhh!!!! It's so much!

And you do it all to get the most for your money.

Here are a few tips for when you plan your supply budgets.

1. Use excel to create your order forms.  Make a separate form for each catalog you order from.  You can save it for the next year, which makes it a little easier to repeat items you order every year without re-typing all the product codes and descriptions.  All I do it update the page numbers and product prices.  I also print the order and tape it on top of my school's requested budget forms.

2. Spend at least one year in depth with researching the best prices out of all the art catalogs you can.  This will also make it easier to complete #1 in the next few years.

3. Find the free shipping.  That will save you at least $50-$60, which can go right back in for more supplies.

4.  If you can do it, order bulk in just a few items every year.  I did this with markers and oil pastels, and with prices that go up every year, I have at least 3 years backup supply.  Change around the items each year, and you're golden.

5. If you are short on your budget, create an account with Art Room Aid or  If you start both projects a year ahead of time, you will have extremely generous donors help you out with your budget woes.  I would recommend setting up projects with materials that are special (crayola model magic, acrylic paint, printmaking, etc...) so you can use your actual budget for your most needed materials.

6.  Know your space and storage.  This is one piece of advice I need to follow myself!  I am overbooked in my main classroom because I teach the most there.  I need supplies for 23 classes, averaging 25 students per class, plus I host an after school art program.  My second school used to be on a cart.  I have everything on boxes and bins, and even forgot what items I had because they were stored away so deep.

7. Label your stuff.  Have you ever thought you were out of supplies, then ordered them, then found that supply you thought you were out of, which left you with double the supply?  Yeah, that happens to me a lot.  Labeling my cabinets helped alleviate that problem.

8. Leave some money for the middle of the year.  I always have to order more supplies mid-year, either because I don't have enough and ran out, or I need fresh clay.  It sucks to have to write out another order, but it helps.  My principals automatically hold back a small amount every year, and around December, I place a second, much smaller order.

In the beginning of the next school year, you get your biggest reward from all that hard work: boxes of new art supplies!

You hate to create the lists, and budget, and scrimp/save, and label, and re-type...but the end result feels like Christmas.


  1. I'm with you on the love/hate! We won't place our orders until almost the end of the school year in my district. I usually start to type it up on-line ahead of time since I generally have the same amount every year. That way all I have to do is send it when the time comes. I spend it all at once because from past experience if I don't somehow it gets used for something else! I use a lot! I have gotten some great supplies for my art room through them, drying racks, paints, paper... most recently some liquid watercolor and watercolor paper! I keep the $ amount small and find it is easier to get it funded. I also make supply requests from our PTO. This year they got my room 2 more much needed drying racks to go with the ones from Donorschoose. this year I am going to ask them for some new art room smocks for both of my room. The others are about 15 years old and have served us well(plastic front/fabric back). I am also researching some grants to possibly try for. Enjoy your supplies! :)

  2. You know the fun part? Working on a supply budget with a shared room.