art supplies

Eco-friendly, Reusable Art Supplies for Frugalites

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By Rohvannyn Shaw

As I showed in my previous article on art supplies, there are quite a few low-cost media options for artists of all kinds.  This time I’ll be focusing on a slightly different goal, that is, reusable art supplies that offer maximum flexibility of expression but can be replenished at a very low cost.  The best of these are ones you might be able to make yourself, so that even with shortages or supply chain issues you may still continue to create. 

After all, being creative is not only an enrichment to society, but it can also be a great stress reliever as well as a way to feel a little more “normal” during tough times.  These tough times might include economic downturns, disasters, or even bad weather events that leave you stuck inside for long periods of time.  

Brush and ink

One of the oldest means of expression is with a brush and ink.  Some of the greatest cartoonists of our time did everything with a few brushes! These are some very common reusable art supplies! Brushes of surprisingly good quality may be had for a low cost if you shop carefully, or make them out of natural materials. Inks can be made in a number of different ways or bought fairly cheaply.  You can paint or draw on wood, cloth, paper, or other flat materials so you have good flexibility as to the surface.  If absolutely needed, you can even make ink out of coffee or tea.  

Basic ink:

  • 1/2 cup ground coffee
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • coffee filter or cloth

Boil the coffee with the water for half an hour.  Strain the liquid into a bowl.  Whisk in the honey until dissolved.  A similar process can be used with strong tea and I would imagine you could also use cheap instant coffee.  At some point, I intend to mix isopropyl alcohol with instant coffee to make an alcohol ink and see what that is like!  There are many recipes online using various juices, pigments, and plant materials.

Fountain Pens

These are wonderful, as one with replaceable nibs can serve instead of an entire pen set, and you can do very sophisticated things with them. As mentioned above, ink can be made or bought.  Most of the fountain pens you will see take cartridges, but there are other options available.  I would recommend getting the simplest form of a fountain pen which is filled with a simple eye dropper.  I like those because you aren’t out of luck if you can’t find the specific cartridge your pen needs.  They are also pretty cheap, depending on where you buy them!  If you buy “Noodler’s Ink” (Available on Amazon as well as other places) they will come with a free one, just check the listing to be sure.

Nib Pen

Starting with your basic quill and moving up in complexity, a nib pen is dipped in ink.  Even if you need to buy a bottle, it will last you a long time.  You can also carve a nib pen out of wood or bamboo or buy them for a very low cost.  These can be made to a variety of thicknesses as well.  It only requires basic whittling skills and can be made in the wild if need be.

Lead holder

I absolutely love lead holders.  They are like mechanical pencils only the lead is very thick.  Three or four of them plus refills cost less than a good set of expensive drawing pencils and lasts a lot longer.  I like the ones that use a 5.6 mm lead.  It might be difficult to make refills but on the bright side, you can buy a lot of them for a very low cost and stockpile.  I enjoy the way they protect my hand from smudges but still allow either broad or thin lines.  I have also found refills that come in white chalk and various other colors so these can even replace other dry media.

Water Brushes

These brushes hold water in the handle and were originally meant for watercolorists to use during travel or outdoor painting.  They are very inexpensive. However, their utility only begins with watercolors!  You can fill them with colored inks to replace expensive brush pens.  You can fill them with black ink to give yourself amazing fluidity and control, similar to the expensive Copic brush pen. Also, you can clean them out and use them over and over, greatly extending their life and also giving yourself a more eco-friendly option.  Store them in an old eyeglasses case for grab-and-go portability and convenience.


Speaking of watercolors, I do wish to mention that they are extremely good in regard to cost.  They are a little harder to make yourself but they essentially don’t expire so they are good for long-term storage.  Even if a tube of paint has dried out, you can still crumble it up, mix it with water, and paint again.  So they are definitely worthy of mention for the Frugalite artist.

Final Thoughts

Though some may have a bit of a set-up cost, all the options above have a lower final cost than traditional art supplies.  As a huge bonus, they are also gentler on the environment.  One fountain pen can last for years, replacing who knows how many fine lines and standard pens.  Keep in mind also that many markers dry out after a while if you use them or not, but a brush, fountain pen, or water brush can always be washed out and revitalized.  So there the replacement cost will only be incurred if something breaks.  Above I have gathered the most viable, most fuss-free options I could find and I hope you find them useful!

Do you have any suggestions for reusable art supplies? Is there a specific item you typically reach for?

About Rohvannyn

Rohvannyn Shaw lives in suburbia but still values old-fashioned skills and techniques. When she’s not preventing her sourdough starter from taking over the world, she’s baking, grilling, reading, writing, illustrating stories, gaming, or keeping up with her cats. She maintains a website dedicated to creativity at, as well as an art portfolio at

2 thoughts on “Eco-friendly, Reusable Art Supplies for Frugalites”

  1. Very interesting article and right up my alley. I’m not an artist, but I am a dabbler and a frugal one, at that. My main hobby is paper crafting and junk journals. I’ve experimented with essentially free supplies, or at least something that I can make from things around the house. One is making water colors from dried up felt tip markers. I remove the inner piece of felt from the pen and soak in it tiny glass jars with a little water; then keep it stored in the same jar.

    I didn’t know about making ink from coffee. Very clever! I’m wondering, what’s the purpose of the honey in the mixture?

    A couple of years ago, I did buy a vintage fountain pen on ebay and a bottle of ink. When I was in school, I liked writing with a fountain pen and still do. I’d love to be able to master calligraphy, but that hasn’t happened yet.

    Thank you for this article and please, more articles on this topic!

  2. Thank you for your comment! The honey in the ink acts as a binder, helps it have a little better consistency and stick to the paper better. I love fountain pens. They are the neatest things! Also thanks for mentioning making watercolors out of dried up markers, I had forgotten about that but there are always dried up markers out there. If they are alcohol type markers you could use isopropyl alcohol and make alcohol inks with them.

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