A Capsule Wardrobe for Your Art Supplies? Meet Your Supply Set

Perhaps you’ve heard of a capsule wardrobe – a small collection of interchangeable pieces that simplifies your choices and makes your life easier. What if we applied the same principles to our art supplies?

So often we creatives get overwhelmed by all the options available to us. We’ve stockpiled mounds of supplies but don’t know what to choose or use. We’ve bought 17 thin-tipped black permanent pens looking for “the one.” We’ve been gifted with yarn that’s pretty but not practical. We experimented with embossing and realized it wasn’t for us. We’ve compensated for not having creative time by buying creative supplies. We love plenty but at some point joyful abundance becomes a mess of “stuff” that makes our hearts sink not soar.

Cut through creative chaos by creating a supply set.

Let’s start this as a mental exercise designed to help us get clear on which supplies we do love, want and use. Let’s imagine bringing our supplies down to a collection of go-to favourites: a supply set. This set consists of two levels: the core and the complement.

The core is made up of those things that you can’t live without, those things that are so deeply a part of your creative life that you use them all the time. Identifying these will make it quick and easy for you to know which supplies must always be on-hand and restocked. You’ll also know exactly what to put together when you travel. These are the non-negotiables, the must-haves, the “I’m committed to” items in your creative toolkit.

The complement are those things that round out your supplies so you feel free to do the types of creative projects that call to you. No, you won’t have every colour or variation but you will have more than enough to create something wonderful. Having a well thought-out complement instead of just “more” keeps your energy focused and your space uncluttered. You could change up your complement each season. In the fall it might be full of crochet and card-making supplies. In the winter, colouring books and coloured pencils. Knowing your complement makes it easier to have everything organized and available. By eliminating the need to make multiple choices, set up and strike each time, you can spend your creative time actually creating.

So, here’s the key question. How many items in a Supply Set?

A Supply Set is 7 Core Items and 33 Complement Items.

Now, it’s going to be up to you what constitutes an item. Go with what seems reasonable and in the spirit of the project. For example, I might consider a box of crayons an item even though there are 64 crayons in that box. I would do this because it is small and contained. Whereas “yarn” or “paint” is more of a category than a component. There’s no way to draw any boundaries around that.

How specific do you get when choosing your items? Do what is useful to you. You might say  “a watercolour paint set” but if you really mean “my Pelikan opaque watercolour set with 24 colours,” then say that. If the specifics are important, be specific.

Maybe you’re already wondering whether you can tweak the numbers to suit your needs. As always in the studio, this is meant to be a support and a starting point not a set of immutable rules.  I encourage you to experiment to figure out what works for you but before you do, see what happens when you play with the 7/33 configuration. Give that a chance to teach you something about your self and your priorities when it comes to art supplies.

Here’s My 7/33 Art Supply Set

I had fun and learned a lot about my creative priorities when I put together my Supply Set. You’ll see that with some things I’m very specific and with others more general. I noticed that reflects how experienced I am with a particular medium. I know, for example, which scissors I want to use but feel less sure about which paintbrushes are essential. That’s useful. It draws my attention to where I still learning and I will refine the list over time.

With the complement, you’ll also notice that I didn’t group my supplies by category. Instead I focused on priority order not only so I could get a sense what was most important but also to notice if/where the energy of the list starts to peter out. If I found myself adding things for the sake of hitting 33 items, I would choose to go with a smaller list.

I’ve included some links if I am referring to a very specific item or to give you a general idea of what I’m talking about.

My Core 7:

  1. journal
  2. black ink finepoint Uniball pen
  3. my camera
  4. Cutterbee scissors
  5. UHU glue stick
  6. Prismacolour coloured pencils
  7. a magazine (Vogue/Artful Blogging/Arabella)

My Complement 33:

1. My Pelikan opaque watercolour set with 24 colours
2. A round #10 watercolour brush
3. A water brush pen
4. Strathmore art journal
5. A pad of watercolour paper (cold press)(example)
6. a Uniball Signo white gel pen
7. A set of gel pens (including glitter)(example)
8. Watercolour pencils (example)
9. A set of chalk pastels
10. 3 permanent black pens of varying tip sizes
11. A set of crayons
12. A set of markers
13. A set of oil pastels
14. A few copic markers or other brand that goes on translucent (example)
15. A larger flat watercolour brush
16. A smaller detail-sized watercolour brush
17. Matte medium
18. Gesso
19. A dedicated brush for medium
20.-27. Acrylic paints
27.-29. Acrylic paint brushes
30. Set of graphite pencils
31. Kneadable eraser
32. Gelli plates
33. Xuan paper

When I look at this list I feel anything but deprived. In fact, I find it a well-stocked studio! I even included some playful and new extras. Could I use more brushes? Sure. More paints? Always! Are there wonderful things that didn’t make the cut? You bet. Stamps, dyes, ephemera, paper cutters, punches, fabric, wire, yarn – none of that made the list. That’s useful information. Also, though they are in my complement, I actually consider my watercolour set and round brush a part of my core. That’s useful information too.

Make your 7/33 Supply Set and see what it reveals to you. If you find yourself feeling freer, clearer and more inspired, take the next step and put together your set. No need to get rid of anything. Just box up what’s not on your list and create an inviting layout with what is. As you live with your Supply Set, see how it impacts your creative experience.  Is it easier to get started? Is there anything you miss? Is there something you thought essential that you never pick up at all? Let this be a process of discovery and refinement about you as a creative artist.

The key to our creative lives is that we actually get creating. If you find yourself overwhelmed by stuff and supplies, if you find it difficult to focus and prioritize, make a supply set and see where it leads. As you become more and more attuned to the needs and desires of your creative heart, you’ll know how to choose a 7/33 list that fits you just right.

What would you put in your 7/33 Supply Set?


  1. Corbella says:

    Love this idea. I have been culling and gifting supplies I do not use anyway. I am going to give it a go. Starting in my journal making the list.

  2. Autumn_Forge says:

    i was a bit skeptical because I don’t have that many art supplies. Still, I made a 7/33 list in my studio journal that clarified which visual arts have the most “pull” for me right now (collage/mixed media), and which I can set aside for another time (learning to draw/learning to use watercolors properly). That’s helpful to know for my creative practice!

    I sent you a flower for your bulletin board from Virginia/USA on July 12 and hope it gets there before the end of next week.

    • Jamie says:

      Thanks so much for trying it, especially because you felt skeptical. I’m so glad it resulted in some useful information for your art practice. I hope that your collage and mixed media work flourishes! I’ll keep an eye out for your flower. I am going to the post office today so maybe it will be in the next bouquet. I’ll do another Show and Tell this Friday :)

  3. Nancy says:

    I am packing up my art room for a possible year in an apartment while my husband undergoes a bone marrow transplant. I am limiting myself to one box of art supplies, but the thought has been overwhelming. So this 7/33 gave me a place to start. I like the idea of limiting my supplies, but I am also trying to concentrate on what I can do with the least amount of space in a small apartment and also things that can be transported with me to hospital
    sitting. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. dellamaureen says:

    I love this idea. I’ve been looking for some ideas like this to help me make the most of my space and my practice. I don’t have a dedicated studio, or even a dedicated space where I can leave my supplies full time. I have the kitchen table, which is lovely–right next to a large window that looks out over our yard and neighbourhood. But I have to clean up my stuff after every art-making session. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting everything out, because I don’t feel like putting everything away, and I have to put everything away because we eat supper at the same table. I’m not complaining. Seriously. I’m looking for solutions that will help me feel a little less overwhelmed. Perhaps some products that do “double-duty?” I love the idea of gelatos or water-colour crayons that can be used dry or with water. I need something portable, easy to clean up, and satisfying. Any ideas?

Leave a Reply