To be a successful artist, you must treat it like running a business, and as always, part of running a successful business means taking control of costs. Here's how to run a lean shop as an artist.
Saving on materials
Periodically check your local Craigslist free section for art supplies. Sometimes someone has an overstock, or simply decided to move or quit being an artist. At the time of this writing my local Craigslist free section is showing two paintings near by, each with a frame. I could use the frame by itself, or I could also Gesso over the canvas and use both.
Art canvas in particular can be expensive, depending on what makes sense for you, consider buying your most common size in bulk, pre-stretching your own, or Gessoing over someone elses' works. I only dabble in oil painting, so for me, I go to my local swap shop and get thrown out paintings for free, use Craigslist, or I buy paintings for $5 at the Goodwill. With larger canvas sizes in particular, the savings really add up. Shown left/above is an unsual size canvas that would have been $35+, and I got it for free. Four coats of gesso got it looking like this.
Pallet knives: Can be $10 a piece or more. Old silverware and kitchen utensils are very easy to come by, things like butter knives can be bent to make a pallet knife. Here is one I made with a thrown away carving-fork by bending it and cutting the tines off with a hacksaw. Project time was 2 minutes.
Preserving your existing materials: Things like keeping brushes properly cleaned after each use is a great way to not need to keep replenishing materials.
You can be creative with brushes too. If you have three brushes the same size, and need to buy a very thin brush for detail, you can take one of the brushes and cut the hairs with scissors leaving you with an instant new sized brush.
An art easel is expensive, if you are not sure if you will committ to painting yet, small paintings like a water color canvas can be propped up on cardboard boxes shapped into a trinagle. And a wooden step ladder with two planks put through it like this here can support even the largest of paintings.
Saving on web presence
Perhaps ironically, if there was ever a website that doesn't need to look that sophisticated, it's a web portfolio of an artists creations. I cringe when I hear that someone spent thousands of dollars on their website. All anyone needs is either a free hosted website, or a basic self hosted domain name and wordpress site with an e-commerce cart, your beautiful works will then speak for themselves and beautify the site. I recommend Bluehost for a website.
Zazzle.com is another great way to showcase your art for no upfront costs. Zazzle, a print- on-demand merchandising company not only lets you put your art images on hundreds of products that are available for sale immediately and giving you a royalty, but creating your own online store as well. Check out my store at Zazzle as an example of an entire store.