Important New Research on Artists and Art Materials

It’s quite probable that you were already creating artwork by the time you were 20 years old. In fact, you were likely spending a good bit of time drawing, painting, sculpting, or crafting when you were 12. Those are two of the inferences that might be drawn by looking at the data compiled in Artist + Art Materials USA 2009, the first-ever study of its kind, which was sponsored by American Artist and the International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) and conducted by Hart Business Research. Surveys were sent to 2,714 active artists and 78 art-materials suppliers asking about the supplies that artists use, the ways they make purchases, the changes in their creative interests, and the paths they follow to become professional artists.

Among the most revealing sets of statistics are those that emphasize how important it is for young people to have opportunities and encouragement to explore the arts. Of the artists surveyed, sixty-three percent said they first became active in art when they were elementary-school age or younger, and forty percent of professional artists and art students said an art teacher helped them with their first significant artwork. Considering the implications of those percentages, one might conclude that without early exposure and guidance, people are not as likely to become professional artists. Clearly, we all need to support art education and professional art teachers while we encourage young students.

Although the research indicates that artists continue to use traditional drawing and painting materials, the numbers also suggest that creative people are exploring a wide variety of new materials and techniques. For example, about 75 percent of the artists who completed the survey use computers as tools to improve their artwork, print or transfer images for artwork, or reproduce their creations. Similarly, although 87 percent of the artists surveyed continue to rely on printed books and magazines for information and inspiration, a high percentage are also using the internet to supplement their art education, purchase supplies, connect with other artists, and promote their careers.

Because NAMTA’s primary mission is to help companies do a better job of marketing their art products and services, much of the HBR survey focused on identifying opportunities for members to expand or improve their operations. The complete 190-page study is available to NAMTA members, and an eight-page executive summary is available to the public here.


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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

3 thoughts on “Important New Research on Artists and Art Materials

  1. Steve, one of the things I’ve had time to do over the years is to give private lessons to young people who wanted to learn to draw and paint. Most of the times, these young artists were in their teens.

    Sometimes, I’ve done this for free. I believe it’s important for professional artists to share their knowledge not only with those who can pay for workshops and classes, but also with young people who want and need some guidance. While I was growing up with a single mom, all I had was loose-leaf paper and a #2 pencil with a Walter Foster, “How to Draw Dogs” book, and that’s what got me started. But oh, if there were someone who was willing to put in some time with me for free. I could have advanced much faster.

    Artists who teach: Please consider mentoring (for free) someone who has the passion and a bit of natural ability. It can mean the difference between giving up on art or following through to a professional career.

  2. November 19, 2009

    Dear Artist Daily,

    In reference to today’s article on – “Important New Research on Artists and Art Materials.” I agree that children who are educated in the arts will continue to be interested in the arts in the future.

    It is for that reason that I created the Vincent A. Carvajal Art Scholarship for high school students several years ago and is given each year at our Yuma County Fair. Amazingly, I receive many “thank you” notes from students that receive the scholarship. The student’s write: “Thank you for believing in my art.” “Thank you for the scholarship; now I can purchase paints and brushes.”

    I started out early in the arts as a child; I am fortunate to have made art my second career after my retirement.

    I truly believe that art is my passion and without it, I would not be who I am today.


    Pamela Carvajal Drapala
    Published Artist, Poet, and Writer

  3. I agree Lori. A couple of years ago I collaborated with another artist to give free group lessons to kids who were unable to afford to pay for lessons. I would definitely like to do it again because it is rewarding for the kids and the artist.

    Great article Steve. Thanks.