Calling all Creative Dreamers! This is the guide to New York City that you’ve been waiting for! Have you always wanted to see the creative culture and ever-inspiring sights of New York, but felt like it was all just out of reach? As an artist, New York is a magical place, full of inspiration and is a must-see city for creatives of all kinds!
I have some good news, that apart from the flight there (especially coming from Australia!) the rest of the trip can be made more affordable than you think and the experience more authentic, by seeing the city through the lens of the locals.
After recently spending three weeks in Manhattan and New York, I buzzed my way through the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, creativity and wonder of the city without breaking the bank or spilling my paints! So I’ve put together ‘The Broke Artist’s Guide to New York City’ for all those wanderlust-seeking creatives out there just like me, who are dreaming of visiting the Big Apple.
How did I see all the best art galleries and museums for under $10? What are the best low-cost experiences for creatives? Where are the best places to be inspired…for free? All these questions answered and even more #inspohits below in this guide to New York City, so get reading…
(and planning the big trip!)
The Broke Artist’s Guide to New York City
ART GALLERIES & MUSEUMS
Many of the art galleries and Museums have ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’ days and times. This means that if you stand in line at the general admission counter you can pay as little as $1 to enter galleries such as The Met, Guggenheim, MoMa and the Whitney. It takes a little bit of planning in your itinerary, but you could save $100’s, as normal admission prices are between $16-$35 per adult.
In order to ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’, you MUST stand in line and buy tickets from the ticket counter. You cannot ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’ using online admission, the self-serve kiosks or by using a city discount pass.
Below is a list of the biggest art galleries and museums and their ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’ Times:
The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) – Always ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’ available (Regular Admission price is $25USD) *Free Daily Gallery Tours recommended!
Time to Allow: All Day! Or at least half.
American Museum of Natural History – Always ‘Pay-As-You-Wish’ available (Regular Admission price is $16USD) *Free Daily Gallery Tours recommended!
Time to Allow: All Day! Or at least half.
9/11 Memorial Museum – Only Tuesday 5pm – 9pm (Regular Admission price is $24USD)
Time to Allow: 2-3 Hours
Museum of Art and Design – Only Thursday 6pm-9pm (Regular Admission price is $16USD)
Time to Allow: 2 Hours
Whitney Museum of Art – Only on Friday 7pm – 9.30pm (Regular Admission price is $25USD)
Time to Allow: 2 Hour, Head up at 7-7.30pm to see the Sunset on one of Whitney’s 5 outdoor balconies.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Only Friday 4pm-8pm (Regular Admission price is $25USD)
Time to Allow: 2-4 Hours
Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum – Only Saturdays 5.45pm – 7.45pm (Regular Admission price is $25USD)
Time to Allow: 1.5-2 Hours
Independent Galleries: There are also many wonderful independent galleries to visit in the Chelsea, Soho and Tribeca areas. Most are free, some require an appointment or small donation.
Sketching: Don’t forget to take your sketch book! Most of the museums and galleries have benches throughout the exhibitions where you can sit and draw. However they often don’t allow you to bring in pens or paints, only grey lead pencils.
*Free Tours: I would also highly recommend taking some of the free tours offered at the museums and galleries if available. Often they leave from the front foyer at a meeting point. They are informative and give a different and deeper perspective on the artworks that you may not have noticed walking around on your own.
The two free tours I would highly suggest would be the ‘Museum Highlights’ 1-hour tour at The Met, departing at 10.30am and throughout the day. Also the ‘Museum Highlights’ tour at the American Natural History Museum, departing at 10.30am and throughout the day. They both give very good summaries of the museums before you explore them on your own, and only take an hour!
This is one of my favourite places in the city and it’s completely free! You could easily spend a couple days exploring Central Park.
Take a Picnic: I would recommend making a packed lunch or picnic, packing a towel or picnic blanket and taking your sketchbooks or paints down to Central Park for an afternoon on the lawn. There are numerous places you can sit and relax and journal or sketch. I set up my blanket, did some sketching and then moved spots further up the park onto different lawns throughout the day.
Central Park Boat Rides: Taking our a row boat in the Central Park lake is a fun experience with views from the centre of the lake that only few will capture! Don’t be afraid to row by yourself, you won’t see many solo rowers but you’ll catch on quick and have some cute snaps. You can even try setting down the oars in a shady spot, and peaceful float while sketching in your private boat. The painters on the bridge will surely be inspired by the sight and you never know, you might be painted in one of their scenes! The boat ride does cost $15 per hour (Cash only) and a $20 deposit needs to be left, which is given back on return.
Painters on the Bridge: Many artists come to Central Park to paint the strangely ‘busy but peaceful’ atmosphere. You’ll see a few oil painters set up on the bridge that overlooks the lake and bridge with beautiful tree branches hanging over head. I’ve also seen painters set-up through the park with easels, taking in the landscape and architecture combined with nature.
The Ramble: If you truly want some peace and quiet to meditate or journal in Central Park, visit the area known as ‘The Ramble” on the Mid West Side of the Park. It’s meant to feel ‘unkept’ and completely natural, like the plants have grown in whichever direction they please, with forest vibes and a dirt path, you’ll see birds building nests, squirrels foraging in the leaves, vines crawling up trees and possibly even forget that your in New York.
The Mall: There’s a beautiful section down the centre of Central Park named ‘The Mall’, it’s not literally a mall! It is a wide and open path frequented by walkers, but was originally made specifically for Horse and Carriages to travel down. Now it is a gathering place and you can see many artists selling their work along the sides. It’s also a great place to stop for sketching as there are plenty of benches, food carts, shade and the famous high arching branches of some of the last surviving American Elm trees.
Not many people know about the New York wholesale flower market in Manhattan, or believe that it isn’t open to the public. However I can tell you that it does exist and anyone who dares to get up early enough in the morning is welcome to have a look or purchase products. It’s a great opportunity to take photos too!
Manhattan Flower District: Between 27th Street and 6th Avenue. 5am – approximately 10am. Arrive as a tourist around 7am – 8am.
This is not an area that the tourists often visit, but for an artist it’s a hidden gem! There are fabric stores upon fabric stores and trim stores galore! The main stores are along 36th / 37th / 38th, between 9th and 6th Avenue. The fabric stores have so many varieties that are often not available outside the USA. There are beautiful imported and vintage laces, beaded and sequinned couture fabrics, fabrics with sewn chiffon flowers, velour and velvet, crazy faux furs, real furs, fashion fabrics and printed fabrics.
It’s no wonder that most of the stores have specialty orders from New York’s top fashion designers. When I walked into the stores, there was one sales consultant on the phone remotely to a fashion designer, pulling out rolls for him to view later in the day based on this specifications.
The trim stores are also a lot of fun, with walls and endless aisles of ribbons, yarns, twine, charms, buttons, iron-on patches, lace tapes, bridal sequinned and beaded trims. One of my favourite stores that is also styled beautifully is ‘East Coast Trimming’ (142 W 38th St, New York, NY 10018).
Bars and venues all over New York hold regular ‘Paint Nite’ events which combines painting, socialising and alcohol! It doesn’t matter if your not creative either, as the point is more to relax and enjoy the art of painting while having a few sips and chatting with friends.
Follow Along Step-By-Step
There is always an image that everyone paints on the night with the guidance of an instructor at the front. Of course, you don’t have to paint the particular image if you don’t want, you can just go with the flow and paint what you like or customise the image how you like.
Paint Nite Companies
The paint nite is affordable too (generally a ticket varies between $20-$45 per person), to see the venues and dates see visit their website paintnite.com , but to get a discounted rate check Groupon New York. There are a number of different studios that do the same activity, some of them include Paint Nite, Paint & Sip, The Paint Place and Paint Along.
STREET ART GALLERIES
Heading over to Brooklyn is definitely as must-do if you have time to squeeze in a day for it. You can start by crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge, Visiting Dumbo, taking a train to Williamsburg then over to Bushwick in the afternoon.
There’s an area in Bushwick (around 4-5 Blocks) that is dedicated to authentic street art, called ‘The Bushwick Collective’. The street artists and businesses in the area, together made an agreement to grant permission for the artists to paint pubic murals on the walls of the buildings and business properties within that area (rather than it being painted illegally without the owner’s permission).
Art Open For Business
Some building owners ask the artists to paint specific murals related to their business, other walls are free to paint as they wish. Most murals only last a year and then the annual ‘Bushwick Block Party’ occurs and new murals are painted over the top. It’s a cool area to checkout for inspiration and colour palette ideas.
Street Art Walking Tours
All around the streets of New York there are hidden artistic murals and expressions. One of the best ways to find them is by attending a free walking tour. I recommend checking out ‘Free Tours By Foot’, they have multiple street art tours trough Bushwick, Williamsburg, Manhattan and even the Subway! (Although as the name suggests, these tours are not completely free – a tip of around $5-$15 is acknowledged.)
There’s also a bunch of thrift and vintage stores around the street art areas. My recommendations would be Beacon’s Closet and Friends in Bushwick!
TAKE A WALK
Manhattan is best place to take a walk! In fact most people get from point A to point B by walking. Finding inspiration on your feet is priceless in New York. Look up, look down and all around! The streets signs, the transport, the shop windows, the cafes, the sewer hole covers! There’s something iconic and unique everywhere you look in the city.
My Favourite Walks:
1. Artisan Stroll – 10th Avenue and around Chelsea area
2. Natural & Industrial – The Highline
3. Fancy Feet – Along 5th Avenue beside Central Park
4. Like in the Movies – The streets of Upper West Side (73rd-80th) to see the old coloured houses
5. Historic Wonder – Brooklyn Heights area with the oldest houses in Manhattan from the Civil War and you get the Manhattan Skyline View
6. Bucket-List Tick – Walking across Brooklyn Bridge.
7. Urban Nature Adventure – Central Park Top to Bottom
8. Dazzling Lights & City Sights – 7th Avenue/Broadway from Central Park all the way down through Time Square to the Flat Iron Building.
9. Broadway Sensation – Theatre District Streets (52nd – 42nd St)
TRADER JOES & CORNER STORES
In true ‘broke artist fashion’ you might need to cook a few meals and save a few bucks, so here’s the grocery stores of New York decoded for you!
Quality and organic foods that are more gourmet and more expensive for groceries. However, they do have a great hot and cold ‘pick and mix’ section with roast meats, salads and vegetables. This can be a great healthy meal for $10-20 and even be eaten over a few meals if you have a fridge to store one of the larger food boxes.
The ‘regular’ type of supermarket that locals use. It’s much cheaper, but often won’t offer the fresh quality that Whole foods does and has less ‘take and go’ meal options.
Corner Stores & Local Grocery/Deli Stores
Unlike at home where the boutique grocery stores might be more expensive, these can actually be really cheap as they are small businesses. However they will often only have a limited range of products available.
These are deli style cafes that have a section of ‘grab and go’ wraps, salads, sandwiches and yogurts for $5-15.
STATIONERY & ART SUPPLIES
There are many great art supplies and stationery stores in Manhattan which I’ll go over in more detail in my New York stationery shopping guide, but if your after cheap supplies on the road, the below stores are best.
Similar to Australia’s Spotlight or Lindcraft, this store has aisles for craft, journaling, scrapbooking, paints, pens, paper and artist supplies.
Walmart is a huge variety store with a section for craft and art supplies. Here you’ll find some of the cheapest pen prices for calligraphy brands such as Tombow.
Copenhagen brand, Flying Tiger is a mix between Diaso and Kmart. There’s a selection of funky journals, basic markers and pens, notebooks and pencils for prices between $0.50-$5.
This department store has the basics too in their stationery department, including writing journals, limited craft supplies and coloured pencils and pens.
If you are travelling for a longer time, chances are you’ll need to do some laundry! Because many apartments are too small to have their own laundry and some buildings are too old to add new infrastructure, there’s plenty of laundromats around Manhattan.
Generally you’ll pay between $1-5 USD per load for washing and drying, also $1-3 for soap. That totals to between $3-12 per load!
One place I found allows you to do your washing for FREE! In the New York University (NYU) area around Flat Iron District, there is a large American Eagle store. This store has a laundromat in the middle of the store that students can use for FREE plus they give you soap for FREE! However you must show a student card, but I said I forgot mine [I do actually have a ISIC card] and I could still use it.) The only condition is that you remain in the store (I guess how they get more sales?), but that’s okay because they also have a studio/co-work space on the 2nd level (with FREE bottled water too!) that you can work-in while you wait.
American Eagle Laundry & Studio: 19 Union Square W, New York, 9am – 9pm
STUDIOS & SPACES TO WORK
Manhattan is big on co-working and shared work spaces. Some you have to have memberships to use and others you can book a few days in advance.
They make for great spaces to journal or freelance if you don’t have much space in your hostel or hotel room, or prefer to work in a quiet space. You’ll also have a chance to meet more professionals!
Here’s a couple to look into, but there’s plenty more to be discovered:
1. WeWork – 50 Locations in New York
2. Cubico – Soho District
3. The Yard – 10 Locations in New York
4. The AE Studio – American Eagle Store in Union Square, Level 2 (Free and for Casual Workers)
I hope you enjoyed this ‘Broke Artist’s Guide to New York City’ and that you find your way there one day to soak up all the inspiration it has to offer! Leave any comments or feedback below, can you add anything to this guide? Share the Love!
Look out for my city guides coming up that are more specific for sight seeing and the Vlog additions on the YouTube Channel.