Making work is always hard, everything costs something in the long run. That, and a lot of "artist grade" materials are really only formulated to being unkind to your wallet. After a while, if you are smart you can start looking at more ... common materials ... more as you would the elements and the life expectancy of that material and you will find that most products are going to last the same amount if not longer than artist grade materials WITHOUT killing quality.
a long time ago (we'll call this time Never-Never) i would spend that $30-60 for stretched canvases, $5-10 a tube for a single color of paint and would try to make sure that costs were covered in my work ... well in Never-Never that was silly. (and foolish on a few fronts) anyways, in the process of changing schools, cities and even the way i wanted to work ... trying to sell my paintings seemed a lot more like climbing a mountain made of glass, especially since my linocuts/silkscreens/monoprints and sculptures sold like wild fire.
One day I walked into the studio and there was a teacher who I knew was a working artist, and he wasn't using expensive brushes, wasn't painting with expensive paints (he had his selection of paints he did have in tubes ... but that was personal preference) and he painted on just about everything (and made just about everything he painted on. I was already getting tired of forking out a small fortune for each painting and had been searching for alternatives so i watched him work for a couple weeks occasionally asking questions. After a while it became readily apparent that, not only did he work with the same materials i was contemplating using (basically hardware store materials for paint, brushes and painting surfaces ...) but since he was probably the only working artist i have met that had actually made a living from just his art ... that i should probably pick his brain while i had the chance.
Life changing event, I'll tell you that much.
Anyways, if you had seen my work at that point and then about 3 months later there would be a huge shift in the way i work ... for just about everything. My sculptures were more rough and the materials less pristine but the work was just as polished ... my paintings started taking less time to paint (since i wasn't dealing with the cost issues and trying not to mess up) and they were becoming less controlled and free. And also, even though my ceramics wasn't impacted by a change in materials it changed how i worked on it.
Long story short. Materials only matter to the artist. Galleries/Museums/Buyers don't care what you painted with, they only want it to last. (even if they don't take care of it when they get it home)
as for the materials, forking out such huge prices killed the amount of work i could in essence do. Looking at things from not only a business stand point but also in a "what amount of x can i do out of y materials" standpoint is also a great question. sweat equity also goes a long way.
Masonite, bloody lovely material to paint on ... costs $5-10 for a 4 foot x 8 foot piece of material. Some come with a rough and a smooth side (the rough side being marvelous for a faux canvas look) and i cut it down A LOT. now i can say the amount i cut it down to .. but a picture is worth 1k words.
I made this to maximize cuts and minimize loss (solid black being loss ... unless you like a 2"x2" piece of masonite for something) I also have about 3 more images of different cuts for my different needs (11x14's, 11x17's, a massive amount of 4x6's, 12x30's, etc) ... also masonite can easily have a wood backer frame for hanging and it's just as cheap (*cough* lumber section *cough*)
Canvas, I normally can't justify buying prestretched or pre-gesso'ed canvas. prestretched canvases take up space (which i don't have a huge studio for), and pre-gesso'ed canvas is sort of redundant since most of the time you need to add more gesso again anyways. (i can also make my gesso for alot cheaper than i can buy it pre made ... but that is in a video on youtube) Normally i will go out and buy canvas at my local hardware store (canvas drop clothes for painting are around for a reason ... they catch paint and it dries fast in the threads.) and the cost is greatly reduced ($5 for a 4 foot x 5 foot, $15 for a 4 foot x 15 foot, $9 for a 6 foot x 9 foot, etc) Now that grade of canvas is not "duck" grade (duck being 14 oz canvas and stuff at the hardware store being 8-10 oz canvas) but if i need to buy duck grade for whatever reason, the local fabric store sells duck grade canvas (in just about any color for those of you that paint on unprimed canvas) ...comes in 60 inch widths and is about $6-8 per yard of fabric (little more $ for the bigger widths if you can find it ... but you get the point)
Now that is not to say i NEVER buy artist quality painting surfaces ... occasionally i will find bulk prestretched canvases for massively cheap that even my costs of production rival ... but those are few and far between and i will gladly buy ALOT to store and use as needed.