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Essential art supplies for painting: everything you need to get started

Art supplies
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Art supplies don’t make the artist, but they help. Buy the best materials you can afford on your budget. It's tempting to cut corners financially, but bargain basement equipment will give poor results and cheap paints will look lifeless and chalky when dry. If you're going to spend that precious time developing your art, don’t sell yourself short with inferior tools. Although it’s an investment to begin with, the amount of paint you use on a daily basis compared to the cost is little. 

The art materials market can be a minefield for the uninitiated, the sheer number of choices available can be overwhelming to say the least. This essential art supplies guide is designed to relieve the stress of kitting yourself out and help you choose the best equipment first time.

If you fancy some new pencils to use alongside the shiny new art supplies featured here, check out our guide to the best pencils around right now.

Art supplies: Oil paints

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01. Michael Harding Oil Paints

The best oil paints are expertly made in the UK

Uses best pigments
Lovely buttery constancy
No student range
Not for a tight budget

Michael Harding started making his own oil paints in 1982 when he was studying fine art. Inspired by recreating the glorious colours in his favourite Rembrandt painting at the National Gallery, London, Michael went on to become a colour-master suppling oil paint across the world. His Michael Harding Oil Colour paints come in a comprehensive range of colours and a high pigment content, and less filler, means his paints retain vivid colour and are more light resistant. All this quality comes at a price, but it’s a false economy to try and save money on cheap paints that yield poor results when dry. Your art is worth that little extra.

Art supplies: Winsor & Newton Foundation Brush Set

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02. Winsor & Newton Foundation Brush Set

The best paintbrushes are perfect for beginners

Cost effective 
Great starter kit
Not top quality
Limited shapes and sizes

Choosing your first set of brushes can be a daunting task. Confronted with a myriad of manufacturers, different brush shapes, handle lengths and brush sizes can be overwhelming to say the least. A great place to start can be a pre-selected brush set from one of the best known names. This Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush set consists of two round brush in sizes 3 and 6, two filbert brushes in 3 and 6 and two flat brushes in 10 and 14. Synthetic brushes have come on a long way in the past 20 years and are a great mid point between traditional qualities of hog and sable bristles.

Art supplies: The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver

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03. The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver

Keep brushes clean and in great shape with the best brush cleaner

Saves forgotten brushes
Conditions and reshapes brushes
Not cheap
Smell could be nicer

We’ve all forgotten a paint brush from time-to-time and found it the next day dried and contorted. When your brushes are top-quality Rosemary & Co brushes this can be disastrous! Fear not tough, there is a miracle saviour available that, although expensive to buy, will soon pay for itself many times over. After cleaning my brushes in Bartoline Clean Spirit. I then use the Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver soap to clear any remaining pigment from the bristles and reshape into it’s original form.

Art supplies: Large Deluxe Brush Washer

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04. Large Deluxe Brush Washer

Give your brushes a thorough clean with a deluxe brush pot

Clean brushes very well
Allows you to recycle clean spirit
Heavy for transporting
No lockable seal

Keeping your brushes clean and in good order is vital for successful results and for saving you a ton of money. The beauty of the metal brush washers such as this Academy JAS : Large Brush Washer Metal Deluxe is the perforated insert that allows you clean the bristles of the brush without swilling up the bottom of the pot. This allows the pigment to sink to the bottom and helps keep the spirit cleaner for longer. The clean spirit can be decanted and any sediment dredged from the bottom and disposed of correctly. The sturdy design stops it toppling over and the handy brush holder allows you to soak brushes without them becoming misshapen.

Art supplies: The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver

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05. Basic Studio Easel Mabef M/09

Invest in the best easel, which is designed to last a lifetime

Great attention to detail
Designed to last
Not cheap
Not lightweight

There are many types of easels available on the market and each style is designed for a different use. Some are designed to be portable for plein-air painting and others are collapsable and best suited for limited space. Here I’m looking at a studio easel that’s designed to not get packed away and not leave the studio. Italian-made, Mabef easels, such as this Basic Studio Easel, are designed for quality and longevity. I have personally owned a number of Mabef designs for over 25 years and they’re all still going strong. Made from stain-resistant oiled beech wood, the finishing on these easels is beautiful, well worth the investment.

Art supplies: Mijello Lidded Plastic Palette

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06. Mijello Lidded Plastic Palette

Keep paint wetter for longer with the best artist's palette

Saves time and money
Easily portable
Not cheap
Could be even bigger

It’s good to spend a lot of time identifying and analysing colour when mixing, so you don’t want to waste all that precious time allowing your mixes to dry out. In my studio I have airtight catering containers that are turned upside down and lined with glass so the lid becomes the mixing surface. Another, and perhaps easier, method is to invest in an airtight palette from Mijello. These cool little paint-savers allow you to keep mixes workable for weeks, which can be especially handy if you’re fitting painting in around a busy schedule.

Art supplies: Winsor & Newton Cold Pressed Linseed Oil

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07. Winsor & Newton Cold Pressed Linseed Oil

The best linseed oil is the perfect match for good quality paint

Adds gloss
Extends drying time
Not cheap
Bottle could do with a better spout

Art supplies: Winsor & Newton Liquin Original

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When you’ve invested in top-quality paint you don’t want to add inferior mediums to spoil it. Artist quality mediums can seem overly expensive next to their hardware cousins but the difference can be vast. Cold pressed linseed oil is produced specifically so the oil is of a higher quality and more suited for use with oil paints. As 99 per cent of artist's oil paints on the market use linseed oil as their binder, linseed oil such as this one from Winsor & Newton is a popular medium. Although alternatives like Safflower oil can help increase the drying time. You can save a lot of money by buying in bulk volume.

08. Winsor & Newton Liquin Original

Speed up the drying time of oil paint with the best drying medium

Retains body and colour of paint
Speeds up drying time
A bit smelly
Not cheap

One of the best qualities of oil paint, over acrylics or watercolours, is its slow drying time which gives you more time to push paint around. That said there are always instances where it would be advantageous for a layer of paint to be dry the next day and that’s where Liquin Original comes in. Liquin Original is designed to speed up the drying time of paint without affecting its body or colour. This drying medium is also available in a thicker Liquin Impasto for Impressionistic styles and a thinner Liquin Fine Detail for more camera-like techniques.

Art supplies: MEEDEN 5-Piece Palette Knife Set

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09. MEEDEN 5-Piece Palette Knife Set

Make paint mixing easier with a good set of the best palette knives

Good choice of shapes
Designed to last.
Hard wooden handles
Can scratch glass palettes

Painting with palette knives can give some very expressive results but its not a technique for the faint-hearted painter. Equally, a great set of palette knives such as this one from MEEDEN will serve you well while mixing your colours, although look out for metal tools scratching your glass-topped palette. The most important thing is the knife’s construction. There is a tendency, even with the top manufacturers, to go for the cheaper process of welding the blade onto the arm of the knife. In my experience these welds nearly always snap so try and get the superior style where the blade and arm are made from a single piece of metal.

Art supplies: Winsor & Newton Artist's Water Colour Field Box

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10. Winsor & Newton Artist's Water Colour Field Box

A complete watercolour paint set that's compact enough to fit in your pocket

Includes 12 artist quality colours
Compact design.
Not much mixing space
Not cheap

Oil painting outside, or en plein air, can require you lugging around a lot of equipment. Watercolours can be a more portable choice for painting reference studies and colour examinations outside, and also a fun change of gear for an artist. This complete field set from Winsor & Newton includes 12 half-pans of Artist quality watercolour paint, a pocket brush, sponge, water bottle, water container and two small mixing palettes. I’d advise taking an additional larger palette strapped to your watercolour sketchbook and a few additional pocket-brushes, but otherwise you’ve got a complete Polly-esque painting kit that’s small enough to fit in your pocket.

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