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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.