What Artist Materials to Use?
There are many choices when it comes to artist materials. Some common deciding factors in your decision on art supplies are cost, quality, personal preference, and availability. These days, the environmental impact of the materials you choose may also be a factor. In this article I will cover some of the materials I use to produce my oil paintings, and why I choose them.
It all starts with the painting surface
Recently I have started using aluminum for my smaller oil paintings, and have moved away from stretched canvas and canvas board. Although I do still use stretched canvas for larger works and certain smaller paintings, aluminum panels are ideal for my still life painting.
Aluminum offers a hard, smooth, stable surface. This allows me to achieve greater detail that some of my still life work requires without being obstructed by the texture of canvas. Although aluminum can be painted on directly, I gesso my panels to give the surface a slight absorbency. Aluminum has no risk of rotting like poorly primed canvas and will not warp like wood panels may. As a bonus, unprimed aluminum can be cheaper than high quality canvas or wood panels! It has superior archival qualities, making it a great artist material. I explain more about aluminum as a painting surface in a previous blog post.
Pencils for Sketching
I usually sketch out my scenes on a blank panel or canvas before I begin to paint. The pencils I prefer are Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils. I like these pencils because the graphite seems to be stronger and breaks less when using on harder surfaces than other pencils I have used. I use a harder lead for drawing on canvas or panels, I prefer 4H.
Oil Paint can be one of the hardest artist materials to choose. There are a number of manufacturers of different qualities, with prices as varying as the colors. I prefer to use Gamblin oil paints. Gamblin produces very high quality oil paints with prices that aren’t outrageous. They offer a number of colors and tones that other manufacturers don’t. Gamblin takes a progressive approach to making paint, using ingredients that are safer for your health and the environment when possible and striving for the highest quality. They seem to be a company dedicated to paint, and I respect that. I also love the consistency of these paints; they are not too stiff and not too fluid. You can learn more about Gamblin here.
Oil Painting Mediums
Painting mediums are an important artist material for oil painting. They allow the artist to change the consistency and fluidity of the paint, adjust transparency, and control the drying time. When painting in layers, it is important to paint lean layers first and thicker layers on top so the difference in drying times does not result in the paint cracking. Mediums are used to control the thickness of layers. I use Gamblin mediums.
An essential tool, paint brushes are what brings all of these artist materials together to create a pice of art. Brushes come in different shapes, sizes, lengths, and bristle materials.
Basic brush styles are round, filbert, bright, and wash. I do most of my painting with bright brushes. These are brushes with bristles that are squared with a sharp end and corners. This style of brush gives me control over fine details while allowing me to cover a lot of area at the same time. For very fine details, I use a small round brush. Larger round brushes are great for softening edges and blending colors and tones. I usually spend a little more money on bright and round brushes because they are such a critical part of making a painting. I prefer Silver Brush’s Monza synthetic mongoose hair brushes. While almost all brush manufacturers use real animal hair, such as mongoose, sable, and hog bristle, I prefer to use synthetic brush fibers because of my personal feelings on the use of animal products. Often times synthetic fibers last longer than animal fibers while giving you the same classic feel. I think Silver Brush’s synthetic mongoose brushes are some of the best feeling brushes I have used.
Wash brushes are large flat brushes for producing washes of color and covering large areas. I use taklon (a synthetic fiber) brushes. I usually buy cheap brushes for this use, the kind you can buy in 5 packs for a few bucks. They don’t hold up as long as a higher quality brush does, but it isn’t a burden to replace them every couple months.
Pallet knives are another useful tool. These are great for mixing paints, applying thick layers to a painting, and adding texture to your painting. I don’t use knives very often in my style of painting, but for some instances nothing else would do. I use a pallet knife to add scratchy textures to wooden table tops in my still life paintings, and also to mix large amounts of paint.
These are the artist materials I use to produce my oil paintings. Most of my choices come down to personal preference after years of trying different products. Quality is also a major factor in the materials I decide to use. Personally, quality comes before cost most of the time when I am choosing materials, such as paint and surfaces. Sometimes the highest quality artist materials aren’t those that are the most expensive. When all else is equal, your choice may just come down to personal preference after using a number of different materials. Nonetheless, choose materials that match the quality of your work!