Life can be so much easier with a few useful tools in your kit. They can range from the stunningly expensive to things that you have right around the house. So let’s dive right in!
Towels: Blue shop paper towels are an absolute necessity. They do not shed or collect lint, which is vital when you’re working with paints that love to act as magnets. What I often do is cut them into little strips and have stacks of them to clean my brushes, fix mistakes, and even to paint with. For larger areas I’ll cut them into quarters and have stacks of them ready to go as well. Another favorite of mine are the microfiber towels. Automotive and hardware stores supply them and I get them in bundles of 50. I usually attach them to the jeans that I’m wearing by safety pins or clips and use that as a catchall for my brushes. Microfiber does not shed and is very absorptive. I’ll flip it upside down when it gets too dirty and then flip it to the other side, which makes the microfiber towel last for quite some time.
Palette: For my pallet I absolutely love using glass. You can find this glass at a thrift store or in a used picture frame. Tempered glass is better so you don’t have sharp edges. Stay away from the plastics because it’s easier to clean glass with an exacto blade, where plastic will get gauged and become a nightmare to clean. The great thing about using glass is that you can put pictures underneath the glass to match colors and if the glass is small enough (have a second small 5×7 one handy) then you can put it right in front of your painting and match the color before ever putting your brush on the canvas, which is particularly useful for beginning painters.
Brushes: In regards to brushes, I have done entire paintings with nothing but paper towels and Q-tips, so you don’t need to go for the fancy brushes to make amazing paintings. However, if you do you want to invest in good brushes, I have found an incredible company called Rosemary and Co. based in the U.K.. Their shipping rates are quite good and their brushes are absolutely amazing. They even have a cheat-sheet that shows you the brushes of famous artists and the types of paintings those artists work on so you can find your style of brushes.
Paints & Mediums: For myself, I have fallen in love with Gamblin paints and mediums. There are two parts to this: First, I love the colors and the vibrancy. They also have brilliant color charts, and their Radiant White is truly that. And second, I absolutely love their support team! They have gone above and beyond answering the most absurd of my questions and all with a smile. I do prefer their Galkyd light and Galkyd over their gels but that’s just me. Gamblin does have a lovely new Solvent-free gel and the great thing about this is that it can be shipped overseas without incurring any extra fees. Heads up Hawai`i residents! When using it though, you can only use 25% of the Solvent-free gel to 75% of paint, so keep this in mind.
Varnishes: Gamblin created Gamvar, and I would go out on a limb and say that their varnish is the best to date. They worked with the National Gallery of Art to create Gamvar and it’s the only varnish that I am aware of where you can, years later, take it off just by using a solvent (gamsol). What I absolutely love about this product is once your painting is dry to the touch, unless you’ve used thick pallet knife, you can varnish it right away, which is tremendously helpful compared to the standard varnishes that make you wait for six months!
Canvas: I am also massively in love with John Annesely and his linen oil washed canvases. Linen, as opposed to cotton, doesn’t mold as quickly. Neither does hemp, by the way. Linen is, however, more expensive. Now here’s an interesting thing most artists don’t know: synthetic rabbit skin glue and oil wash are much different than gesso. The reason being is that gesso is a plastic, and plastic absorbs the light (seems flat). Oil acts as a mirror and reflects light back with oil paint acting as windows upon windows, and when the light goes through it, it hits the oil washed background and reflects through all the paints (colored windows), giving you a luminosity to your paintings that Maxfield Parrish was known for. Often times people will regale my paintings for having this glow. John makes small 5×7 panels so you can play with and see for yourself.
Tidbits: For other fun little tools, I’m partial to metal drop down palette knives as opposed to plastic as they tend to break after awhile. However, kitchen utensils work quite well and can be picked up cheaply at a local thrift store, as does painting with feathers, which make for great lines and fun texture. Venom nitrile gloves are great and come in XXL to XS, and are used by tattoo artists because they are designed for comfort. This lets me finger paint without poisoning myself. Now the way to make this work best in a damp environment (or if you sweat) is to put some baby powder into the gloves so they don’t stick to your hands: just a quick dash of baby powder, shake the gloves and put them on! Another trick I absolutely love is using make-up Q-tips. One side is flat and round and the other side has a lovely point. I use this more for cleaning areas or if an area needs a sharper point. One of my favorite finds recently is Winsor Newton’s brush cleaner and restorer, which is a miracle in a bottle and will restore even the oldest, most paint-encrusted brush you have. You don’t need a lot of it, so a small bottle will do just fine. I would recommend wearing gloves, however, as it’s pretty potent stuff.
The most important tool in your tool belt is the “just go do it” attitude. Start creating now. You don’t have to wait till you have all the right brushes, paints and canvases. Just start painting now and collect as you go along!
Where to get materials cheaply
Merri Artist They have free shipping to Hawai`i and anywhere for orders $99 or over, and are by far the cheapest. They are a family-run company in Oregon and are super nice.
Dick Blick Free shipping to anywhere except Hawai`i for orders $79 or over. They are very cheap and have everything.
Akamai Art Supply Best price on the island of Hawai`i and very knowledgeable.
Hale Kui Plaza
73-4976 Kamanu Street #108
Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i 96740
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