Oil Painting Materials
Canvas: My only requirements for choosing a canvas are archival quality, and even weave. I usually go for a fairly smooth, tight weave linen, or cotton duck canvas. I usually buy pre-stretched primed canvas, lightly sand and apply an additional coat of primer for a smoother texture. However, sometimes a bit more tooth is desirable for some paintings, in which case I skip the sanding and additional coat of primer. Just beware that a rougher texture is harder on your brushes and will wear them out faster than a smoother surface. Even if you are just learning to paint, or like to paint as a relaxing hobby, avoid the cheap cardboard canvas panels or textured paper. It will only frustrate you, and make learning more difficult. I choose not to paint on wood panels, but they are a perfectly acceptable painting surface.
Brushes: Along with the paints themselves, quality is the biggest concern even when learning how to paint. There are many “student”, or “academy” brushes on the market that are significantly cheaper to buy than “artist” or “professional” quality, but be aware that the cheaper brushes are just that, cheaper. They will wear out many times faster than a quality brush and never perform well compared to a high quality brush. It is much better in my opinion to buy only a few professional quality brushes than a whole bunch of student grade. I use natural bristle brushes, also called: Chungking, China, or hog bristle brushes for most of my painting. For fine detail work I also have a few small Sable hair brushes including a few sizes of rigger brush. I also use a soft hair blending brush. I am not too brand loyal, but there are definite differences between brands. Buy what appeals to you.
Paints: Here I am not too brand loyal here either, however, like brushes, quality is my main concern. Cheap paints do not have the saturation of pigment that is necessary to produce paintings that you’ll be happy with. I think of it this way: You are buying the pigment, not the paint, so a high quality paint that costs twice as much as a student grade paint has at least twice as much pigment. You use much less paint with a high quality paint and the workability is vastly superior. Like brushes it is far better to have a limited palette of only a few professional quality colors, than several inferior colors. One can get away with a limited palette of titanium white, Ultramarine blue, Cadmium red, Cadmium yellow, burnt umber, and burnt sienna. A limited palette also has the advantage in forcing you to learn how to creatively mix colors. Blick sells several Oil Painting Gift Sets that have similar colors and can set an aspiring artist on their way. As for brands I use, or have used, they include: Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour, M. Graham Artists’ Oil Colors, Grumbacher Pre-Tested Oil Colors, and a few other companies. All have worked well and I don’t mind intermingling brands. There are differences between brands, but I have has success with all.
Mediums: I use three mediums regularly: Winsor & Newton Liquin mediums, plain linseed oil, and Grumbacher Oil Painting mediums. The Liquin is an Alkyd medium that speeds drying time and is useful when applying glazes. I use the other mediums to thin paints or apply a thin coat over the canvas to smooth paint application.
Varnish: I am somewhat lazy and allow Winsor & Newton mix the varnish for me. Their Artists’ Varnish comes in gloss and matte and can be mixed to achieve a desired finish. It is important to allow the painting to fully dry and cure, nine to twelve months, before applying the varnish.
Other tools: I use a glass cutting board as my palette. It cleans easily and is large enough to mix with abandon. I have several palette knives, brands are not important. I use a H-frame easel. This is usually a hefty expense, but there are often sales on easels so be patient and wait for a decent sale where shipping is reduced. An acceptable easel should not cost much more than $200.