Welsh Artist Chris Chalk
Article written 7th April 2017
Just like other hobbies, professions and pastimes, oil painting comes with a huge array of extra equipment, accessories and latest must-haves, and some people will say you need these if you’re serious about making great art, however as with most other hobbies, professions or pastimes, you need very little of it. I’m not going to say it isn't fun to get a new piece of art equipment or some new tubes of paint that you haven’t tried, or indeed, sometimes it can be useful to own a certain amount of extra art equipment, but you don’t really NEED any extras to paint great pictures.
In this article I have selected just three products that you need to start your journey with oils.
1. The oil paints
If you want to spend money, this is where to spend it. Good oil paint really is worth the extra cost. Not only does better paint have more pigment in it (less filler), it covers better, flows better, looks richer, and goes much further. Cheaper paint has synthetically produced pigment in it, not the same pigment as in more expensive paints. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, if you use large quantities of a certain colour it often makes sense to get a tube of students grade, rather than the much more expensive artists grade paint. I usually use students grade Ultra Marine Blue, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange and a couple of others colours.
TIP: Try and avoid very cheap oil paint, it has no body, very little pigment, is hard to use and liable to put you off oil painting altogether if you’re a beginner.
2. The brushes
Expensive brushes will have you painting like De Vinci in no time, right? ...Wrong. Save your money for the paint. Depending on your painting style, oil painting can be very hard on brushes, and if you work on canvas it can be very abrasive which can and will wear brushes down quickly. Your brushes will be ruined before you can say.. ‘jeez.. that brush cost me £10’. So in general, buy cheaper brushes. You can buy student brushes in bulk from most art suppliers online or in store at your local Art shop.
TIP: It may be useful to buy a couple of good quality small brushes, a rigger brush for instance, that you might need for fine detail or signing your artwork.
3. Supports/ Canvases
What can you paint Oils on? Canvas, stretched canvas, hardboard, MDF, Aluminium panels even the side of last weeks breakfast cereal packet! MDF ( medium density fibreboard ) and Hardboard ( high density fibreboard ) are both great to paint on after sufficiently sealing with a primer or gesso, and much cheaper to paint on than stretched canvas. At the time of writing you can buy a 8 x 4 foot sheet of hardboard, here in the UK, for £10 approx. If, like me, you paint on canvas, it pays to get good canvas. The wooden supports used for making cheap canvases can warp, and the actual canvas is coarse and of poor quality, meaning unless primed many times it will suck the life out of your paint..
TIP: If you plan on selling your paintings, cheap canvasses won’t do at all - you can practice on cheap canvases, but don’t use them for anything else. If the cost of good quality stretched canvas is prohibitive, then try hardboard or MDF, it’s much cheaper and great to paint on.
4. Paint Thinners
Yes I know I said three things, …but…you might need one more thing – paint thinners. There are many sorts of paint thinners available, like turpentine, odour-free thinners, turps substitute, e.t.c.. , but some ordinary white spirits from your local hardware store is just the ticket for cleaning brushes and equipment, and also handy for getting paint off walls, trousers, shirt, carpet, ...the inside of your coffee mug e.t.c. There are many painting ‘mediums’ that you can use alongside oils but that is a whole other ball game, and as they are not strictly a necessity I have not listed them, in time you may wish to add one or several mediums to your collection if it works well with your style or preference.
So, even if you did find yourself daunted by the vast array of paints, brushes, mediums, do-dads, thingamies and accessories out there for Oil painters, rest assured that you need very little of it to get going, so just get the basics listed above and enjoy painting!
Inside my studio & the art products I use
Here is what I have on my painting table and in my paint box, that I use on a daily basis: Essentially I just use paint, brushes, and white spirit. My paints are a mix of both artist’s & student’s grade. My brushes are nothing expensive, just some nylon bristle and some hog hair bristle brushes of various sizes and the canvas I use is Loxley's museum quality stretched cotton in numerous sizes and thickness dependent on preference or subject. Simply a minimal amount of art products.