A Guide to My Materials!
I am giving you a deep dive tour of my creative process in an effort to inspire you to live a more creative life this year. You don’t have to be a painter in order to enjoy this series of blog posts and Instagram stories, but this post today is pretty painter specific. Today I’m revealing all of my favorite materials and talking about why I use them.
In my opinion, all of your materials should reflect your current level of expertise. Don’t start out with high-end paints. Practice with lower-end, very disposable paints until you feel more confident in your skills. You’ll be too afraid to take risks if you can see dollar signs in every drop of paint! You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, so if you buy paint that makes you cringe to use, downgrade. THEN, as we practice we outgrow certain materials, and you’ll be ready to leap into the professional grade stuff. I currently specialize in acrylic paints. I have never used oils and have no interest in starting, so I really know NOTHING about them. I purchase mostly everything from Jerry’s Artarama, which has incredible prices online and fast shipping.
I learned with Folk Art Craft paint from Wal-Mart. They are usually a few dollars a tube. They are great for trying a variety of neutral tones (greys)! Martha Stewart brand at Michael’s is also good.
The next step up would be SoHo Urban Artist Acrylic. It is a soft body paint that is typically $3-4 per tube. It has GORGEOUS colors in tons of shades!
Lukas Cryl Studio Acrylic. Also soft body, a little more liquidy than SoHo. Not ideal for chunky marks when used alone. Great for blending. Typically $7 for the smaller tubes, and it also lasts a long time.
I worship at the altar of Golden Heavy Body Acrylics. Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics are also fantastic. Both are super creamy and pigmented and are the best acrylics out there in my opinion. Golden does make a liquid acrylic series that is considered “high flow” and I sometimes use those for mixing colors (I add a drop like it’s food coloring). Golden will typically be $8-12 for a small tube, but the unit price is SO much better if you can afford to buy a big tube or jar. I buy my favorite colors in the huge jars and then only get a small tube if I’m trying something new. I built up my Golden collection over time.
My must have colors:
Golden’s Quinacridone Magenta, Golden’s Raw Sienna, Liquitex’s Green Gold, Lukas’s Yellow Ocre, SoHo’s Rose Madder, and Golden’s Prussian Blue Hue.
What about acrylic mediums?
These are a bit more advanced, but if you’re looking for ways to manipulate your paint, acrylic mediums are a great way to go! Add Amsterdam’s Modeling Paste to make a soft body act like a heavy body, and add Golden’s GAC or Liquitex’s Flow Aid to make your heavy bodies liquidy. You can use gel medium to make transparent glazes, and add wetting agent to your water to reduce the surface tension. It’s basically chemistry but it’s actually fun. And obviously you need gesso, but more on that later.
I keep a variety of sizes, shapes, and watercolor versus acrylic brushes. Watercolor brushes are good when I use goauche or liquid acrylic, but I am usually using stiff brushes that are meant for acrylic paint. I prefer brushes with squared-off shapes as opposed to round. My brushes are a variety of price points, just like my paints! Some of my favorite brushes were $13 and some of them were $1. In fact, I have spent $30 on a brush before, and I love that one, too. You really just have to experiment until you find what you love! I think it’s always better to buy brushes for the first time in store so you can touch and feel them - then once you find what you like you can order online.
Favorite brush: Creative Mark’s Mimik Hog brushes, but I love the Flat 8.
Detail brush go-to: SoHo Urban Artist’s Filbert 020
Large brush go-to: Liquitex Free-Style 2 in (great for spreading gesso on canvas)
Watercolor brush: Creative Mark Mimik Squirrel Round 14
Honorable mention: any of Princeton Catalyst’s Polytip brushes
I recommend using Master’s Brush Cleaner and Preserver. It comes in different sized cakes, so you can sample it at a small size before committing to the large. I keep a large tub at home and have a smaller cake that I use when traveling. Use is pretty simple: you simply rinse your brushes in warm water and then scrub them on the cleaner. Work the soap into a lather in the bristles and rinse until the water is clean!
Never let acrylic paint dry on your brush, and never them bristle-down in a jar for too long (or you’ll ruin their shape!). Trust me, sometimes you really don’t want to clean up after painting, but it makes your materials (and your dollar) last so much longer!
Currently I mostly buy my canvases already stretched. I used to exclusively buy Art Alternatives brand gallery-wrapped canvas (1.75 inch deep) from Jerry’s Artarama online. I used to live near a Jerry’s store, so that’s how I started using them. They are very cheap and affordable, however over the past two years I’ve realized that the Art Alternatives canvas rips way too easily, and I oftentimes get ones that have damage to their stretcher bars. Repairing them became too expensive, so I started looking around for other options.
That’s when I found that Blick Premier Cotton Canvas (already stretched) is really wonderful for my current needs. The stretcher bars are thick and sturdy, and the canvas comes primed with a really nice tooth. Art Alternatives canvas comes primed, too, but it’s much smoother. I have also come to really enjoy the thicker tooth in the Blick Premier Cotton Canvas!
Sometimes I buy canvas by the roll - primed. I will unroll it and rip it up into smaller pieces (usually 36x46 inch pieces) and either tack it to the wall or work on it on the floor. When painting on unstretched canvas (primed), you want to make sure to leave a 3 inch border around the area you’re painting (so take the dimension you want, ie 30x40 and add 6 to each side to allow for a 3 inch border = 36x46). Yes, you can ship the unstretched piece in a tube for cheap shipping, but who the fuck actually wants to receive that in the mail? It’s just good business to find someone at your local framer’s who will stretch it for you. Just call the framer’s in your area (the people who put things into frames), and ask them if they stretch canvas and ask for a quote on their pricing. Some will be much more expensive than others, so it pays to ask around several options. My guy, Jeff, currently does it for 18 cent per linear inch (an 8x10 would be 18 linear inches = $3.24). As you can imagine, if you’re buying a roll that is 84 inches x 6 yards, you can get a lot of mileage out of it.
I do not currently stretch my own canvas because I don’t want to, and luckily in today’s world I don’t have to.
A note on gesso:
Gesso is really really simple, but it is so intimidating to new painters. Essentially gesso is plaster and acrylic paint mixed together. You can buy it tinted (white usually) or clear. It is pretty toxic, so just make sure you use it in a well-ventilated area, but essentially you will use it when you hate what you just painted and want to start your canvas over “from scratch.”
If you are like me and want a heavier tooth in your canvas, use Liquitex brand’s gesso. It makes the surface of your canvas feel gritty, which I like a lot. If you want a smoother finish, Golden brand’s gesso leaves a very soft and smooth, plasticky feeling surface. You can sand down any bumps in your paint between layers of gesso, but I really don’t recommend doing that (please don’t inhale that junk). Also, always wash your hands (or just wear gloves I guess) immediately after working with gesso. It’s very toxic.
Miscellaneous Materials That I Love
Acrylic palette paper (way easier than a reusable palette)
Prismacolor NuPastels (soft pastels)
SpectraFix Fixative (for the soft pastels - got this hot tip from Amanda Evanston)
Mason jars (they hold my brushes and act as my water jars)
Moleskine notebooks (I keep these like diaries of my creative process - more on that later - and I also use them for sketching)
Shower curtain liners (usually a few bucks and act as a great drop cloth to catch liquid)
Shower curtain (I got a $5 plain white one and have been using it as a drop cloth for years)
IKEA Kallax storage units