Oil painting, like a lot of other popular hobbies, has an associated cost. The bottom line is that this is not a cheap hobby to have, much less enjoy. However, also like most other hobbies, beginners can become overwhelmed very quickly the moment they walk into their local art supply store. This small tutorial was written in hopes that it will provide aspiring artists with a "shopping list" of items deemed most critical to the painter.
Why am I writing this piece? A few years back, a friend of mine named Derek decided that I sufficiently inspired him enough that he should delve into oil painting himself. I offered to go with him to pick out his initial load of supplies, but he insisted that he had "read all of the books" and had gained enough knowledge from me that he felt comfortable going it alone. Fine, I said - have at it. He hopped into his Chevy S-10 pickup truck and disappeared for a few hours.
That afternoon, I received a knock on my door. Derek was standing there, empty-handed. I said "hey, I thought you were going to buy art supplies?". He said, "I did, come look in the back of the truck." As I approached his truck, Derek was peeling back the improvised tarp he had thrown over the bed of the truck. As I glanced over his cargo, my mouth dropped. I damn near had a coronary.
That boy had enough art supplies in the back of his truck to start his own art store, no, an art school, no, I take that back - an art revolution!. He must have had 30 or 40 pre-stretched canvases, 2 gigantic easels, a french easel for location painting, no less than 3 or 4 dozen brushes, and probably 100 or so tubes of paint. Now you know why I wrote this... :-)
Don't freak out when you walk into the art supply store and see the $2500 price tag on a studio grade easel - you don't need anything remotely this large! Depending on your budget, check into small table-top easels and paintboxes. If you insist on having a free-standing easel, check into a display easel or french-easel. See the easel section of this tutorial for more detailed information and images.
Your choices here are simple: wooden, acrylic, paper, or improvisation! If money isn't an object, try more than one to get a feel for the differences. If, however, money is an issue, try some of the inexpensive disposable paper palettes. They will serve you well as you begin to explore painting. You can always upgrade later. Some of the most famous artists in history never even used traditional palettes! See the palette tutorial for more info.
If there is one aisle in the art supply store that will utterly baffle you as a beginner, it's this one. There are more makes, models, sizes, and shapes of brushes than you even want to know. First, there are brushes specially designed for certain mediums, such as watercolor, acrylic, and oil. Then, for each medium, there are brush styles, or shapes, such as filberts, flats, brights, and fan brushes. There are a plethora of specialty brushes, such as blenders, script liners, and shaders. All of these brushes can be purchased with synthetic bristles, hog hair bristles, mongoose hair, sable, and so on. For each of these, there are different sizes, generally numbered to reduce confusion (yeah, right). The bottom line here is that choosing your first set of brushes is probably the most harrowing thing you can do in an art supply store.
There are many schools of thought around what brush selections are good for beginners. I use the list of brushes recommended by William Palluth in his excellent book, Painting in Oils, available here at WetCanvas through an arrangement with Amazon.Com.
Over time, you will standardize on your "preferred palette" - meaning that you will derive your own combinations of favorite hues and brands. However, trying to pick out your first set of paints can be a bit of a bear. Do you buy Winsor & Newton or Grumbacher? How good are paints made by Liquitex? What colors? There is Midnight Black, Mars Black, and Ivory Black - which one should I buy? These are the types of questions you will find yourself asking in the paint aisle of the art supply store - that is, unless you keep reading... :-)
Keep in mind that you don't need to buy every shade of a certain color. Inevitably, all colors in the spectrum can be mixed right on the palette, using a very limited number of basic colors to start. However, mastery of this takes time and practice. Here is a good basic palette to start you out:
If money isn't an issue, or once you feel comfortable using the colors listed above, consider also picking up these colors, as you will find they augment the aforementioned palette:
There are probably more schools of thought as to color selection than any other in the world of art. Some artists only use the primary colors (red, yellow, blue), mixing all secondary and tertiary colors from these. Other artists use TWO palettes: one on which to mix paint, the other for holding big gobs of the dozens of colors regularly in use. It's up to you - experiment.
One note here. There are three paint qualities to choose from: student grade, medium grade, and studio (professional) grade. If you are just starting out, try to stick with the less expensive student or medium grade paints. They don't have quite the permanence or lightfastness as studio grade paints, but they will serve you well (and save you money) as you learn. Ask your local art supply store clerk for more info.
Painting Surfaces (Canvas, masonite, etc.)
Technically speaking, you can oil paint on just about any surface available, provided it has been prepared properly. I have seen folks put oil paint on some of the strangest things (but that's another article). Typically, here are your choices:
Mediums and Solvents:
Oil paints consist of pigment and oil. There are a number of additional products that provide special characteristics to oil paints, such as enhanced gloss, thickness, transparency, and even accelerated drying time. Here is a brief run down on the more popular items:
Consider picking up the following items as part of your intro kit:
Now head off to the art store and happy painting! :-)