I start students off with student grade paint in my classroom and I find they will naturally gravitate to artist grade paint when they're ready. They'll buy it and start bringing their own to class, it's a natural transition. You just feel it. It's nothing to stress about. I don't think you should give it a lot of thought if you're just doing your first paintings at this point you should probably start out with student grade paint.
In our classroom we use both blickstudio brand and Gamblin's 1980. I've found them both to be fine for our purposes. You can read all about the differences between the two grades of paint online, I won't go into it here, there are volumes written on it. I like these two brands because they don't need medium they flow well out of the tube so we don't need to get into learning about medium for a while. You'll find with some artist grade paint they are very thick or very oily and you'll need medium to make them the consistency you want them to be and that's fine! We love that but it's just one more thing to learn about and that can feel overwhelming right now so if it does, get student grade paints. It doesn't matter at this point. You're learning, enjoying yourself and the student grade paint is just fine if you're on a budget don't worry about it!
Artist grade paint is more expensive for many reasons. They've got more pigment, more expensive binders (for example). It isn't as transparent as student grade. When I demo with the student grade paint I find that when I pull a brush load of paint across the canvas it is more see through. It's just different. you get used to it, that's all.
If you want to buy pro grade paints I'd say try some different brands. I have tubes of every brand made. You'll start to see the differences I'm talking about and you'll start to see what you like. Gamblin is thick and stiff and you'll probably need to mix linseed oil with it to get it to flow where Winsor & Newton tends to be more oily. I love different brands for different reasons. I love M Graham's wide mouth tubes but I have friends who dislike that because too much paint comes out. I love that about them! You'll figure it out for yourself. Try them all! I love Old Holland, Rublev, Williamsburg and Michael Harding. There are too many to go into just order a tube of anything that looks good to you and try a different brand next time you order the color and make notes.
The manufacturer's web sites will give you so much information, just order different colors from different companies and see what you like. In time you'll learn what works for you. I mention Gamblin a lot and that's because of their transparency. You can go on their web site and watch videos of how they do everything, you can call them, you can talk to their chemists. Yeah, I've done this. Look into your paint and your materials! I don't care what brands you get, but you should.
• Ivory Black
• Titanium White
• Raw Umber
• Cobalt Blue
• Ultramarine Blue
• Alizarine Crimson
• Cadmium Red
• Yellow Ochre
• Cadmium Yellow
That's a full palette black, white, umber. cool blue, warm blue, cool red, warm red, cool yellow, warm yellow. You can eliminate the black and one of the blues if you want to, but since we'll be painting all subjects I thought it would be nice to have a full range, you just never know! Get a few colors now, a few later.
I don't care what size you work on for this class. I usually work on Gessobord panels, I like the smooth, slight tooth but some artists really like the feel of the canvas tooth so they want a canvas panel. Other artists really like the bounce of an actual stretched canvas here's a good entry level one. Either way, whatever you like is very personal preference, if you don't know yet, you will in time. There's no right or wrong, only personal preference.
• An 8 x 10 or 9 x 12 is fine for this class. Any size is fine, just print out your reference photo the same size as your canvas.
The knife I've found to work the best, last the longest and I most often hear other artists recommend the same shape, is the Blick No. 50 It doesn't matter the brand but the shape is really handy for mixing and moving paint around.
The gauge on this one is just about perfect, heavy enough that it won't get all bent out of shape with use but flexible enough that it won't abuse your wrist with use in a long session. Plus, it's less than 5 bucks!
*TIP: For those brushes you've left out for a day or for months (years?!) full of dried paint. Yeah, you know what I'm saying. Bristles all splayed. [ Magic Bristle ] will restore them. For real. I do use this a couple times a year with my student brushes and I usually get 6 or more years out of them. It also gets paint out of your clothes. Magic.
You'll hear this medium called: "OMS" (Odorless Mineral Spirits), Mineral Spirits, Turpentine, "Turps", Solvent, Spirits, Gamsol, Turpenoid, Thinner, I've even had students bring straight up gasoline to class and try to use it to thin their paint and clean their brushes.
OMS is also called a medium (anything you mix with paint can be called medium technically). This stuff is confusing to students because it's referred to by so many names and it does so many things.
So, before I end up making this stuff any more confusing than it already is, let me simplify it. Please for your own health, purchase odorless mineral spirits. Common brand names are Gamsol or Turpenoid. Turpentine or paint thinner aren't commonly used anymore because they are pretty toxic and we have so many healthful alternatives now. Buy either Gamsol or Turpenoid and use them in a well ventilated area.
Solvent: OMS breaks down the oil binder that holds the pigment (ie: dry color) together in your paints. So rinse your brushes in this before washing them with soap and you'll save a lot of washing time. I don't like to leave OMS on my brushes, I like to wash it off with a conditioning soap, I think solvent is just hard on my brushes.
Medium: Using OMS alone or mixing it with an oil like linseed or walnut helps speed the drying time of the paint in the early layers of your painting. Hence the phrase "fat over lean". The more thinner you use in a layer the more lean it is. As you go up higher in the layering process you will add more "fat" or oil whether it's linseed or walnut and less OMS.
There are many places online where you can read in depth about the principles of fat over lean so I won't go into it here but it has to do with preserving the structural integrity of your painting and keeping it from cracking over time. Essentially because oil never really dries and thinners dry very quickly so the oil layers can crackle. The oil molecules continue to move as they dry and the dry layer with OMS above it isn't moving, you get the picture, cracks. Oilier layers must go on top, I'll show you how to do this in class. It's not difficult at all. I use Gamsol most often (a small container will last you quite a while) but many people use Turpenoid, I've used it plenty over the years, too.
BTW: Don't use Turpenoid Natural for this purpose, it's another thing all together, it's not a medium!
• 1 small bottle OMS
MEDIUM AND SOLVENT CUPS
Depending on the type of medium you use and how much of it you use you may need a cup. Sovent cups can be very handy, without them the solvent can run all over your palette and dilute your paints. But whether you need one or two can depend on how you paint. [ here ]
BRUSH STORAGE AND CARE
I often find old crocks and jars at Goodwill to keep my brushes. Keep an eye out at antique and vintage shops too. Your studio should be your happy place. After you wash brushes lay them flat overnight to dry so that water doesn't get all up into the ferrule (the metal part) and loosen the glue and rot the wood. ie: That's how you lose bristles. Then in the morning store them bristles up in a wide mouth jar.
Varnish isn't something you'll need to start class but eventually when you wonder about it, here's the answer to your question: Gamvar. It's what most artists are using these days because it has completely eliminated the need to wait the months long period for the painting to completely dry before we could varnish. You can varnish as soon as the painting is dry to the touch. It's because Gamvar is a synthetic.
It's revolutionary stuff and artists at the highest level of the art world use it so, no worries. It is so easy to use and it cleans out of your brush with Gamsol, unlike traditional varnish. It can be easily removed if necessary with Gamsol as well. I personally recommend the satin finish. Gloss is a little over the top shiny but whatever you like.
After you rinse your brushes in OMS to break down most of the paint, you will want to wash and condition them with a good soap. I have two favorites. Jack's Linseed Studio Soap is an old standby in my studio and classroom. I've also started using Chelsea Classical Studios Lavender Brush Cleaner. It's a totally non-toxic system to use instead of OMS after you're done painting for those of us that are sensitive to OMS.
Tip: After your brushes are clean, dip your brush back in the soap then pinch the bristles and stroke the soap and water off and reshape the bristles with your fingers. Leave the soap right on the bristles - reshape them and let it dry that way. The soap will help the bristles retain their original shape as they dry so they won't splay out all over the place. And these soaps keep the air from getting to your bristles and drying them out. They really do last longer. When you're ready to paint again don't worry about the soap, just give the brush a few strokes back and forth on a rag or paper towel and it's good to go.
My preferences is Rosemaryandco.com You get great, handmade brushes, often for less money than you'd pay at a craft store and yes, you will notice the difference. I like synthetics for students, they last longer. I like the Ivorys, Shiraz and the Eclipse or Evergreen lines for short flats and long flats and filberts. And I like the Eclipse, and Shiraz series for my pointed rounds. I listed each of the series in order of firmness to softness so you can have a kind of gauge for how you like a brush to feel. If you paint thick with heavy paint you'll probably prefer the Ivorys, they're quite stiff and the Eclipse rounds for detail work. If you do fine, smooth detail work and tighter realism, both the Shiraz which are a bit firmer. The softer Evergreens work well and the Eclipse filberts are nice for portrait work.
Your brush sizes for class will vary depending on the canvas size you choose. Get what you can, what you think you'll need. Start with a few get more later:
1 ea pointed round brush (for drawing and detail work) sizes 0,2,4,6,8 (long handles) I'd recommend Rosemary Shiraz Pointed Rounds
1 short flat brush size 2 and 4 (long handles) I'd recommend Rosemary Shiraz Short Flats for this brush
1 long flat brush size 4 and 6 (long handles) Try Rosemary Ivory Long Flats
1 long flat brush size 8 (long handles) If you can afford it, you'll want a larger brush for backgrounds and for toning. Try Rosemary Evergreen Long Flats
If you're taking a portrait course you may want to substitute the flats for filberts if you like a smooth look but it's not necessary. I like to work with flats on portraits, I interchange them all the time. With portraits though I might not buy Ivorys. I might change the brushes to a softer bristle like, Eclipse. Rosemary's Eclipse long filbert is one of my favorites for portraits. Shiraz is good for portrait especially if you work with slightly thicker paint.
None of these materials are needed for painting except maybe the ruler, it will be helpful for adjusting your drawing. But if you'd like to do some graphite drawings and I suggest you do! Poor drawing is almost always the problem with a struggling painting and it's what I work on with my students more than any other single thing even though they don't know that drawing is what we're working on!
People think of drawing as only the line work but it's the values, half tones and, perspective, structure, design, composition, it's so much more than the line work. It's so easy to just get lost in the color when you're painting and when you think about it that's really so little of it. Drawing is so much of it. Practice it!
Here are the materials you will need. I will add a class if enough people are interested. I'm listing this stuff because I get asked a lot and I want to be able to tell people it's here.
• Wescott C-Thru Beveled Plastic Ruler for checking tiny measurements. It helps in later stages of drawing when you get lost in it sometimes.
• Sandpaper Pencil Pointer Easiest way to keep a nice point on your pencils
• Derwent Graphic Pencil Set Nice full range set for drawing
Palettes are also a matter of preference. Wood, glass or even paper if you like. I don't like paper because it tears and ripples when I'm trying to mix. Glass or wood are my favorites. Here is my favorite wood, in natural or gray [ here ] and here is my favorite glass, in gray [ here ]
If you're a painter who lets the paint dry and then scrapes with a razor, get the wood not the glass, it'll scratch on you eventually. You have to clean the glass with solvent after each session to keep it nice.
If you're on a budget buy a cheap 9 x 12 or 11 x 14 picture frame at a craft store and flip the photo around so it's just brown tagboard (neutral brown behind your glass) it works really well, it's what I use in my classes.
You can store oil paint for months like this if you make sure to get a good seal with the wax paper. Just scoop up each individual pile of paint, don't forget any mixed paint from your session and line it up along the top edge of the waxed paper, fold the paper from the bottom right over the paints to seal them and them fold them in half again (longwise, to make a square) and toss them in the freezer. If they dry out a bit add a little linseed oil and they're good to go.
Medium in oil paint is used to give the paint different properties, make it dry faster or slower, make it flow more, make it shinier, tackier, thinner, thicker, there are so many things that it does and depending on whether you choose a student or artist grade paint that will influence which medium you choose or even whether you use a medium at all. It is not necessary that you try mediums when starting out with oils.
[ Here ] is an inexpensive sample pack of some of the most commonly used mediums and one solvent, all in a convenient little pouch. I will demo and explain in class what each one of these is used for, when and why you would want to use them.
These are such handy little things for putting a couple of drops of medium or solvent on your palette or into your palette cups. When I discovered them I wondered how I ever lived without them. [ here ]
Save old jelly jars to clean brushes in before you wash them. Fill one jar 1/3 to 1/2 with solvent (OMS), after a few uses you'll notice that the pigment from the paint settles to the bottom of the jar but the OMS is clean. Carefully pour the clean OMS into another clean jar and scoop out the paint sludge with a paper towel and discard. Occasionally you'll have to add a bit more OMS. Keep doing this back and forth between the two jars. Keep caps on them. Just because it's odorless doesn't mean it's non-toxic. It means it's less toxic than regular mineral spirits (probably?)
They also make nice ones you can buy too [ here ] I prefer this one because the one with the coil kept grabbing my bristles and pulling them out. Go easy with this grate too, let the solvent do the work. And bonus, Bob Ross' face makes me smile like, every day!
TOXIN FREE STUDIO
This is something that's very important to me. Here are some things I've found to make your oil painting studio less toxic [ here ] I use this [ here ] as a fluid medium to thin paints and speed drying. I use Gamblin's safflower oil to clean brushes sometimes. I try to avoid overusing solvents like Gamsol. I find I am a bit sensitive to it even though it is odorless and better than turpentine it is by no means "nontoxic". I use Gamsol when I'm doing an underpainting because I haven't found a substitute that works for me but I turn on a fan and wear a mask. It does give me a slight head ache if I don't.
It is possible with care to have a safer, non-toxic oil painting studio. Chelsea Classical Studios also offers a wonderful non-toxic suite of products and a nice little sample kit of their mediums and solvents. I use their walnut oil probably more than any other medium to add fluidity to my paints.
This is something we'll cover in class when it comes up but I thought I'd put it down here too. Definitely not something you need in advance but... Have you ever had the black and darker areas of your painting get very dull or "sink in" after your painting dries? Sometimes the black areas are much duller than the other areas of the painting. And then when you try to varnish the painting the finish doesn't come up evenly?
That's one of the many uses of retouch varnish, to even up those sunken in areas before we varnish. One of my favorite retouch varnishes is Chelsea Classical Studios Lavender Retouch Varnish. Cuz for one it smells like lavender! And for another it's just a great retouch varnish!